The oldest known text on fly fishing is coming to the U.S. for a special event. The Haslinger Breviary, a Latin/German text dating back to the 15th century, is currently owned by London’s Maggs Bros. Ltd. It will appear in New York April 5 at a special meeting of the Anglers’ Club of New York.
A breviary is a collection of prayers, hymns, psalms, or readings used in services of the Roman Catholic church. The Breviary of Leonardus Haslinger was penned by an Austrian priest beginning in 1452, with later entries being made as late as 1464. It contains Haslinger’s daily prayer notes for a summer, but after the religious text ended he penned lines of his own on the back, blank pages.
Included in these personal notes are four pages of fly-tying patterns: which feathers to use, how to construct them, etc. It also details when to tie a particular fly: “In May take a dark feather and black and light brown under so it gives a good shine underneath …”
These so-called “fly recipes” are for patterns that entice trout, chub, and grayling — species that Haslinger would have encountered while living and serving in Austria.
Not only was this unusual material for a priest to include in his prayer journal, but it was also odd for fishermen of the era to write down the patterns they used. Patterns, if shared at all, were related fisherman to fisherman by spoken word only.
Written primarily in Latin with portions in a mid- to high-Germanic vernacular with an Austrian dialect, the breviary is a challenge for even modern German speakers to read. The American Museum of Fly Fishing helped 21st century readers decipher the breviary in its Spring 2016 issue of The American Fly Fisher. Professor Richard Hoffman provided a translation of the fishing content for the periodical.*
The breviary predates the second-oldest text, Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle (1496), and the third oldest, Tegernseer Angel- und Fishbucklein (1500), by at least 30 years.
Those interested in attending the event and seeing the breviary in person can register at amff.com. The text will be displayed at 101 Broad Street from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., with $75 charged for admittance.
* The American Museum of Fly Fishing publishes past issues in full on its website, but no word on when the Spring 2016 issue will be made available.