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We often think of sport fishing as a rather modern endeavor; that prior to the 1900s everybody fished for food and used whatever methods were available that worked the easiest to get as many fish as possible.  But sport fishing in America has a history that starts as soon as there were people who didn't have to worry about Indians and growing and killing their food all the time.  Fact is that there were plenty of people who were fishing mainly for fun using tackle at least a bit like what we use today back well before America gained independence, but it was a sport of the wealthy, or at least those who didn't have to work hard six or seven days a week.  Cotton Mather, the well-known colonial Puritan minister and author, once wrote, "Alas! the Ministers of the Gospel now fish, not with Nets, but with Rods; and after long angling, and baiting, and waiting, how few are taken!"  In fact, that was a prevailing attitude, especially among the clergy, back in colonial days; that it was immoral to inflict pain upon one of the Lord's creatures if there was no useful purpose to it.  But it wasn't the only attitude back then--in 1743, a pamphlet was produced in New Hampshire with the cumbersome title, "Business and Diversion Inoffensive to God and Necessary for the Comfort and Support of Human Society: A Discourse utter'd in Part at Amauskeeg-Falls, in the Fishing Season".  The first (that we know of) fishing "club", the Schuylkill Fishing Company, was founded in 1732.  A biographer described Patrick Henry as a frivolous type who could be found "over the brook with his angle-rod".

Probably the vast majority of people who fished for fun in the 1800s used a fly rod.  The native brook trout in the East were easy to catch on just about any fly that somewhat resembled an insect, and back then all flies were fished wet, never dry, until around 1850, when dry fly fishing came onto the scene.  By the time of the Civil War, the trout were beginning to get warier and tougher to catch.  Thaddeus Norris, reputed at the time to be the greatest fly fisherman in America, wrote one of the first real books on angling in 1864, the "American Angler's Book", where he went on at length about matching common insects and upstream wading, and Mary Orvis Marbury, one of the first American notable fly tiers, was writing by the Civil War period that flies that more closely imitated insects were becoming more effective on the highly pressured eastern streams than the bright, gaudy flies that had been so popular.

Carp were first introduced in the 1840s, and even back then there was a lot of debate on whether that was a good thing or not.  A Captain Robinson brought carp from Holland and stocked them in his ponds alongside the Hudson River, where the river promptly flooded and released them.  The state legislature passed a bill protecting them for five years so they could become established as a food fish, and the great sporting writer "Frank Forester" (actual name Henry Herbert) wrote in 1849, "I cannot here...control myself, but must invoke the contempt and indignation of every gentle sportsman, every reasonable thinking man, upon the heads of that ignorant, motley, and destructive assemblage, which is entitled the Senate and Assembly of New York...that it was found impossible to induce those learned Thebans to do anything to prevent American Woodcock from being shot before they were fledged, and American Brook Trout from being caught on their spawning beds; but that no sooner is a coarse, watery, foreign fish accidentally thrown into American waters, than it is vigorously and effectively protected."

Non-fly fishing appears to have started with pike anglers, who were using crude reels and 16-18 foot long wooden rods by the 1800s. But the baitcasting reel was invented sometime around 1810 and quickly became popular for bass fishing.  George Snyder, a Pennsylvania watchmaker, is credited with the first geared, quadruple-multiplying reel.  Called the Kentucky reel because by the time he developed it, he had moved to Kentucky, it really didn't get popular outside that state until after the Civil War, when production increased as several other watchmakers from Kentucky perfected the design.  The first artificial lure for bass was the Buel Spoon, around 1850, the first commercially produced topwater lure was the Dowagiac, invented by James Heddon in the 1890s.  Legend has it that he was whiling away time while waiting for a fishing partner on the banks of Michigan's Dowagiac River, and by the time his buddy got there he had whittled a piece of wood down to a cigar shape.  He tossed it in the river and a big bass came up and exploded on it.  He first produced it commercially in 1898, with a white body, red collar, and blue nose.

The spinning reel as we know it was invented by Alfred Illingworth, an Englishman, in 1905.  But spinning and then spincasting didn't really start to get popular until nylon monofilament was invented after WWII, because the gut line that worked well with spinning tackle (instead of the coarse, heavy braid used in baitcasting) had to be soaked before it could be used, and you couldn't let it dry out if you stopped fishing for an hour or so to eat lunch.

As for the Ozarks, sport fishing first became popular among the gentry in the early 1900s, with the advent of float fishing.  By the 1920s, float fishing was becoming the cool thing to do with "wealthy sportsmen" from the big cities, especially Chicago and St. Louis, in part because the railroad network gave them a convenient way to get back into the hills. There were float trip businesses operating on the Meramec, Current, and White rivers by the mid-1920s and advertising in national hunting and fishing magazines of the time. The Great Depression slowed things down some, but what many people don't realize is that there were still some well-off people during the 1930s who had the time and money to make trips to fish for fun.  However, that time period probably saw the WORST fishing ever for Ozark streams, because the logging boom of the early 1900s just about totally wrecked the rivers.  It's when the erosion of the denuded hillsides put huge amounts of gravel in the streams, and just as destructively, the massive log rafts regularly going down the streams to market wrecked banks and scoured river bottoms.  It also didn't help that whole generations of Ozarkers were killing fish to eat by any method available.  So the real hey-day of float fishing didn't happen until after the war, when the streams had had some time to recover, and it lasted until the 1960s, when the rivers first began to be overrun by the canoe renter crowd.  The dams on the White River, first Bull Shoals and then Table Rock, killed the float fishing business on the White and James, but the float operators on the other streams turned to the easier and more lucrative business of renting canoes.

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