My love of ABU fishing tackle, which has developed over more than forty years, would be quite obvious from my efforts to create my website www.realsreels.com , but in reality, the art of angling started long ago, possibly in ancient times when mankind did not even have large settlements, agriculture or any cultural pursuits other than survival of the family or tribal group. Certainly the concept of collecting (that we ABU fans are addicted to!) was inconceivable when the most pressing need would have been the finding of food.
ABU's treatise on History of Sportfishing by ABU's Eric Swan is the first of direct quotes below this article. My favourite naturally!
Perhaps the first fisherman as anonymously quoted, "as being the person who first dared to venture away from the safety of the tribe, to wonder at what the waters beheld," could just be our closest spiritual ancestor. He/she certainly didn't have any equipment but the intellect and bare hands. No doubt these tools were put to good use by the making effort to affect what was observed in the environment! No moon phases, tides, barometric pressure to consider, just availing of opportunity. Fish moved in water and were an opportunity for a meal. Capture was the immediate sentiment/desire of the moment. Few of us today thankfully, have the immediacy of such primal desire to fish, but unfortunately our motives vary considerably from the true purist catch and release approach through to those who are prepared to rape the environment, often ignoring necessary rules and regulations to earn a dollar.
In regard to the heritage of many of us the ancient Celts made reference to fishing in their texts.
Fishing is also mentioned in the texts, but the best known example is probably that of Fionn's capture of the breadán feasa, the salmon of knowledge. According to the legend, Fionn Mac Cumhaill was apprenticed to a druid who instructed him to keep watch for the fabled salmon that would impart the gift of foresight to the first person who tasted its flesh. Fionn caught the fish but, as he was cooking it, the heat of the fire blistered its skin. In fear of the druid's inevitable wrath, Fionn tried to puncture the blister and burned his thumb in the process. He put his thumb in his mouth to cool the burning, thereby inadvertently receiving the first taste Thus he, and not the druid, was gifted with foresight. The druid was, understandably, a little peeved but he realised that Fionn was the one destined to receive the gift. Unfortunately, the legend doesn't give us much information about the method used to catch the fish. We must rely on archaeological evidence for most of our information.
Salmon, trout and eels were the most important fish for the insular Celts, but sturgeon and carp species must have been equally important to those on the mainland close to large rivers such as the Danube. The Celts knew about natural cycles and must have understood that salmon and eels, being migratory fish, were most accessible during their annual passage through estuaries. Weirs and traps made of stone or wood were designed so that fish swimming into them would have difficulty finding the exit. Remains of many such structures built in medieval times have been found in estuaries and the technique is still in use today. More familiar fishing methods, such as hook and line were also used to catch fish but, as is still the practice, the net was the most commonly used device. Ref : Clancy&Nicholson
For those of us of Asian heritage, China has been at the forefront of many emerging technologies and the first depiction of the fishing reel was acknowledged by Wikkipedia as being in the history of science and technology in China, Ma Yuan is remembered as being the first to depict a fishing reel in artwork (i.e. in his painting "Angler on a Wintry Lake").
Back to our insular tribal as well as more civilized forebears...I guess over the millennia, they developed their own new technologies and skills, and learned to use spears, nets, poisons, entrapments and other techniques to earn a feed of fresh fish. It would be a long time (only 400 years from the present) till mankind actively attempted to deceive fish and catch them with a line and natural or artificial bait.
Walton with understudy: by Louis John Rhead Library of Congress
Attempting to read pieces of the classic Izaak Walton text "The Complete Angler" leaves me somewhat perplexed but it seems the first piece of angling equipment was called the "angle" which in our terms was effectively the rod with line tied to it attached to a hook and bait, specifications of which were described in detail, but al long way to go to develop into our, canes, split or rangoon, steel, fibreglass solid or hollow, and carbon fibre and boron modern equivalents. From what I read of "dapping" on Irish or Scottish lochs, whereby a fly was floated on wind currents, using a very long rod and gently dropped onto the water's surface momentarily and lifted, repeatedly until a strike was enticed. I guess this may have origins from the the former basic techniques of Walton. I have read some cynical articles that suggest Walton himself was not a fisherman and the book was allegorical in nature? Any opinions? I have been told that in the second edition of Walton's class tome, released in 1865 (not in paperback ;<) ) that mention was made of a "wheele". I believe this to be the Old English form of the word which means what we accept as a "reel". We are still along way from the Ambassadeur or Cardinal reels that we hold very dear.
A point of great contention is just where and when the Baitcaster style of reel was invented.
To be fair many built on the ideas of others to eventually reach the sophistication that we have today.
I believe the English may have come up with the first that we would consider to be the earliest form of very crude baitcaster. Hans from Holland has helped source an image for me.
I add a picture from William Barker Daniel's book Rural Sports from 1801, showing trolling gear and including the first known picture of a multiplying reel. These (rather flimsy) multipliers - the predecessors of today's baitcasting reels - were made in England from the 1760's, as far as we know now, but possibly even a little earlier.
In was about 1810 that serious efforts by George Snyder from Kentucky USA, who was a watch-maker and Silversmith, produced an effective line control device, that we would recognize as having the potential to become a viable casting reel. There is dispute as to who actually created the first casting reel, but whether it be a British chap or from the USA, it matters little in my mind as all who worked to improve the device should be valued.
It is strange that our fabled original Swedish watch-making firm A.B.Urfabriken was just the final step in a long line of watchmakers who developed the casting reel to the precision instrument that it is today.
Returning to George Snyder, whom many would regard as the Father of the Casting Reel which spun its revolving drum spool during casting. Once again , it was still a long way from the casting finesse of our beloved Ambassadeurs and Morrum variants. Gorge never sold reels (hey just like me!), rather he made them in very limited numbers for his mates, so now down still surviving examples would be greatly treasured by their owners. I remember reading a story in an old Aussie Fishing magazine 30 or 40 years ago which I will relate here as best my memory recalls it.
Apparently one of Snyder's friends from Kentucky was a prominent judge by the name of Munson Browne had his Snyder reel stolen. Around this time another watch-maker by the name of Jonathon Meek, settled in Kentucky near where Browne lived. Browne encouraged him to re-create for him another reel from his memory of the stolen one. So this reel would not be a copy of the original reel, rather a new variation, posssibly with improvements. Why did he not engage Snyder again, who knows, was he dead, or was Browne dead embarrassed to explain his reel had been stolen? Anyway this began a change in life for Meek, from then on making reels not watches, as history (and E-BAY prices) tells us his exquisite reels are highly esteemed and valued today some 170 years later. I'm quite certain, many volumes have been written about Meek and the Kentucky style reels.
One of the short-comings of the reels was the apparent use of rivots to hold the reels together which prevented their service/easy disassembly by the owner. Possibly their use in mainly freshwater environments, saved them from the need for more regular servicing like reels used in harsh saltwater fishing locales. A guy called Hardman soon recognized this fault and remedied it by creating a reel with screws to allow easy disassembly by the owner.
Having a history of watchmakers designing and building such casting reels, it goes without saying that bearings with jewels (remember the first A.B.Urfabriken Record reels with jewels) would be used to alleviate frictions problems where parts rotated and moved against each other.
My understanding is that the next two major issues to solve with perfecting the casting reel were related to braking of the spinning spool, and braking of the spool against a fish drawing line, along with a mechanism for laying line evenly for easy casting and line draw under pressure from a fish. The first to be solved was the multi-washer drag system designed by William Beschen, (the spool over-rotating problem would not be solved for a long time) , but suffice to say ABU sorted this out in various ways starting with centrifugal brake blocks and later the use of magnetic casting controls, all I might add copied and used by a multitude of modern companies today. Another William, by the name of Shakespeare, not of literary fame, rather a man of fine engineering skills, conceived of and built the the spiral level wind mechanism, which looked after the even laying of line across the spool, to permit easier casting and line withdrawal by the fish. Eventually we would see this develop into a very successful concept to be implemented across most modern casting reels .
There is still an issue which will never be solved here when braid is being used and a fast moving fish runs straight back to the angler and the line is wound back on to the spool by the angler as fast as possible to retain tension in the line and hook/lure retaining pressure on the fish. I have had fine braid bury itself in the looser line previously wound on quickly to later dig in and snap. Occasionally it happens and I have no solution.
Continuing with the level wind mechanism, ABU perfected it to stop centrally when line was being being cast (to reduce friction and allow longer casts) It was then to run back and forwards when retrieving line, of course speed is not of such an essence then. Tournament casting (another complete subject) has now moved into the 200m + range, but for the most of us fishing anglers, 25/50/75 and even 100 m is maximum that we require. Accuracy is more important than length..and I won't take that line any further!
We have all heard of horse whispering and I don't suppose there was a piscatorial equivalent, but I imagine this story I have heard from an older chap who hails from cold water trout country, would come close. He tells me as a child he used to practice the art of "fish-tickling" . This involved crawling down quietly and unobserved to the stream edge and slowly feeling along the undercut banks, where trout would rest quietly out of sight, strong current and presumably out of danger. When a trout is located ie felt, apparently one can lift it under the belly (with practice) quickly out of the water and onto the bank in one continuous and flowing upward movement. I have yet to ever be in a region/locality where I could attempt this practice and thus experience success with the technique. In my tropical area, one might lose a hand, an arm or even a life from creatures that are not so gentle in nature as a trout. I would love to host photos and a more detailed story here if anyone has personal experience and would be willing to share.
I would need a lot more space to go beyond this consideration of casting reels, to discuss automatic fly reels, fixed spool reels, close face reels, big game reels etc The subject of other article I should think.
Australians were early creators of technologically improved and innovative reels such as the long line of Alvey surf fishing sidecast reels and winches, (even superb Clones/Copies of Alvey) Graeme Junior, Seamartin etc but we were also very early adopters of the best from other countries be they, bait-casters from such diverse manufactures as Penn, Pfleuger, Heddon, Daiwa, Shimano but none so more so than the 50 year love affair we had with the products of Svangsta, namely the Ambassadeurs which continue to evolve today.
It is nice to appreciate the development of the casting reel or bait-caster and realize the long sequence of talented watch-makers who built our dream reels.
History of Sportfishing by ABU's Eric Swan
This is the best discourse on Sportfishing I have ever read and was written by Mr Eric Swan in the 1967 ABU Tight Lines/Napp och Nytt
Another view from Wal Hardy