And therefore, to all you that are virtuous, gentle and freeborn, I write and make this simple treatise which follows, by which you can have the whole art of angling to amuse you as you please, in order that your age may flourish the more and last the longer.
Dame Juliana Berners, The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle
Over five hundred years ago, Dame Juliana Berners, a nun and noblewoman, wrote the first instructional fishing text in the English language: The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle. It’s estimated Dame Juliana first wrote down her angling observations in Hertfordshire, England about 1421-25, more than two hundred years before Izaak Walton wrote his fly-fishing classic The Compleat Angler in 1653.
One of history’s all-time best sellers, The Compleat Angler presents a mellow philosophy of life along with trout fishing tips. Reprinted at least three hundred times, at one point its sales were only exceeded by the Bible and Pilgrims Progress. From the fifteenth century to today’s monthly magazines, trout fishing continues to be a thoroughly dissected topic.
Dame Juliana’s treatise was printed about 1496 as part of the second edition of The Book of St. Albans, a nobleman’s primer on hunting, fishing and heraldry. The Book of St. Albans is memorable for its colorful terms for groups of animals: an exaltation of larks, a bouquet of pheasants, a knot of toads, and a murder of crows. And when you catch several fish, it’s called a brace of trout. You should be so lucky.
Dame Juliana’s treatise goes into mind-numbing, eye-glazing detail (to a non-angler) on creating imitation flies that fish will bite, using materials such as fur, feathers, wool, and silk. She also specifies when, where and how to use them and recommends the proper attitude for approaching angling. Dame Juliana calls angling a pleasure and a recreation to be treasured and conserved by well-meaning individuals.
Doesn’t that sound like today’s trouser trout angling? Don’t we anglers dress up in silk, wool or leather to lure some trout’s attention? Aren’t we stalking the streams in which an available lunker might lurk? Don’t we cast about to land a good catch? Isn’t it true that girls just want to have fun?