The Origins of Fly Fishing

What do you think of when you envision the first fly fisherman/woman? I always imagined an English “gent” wearing a tweed outfit exploring their local riverways with his/her hunting dog in tow. While this image certainly exists currently in the United Kingdom (see my previous blog posts about living and fishing in the U.K.) it is nowhere close to the actual origin of fly fishing 

While living in the United Kingdom, I naively thought I was going to connect with the roots of fly fishing. Once I settled into my new life there, I finally went to research the origin story and was shocked that I could not have been more wrong in my assumption! Turns out, the origins date back much further in history - to the country that brought us democracy - Greece!

The first reference to the style of fishing we know  as “fly fishing” was in about 200 A.D. by a man named Aelian. He wrote a book called On The Nature of Animals and described a  method of fishing apparently invented by the Macedonians (Ancient Northern Greeks). Greeks have always been known for their fishing and nautical skills, but this text describes a different style of fishing as it concentrates on a particular fish found in the Astraeus River, rather than the sea.  

The fish in question is described to be spotted and to eat flies aggressively from the surface or even while in the air, which sounds like a brown trout to me.  Aelian goes into great detail on the innovative methods the Greeks would use to catch the fish. The Ancient Greeks did not want to handle actual insects directly, so in order to catch these fish they decided to mimic the local Hippouros fly by attaching red wool and two rooster's feathers to a hook. The hook was then tied to a long stick and fly fishing was born! 

All of this was such a surprise to me! My fiance is first-generation Greek-American and we were headed there in a few months to plan our wedding. So of course I got excited to learn more, and obviously look into fishing opportunities on our upcoming trip.  

This led me to one of the only sources for Greek fly fishing  and in turn my new friend Tolis - 1 of the only 35 reported fly fishermen in the country! We made plans to meet and attempt to fish like the Ancient Greeks, even using the same original fly!

Next week’s blog post will cover our epic journey into Greece’s mythical mountains to go fish where it all started. 


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  • DanO

    Great story! Can’t wait to read the next installment!

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