The Fly(fish)ing Nun

The Fly(fish)ing Nun

Who wrote the first angling book?; When floating lines sink

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
Here's a hot potato for you: Did an angling writer named Dame Julianna Berners really exist-and if she did, was she the author of the world's first fly-fishing book, The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle?

This is indeed a question of some controversy. Unfortunately, the answer on both counts is, probably not.

The Treatise-or Treatyse of Fysshyng with an Angle-was published anonymously as part of the second Book of St. Albans in 1496, long before Izaak Walton's celebrated 1653 work, The Compleat Angler. The first Book of St. Albans, which preceded the first by 10 years, contained no fishing material-but it did include s treatise on hunting attributed to "Dam Julyans Barnes." The hunting treatise reappeared in the second book, this time with the slightly altered attribution "Dame Julyans Bernes." Legend has subsequently identified Dame Julyans as Julianna, a nun and noblewoman whose father was James Berners.

Many historians strongly assert that it was merely for the sake of convenience that Dame Julyans was later credited with the authorship of the fishing treatise as well as the work on hunting. As A.J. McClane put it in his McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia, "…The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle has wanted an author, and as her name has been the only convenient one, it was adopted…by fishing writers and librarians, and has outlasted the protests of historians."

As for Dame Julianna herself, the genealogical records of the Berners family contain no evidence that such a person ever existed. In addition, because James Berners was beheaded in 1388, she would have been born no later than 1389-and would therefore have been over 100 at the time the second Book of St. Alban's was published.

Women, including nuns, did hunt and fish in the Middle Ages, and it is probable that a woman named "Barnes"- or something like it -actually wrote the hunting treatise in the St. Albans book. But who she really was is likely to remain a mystery. -P.G.

On every floating line I buy the tip eventually begins to sink. How do I prevent this, and are there lines out there that don't have this problem? How about the new super-slick lines? Also, I attach my leaders with a nail knot; does this matter?

Some anglers think that water wicking into the line's core through the end causes the line tip to sink. In fact, the tip sinks because it just isn't as buoyant as the thicker belly portion of the line. The typical freshwater trout line has a core of braided multifilament nylon, which has a uniform diameter. The taper of the line is formed by varying the amount of PVC, or polymer coating, over this level core. The coating is also what keeps the line floating, through its incorporation of embedded "micro-balloons." Thus, in that thicker flyline belly, there are more of these micro-balloons, and the line floats like a cork. At the thinner tip, there is proportionately less coating and therefore fewer balloons, and the line still floats-but not as well. Add a monofilament leader (which doesn't float, unless held up by surface tension or flotant), throw a bulky knot onto the skinny line tip, and it's not unusual for the tip to sink a bit. However, I've used a lot of different brands and tapers of floating lines over the years, and I really can't recall any time that the tip sank enough to affect my fly.

Tip-sink is annoying, though, and there are several things you can try to prevent or reduce it. First, keep your line clean. Any buildup of grime and algae will cause the line to float less well, to shoot poorly and generally reduce your fishing efficiency and pleasure. (And, here's where the new "slicker" lines help-they stay cleaner longer and thus float higher and longer.) Second, minimize the line-leader connection. Start by matching the leader butt and line tip to optimize the turnover. The leader shouldn't be too stiff or too large in diameter, relative to the line tip. And you want the connection to be as small and secure as possible; you don't want a big bulky knot that will drag everything under the surface. Neat nail knots are fine; just don't gook them all up with a big glob of some glue. -B.B.

It seems every year my favorite fishing spots get more and more crowded. Do you have a secret for getting away from the crowds, but still catching decent fish?

Alas, there are no secrets (There. I've just protected my favorite place). Honestly, it is tough to find solitude. Time-honored solutions such as getting up earlier or walking farther up- or downstream, don't always work any more. Weekends remain more crowded than other times, so f you have some work flexibility, take advantage of less crowded weekdays.

Beyond that, you're likely to have to travel farther, spend more time and money, change your targeted species, or fish in the "off" seasons-winter, for instance-when most anglers are doing other things. Perhaps some combination of these tactics would work for you.

Changing my targeted species has worked especially well for me. If you've mostly been going after trout and find the streams too crowded, remember that bass and panfish can be found almost everywhere, as can some exciting species once considered "trash," such as carp. And discovering your own hotspots for these "new" species can be an adventure in itself. Aerial photos and topo maps are widely available on-line. Use these to help find water in parks, developments, farms and old quarries. Some places will be barren, others off limits but, bit by bit, you'll locate some areas you can fish-and a few that you'll grow to cherish. -B.B.