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Wenches, Wives and Servant Girls

Society of 18th-Century Gentlemen

18th-CENTURY ANGLING

Mr. Izaak Walton, in his fascinating work, The Compleat Angler, first published around 1660 (and readily available even today in various bindings) remarks that the rod should "be light, and very gentle" and between "five and six yards [15-18 feet] long." A common cane pole would meet these requirements, though Mr. Walton prefers a fine, fir-wood pole spliced together to form a long, one-piece taper. According to Mr. Walton, the pole should be painted with a pale warm-gray or greenish tint, so as to blend in with the sky (see left).


The fishing line is best made of braided horsehair and for most purposes need not be much longer than than half the length of the pole. White horsehair is considered the best for angling line, and Mr. Walton suggests it be dyed a thin "glass green" to minimize distractions to your prey.

Hooks for fixing live bait, or artificial flies armed with a silkworm gut leader are of course necessary for capturing your prey, and more information on obtaining these follows below.

In summary, to angle you will need:

  • A cane or light wooden pole of 15-18 feet long (though 12 feet will suffice)
  • An 8-12 foot length of braided horsehair line.
  • A silk or gut leader running from the braided line to your hook.
  • Assorted hooks or artificial flies.

Though at first, obtaining the proper outfit seems to be a great inconvenience, these items are easily obtained from Clark & Sons Mercantile, and we can highly recommend them for both their outstanding customer service and quality of their goods (the several flies pictured here are all of their manufacture). Clark and Sons has several excellent offerings in poles, lines, leaders, flies (shown here) and hooks.

A small basket or a creel is also handy for keeping your bait and your caught fish. Creel design has not changed over the centuries and an example of a fishing basket can be seen in a period engraving here.

In our opinion it is much more rewarding to capture a fish by fooling him with an artificial bait than to simply present him with his natural food affixed to a hook. Mr. Walton offers a great deal of advice on the various types of flies that work best at certain times of the year, but to summarize his abundant information it would seem that two of the more common patterns would include the Black Gnat and the Blue Dun. These patterns are readily available at any sporting-goods store today, and closely match the patterns Walton calls the Dun-fly, the Black Dun-fly, the Black-fly the Moorish-Fly, and the Shell-fly. The patterns shown above most closely approximate Mr. Walton's descriptions of (from the top down) the Ruddy Fly, the Black Fly and the Tawny Fly.

The rather crude Black Dun-fly shown here (left) is my very first attempt at hand-tying a fly. This was tied without the aid of any modern tools, using the fingers of the left hand to hold the hook, while the right systematically applied the various dressings and lashed them in place—a real challenge!

According to Walton, the manner in which these are fished is to simply flick the fly out over the water (with your back to both the sun and the wind, if possible), and after a moment, to gently drop it onto the surface of the water. You must endeavor to allow as little line as possible to lie on the water, certainly no more than a few inches, so as not to alarm the fish. If you achieve no result after a few moments, through delicate handling of the pole, you can cause the fly to dance, spin and behave in an amazingly lifelike manner.

Remember that a rising fish is not accustomed to having a meal drop directly before it's nose, so the best presentation is to drop your fly several feet from the fish and then carefully make it pass above and in front of the fish in as lifelike a manner as is possible.

We encourage you to experiment with your angling gear -- and please do send along any photographs or accounts of your experiences!

 More information on angling regularly appears in
The Society of 18th-Century Gentlemen’s Magazine.
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