Special Feature:
Early Fly Fishers in Spain

 

ritten by a retired Aragonese soldier in 1539, Fernando Basurto’s The Little Treatise on Fishing, is the Spanish counterpart of The Treatyse on Fishing with an Angle. The Little Treatise is remarkable because it is the first known work which uses the literary form of a dialogue to establish the rank of fishing among other sports. Basurto’s text throws a little illumination on how the author fished: he used a jointed rod with a wooden butt section and a whalebone tip, silk-bodied flies, and he recommended "throwing down the stream and going up the stream with reasonable speed so that the feather goes along the top of the stream, for in such a manner the trout eat real flies and so we fool them with artificial ones." Furthermore, the angler is instructed to capture naturals at the river, match them for colour and to use a representative artificial to catch his trout. Basurto’s flies were tied on spade-ended hooks, the materials used being silk (used to wrap the bodies and again to rib them), the soft hackles of capons, ducks and the unidentified bunal. The hackles were tied in at the butt with the tip forward, wraps then being made over the butt toward the spade end of the hook, before the tip was turned up and bound back in the finishing of the head.

Coupled with knowledge gleaned from a later Spanish work, we have a relatively good picture of early fly fishing in Spain. The later work, El Manuscrito de Astorga, was written by one Juan de Bergara in 1624. Bergara's patterns are sophisticated, in many cases being more complex than late nineteenth and early twentieth century British patterns. What is most interesting is the fact that this list seems to have had little influence on British flies of the time.

The Astorga patterns were densely tied, some using up to five different hackles, and they would have been well suited the style of fishing recommended by Basurto. Spanish fishermen of the time used much the same sort of equipment as their English counterparts, chiefly long ash rods without reels. More recently, these rods have been used with a method very like dapping, and if this harks back to an old practice, then the flies detailed in the manuscript might  have been intended to float, but there is no historical evidence for this.

Juan de Bergara mentions in his text that his manuscript, "… it is an adaptation and carries weight from books written by anglers of vast experience." Did he know of the existence of The Little Treatise? Given that El Manuscrito de Astorga didn’t come to light until 1935, there is a slim hope that other originals might be lurking in private libraries in Spain. One can only hope that they did not suffer the same fate as the original of Bergara’s work, which is missing, presumed burned, with a large part of General Franco’s library.

 

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