Colonial Fishing Tools
29 SEP 2017
During the Colonial Period (the time from the first European settlers to around the period of independence from England), fishing was a simple pleasure, an interaction with nature and a method of obtaining food. Fishing poles were fashioned from split willow or cane. Simple, yet effective nets were tied by hand. Fish traps were fashioned from aspen twigs in the method taught to the settlers by Native American Indians. Antique fishing memorabilia, including hand-carved wooden lures and plugs, flies, hand-fashioned hooks, bait buckets and wicker woven creels are treasured by today's collectors of vintage fishing tools.
1 Matters of Survival
Fishing was integral to the survival of the colonists. A short growing season and rocky soil made the settlers dependent upon fish and wild game, rather than crops. The Susquehanna River Basin encompasses 27,501 square miles on the East Coast and the basin and the rivers that fed the watershed were the main source of freshwater fish harvested by the colonists. Inland streams, rivers and lakes offered trout, bass and perch. Fish were speared with bone-tipped wooden spears, netted or angled for with minnows, worms and insects attached to small hooks fashioned from bird bones.
2 Antique Fishing Methods
Fishing from the ocean banks for mackerel, herring, halibut, hake and cod provided a substantial portion of the settlers diet. To position the bait offshore, lines were attached to flexible poles and cast into the surf. Fishing rods of the time period were fashioned from cane or ash, hickory and maple saplings. English colonists in Maine built cages from drift wood and fallen limbs to capture lobster. Commercial fishing for cod had been vigorously pursued in North American coastal waters since the mid-1500s. Dried or salt cod was a major protein staple. Cod fishing was accomplished with huge nets that dragged behind the fishing vessels.
3 Angling Artifacts
Fishing treasures from the period include superbly crafted fishing creels, the woven baskets that carried the day's catch. Creels could be woven with intricate patterns using split willow stained with vegetable dyes and finished with leather bindings and straps. Creels and fancy fishing gear belonged to the elite and affluent gentry.
4 Lures, Knives and Hooks
Wooden fishing lures were carved by hand. Often carved to simulate minnow, the lures were colored or stained with natural materials including the juice from berries and roots. Hooks were fashioned from the bones of animals and birds. Knives for cleaning fish were also fashioned from bone. Antique bone fishing hooks, knives and tools are highly collectible and prized by angling artifact enthusiasts worldwide.