Friday, January 27, 2012

A Look in the Archives: "The Fly Fisher's Guide," 1816

Here is another wonderful book from the distant past. I suspect there was fly fishing somewhere in the new United States in 1816--just a little more than a decade after Lewis and Clark's journey of discovery--but it was flourishing in the old country of England. George C. Bainbridge was one of the experts of the day gathering his followers.

They certainly knew a good fish then, and the artists of the time were gifted in celebrating their beauty. (I'll turn the book sideways for you.) This reminds me of the Rubenesque renderings of women from that and earlier eras.

(For comparison, here's one of Peter Paul Rubens' paintings circa 1626-28, "Hermit and Sleeping Angelica." Somehow this seems right at home on a fly fishing blog. SOTM? {That's "Slab of the Month," one of the regular features on Moldy Chum.})

Back to the book, George knew a thing or two about flies. Sylvester Nemes includes George C. Bainbridge, along with many others, in his 2004 book Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies. Sylvester giving credit where credit is due.

What I really like about this book is that it's printed on one side of the page only. One of the early owners of this copy--I like to think the man who first bought it with the same anticipation and eagerness to learn as I have felt--filled the empty pages, sometimes spilling over onto the color plates, with voluminous notes on every scrap of information on every fishing topic that he could find.

Notice the specifications for a landing net--homemade, as so much equipment was then: a five foot handle with "a double spike one strong flat pointed blade other a crook sharpened inside like a fish hook for cutting bough." Great idea.

Makes me yearn, on this cold January night, for a trip to a secret summer stream off the beaten path. I think he felt the same yearning, this brother of the angle, and I hope he satisfied it many times over.


  1. Very cool Jim. I love that you not only have the old book but the comments and thoughts of one of it's first owners. Looks like a very interesting read for sure......Jeff

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I wish I could say I have the book. I found and viewed this on the Internet Archives. But it's as though it were my very own.

  2. I agree with High Plains, the owner's comments are intriguing...he was into it and not afraid to learn. I think he was fishing cane, and the discussion of flies and materials could be happening today. Voluptuous renderings were in vogue I can see. Sharing history is very cool,as HPFF, said. Thanks ,Jim.

    1. Had to be cane--and silk and gut. And I agree: the more things change, the more they stay the same. "Voluptuous renderings;" well put. Thanks for the comment.