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Old Fly Fishing Books Online & A Glossary of Old Angling Terms



If you are interested in reading old fly fishing books there are a number of them available on the Internet, mainly on the website https://archive.org/. It is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. Most of these digital books are the result of Google’s approach to keep these books available in our time by scanning the original books and publishing them on the website. Some of the books that are available (and some of the ones I regularly revisit) are for example: T.E. Pritt's Yorkshire Trout Flies and Favorite Flies and Their History by Mary Orvis Marbury. On the website you can also find copies of some of the oldest fly fishing books published, for example The Art of Angling by Richard Brookes, MD (1740) – 1st edition and The Fly-Fisher’s Guide by Geo. C. Bainbridge (1816). To go along with this information I've also decided to publish a glossary of old angling terms which I think will help you understand some of the terms used in many of the older books. This list is not exhaustive, by far, but it may give some help in dealing with the more common terms found in the other books. As with most linguistic problems, reference to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language is suggested for words I have neglected, although the 0. E. D. is occasionally stingy with language that has only a fishing usage. Buzz. A fly "tied buzz" was often mentioned in nineteenth-century writing. In fly-fishing, it had one sense of palmer-tied, even of palmer-tied with two hackles back-to-back for greater flare. This meaning may have some connection with a fly that "buzzes" on the water, the flared hackle imitating frantic activity; however, the word was seemingly more appropriate to a beetle, as in the Marlow Buzz fly. Whether this meaning derives in turn from the buzzing sound of flying beetles, I am not sure; there are at least two other meanings of "buzz" that pre-date its angling sense, one meaning a burr or teasel (and hence a visual similarity to a heavily palmered fly), the other meaning a bushy or hairy wig (and hence the same visual identification.)

Camlet. A glossy material, the thread spun from combed goat's fur; the material thus gave its name to flies using it for the body (e. g., Cotton's Camlet-Fly.) 0. E. D. is incorrect in suggesting that Cotton meant "a fly with mottled wings," al- though his Camlet-fly did have such wings (see Diapered wing.) Marbury (Favorite Flies) is incorrect in suggesting that camlet was made from camel's hair. The material fell out of favor after the first part of the nineteenth century, but "camlet flies" as a type were probably flies with smooth, slim bodies like those now made of silk floss.


Cast. First, what would now be called a leader (that word being a Cockneyism until the middle of the nineteenth century.) Also casting-line, having the same meaning. (Scott, Fishing in American Waters, 1869, "The casting-line, rigged with stretcher and two drop flies . . . ") Second, the leader with its flies, as "a cast of Coachman, Queen of the Waters and Professor." Third, the same as the modern sense, "a brace of trout would take them at almost every cast." (Norris, American Angler's Book, 1864.)


Castle Connell action. A mid-nineteenth-century term for a rod (especially salmon-rod) action from a comparatively heavy top and light mid, resulting in what Scott (1869) called "a kick in the butt [of the rod, not the angler] which nearly upsets a person when wading in a three-feet deep rapid water."


Clecring-ring. A heavy metal ring, divided and hinged, so chat it could be opened and clasped around the line when the hook was fouled underwater. In theory, the ring (attached to another line) could be allowed to slide down the line, where its weight would pull the hook free. "It may be well to observe here that in many cases this little apparatus should only be used with the oil of 'patience', so highly spoken of by Walton." (Brown, Angler's Guide, 1845.)


Coch-y-bonddu hackle. A cock's hackle with black center and red or reddish-brown edges; the feather gave its name to a popular nineteenth-century hackle fly. Often mis- spelled as Cocky-bandy, and so on


Cock-tail. A fly with long, often elevated tail fibres; in Marbury (Favorite Flies, 1892) "owing to (the peculiar reversed and elevated position of the stylets) they are . . . known as cocktails and in Ireland as 'caughlans', meaning cock tails," but as Marbury suggests that the word ultimately derives from the way in which a male duck holds its tail, I suspect she is a bit off here. Hofland's Carshallton Cocktail (1839) and "Halcyon's" Cocktail (1861) both have tail fibres of white cock's hackle, so the material of the tails may explain the name. In that what Marbury called "drakes" (mayflies) were being imitated, however, the way in which the tails were set up may also be implied. 0. E. D. accepts this last as the oldest sense of the word (as applied to horses with tails up). An imitation of the Cocktailed Beetle was not meant, nor was any sense of the modem drink of the same name.


Cad-bait, cod-bait. Caddis or stone-fly larvae, the two being generally confused before well into the nineteenth cen- tury. Brown (1845), in a footnote to Hofland, said "cad- baits . . . are not known amongst Anglers in this country . . ."


Cofflin. An imitation of the mayfly drake; also coughlan (see Cock-tail.) Also coffi'n, as in Sara J. McBride (1876), "The 'brown coffin" and its imago, the 'gray coffin' . . ."


Corked. Used of an early split-bamboo rod by Scott (1869), evidently meaning plugged at the ends and perhaps at intervals to provide support. It is barely possible that Scott used the word in the sense of caulked, i. e., with thin strips of hardwood between the strips or bamboo, but this seems contradicted by his saying that "the only part of the rod which is bamboo is the outside . . . "


Day fly. First, a general term for the may-fly; second, possibly a synonym for journal fly (which see).


Devil, also kill-devil. A rather general term for metal imitation spinning-minnows, usually loaded with many hooks. "Mister Blacker also has recently introduced a modification of the 'devil-bait', with the addition of a pair of Archimedian fins (i. e., to make it spin); this is said to spin well . . ." ("Stonehenge," Encyclopedia of' Rural Sports, 1855.) The development of these early artificial lures apparently had to wait partly for the evolution of a reel from which they could be cast, although early baits were cast from a loop of line held in the free hand. They were first used mainly for pike, and seem not to have bedn popular much before the end of the eighteenth century.


Diapered wing. (Cotton, 1676.) "Diapered" rcfcrrcd to a fabric covered with a small pattern, as in the "diaper stuff" of Cotton's day (which was not used for what are now called diapers.) Specifically, in the case of Cotton's Camlet-fly, it referred to a wing made from mallard flank feather, hence one with an intricate, all-over, dark-light pattern ("double- grey," as Cotton put it.) Marbury (Favorite Flies) was incorrect in quoting Cotton as having written "diapered water-wings", which makes no sense; the correct words were "Diapered or water" wings, as in watered silk, having the same connotation of a pattern in fabric.


Dibhing. Dapping. Also duping and dibbling.


Double action (of a rod.) See Castle Connell.


Doweled ferrulle. A ferrule with a tapered tenon below the male slide and a corresponding recess reamed out below the female cylinder. "I am well aware that fully ninety-five percent. of the fly-rods in use are furnished with dowelled ferrules." (Wells, Fly-rods and Fly-tackle, 1885.) Also double ferrule and double brazing. "I approve of double brazing, as this prevents trouble and danger in breaking the tongue in the socket . . . " (William Blacker, quoted in "Ephemera," A Handbook of Angling, 1847) although he seems here to be speaking specifically of a double ferrule with the dowel made of, or sheathed in brass, as opposed to one of wood. Also, apparently, tongue fitting: "Screw fittings are bad. They are far too heavy, and so get, deranged by hard work. Tongue fittings are the best . . . " The London rod maker Little, quoted in the same work.


Double guide. Two guides attached at the same point of the rod, one hundred and eighty degrees apart so that the line could be used on either side to minimize the chance of a set. (See, for example, Scott, Fishing in American Waters, 1869.) "It is a good plan to have our butt double ringed, by which means we can turn and change our middle joint and top alternately, which keeps the rod straight from warping . . ." (An unnamed source, quoted in "Ephemera", Ifandbook of'Angling, 1847.)


Double-tied. As used by Skues, this referred to dry flies tied with four wing slips, two to a side.


Dow-jack. Colloquial name for the early Heddon bass plugs (from Dowagiac.)


Drake. Mayfly. "All the Mayflies or Drakes." (Preston Jennings, A Book of' Trout Flies, 1935.) 0. E. D. derives this, on the basis of the usage in Treatise of Fishing with an Angle (1496) from the male duck, apparently because of the feather used in the imitation; Marbury (Favorite Flies) discussed the fly "known under various names as 'May-flies', 'day-flies', but generally 'drakes' "but thought the word derived from "the peculiar reversed and elevated position of the stylets." (See cofflin.)


Drop, also droppers. As in modern usage, a fly on a short length of leader material (gut, horsehair) between the end of the leader and the attachment to the line.


Duffing. Dubbing.


Dun. A dull color, grayish; or the subimago stage of the mayflies.


Ferrule. In The Treatise of' Fishing with an Angle (1496), a metal ring around the end of a rod's butt section, probably to prevent-splitting.


Flick. A vigorous falst cast. "Some fishermen who use the dry-fly consider it is not properly dried without a little crack or "flick" taking place at the end of the spread; but this "flick", though doubtless very artistic, often whips off the fly."


Foot line or Foot length "The extreme portion of the line," Gentle. Maggot. Gimp. silk-wound with wire for protection from the teeth of fish like pike. Gorge hook. A weighted hook, usually double or triple, its shaft hidden by the body of a minnow bait. Normally for pike-fishing, they would be swallowed (gorged) with the dead minnow.


Greaseii-line fishing. Fishing for salmon with a floating (i. e., greased silk) line and sparsely-tied (low water) flies.


Gut. Silkworm leader material, made by taking the gut sack before silk is spun and pulling it into a slender strand. Gut came into use early in the eighteenth century and was the principal leader material from the first third of the nineteenth until World War 2.


Hand fly. The dropper nearest the rod and, therefore, the hand.


Hook sizes. Before the relative standardization of the last seventy or eighty years, hook designations varied from maker to maker. According to 1. S. Heddon, " . . . hooks (of the early nineteenth century) were probably measured by the width of their gape and not their shank length . . . early nineteenth century hooks were usually much finer in the wire than their modern counterparts." ("An Attempt to Reproduce Early Nineteenth Century Fly Dressings.") He quotes Stewart (Practical Angler, 1857), "Bartlet (Bartleet) numbers his hooks from 1, the largest size, to 17, the smallest. Addlington's (Adlington's, of Kendal) numbers are from the largest trouting size to 00, the smallest. "Kirkbride (Northern ,angler, 1842) said, "In Carlisle, we . . . speak of large salmon, middle, and small salmon hooks; large gilse (sic) middle and small gilse hooks; large worm, middle and small worm hooks; large cod-bait, middle and small cod-bait hooks; large, middle, and small fly; and midge hooks. We begin at the large worm-size, which we call No. 1, and number the small hooks downwards to No. 12, or small midge hooks.


"In Kendal, the hooks are numbered, from the smallest upwards to No. 15 - our large salmon hook. In ond don, they number from our large gilse hook, downwards, to NO. 14, which is our No. 12." This latter Kendal scale is directly contrary to the Kendal scale quoted by Stewart in 1857, but it corresponds to what Heddon calls the "New Scale" and which he dates from about 1830; in an illustration of 1842, it shows hooks running from the smallest size, 00, to 10, the largest


A Courtney Williams (Trout Flies, 1932) set up the following comparisons of several scales: Redditch or "Old" scale: 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Pennell or "New"scale: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 00 0000000

Kendal scale: 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 00 000

Model perfect scale: 4 5 7 8 10 13 14 15 16 18 19 20 21


These, however, are more or less modern sizes and are for eyed hobks, whic'h typically have standard shank lengths (Heddon's point is well taken that with an eyeless hook, the fly-tier could cut back the shank to the desired length, so that gape was the determinant of fly size.) The plate of hooks shown in Brown's Angler's Guide (1845) shows yet another style, this time the Limerick. The trout hooks are numbered from 12, the smallest, to 1, the largest; the 12 is about a modern 16, the 7 about a modem 10, and the 1 about a modern 4. Because of the many scales of hooks, all instructions for fly-dressing in older bdoks must be read very carefully, and where the style or manufacturer of hook cannot be deter- mined, it is often impossible to find the correct size of fly. By and large, what analysis of old hook size ranges suggests is that many flies before 1850 were smaller than we have often believed.


Joint. The section of a rod - butt joint, middle joint, top joint.


Journal fly. "A fly for general use," (Norris, 1864) specifically the Red Hackle as recommended by Conroy. Leger tackle. Bottom-fishing tackle, with the leader or ground line run through the hole in a tubular sinker so that a nibbling fish would not feel any resistance; what is now called a "fish-finder rig" in the United States.

Loop. In conjunction with a rod, a piece of material (usually a thong) whipped on the tip for the line to pass through; used with a rod with no reel or guides.


Loose rings. Metal rings held to the rod by a thin strip of metal, usually brass, which was in turn held on the rod by turns of thread. The ring would ride in a U-shaped bend in the strip, allowing it to fall flat against the rod when no line was set up. Also known as falling rings or rings and keepers. They gave way to the snake guide after 1895, probably because they were more difficult to manufacture and wind on with thread than because of any real advantage for the average fisherman of the day. Loose rings do not allow as much line to be shot as snake guides, but few anglers would have worried about the distinction then.


Mohair. Uncombed goat's hair, a fuzzy material with a natural sheen. It was probably the most popular of fly body materials for commercial tiers between c. 1850 and the widespread introductions of the dry fly. It takes brilliant colors very well and is an easy dubbing material to use.


Needle-paint hooks. Barbless hooks.


Ooping. Attaching gut to a hook with winds of thread. (Rennie, Alphabet of Angling, 1833.) More commonly arming, less so whipping.


Nottingham reel. In England, a reel with a freely-revolving wooden spool on a simple metal frame. " . . . four inches in diameter, and one disc revolving on a spindle with a hardened steel point. The barrel should be thick, to wind up quickly, and as being easier to start. "(Hopkins, Fishing Experiences of Half a Century, 1893.) Called also by Hopkins the fist reel. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the best English reel for spinning and the one whose popularity probably convinced Henshall that the English had never had a multiplying casting reel.


Oswego bass. The Small-mouthed bass. A correspondent in Brown's American Angler's Guide (1845) distinguished between Oswego and black bass (largemouth and smallmouth).


Paternoster tackle. Bottom-fishing tackle with several hooks on snells above a sinker, the name coming either from a supposed resemblance to a rosary or from the cruciform pattern of the snells and the leader. Sources: The American Fly Fisher Journal

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