|Currier and Ives|
1860's Trout Fishing
Check out that suit !
First things first, I wanted to know who out there is, or has been, fishing in a 19th century fashion. I stumbled on Hank Trent's website Fishing Rod . Hank had put together a pretty convincing impression of an 1860's angler for a one time Civil War reenactment event back east. His site had some basic information and lots of primary sources he had used to pull it off. It was a good starting point but I wanted to go a little further. I wanted to scratch build my own authentic tackle and use it to catch fish. A little later I found Paul Jones and his Historic Angling Enterprise . Paul's site is full of goodies and getting better all the time. He is a great resource for things like horsehair and silkworm gut line and he also has period appropriate flies. His booklist includes some of the best titles on the subject. Paul even encourages people to make their own hooks and sells what you need to do it.
| 1850's American Angler|
The Daguerreian Society
One name that I kept coming across in my research was Thaddeus Norris, sometimes refered to as the father of American Angling. When I learned that his "The American Angler's Book" was reprinted by Derrydale Press, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. As I suspected, this would become my bible and an invaluable aid to formulating my strategy for the project. Honestly, I couldn't get enough of it. At the time this book was first published in 1864, most of the literature on angling, up to that time, had come from England. The influence of the English style of Angling on the Early American fisherman was undeniable but Thaddeus wanted to celebrate a distinctly American version. What gave me a charge was that Norris made his own rods and promoted that very self-made fisherman I wanted to become. His detailed descriptions of tackle and how to make it was just the ticket I had been looking for. This was going to be fun but there was still a ton of work to do.
aka Uncle Thad
The Father of American Angling
What I was looking for beyond Norris' book were pictures of actual surviving examples of early 19th-century tackle to study. Hopefully this would help me decide what I needed to reproduce and what I could buy. I thought that antique tackle auctions might be a good place to start and I was right. Mullock's Auctions in the UK is an amazing resource for early gear. You will see some of the rarest of reels, rods, creels, flybooks and all kinds of scarce period fishing minutia. On this side of the pond you have Lang's Auctions although I found access to their past auction items is limited unless you're willing to pay.
|Mullock's Catalog Cover|
Mullock's Auctions UK
. My final decision on a reel was to go ahead and purchase an antique. I was looking for a plate mounted, small brass winch, around 2" in diameter, if I could be so lucky. Something mid 19th-centuryish would be fine, since it appeared these cheaper, simple little reels were produced for at least 50 years. Well, lucky I was, thanks to Ebay, a little prize reel from an overseas dealer, was mine for a price. It turned out to be not quite ready for service until I unpeened the pillars, tore it apart and rebuilt the ratchet. But hey, the price was right and I was off and running. Before I launched into crafting the rod ala Norris, I decided to focus on a creel.
|On the Mokelumne River, Calaveras County,|
with my creel on my hip and
net on my backl
Photo Andrew Quist 2010
|My rod with the English reel and my fly-book|
photo Andrew Quist 2010
The typical fly line of the period was made of braided silk, usually in a tapered form. With the current mainstream interest in classic early 20th century tackle, they are still being made but the new lines are quite pricey. I decided on an affordable vintage line that I restored with a mixture of linseed oil and varnish.The line that Norris recommended was a combination of horsehair and silk. That wasn't going to happen but at least I was close. Silkworm gut leader material is unfortunately obsolete but you can still get it from people like Historical Angling Enterprise or take your chances on Ebay. It was in use until after WW II, when Nylon line began to take its place. Gut is amazing stuff as it has to be soaked before it's in a usable state. I keep mine wet with little baffles of damp felt, layered in an old shoe polish can. To store my flies, I created a Fly Book based on original examples I had studied. It's literally a leather book with parchment ( I substituted Tyvek ) pages that have little envelopes to keep the flies in order. The flies are tied on a blind eye hook (no loop) and snelled with a short piece of gut line. With the snoods coiled around the fly, they tuck neatly into the book. I'll get into the period flies shortly. Lastly, I had to come up with a proper net to land those luckless fishies. I steam-bent a strip of oak into a circle and turned a wooden handle with brass fittings to attach to the loop. I had an old cotton net that belonged to my Dad and since it was still serviceable, I put it back to work on my new/old frame.
|Another view of my fly book,|
rod and an assortment of
photo Lindy Miller 2011
|Cowdung Replica with Period Illustration|
Fly Anglers on Line
|My Cowdung Replica After a Few Tmes Out|
As a footnote to this post, I have to recommend the viewer to check out Michael Hackney & Friends. Their project to recreate the fishing gear of president Martin Van Buren was incredible. I had already created my current 1860's fly fishing tackle and even my 1830's coarse fishing version ( a future post) when I stumbled on Michael's site. You will enjoy reading about the collective efforts of several craftsmen that led to a dynamic display of replica tackle for the historic Van Buren estate. Keeping our history alive, that's what it's all about. Fish On !!