Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.


Jim Miller




Wednesday, February 2, 2011

19th Century Angling Revisited or Part 2 of Fishing for History

     In the previous post I documented my angling adventure with its focus on recreating a fly-fishing kit from the 1860's. It occured to me at some point during that project that I had completely neglected Historic Coarse Fishing and its place in our country's angling past. So what follows in a briefer account, is how I later recreated a circa 1830's coarse fishing outfit.

    This time around I made the commitment to craft "everything" from scratch, just for the challenge and experience of it. I was inspired in part by Darrel Martin's book "The Fly-Fisher's Craft". I know the book's emphasis is on the history of fly fishing but I found considerable helpful information useful in the creation of my coarse rig. Mr. Martin's book is an inspiration on many levels as it beautifully charts his hands-on journey back in time to uncover the misty beginings of fly fishing. Among many offerings, it explains how the author recreated historic horsehair lines. Now this is cool. A tapered line from braided or twisted horsehair sound like just the challenge to start my project with and it's totally appropriate to the period I'm working in. The final results of my efforts was a 15 1/2 yrd. braided hair line, tapering from 16 hairs at one end to 6 hairs at the other. Maritn's book is very clear on how the splicing is done as the average horsehair is only 20+ inches long. Don't ask me how long it took to braid it, it doesn't matter.

Reels and Rod
T.F.Salter's "The Angler's Guide"
1823
     Next came the rod but I needed to explore my options within the period I was working. There were many. What I came up with was another 12 footer with similar materials to my fly rod but with an earlier influence in construction. I settled on a three piece model, shaped (as collectors refer to them) like a billard cue stick with a continual taper. The butt section was to be ash, the middle would be hickory, and like before, the tip would be hickory, but spliced to lancewood as the final foot of length. Lancewood is a classic choice for a tip but it's a little hard to find. I lucked out by reshaping a vintage drum stick that was made out of it. Instead of ferrules, I opted for tapered splices at the joining ends of each section. These tapered ends would be bound with leather or string when the rod was assembled. Thaddeus Norris had discussed tapered splices as giving a rod more flexibility than with metal ferrules. So with ring guides wrapped in place, a brass buttcap fabricated and installed and a couple of coats of varnish, it was ready to go.

Original Clamp Foot Reel
Courtesy
Mullock's Auctions UK
     What followed was deciding on which style of reel to replicate. When I rebuilt my little original English winch, I was encouraged to discovered the straightforward simplicity of the mechanism. Based on the illustrations in T.F.Salter's 1823 "The Angler's Guide and photos of several surviving examples, I finally settled on a Clamp Foot Winch. From what I could gather, historically the Clamp Foot landed somewhere between the Spike Foot and Plate Foot reel and was in use from the late 18th century through a large part of the 19th. I carefully crafted all the parts in heavy brass plate and rod using my drill press as I don't own a metal lathe. I think it turned out swell. I was careful to make sure it would dismantle for future service, using screws on one side of the pillars, instead of peening them over on both sides, like cheaper reels were made. Lastly, I gave it a horn knob.

My replicas
Note the spliced ends of the rod sections are covered
with a tapered piece to protect them.
     To round out the project, I decided I needed a Bait Horn (literally a cowhorn to keep bait in) and finally created what I thought was a viable copy. Then my friend Derek Manov looked at it. Always the astute historian and material culture guru he noticed a flaw in my replica. I had mistaken the patterned dots on an original as just that, dots.  Derek pointed out that they were actually tiny vent holes to allow the captive bugs to breath. Thanks Derek, the bugs thank you too. Lastly I need a float and found the perfect choice in another Salter illustration. It's a pretty simple design that's been aroung a long time, cork and a stick, nothing fancy but the paint. I have yet to give any of this tackle a serious workout so the real fun is yet to come.

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