History of Recreational Fishing and Juliana Berners

Recreational fishing (also known as sport fishing) is fishing, not for food or profit but for pleasure or competition. As such is a pastime of people since the 15th century. It is done with a rod, reel, line, hooks and lures or baits and is commonly known as “angling”.

Picture Of Recreational Fishing

When and where recreational fishing began - we don’t know for sure. We have some anecdotal evidence that Japanese used to fly-fish in 9th century BC and that Macedonians did the same in 2nd century but that is all for such ancient times and we still don’t know when precisely people started using fishing as a way of relaxation. The first English text that had as a theme fishing as recreation appeared in 1496 so it is safe to say that sport fishing was popular in Europe before that. This text was “Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle” and was a part of book called “Boke of Saint Albans” which was written by Dame Juliana Berners and has as a theme hawking, hunting, and heraldry. This text contained information on fishing waters, the construction of rods and lines, and the use of natural baits and artificial flies. It was also in inspiration for later books about angling like “The Secrets of Angling” (1613), “The Experienced Angler” by Robert Venables (1662), “Compleat Angler” by Izaak Walton (1653) and like which later popularized recreational fishing. Some of them are still relevant today. Later inventions like running rings, reels and cheaper and modern materials allowed many people to take recreational fishing as their hobby or sport.

Juliana Berners - Essay on recreational fishing

Picture Of Juliana Berners

Dame Juliana Berners, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict) was born 1388 but it is not much known about her. It is known that she was a noblewoman and that she was brought up at court. She adopted the monastic life, but that didn’t distance her from her love of hawking, hunting and fishing. She wrote about them in The Book of Saint Albans. Part about angling in that book was added in 1496 and was the first text with that theme in Europe. Bale, one of early English antiquaries, wrote in his “Lives of the Most Eminent Writers of Great Britain” from 1559 that she had “superior qualities both mental and personal” and he credits to her that she was the one who saw that sports are the exercises of noble men after wars and substitute for them. John McDonald, in his The Origins of Angling, says about her that she was “noble in birth and spirit, sociable, solitary, dashing, beautiful, learned, and intellectual.” He says that he thinks that “she fled to field sports to avoid love” and that she maybe “retired to a convent 'from disappointment'” but he isn’t sure. Like we said – nothing precise is known about this woman but it is known that she practically single-handedly popularized sport of recreational fishing and without her it is a question where it would be today.

Many women’s fly-fishing clubs and associations in the United States and Europe are named after her and in her honor.