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There follows an illustration, a woodcut showing typical hooks of different sizes. They all look very big, but we must remember that the picture was not drawn by Dame Juliana; the engraver presumably followed her sketch in the manuscript before him, but engraving on wood often enlarges small objects. As a practical guide to making the tackle described in the letterpress, most of the illustrations printed by Wynkyn de Worde are useless.
The Treatise closes with a few paragraphs on sporting etiquette, pointing out especially the wickedness of poaching and of stealing from other men's fish traps. In all, it is less than 10,000 words long.
What can we make of it, as a practical guide to the tying of flies? It is notoriously difficult to put down clear instructions for a manual task, as anyone can see by consulting a cook book. Good cooks write vaguely, because they do not think in precisely measured quantities; writers whose instructions are easy to follow often describe uninteresting dishes.
It is the same with Dame Juliana. If a modern fisherman were to ask her the dimensions of her flies she would answer: "Make them the right size, which you know as well as I do. If you are in doubt, look at a live May fly. Those are the things you must imitate. If you still can't make up your mind, experiment with big flies and small. Then use the size that answers best."
We must remember that she was never in a hurry. To make a rod in accordance with her instructions would take a whole winter. She herself learned by trial and error, and she would not be distressed if her successors did the same. She set out to convey the novel idea of fishing with artificial flies; once the idea had been understood, details might vary, as, in fact, they are varied at the present day.
Oddly enough, Dame Juliana's instructions for making rods and hooks are more explicit. Her procedure for coloring a horsehair line is as detailed and thorough as a medical recipe, and contains measurements—as the 15th century understood measuring. They are not the measurements we learn at school. There are no feet or inches. She speaks of a yard, which at that time was usually 36 inches as now, though the cloth-yard was 30 inches; or of a fathom, which may be either six feet or the span of her outstretched arms. As a measure of time she uses the charming phrase "half a mile way": the time it takes a reasonable man to walk half a mile, say a little under 10 minutes. For weight she speaks of peas, beans and walnuts, not ounces and drachms. Everything is approximate, and you must use your common sense.
We may surmise something of her methods by noting the tools at her disposal. She takes for granted a full carpenter's chest, and pots and pans for use in dyeing her line; they would be found in any self-sufficient household of the Middle Ages. But for making hooks she specifies the implements needed. These are small sharp files, an iron clamp, a "bender" (some kind of vise?), a small pair of tongs, an anvil and a little hammer. She may have used vise and tongs to tie her flies. Scissors were not then in common use; for cutting loose ends of line she advises a sharp knife.
In other words, she is familiar with clamps and pincers. If her hooks were really as large as they are shown in the illustration, anyone skilled in threading needles and knotting silk for embroidery could have dubbed them with wool and feathers. She may have tied her own flies.
All the same, I am not at all sure she did. She relates at length all the processes needed to make a rod, and if her account of twisting and knotting a line is not easy to follow, that may be the result of lack of skill in literary composition (try writing directions for tying a shoelace, to be understood by a barefooted savage putting on his first shoes). These passages give me the impression that she is telling what she herself has done. But of the flies she tells us only what they should look like when finished. Her flies may have been tied for her by the water bailiff on the Sopwell estates. Yet she had very definite opinions about the kind of fly she wanted, and some of the patterns may have followed her own designs.
With this tackle, how would she fish? Wet, certainly, for there is no suggestion that her flies are waterproofed, and with all that wool on the body they must be on the heavy side. Besides, they have no legs or hackle, and would not stand up on the water. Presumably she would cast downstream, for that is the older method. Lacking a reel, her line must have been difficult to manage. Perhaps after she had dropped her fly in the water she grasped the slack in her left hand and paid out gradually; then she might strike with a tug of the left hand and use her rod only to play the fish. When the fish was beat she might take in line in the same manner. If she could, she would avoid killing. In those days every angler hoped to bring back his catch alive, to be kept in a pail in the kitchen until the moment of cooking; ice was a costly luxury and there were no refrigerators.