August 8, 1973

Cleopatra Subject Of First Fish Story

This is going to be a short piece this week because I'm going fishing.  I've been too long away from the wily trout, and my equipment needs looking after.

I always wonder, at times like these, why I don't spend more time with the hook and line.  A minister once told me that fishing time is free time.  Though the Good Book tells us our days are numbered as are the hairs on our head, my pastor gave it as his considered opinion that the Lord did not count those happy hours either praying or fishing.

The Bible contains many references to fishing.

Habakkuk, lamenting the ascendancy of the Chaldeans over his people, says: "They take up all of them with the angle.  They catch them in their net.  And gather them in the drag."

Job asks: "Cans't thou fill his skin with barbed iron?  or his head with fish spears?" And, again: "Cans't thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?  or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?"

The Prophet Isaiah said: "The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle in the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish."

Jesus must have been a fisherman because He used angling terms in discourses with His disciples.  "Come," He said to Peter, "and I will make you a fisher of men."

Fishing is the oldest sport of mankind.  Archaeologists at the site of Ur, capital city of the ancient Chaldees, have unearthed fishhooks well made and not unlike those in use today - nearly five thousand years old.

Nets, drags and trot lines are used to catch fish in quantity and represents work rather than sport.  The rod and artificial fly is the unmistakable mark of fishing for fun.

The earliest known picture of a rod fisherman is an Egyptian wall painting dating from 2000 B.C.  The pole was heavy at the hand end, more like a billiard cue, but the fat fish at the end of the line made the function clear.

The Roman rhetorician Claudius Aelian gave us the first written description of fly fishing about 200 A.D.  The anglers were Macedonians.  Their stream was the river Astraeus.  Judging from other hints Aelian I gives us, the quarry must have been a species of trout.

Says Aelian: "They fasten red wool around hook and fix to the wool two feathers that grow under a cock's wattles, and which in color' are like wax.  The rod they use is six feet long and the line of the same length.  Then the angler lets fall his lure.  The fish, attracted by its color and excited, draws close and ... forthwith opens its mouth, but is caught by the hook, and bitter indeed is the feat it enjoys, inasmuch as it is captured."

Wow!  The description makes my right hand twitch.

It is curious why more women don't enjoy the sport of fishing.  Angling with artificial flies was invented by women of the Persian court who detested handling worms and minnows.  They fashioned hooks from pins and silk thread from their sewing baskets.  Then, with their guards and ladies in waiting they cast daintily into the mountain streams.

The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was an ardent fisherwoman, and is the subject of one of the earliest "fish stories."  The tale is tucked away in Plutarch's account of the noble Roman Mark Antony.

It seems that Antony and Cleopatra were out in a boat fishing one day but the fish just weren't biting.  Embarrassed that he was doing so poorly in front of his lady love Antony instructed the servants attending the royal party to slip over side and attach some fish that already had been caught to his hook.

Cleopatra was suspicious of Antony's uncanny luck, but she praised his skill and announced that all would return the next day to see the great angler at work.

Next day, however, it was Cleopatra's divers who were paddling about underwater.  To Antony's hook they attached "a salted fish from Pontus," very dead.  Feeling the tug on his line, Antony hauled it in to the guffaws of the crowd.

Antony, a true fisherman, rallied with the remark that although the fish was not the largest caught that day, it certainly was the oldest.

The first book written in the English language is one on the art of angling - by a woman.  The "Boke of St.  Albans" printed in 1496 in England contained a chapter by Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of the Benedictine nunnery of Sopwell.

She gives detailed instructions for the construction of rods, hooks, lines and artificial flies.  It was she who discovered that there was a relationship between the hatching cycle of insects and the feeding habits of fish.  "He who can best match the hatch will take the most fish," she wisely declared.

She designed twelve patterns of flies, one for each month of the year.  Some are still popular today.

Which reminds me, where are my Royal Coachmans?

Author: Lindsey Williams

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