The History of Fishing
Cavemen fished to get food to survive. Isaac Walton fished to contemplate the mysteries of life. Denny Brauer fished to win more than $1,000,000 on the bass tournament trail. Throughout history people have fished for many reasons, and some of those reasons are just as valid today as they ever were.
Primitive civilizations fished for something to eat, not for the sport of it. They used whatever methods worked, from clubs and spears to crude traps. Their goal was to stay alive, so they didn't want the fish to fight; they just wanted to catch it.
American Indians fished for food and also used a variety of methods to get them. Although they also used weirs (a type of fishing trap), spears, and other methods to catch them, they also caught fish on hook and line. Crude J-shaped objects made from bone and flint have been found in drainage pits near Indian mounds. These objects seem to be early fish hooks, indicating these people may have actually been able to feel the fight of a fish on the end of a line. You can imagine an Indian sitting on the bank of a stream and smiling as a trout fought at the end of his sinew line and flint hook tied to a sapling pole. That may have been the beginning of sport fishing in the Americas.
At some point people started fishing for the enjoyment of catching fish, although their catch was still used as an important food source. But there are more efficient ways to catch fish than using a hook and line. There was something more to it than just gathering food.
From Food to Fun
It's easy to imagine that people found out they enjoyed fishing a lot more than gathering other kinds of food. As humankind became more efficient in gathering enough food to survive, more time was available to spend enjoying what they were doing.
The use of boats increased the range of fishermen and also gave them a way to get to inaccessible places in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Boats increased the efficiency of fishermen, allowing them to set nets and drive fish to weirs in deeper water. But they also gave early fishermen a way to get away from the bank to fish with hook and line.
Over many years equipment gradually changed to reflect the fact that fishermen wanted to have fun as well as catch dinner. Hooks made of iron were better than flint hooks and lines developed, from horsehair to woven flax fibers to catgut. The first lines were thrown by hand and probably wrapped around a stick. Reels to hold the line were developed and then were attached to poles. A slow, gradual improvement was made but fishing equipment really didn't change much for hundreds of years.
The first book about fishing written in English was the Treatise of Fysshynge with an Angle by Dame Juliana Berners. Written in 1496, it discusses angling, which is fishing with pole and line. It shows that by that time some people were fishing for sport and not just for sustenance.
Poles have been in use for a very long time but weren't common in Europe until the middle of the thirteenth century. Some drawings indicate reels may have been used as early as 3000 B.C. in China, long before being used anywhere else. By the beginning of the fourteenth century they were in use in Europe and made their way to North America soon after settlement began.
Beginning of Modern Fishing
From the early fourteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century there was a gradual improvement in fishing equipment. Most fishing was still for food but the upper class perfected fly-fishing and it became almost an art form. Rods made from bamboo and quality handmade fly reels were the top-of-the-line in equipment.
The industrial age brought changes to fishing with better equipment, the advent of bait-casting reels and rods with guides for them, and better line. But the real changes started about the time of World War II with mass-produced rods and reels and a demand for them. New types of reels were also developed with spin-casting and spinning reels becoming popular. And new synthetic lines were first introduced, making fishing easier and more productive.
When were reels first used for casting?
The first reels were used for holding line only, and the line was cast from the rod, as modern fly equipment. Not until the 1830s were reels capable of being used to cast a lure from the reel itself.
From the end of World War II until the late 1960s, rods, reels, and types of line improved faster than ever before in history. Prices got low enough that kids could buy decent equipment from their allowances. The numbers of people fishing increased as they had more leisure time. Fishing was considered a leisure activity and the fish brought home to eat were an added bonus.
Advent of Tournaments
In the late 1960s the first bass tournaments were held. These tournaments changed fishing in many ways, turning it from a relaxing, contemplative pastime into a fast-paced, competitive sport. As more and more fishermen demanded better equipment, changes started taking place rapidly.
During the next thirty years electronics were developed to allow fishermen to see what's underwater. Electric motors were improved and gas motors for boats became huge, high-powered engines that made newly designed boats fly on the water. Lures and plastic worms went through a tremendous change and became so popular most big discount stores dedicated more than one aisle to displaying them.
One of the biggest changes brought about by tournaments was making catch-and-release fishing popular. Although trout fishermen had long released fish they caught, the general public considered all caught fish as food. But tournament fishermen brought in large numbers of bass and they were not able to clean them all, so they were given away or wasted.
To combat the poor image of bass tournament fishermen wasting fish, catch and release became the way to go. Tournaments were set up to keep fish alive and put them back after weighing them. There are penalties for bringing in a dead fish. Today catch and release is almost a religion with some fishermen. They would never keep any fish to eat.
Game and Fish Departments of states and counties establish limits and regulations to control the numbers of fish taken. In many waters size limits are set to encourage fishermen to keep fish of certain sizes. Fisheries biologists say not only is it okay to keep fish to eat, sometimes it helps the fishing.