Recreational fishing, also called sport fishing, is fishing for pleasure or competition. It can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is fishing for profit, or subsistence fishing, which is fishing for survival.
The most common form of recreational fishing is done with a rod, reel, line, hooks and any one of a wide range of baits. Other devices, commonly referred to as terminal tackle, are also used to affect or complement the presentation of the bait to the targeted fish. Some examples of terminal tackle include weights, floats, and swivels. Lures are frequently used in place of bait. Some hobbyists make handmade tackle themselves, including plastic lures and artificial flies. The practice of catching or attempting to catch fish with a hook is known as angling.
The early evolution of fishing as recreation is not clear. For example, there is anecdotal evidence for fly fishing in Japan as early as the ninth century BCE, and in Europe Claudius Aelianus (175–235 CE) describes fly fishing in his work On the Nature of Animals.
But for the early Japanese and Macedonians, fly fishing was likely to have been a means of survival, rather than recreation. It is possible that antecedents of recreational fly fishing arrived in England with the Norman conquest of 1066. Although the point in history where fishing could first be said to be recreational is not clear, it is clear that recreational fishing had fully arrived with the publication of The Compleat Angler.
The earliest English essay on recreational fishing was published in 1496, shortly after the invention of the printing press. The authorship of this was attributed to Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of the Benedictine Sopwell Nunnery. The essay was titled Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle, and was published in the second Boke of Saint Albans, a treatise on hawking, hunting, and heraldry. These were major interests of the nobility, and the publisher, Wynkyn de Worde, was concerned that the book should be kept from those who were not gentlemen, since their immoderation in angling might "utterly destroy it".
During the 16th century the work was much read, and was reprinted many times. Treatyse includes detailed information on fishing waters, the construction of rods and lines, and the use of natural baits and artificial flies. It also includes modern concerns about conservation and angler etiquette.
The earliest English poetical treatise on Angling by John Dennys, said to have been a fishing companion of Shakespeare, was published in 1613, The Secrets of Angling. Footnotes of the work, written by Dennys' editor, William Lawson, make the first mention of the phrase to 'cast a fly': "The trout gives the most gentlemanly and readiest sport of all, if you fish with an artificial fly, a line twice your rod's length of three hairs' thickness... and if you have learnt the cast of the fly."
Recreational fishing took a great leap forward after the English Civil War, where a newly found interest in the activity left its mark on the many books and treatises that were written on the subject at the time. The renowned officer in the Parliamentary army, Robert Venables, published in 1662 The Experienced Angler, or Angling improved, being a general discourse of angling, imparting many of the aptest ways and choicest experiments for the taking of most sorts of fish in pond or river. Another Civil War veteran to enthusiastically take up fishing, was Richard Franck. He was the first to describe salmon fishing in Scotland, and both in that and trout-fishing with artificial fly he was a practical angler. He was the first angler to name the burbot, and commended the salmon of the River Thames. 
Compleat Angler was written by Izaak Walton in 1653 (although Walton continued to add to it for a quarter of a century) and described the fishing in the Derbyshire Wye. It was a celebration of the art and spirit of fishing in prose and verse; 6 verses were quoted from John Dennys's earlier work. A second part to the book was added by Walton's friend Charles Cotton. More than 300 editions of The Compleat Angler have been published. The pastoral discourse was enriched with country fishing folklore, songs and poems, recipes and anecdotes, moral meditations, and quotes from classic literature. The central character, Piscator, champions the art of angling, but with an air of tranquility also relishes the pleasures of friendship, verse and song, and good food and drink.
Cotton's additions completed the instruction in fly fishing and advised on the making of artificial flies where he listed sixty five varieties. Charles Kirby designed an improved fishing hook in 1655 that remains relatively unchanged to this day. He went on to invent the Kirby bend, a distinctive hook with an offset point, still commonly used today.
During the 18th century, the fishing industry became commercialized - rods and tackle were sold at the haberdashers store. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, artisans moved to Redditch which became a centre of production of fishing related products from the 1730s. Onesimus Ustonson established his trading shop in 1761, and his establishment remained as a market leader for the next century. He received a Royal Warrant and became the official supplier of fishing tackle to three successive monarchs starting with King George IV over this period.
Some have credited Onesimus with the invention of the multiplying winch, although he was certainly the first to advertise its sale. Early multiplying reels were wide and had a small diameter, and their gears, made of brass, often wore down after extensive use. His earliest advertisement in the form of a trading card date from 1768 and was entitled To all lovers of angling. A full list of the tackles he sold included artificial flies, and 'the best sort of multiplying brass winches both stop and plain'. The commercialization of the industry came at a time of expanded interest in fishing as a recreational hobby for members of the aristocracy.
British fly-fishing continued to develop in the 19th century, with the emergence of fly fishing clubs, along with the appearance of several books on the subject of fly tying and fly fishing techniques. Alfred Ronalds took up the sport of fly fishing, learning the craft on the rivers Trent, Blythe and Dove. On the River Blythe, near what is today Creswell Green, Ronalds constructed a bankside fishing hut designed primarily as an observatory of trout behaviour in the river. From this hut, and elsewhere on his home rivers, Ronalds conducted experiments and formulated the ideas that eventually were published in The Fly-fisher's Entomology in 1836.
He combined his knowledge of fly fishing with his skill as an engraver and printer, to lavish his work with 20 colour plates. It was the first comprehensive work related to the entomology associated with fly fishing and most fly-fishing historians credit Ronalds with setting a literature standard in 1836 that is still followed today. Describing methods, techniques and, most importantly, artificial flies, in a meaningful way for the angler and illustrating them in colour is a method of presentation that can be seen in most fly-fishing literature today.
By the mid to late 19th century, expanding leisure opportunities for the middle and lower classes began to have its effect on fly fishing, which steadily grew in mass appeal. The expansion of the railway network in Britain allowed the less affluent for the first time to take weekend trips to the seaside or to rivers for fishing. Richer hobbyists ventured further abroad. The large rivers of Norway replete with large stocks of salmon began to attract fishers from England in large numbers in the middle of the century - Jones's guide to Norway, and salmon-fisher's pocket companion, published in 1848, was written by Frederic Tolfrey and was a popular guide to the country.
In southern England, dry-fly fishing acquired an elitist reputation as the only acceptable method of fishing the slower, clearer rivers of the south such as the River Test and the other chalk streams concentrated in Hampshire, Surrey, Dorset and Berkshire (see Southern England Chalk Formation for the geological specifics). The weeds found in these rivers tend to grow very close to the surface, and it was felt necessary to develop new techniques that would keep the fly and the line on the surface of the stream. These became the foundation of all later dry-fly developments.
However, there was nothing to prevent the successful employment of wet flies on these chalk streams, as George Edward MacKenzie Skues proved with his nymph and wet fly techniques. To the horror of dry-fly purists, Skues later wrote two books, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, and The Way of a Trout with a Fly, which greatly influenced the development of wet fly fishing. In northern England and Scotland, many anglers also favored wet-fly fishing, where the technique was more popular and widely practiced than in southern England. One of Scotland’s leading proponents of the wet fly in the early-to-mid 19th century was W.C. Stewart, who published "The Practical Angler" in 1857.
In the United States, attitudes toward methods of fly fishing were not nearly as rigidly defined, and both dry- and wet-fly fishing were soon adapted to the conditions of the country. Fly anglers there, are thought to be the first anglers to have used artificial lures for bass fishing. After pressing into service the fly patterns and tackle designed for trout and salmon to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, they began to adapt these patterns into specific bass flies. Fly anglers seeking bass developed the spinner/fly lure and bass popper fly, which are still used today.
In the late 19th century, American anglers, such as Theodore Gordon, in the Catskill Mountains of New York began using fly tackle to fish the region’s brook trout-rich streams such as the Beaverkill and Willowemoc Creek. Many of these early American fly anglers also developed new fly patterns and wrote extensively about their sport, increasing the popularity of fly fishing in the region and in the United States as a whole. Albert Bigelow Paine, a New England author, wrote about fly fishing in The Tent Dwellers, a book about a three-week trip he and a friend took to central Nova Scotia in 1908.
Participation in fly fishing peaked in the early 1920s in the eastern states of Maine and Vermont and in the Midwest in the spring creeks of Wisconsin. Along with deep sea fishing, Ernest Hemingway did much to popularize fly fishing through his works of fiction, including The Sun Also Rises.
Big-game fishing started as a sport after the invention of the motorized boat. In 1898, Dr. Charles Frederick Holder, a marine biologist and early conservationist, pioneered this sport and went on to publish many articles and books on the subject noted for their combination of accurate scientific detail with exciting narratives.
One method of growing popularity is kayak fishing. Kayaks are stealthy and allow anglers to reach areas not fishable from land or by conventional boat. In addition, fishing from kayaks is regarded by some as an effort to level the playing field, to a degree, with their quarry and/or to challenge their angling abilities further by bringing an additional level of complexity to their sport.
Sport fishing methods vary according to the area fished, the species targeted, the personal strategies of the angler, and the resources available. It ranges from the aristocratic art of fly fishing elaborated in Great Britain, to the high-tech methods used to chase marlin and tuna. Sport fishing is usually done with hook, line, rod and reel rather than with nets or other aids. Even sports fisherman discard a lot of non-target and target fish on the bank while fishing.
In North America, freshwater fish include snook, redfish, salmon, trout, bass, pike, catfish, walleye and muskellunge. The smallest fish are called panfish, because they can fit whole in a normal cooking pan. Examples are perch and sunfish.
In the past, sport fishers, even if they did not eat their catch, almost always killed them to bring them to shore to be weighed or for preservation as trophies. In order to protect recreational fisheries sport fishermen now often catch and release, and sometimes tag and release, which involves fitting the fish with identity tags, recording vital statistics, and sending a record to a government agency.
Most recreational fishers use a fishing rod with a fishing line and a hook at the end of the line. The rod may be equipped with a reel so the line can be reeled in, and some form of bait or a lure attached to the hook. Fly fishing is a special form of rod fishing in which the reel is attached to the back end of the rod, and heavy line is cast with a complex, repetitive whipping motion to deliver the ultra light artificial fly to its target. Another less common technique is bowfishing using a regular bow or a crossbow. The "arrow" is a modified bolt with barbs at the tip, connected to a fishing line so the fish can be retrieved. Some crossbows are fitted with a reel.
Fishing tackle is a general term that refers to the equipment used by fishers. Almost any equipment or gear used for fishing can be called fishing tackle. Some examples are hooks, lines, sinkers, floats, rods, reels, baits, lures, spears, nets, gaffs, traps, waders and tackle boxes.
Tackle that is attached to the end of a fishing line is called terminal tackle. This includes hooks, sinkers, floats, leaders, swivels, split rings and wire, snaps, beads, spoons, blades, spinners and clevises to attach spinner blades to fishing lures.
Fishing tackle can be contrasted with fishing techniques. Fishing tackle refers to the physical equipment that is used when fishing, whereas fishing techniques refers to the ways the tackle is used when fishing.
Rules and regulations
Recreational fishing has conventions, rules, licensing restrictions and laws that limit the way in which fish may be caught. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) makes and oversees a set of voluntary guidelines. Typically, these prohibit the use of nets and the catching of fish with hooks not in the mouth. Enforceable regulations are put in place by governments to ensure sustainable practice amongst anglers. For example in the Republic of Ireland, the Central Fisheries Board oversees the implementation of all angling regulations, which include controls on angling lures, baits and number of hooks permissible, as well as licensing requirements and other conservation-based restrictions. Regulations notwithstanding, voluntary catch and release fishing as a means of protecting and sustaining game species has become an increasingly common practice among conservation-minded recreational anglers.
In addition to capturing fish for food, recreational anglers might also keep a log of fish caught and submit trophy-sized fish to independent record keeping bodies. In the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Specimen Fish Committee verifies and publicizes the capture of trophy fish caught with rod and line by anglers in Ireland, both in freshwater and at sea. The Committee also ratifies Irish record rod caught fish. It also uses a set of 'fair play' regulations to ensure fish are caught in accordance with accepted angling norms.
Recreational fishing competitions (tournaments) are a recent innovation in which fishermen compete for prizes based on the total weight of a given species of fish caught within a predetermined time. This sport evolved from local fishing contests into large competitive circuits, especially in North America. Competitors are most often professional fishermen who are supported by commercial endorsements. Other competitions are based purely on length with mandatory catch and release. Either longest fish or total length is documented with a camera and a mandatory sticker or unique item, a practice used since it is hard to weigh a living fish accurately in a boat.
Sport fishing competitions involve individuals if the fishing occurs from land, and usually teams if conducted from boats, as well as specified times and areas for catching fish. A score is awarded for each fish caught. The points awarded depend on the fish's weight and species. Occasionally a score is divided by the strength of the fishing line used, yielding more points to those who use thinner, weaker line. In tag and release competitions, a flat score is awarded per fish species caught, divided by the line strength. Usually sport fishing competitions award a prize to the boat or team with the most points earned.
In Australia, a self-administered standard for the environmental assessment of tournament fishing has been proposed as an alternative and possible pathway to the ISO 14001 international standard. The standard assesses environmental, social, economic, and public risk factors. Tournament organizers may apply for voluntary certification. In some US states, fishery agencies and competition organizers create their own codes of practice.
The recreational fishing industry consists of enterprises such as the manufacture and retailing of fishing tackle, the design and building of recreational fishing boats, and the provision of fishing boats for charter and guided fishing trips.
"Pay to fish" enterprises provide anglers with controlled access to stocked lakes, ponds, or canals. These provide fishing opportunities outside of the permitted seasons and quotas applied to public waters. In the United Kingdom, commercial fisheries of this sort charge access fees. In North America, establishments usually charge for the fish caught, by length or by weight, rather than for access to the site although some establishments charge both types of fees.
Recreational fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry. In the USA in 2014, about 11 million recreational saltwater fishers generated $58 billion in sales impacts. By contrast, commercial fishing generated $141 billion in sales impacts.
Several species, such as Cichla kelberi, C. piquiti and rainbow trout, have been introduced in natural or artificial environmental to the sport fishing. Some of these species have caused several impacts in aquatic biota.
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Media related to Recreational fishing at Wikimedia Commons
- University of Washington Freshwater and Marine Image Bank Images of Sport Fishing
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