Fast Facts: Fishing Around the World

Since the early days, humans have planted their homes waterside by oceans, rivers, and lakes to be close to a food source. According to, fishing can be dated to around 40,000 years ago. In many cultures, fish were and remained a food source for survival. Spearfishing with harpoons was standard practice, as was using nets.

Early cultures around the world left records of people fishing. For example, tomb carvings and drawings on papyrus scrolls show Egyptians fishing and preparing fish for dinner. The ancient Egyptians used woven nets, harpoons, and hooks to catch Nile perch, catfish, and eels. Ancient Greeks and Romans wrote about fishing and recorded images by painting scenes and mosaics on vases. Ancient Macedonians documented using artificial flies to catch trout.

In China, writings and painted images were found indicating people were fishing with silk lines, a hook, and a bamboo rod— the first fishing pole. Early peoples in India caught fish using harpoons attached to long cords. The Moche of Peru painted images of fishing on their ceramic pots, and Native Americans along the California coast fished with hooks made from wood and bone and line tackle.

The use of fishing rods can be traced back over 4,000 years ago. The first rods were made from six-foot-long bamboo, hazel shoots, or thin, tapered, flexible wood sections with a horsehair line attached. A version of a hook was tied to the end of the line.

Commercial fishermen using gill nets can be traced back 3,000 years to the Edo period in Japan. However, the earliest printed record of the recreational fishery was the book the Treatyse of Fysshynge With an Angle written by English writer Juliana Berners.

The fishing tackle began to improve around the 1600s. A wire loop was attached to the end of the rod, allowing for a running line and helpful for casting and playing with a hooked fish. Thus the fishing reel was developed; a wooden spool with a metal ring that fitted over the fisherman’s thumb. Rods were intentionally designed to have sections so the rod could be quickly taken apart and carried from one place to another.

By 1770, rods with guides along their length for the line and a reel were being used. The first proper reel was a geared reel attached under the rod, and by turning the handle, moved the spool several revolutions. Rods were also better when using strong elastic straight-grained woods such as lancewood from South America and bamboo from India.

In the late 1800s, rods made were more robust and thinner by gluing together several strips of bamboo. A line made of silk covered with coats of oxidized linseed oil replaced horsehair, allowing for longer casts.

By the early 1900s, fishing rods were being made with fiberglass. Fishing reels were improved, and spin-casting reels soon became popular. In the 1930s, nylon monofilament was developed, a synthetic nonabsorbable suture composed of a polyamide polymer with excellent elasticity, high tensile strength, controlled elongation, and extremely low tissue reactivity. In the mid-1940s, braided and synthetic lines were produced. By the late 1960s, rods were made with carbon fiber, making them stronger, shorter, and lighter. Plastics began to replace wood for artificial casting lures.


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