Call me Ishmael: Medieval Fishing

Dame Aoife brings us a bounteous net-full of links that are all about fishing in the Middle Ages. (Sorry about the pun...we couldn't resist the bait! —ed.)

Greetings, Faithful Readers!

This week's Links List is in memoriam to a recently passed but very great fisher of men--John Paul II, who passed away yesterday (Saturday April 2nd, 2005, which is also my 17th wedding anniversary). I cannot help but be saddened by the passing of someone who brought so much positive change to the world in such a gentle manner. And, as the world mourns, in its inevitable way spring has come to my tiny northern town. The grass peeps through the snow, rain falls, the roads are muddied, and the signs of growth and activity are unmistakable. Not only is it the reason of renewal, is also very nearly the season of trout fishing, which brings us from the fisher of men to the fisher of fish.....

While Fishing may not be your "thing", to be truly medieval I suppose you would have at least a passing knowledge of the process. If you existed in Medieval times fish were a staple in your diet, no matter who you were or where you lived. Certainly there were whole sets of days for which the Catholic religion prescribed that the only animal protein taken was fish. That meant that to be a fisherman during these times and in those places was to be a popular and busy sportsman. If you're not that sort of sportsman, however, do not despair! There is plenty here for other folk: Heralds will like the Fish in Heraldry page, Cooks and Mythologians will like the Gode Cookery pages, and Bards will delight in the Shakespeare the Angler page and the Robin Hood Ballad page. In the links below you can learn about how to make a medieval fishing hook, how to make a net, and how to fly-fish the medieval way.

As always, please share this wherever a ready audience can be found. Much of this Links List would have been impossible without the incredible medieval fishing website of Liam O'Shea at http://www.farreaches.org/.

Your devoted servant,

Aoife

Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
m/k/a Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt
Riverouge, Endless Hills, Aethelmearc

PS: If you wish to correspond with Aoife directly, please send mail to: mtnlion at ptd dot net.


Stefan's Florilegium--Fishing Messages
http://www.florilegium.org/files/ANIMALS/fishing-msg.html
(Site Excerpt from ONE message) Marc/Diarmaid posted concerning metal fish hooks in the Middle Ages. I have a book at home I'll get and make available. It's a translation of a 15th century treatise on angling. You may be intersted, Diarmaid, in knowing that they were made from (I don't have the book with me,) a shoe-maker's needle (or something closely named) and worked with an anvil and forge.

Fly Fishing in Medieval Times
http://www.flyfishinghistory.com/fly_fishing_in_medieval_times.htm
(Site Excerpt) The first reference is from a romance written in about 1210 by Wolfram von Eschenbach, whose hero Schionatulander wades barefoot in a stream to catch trout and grayling with a fly. Other texts identify fly fishing as the chosen method of commoners from 1360 onwards, across a vast area reaching from the Swiss plain to Styria.

Fishing and Fishermen in Medieval Works of Art
http://www.geocities.com/karen_larsdatter/fishing.htm
Seven links to web images

Regia Anglorum: Fishing in Early Medieval Times
http://www.geocities.com/karen_larsdatter/fishing.htm
(Site Excerpt) Although in 730 AD, according to Bede, Bishop Winfrid of Colchester apparently: '...found so much misery from hunger, he taught the people to get food by fishing. For, although there was plenty of fish in the seas and rivers, the people had no idea about fishing, and caught only eels. So the Bishop's men got together eel nets from all sides. and threw them into the sea. By God's help they caught three hundred fish, of all different kinds.'

The Arte of Angling Olde to New
http://www.farreaches.org/fishing/
Sixteen links to medieval fishing, for adults and children

The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle
http://www.farreaches.org/fishing/treatise/treatyse_index.html
(Site Excerpt) If you want to be crafty in angling, you must first learn to make your tackle, that is, your rod, your lines of different colours. After that, you must know how you should angle, in what place of the water, how deep, and what time of day. For what manner of fish, in what weather; how many impediments there are in the fishing that is called angling. And especially with what baits for each different fish in each month of the year. How you shall make your baits breed. Where you will find the baits: and how you will keep them. And for the most crafty thing, how you are to make your hooks of steel and of iron. Some for the artificial fly: and some for the float and the ground-line, as you will hear afterward all these things talked about openly so that you may learn.

THE COMPLEAT ANGLER BY IZAAK WALTON
http://www.farreaches.org/fishing/walton/izintro.html
(Site Excerpt) On the Nature and Breeding of the Trout, and how to fish for him...The Trout is a fish highly valued, both in this and foreign nations. He may be justly said, as the old poet said of wine, and we English say of venison, to be a generous fish: a fish that is so like the buck, that he also has his seasons; for it is observed, that he comes in and goes out of season with the stag and buck. Gesner says, his name is of a German offspring; and says he is a fish that feeds clean and purely, in the swiftest streams, and on the hardest gravel; and that he may justly contend with all fresh water fish, as the Mullet may with all sea fish, for precedency and daintiness of taste; and that being in right season, the most dainty palates have allowed precedency to him.

A Historical Look at the Sport of Angling by Doug Dillon
http://www.farreaches.org/fishing/angling.html
(Site Excerpt) Ancient pictographs dating from about 2000 B.C. indicate that the first known anglers were the Egyptians. A drawing dating from c. 1400 B.C., which depicts an Egyptian noble angling in an elegant pond, suggests they were also the first culture which enjoyed it as a sport. The Greeks, who wrote avidly on fishing, discuss the sport of angling in greater detail, and provide some of the earliest amounts of the equipment used. The Romans, by contrast, did not seem to hold the sport in very high regard, since there is mention that it was an activity for women and not a fitting sport for men.

Shakespeare the Angler
by Dr. John Day
http://www.farreaches.org/fishing/shakes/shakes.html
(Site Excerpt) After his death, Shakespeare attracted dozens of biographers, but while he was alive he had none. And so, legions of scholars have had to analyse his plays and poems word by word to piece together Shakespeare the man, and to determine his likes and dislikes. As to whether Shakespeare enjoyed fishing, the scholars, as we shall see, are divided. All in all, they've sifted from Shakespeare's works about 200 allusions to fish and fishing. Some of these 200 refer to sea fish like mackerel and herring, but they all smell of the dining-table or the fishmonger. Living inland, Shakespeare probably only once or twice visited the sea.

Fishy Heraldry Lord Liam OShea
http://www.farreaches.org/fishing/fishy_heraldry.html
(Site Excerpt) It appears that the earliest heraldry containing a fish is that of the Zodiac sign Pisces. This sign is said to be representation of fishing on the Nile, where the season generally starts in February. The symbol for Pisces can be found on the west entrance to Iffley Church in England. Iffley is considered one of the most beautiful still-extant examples of Anglo-Norman architecture.

Medieval Sourcebook: Cartulary of Saint Trond: Robert, Bishop of Liège: Protection of Fishing Rights, 1246
http://www.fordham.edu/HALSALL/source/1246Fishrts.html
(Site Excerpt) We admonish each of you and command you to prohibit in general, publicly and solemnly, all people from fishing in the waters of Willebempt and in the other streams of our beloved and faithful son, the Abbot of Saint-Trond, situated in the town of Saint-Trond, without permission or without the command of the said abbot.
SEE ALSO:
Medieval Sourcebook: Louis the Pious: Grant of Fishing Rights, 832
http://www.fordham.edu/HALSALL/source/832louispious-fishing1.html
(Site Excerpt) Wherefore be it known to all, both present and future, that, by these presents, we have granted for the love of God and for the salvation of our soul, to the monastery which is called New Corvey, which we built in Saxony in honor of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, and at the head of which is our faithful cousin Warin, its first abbot, a certain fishery in the River Weser.

The Medieval Sportsmen Compendium of Knowledge
http://www.farreaches.org/foresters/
25 sources for the Medieval Fisherman, many in print.

A Boke of Gode Cookery---Fish and Seafood Recipes
http://www.godecookery.com/goderec/goderec.htm#fish
(Site Excerpt) Pykes in brasey. Take pykes and vndo hem on þe wombes and waisshe hem clene, and lay hem on a roost irne. Þenne take gode wyne and powdour gynger & sugur, good wone, & salt, and boile it in an erthen panne; & messe forth þe pyke & lay the sewe onoward. SEE ALSO:
Fantastic Fish of the Middle Ages
http://www.godecookery.com/ffissh/ffissh.htm
(Site Excerpt) Here are the fantastic and incredible fish of the Middle Ages, which populated both the waters and the imagination of the medieval world. Real creatures still familar to us, such as the salmon and the crayfish will be found here, but you will also read of such fabulous specimens as the Abremon, which propagated without intercourse, the Ezox, so large that a four-horsed cart could not carry one away, and the Nereydes, sea monsters that cried whenever one of them died.

The Raversijde Domain Walraversijde
(A reconstructed medieval fishing town near Flanders)
http://users.pandora.be/alex.deseyne/ENG/WalraversijdeE.htm
(Site Excerpt) Walking through the reconstructed medieval landscape brings the visitor to four fisherman's houses: the house of a rich ship owner, the home of a fisherman's widow, a tradesman's house and finally the fish smokehouse and bakery. When building these houses, much depended on archaeological evidence to know how they had to look like. Moreover, these houses have been rebuilt using the original medieval bricks of the village. All objects that can be seen in the houses are true replica from recent findings. Thanks to the audio equipment, visitors are guided through the houses by the voice of medieval inhabitants.

Kingdom of Atlantia Arts and Sciences: Fish and Fishing
http://moas.atlantia.sca.org/wsnlinks/index.php?action=displaycat&catid=118
17 links to information, some of which appear here.

Fishing off Spain in Medieval Times
http://www.cliffordawright.com/history/fish_spain.html
(Site Excerpt) In the Mediterranean when one mentions hake, one must talk about the Spanish. Although Spain, and Castile in particular, was similar to Sicily in the secondary importance that fish had in the diet and the economy, hake was the most popular of fish. Hake is a gadoid fish (meaning it resembles cod), except it lacks the barbel of the cod and has a long second dorsal and anal fin running from mid-body to the tail fin. Spanish fishermen have caught hake since the fourteenth century, and the Spanish fondness for hake has resulted in a great variety of preparations.

ROBIN HOOD'S FISHING: INTRODUCTION (A Renaissance Ballad)
http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/fishint.htm
(Site Excerpt) This ballad is found in seventeenth-century broadsides and garlands and was entered in the Stationers' Register in 1631. The earliest of the Wood texts, which Child relied on (dated by Wing at 1650?), is quite unclear in the final action and appears to have been cut down to fit onto a broadside sheet. The version found in the Forresters manuscript has a fuller and more lucid sequence of final action, and, as its sense of completeness appears most unlikely to have been generated editorially from the broadside version, its text is used here.