Item of the Day: The Complete Angler (1784)

Full Title:

The Complete Angler, or Contemplative Man’s Recreation; being a Discourse on Rivers, Fish-Ponds, Fish, and Fishing: in Two Parts; the First being written by Mr. Isaac Walton, the Second by Charles Cotton, Esq; with the Lives of the Authors, and Notes Historical, Critical, and Explanatory. By Walton and Cotton, ed. Sir John Hawkins, Knt. Fourth edition, “with large Additions.” Contains illustrations, songs, diagrams, commendatory poems, laws, and instructions. London: for John, Francis, and Charles Rivington at the Bible and Crown, St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1784.

On the art of fly-making, from Chapter V:

First, let your rod be light, and very gentle, I take the best to be of two pieces, and let not your line exceed, especially for three for four links next to the hook, I say, not exceed three or four hairs at the most, though you may fish a little stronger above in the upper part of your line: but if you can attain to angle with one hair, your shall have more rises and catch more fish. Now you must be sure not to cumber yourself with too long a line, as most do: and before you begin to angle, cast to have the wind on your back, and the sun, if it shines, to be before you, and to fish down the stream; and carry the point or top of your rod downward, by which means the shadow of yourself and the rod too, will be the least offensive to the fish; for the sight of any shade amazes the fish, and spoils your sport, of which you must take great care.

In the middle of March, till which time a man should not in honesty catch a Trout, or in April, if the weather be dark, or a little windy or cloudy, the best fishing is with the palmer-worm, of which I last spoke to you; but of these there be divers kinds, or at least of divers colours; these and the May-fly are the ground of all fly-angling, which are to be thus made.

First, you must arm your hood with the line in the inside of it, then take your scissars, and cut so much of a brown mallard’s feather as in your own reason will make the wings of it, you having withal regard to the bigness or littleness of your hook; then lay the outmost part of your feather next to your hook, then the point of your feather next the shank of your hook; and having so done, whip it three or four times about the hook with the same silk with which your hook was armed; and having made the silk fast, take the hackle of a cock or capon’s neck, or a plover’s top, which is usually better; take off the one side of the feather, and then take the hackle, silk, or crewel, gold or silver thread, make these fast at the bent of the hook, that is to say, below your arming; then you must take the ahckle, the silver or gold thread, and work it up to the wings, shifting or still removing your finger, as you turn the silk about the hook: and still looking at every stop or turn, that your gold, or whatever materials soever you make your fly of, do lie right and neatly; and if you find they do so, then when you have made the head, make all fast: and then work your hackle up to the head, and make that fast: and then with a needle or pin divide the wing into two, and then with the arming silk whip it about cross-ways betwixt the wings, and then with your thumb you must turn the point of the feather towards the bent of the hook, and then work three or four times about the shank of the hook, and then view the proportion, and if all be neat and to your liking, fasten.

I confess, no direction can be given to make a man of a dull capacity able to make a fly well: and yet I know, this with a little practice will help an ingenious angler in a good degree: but to see a fly made by an artist in that kind, is the best teaching to make it; and then an ingenious angler may walk by the river and mark what flies fall on the water that day, and catch one of them, if he sees the Trouts leap at a fly of that kind: and then having always hooks ready hung with him, and having a bag also always with him, with bear’s hair, or the hair of a brown or sad-coloured heifer, hackles of a cock or capon, several-coloured silk and crewel to make the body of the fly, the feathers of a drake’s head, black or brown sheep’s wool, or hog’s wool, or hair, thread of gold and of silver, silk of several colours, especially sad-coloured, to make the fly’s head; and there be also other coloured feathers, both of little birds and of peckled fowl; I say, having those with him in a bag, and trying to make a fly, though he miss at first, yet shall he at last hit it better, even to such a perfection, as none can well teach him; and if he hit to make his fly right, and have the luck to hit also where there is store of Trouts, a dark day, and a right wind, he will catch such a store of them, as will encourage him to grow more and more in love with the art of fly-making.

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Filed under 1780's, Culture, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

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