When Was Fly Fishing Invented? (A Brief History)


Like many of you, I’m sure the question of when fly fishing was invented rarely runs across my mind. But while doing some research on fly fishing techniques, I began to wonder when it all began. I’ve gathered some information and decided to share it with you.

So, when was fly fishing invented? Fly fishing dates back to 200 AD. This is simply when a tactic similar to what we call fly fishing was first mentioned or described, meaning that the origin of fly fishing may date back even farther than recorded. Because of this, it could be called an “ancient tradition.”

Once I knew a general timeline for when fly fishing was invented, I began to grow more curious as to who invented it, why they did so, and why the practice of fly fishing has continued on for thousands of years. Read on to see what I found!

Who Really Invented Fly Fishing and Why?

While the first reference of fly fishing is in 200 AD by a man named Aelian (no this does not mean fly fishing was invented by aliens), in his book “On the Nature of Animals” he described a Macedonian fishing tactic.

This book is the first known recorded evidence of what we call fly fishing.

“On the Nature of Animals” describes how the Macedonians wanted to catch a specific fish that lived in the Astraeus River. They noticed that this fish commonly ate a specific species of fly that fed just above the surface of the water. This fly species was call the Hippouros (good luck pronouncing that!).

When a Hippouros was close enough to the water, a fish would jump out of the water to eat the fly. After observing this, the Macedonians began their attempts to catch this coveted fish.

In their attempts to attract the fish, the Macedonians found that it was unsafe and unclean for them to touch the fly that their fish so commonly ate. Their next step towards catching the perfect fish would be deception.

The Macedonians started by tying red wool around a hook, attaching two feathers from a chicken to the wool, and attached it to a six-foot-long rod, with an equal length of the line.

The method must have proved effective since today we can see evidence of fly fishing being practiced all across the globe.

This story is accredited with the invention of fly fishing. So drop that knowledge at the next family gathering and see who is surprised that you know the origination of fly fishing!

The First Fly Fishing Tournament

From the first cast of a Macedonian fisher, to the first cast of an expert modern fisher, fly fishing has grown in many ways.

The origin of fly fishing while a humble beginning of trying to secure food for their families, has grown into a beloved sport that features many tournaments.

The first World Fly Fishing Championships were held in 1981 by the Confederation Internationale de la Peche Sportive and have happened annually ever since.

This tournament features competition between 30 different teams from 6 different countries and occurs in a series of five different sessions.

In the United States, they hold the World Fly Fishing Championship to an Olympic standard. Only the best anglers are selected to represent the entire country not only in the World Fly Fishing Championship but in a plethora of other competitions year round.

The Fly Fishing Team of the United States of America (FFTUSA) expects each of the team members to “represent the USA with honor and dignity and will display sportsmanship to Olympic standards with respect for their fellow members and competitors from around the world.” This is just a small piece of evidence going to show that fly fishing has evolved from a simple act of deceit in Macedonia to a respected world-wide activity.

Content Credit: Fly Fishing Team USA

Another highly ranked fly fishing tournament is “The Legends of the Fly.”

The Legends of the Fly fishing tournament is held in Virginia each year in the fall. Like many other fishing competitions the Legends of the Fly encourages each of the anglers to participate in learning more about water conservation techniques.

In 2018, they donated over seven thousand dollars to Project Healing Waters (which I will go more into depth about in the next section).

Practical Uses For Fly Fishing

Since its invention fly fishing has evolved from a “deceitful” way to catch fish, into a competition sport. However, fly fishing has a practical use in society as well.

As I mentioned above, Project Healing Waters is an organization that uses fly fishing in an incredible way.

The main objective of this project is to aid in the rehabilitation (both physical and emotional) of disabled military persons or veterans. They achieve this objective through fly fishing.

To further aid in their rehabilitation, The Legend of the Fly competition opens participation to any member of the Project Healing Waters at no cost to them. This was played an incredible role in the 2018 competition since, for the first time in 3 years, the winning team of The Legend of the Fly competition was a participating member of Project Healing Waters.

Project Healing Waters is not the only organization out there that has chosen to use fly fishing as a means of rehabilitation.

Another one of these organizations is called Casting for Recovery and aims specifically to aid women who are dealing or who have dealt with breast cancer. They use fly fishing as a means to help inspire these women and to help them find new energy in life by being out in nature.

Once again, this just goes to show how fly fishing has advanced over time. Beginning as a simple means of obtaining food into a sport that can now draw people closer together.

Why You Too Should Try Fly Fishing

Fly fishing- or any form of fishing- has the ability to take you to a new location every time, where the experience will never be exactly the same. It is for this reason (plus the five others I am about to share with you) that fly fishing is such a wonderful activity to participate in.

  1. You have to use your brain to be a successful fly fisherman
    • While spin fishing requires some extensive knowledge of the river, fly fishing requires one to understand the flow of the river, fish feeding patterns, and even how the bugs act in the area. It is for this reason that fly fishing is a desirable activity for anyone with a strategically thinking brain
  2. It can be a workout
    • While many people fly fish from the shore or even from a boat, the best workout comes when one is wading deep into the river. You have to fight against the current and avoid hidden obstacles in order to find that perfect fishing spot. Not to mention that the repeated casting can really work an arm.
  3. The view
    • Like I said above, fly fishing gives the unique opportunity to wade further into the water than most other forms of fishing. For this reason, you get to see more. More of the water, more of the fish, and more of the area around you. It is a unique view!
  4. It challenges your brain!
    • As I mentioned above, fly fishing requires a strategic quick thinking brain. If you are one who enjoys a challenge, definitely check out fly fishing. It will take practice to truly “master” the sport but it is possible!
  5. Fly fishing is fun!
    • Besides the challenges that come along with fly fishing, it can be quite relaxing and lots of fun! The thrill of the chase, or just spending time with friends on the river are all parts of what makes fly fishing such an enjoyable sport.

Related Questions:

When was fishing invented? From my understanding fishing was probably invented around the same time as people. We have evidence that fly fishing was around in the early AD years, leading one to believe that fishing has been around longer than that even. However, deep sea fishing is said to have been “improved” by Thomas Barker in the 1650s.

When was the fly fishing rod invented? The longer rod used for fly fishing was first seen in the 4th century. The rods were originally made of many different kinds of wood, such as bamboo, willow, green hart, and ash. Modern fly fish rods are much different and are generally as light as possible.

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Stripped Bass.

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