The American Museum of Fly Fishing is a great resource for anglers interested in the history of the sport. Next month, the museum will be holding a viewing of the Haslinger Breviary, considered by some to be one of the oldest texts on fly fishing. Written by Leonardus Haslinger, a priest in Austria, the text includes detailed instructions on 15th century fly-tying and fishing methods. However, unfortunately, the flies themselves cannot survive for nearly so long. The world’s oldest surviving flies actually come from the Harris Collection, some of which you can see below, and date back to 1789. They are so old, they outdate the first illustration of a fly.
According to the museum, the flies were tied by an Irish man named Thomas Cummess and later collected by the famous author J.R. Harris. Shown below is a sample of the dozen flies in the collection, most of which are tied on Limerick-style hooks. One of the flies is accompanied by a note proclaiming that it caught four salmon at Galway. Historians note that the flies are especially interesting since they show a snapshot in how early anglers were still experimenting with what worked best. Some of the plumages seen here are actually feathers from the golden pheasant.
What do you think? Modern flies may have these oldtimers beat on a lot of things, but there’s no doubt they’re beautiful flies.