The History of Sport Fishing

The history of sport fishing can be traced back to the late fifteen century, to a work written by Dame Juliana Berners, a prioress of St. Albans in England. This work was ahead of its time, as it goes into great detail on many of the issues which still trouble anglers today. The same equipment, albeit manufactured with completely different materials, is in use today as it was then, and there is plenty to be read on rods, line, bait, hooks, and of course the waters in which fishing took place. The book proved very popular, and was reprinted many times during the following century.

This book was followed by a rise in the sport’s popularity in the next two centuries. During the seventeenth century another landmark book was published, this time “The Compleat Angler” by Izaak Walton. This book is one of the most reprinted in the history of English, and was the book which first took up the cause of angling as a sport, as opposed to commercial or subsistence fishing. The book is full of old style poems and songs and is a celebration of the whole of country life, not just of sport fishing.

The history of sport fishing took another leap forward with the invention of the motor boat. This allowed the development of big game fishing around the start of the twentieth century. Now, the sport is well developed and increasingly popular, although it does face new challenges. The dwindling stocks of fish in so many of our waterways have led to new practices being developed where fish are no longer killed as part of the catch, but are measured and released back into the water. In some cases, electronic tags are used to identify catches, and even to send data back to government agencies.

The history of sport fishing involves both individual and team competitions. Individual competitions are mainly found when fishermen congregate on the water’s edge, and the prizes are normally awarded based not only on the number of fish caught, but also on the weight of those fish, and in some cases even the species of fish which have been caught. Competitions involving teams are usually carried out with the teams in boats, and with each team assigned an area of the water in which to operate. The judging criteria are usually the same, with numbers, weight, and species being considered towards an overall points total.

Sport fishing will doubtless face many challenges in the years ahead, with the ever growing awareness of the need to protect the environment and the species which inhabit it. The sport has made an excellent start in dealing with any criticisms which may have been leveled against it, by adopting the methods of releasing fish back into the water once caught, and sport fishing is now actively contributing to conservation by reporting data back to government agencies. The next few decades are going to be a crucially important time in the history of sport fishing.

Additional Resources

  • A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle
  • A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle by Dame Juliana Berners
  • Dame Juliana League Fly Fishers
  • A Fly Fishing History
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