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The practice of catching fish for food dates back about 40,000 years. At the time, it consisted of catching fish by hand or using simple tools such as spears, nets, or traps. Native Americans fished with stones in the shape of hooks attached to lines. Some tribes were even known to use toxins in streams to immobilize fish to capture them.

African Americans also have a long history of fishing, which, in this country, dates back to 1619, when they were forcibly brought to what would become the United States. As slaves, they worked the land for their masters and harvested the seas, lakes, and streams to put food on their own tables. 

Some slaves and free Black people could also capitalize on their fishing skills by selling their catch or using it to barter for other goods. For slave owners, the act of fishing did not pose a threat because it didn’t require the use of a weapon that could be turned against them.

As African Americans’ fishing skills grew, so did opportunities. Many found jobs along  major waterways building boats, casting nets, trimming sails on schooners and sloops, shoveling coal in fire rooms on steamships, and eventually becoming known as watermen. After the Civil War, more and more free Black people found work along coastal waterways such as the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.

The history of recreational fishing is not clear, but there is evidence of fly-fishing in Japan and Europe dating back as far as the 9th Century. In 1496, the first documented evidence of sport fishing appeared in an essay on recreational angling published in England.

English settlers brought the sport of fly-fishing to the United States in the early 1800s. Within a few decades, recreational fishing for trout had firmly taken root. Today, bass has become the most popular game fish in the United States. Bass is a hearty, edible species that can withstand the cooler waters of Northern states and the warmer waters of Southern states.

Today, according to “Take Me Fishing, Special Report on Fishing,” more than 50 million Americans go fishing at least once last year. Of that number, 79% were white, 9%  Hispanic, and 8% African American. Nearly 18% were women.

As you begin to learn how to fish, remember that fishing is a way of enjoying the great outdoors and spending time with family and friends. In fact, an overwhelming majority of people who currently fish actually started as children. It’s also worth remembering that catching a fish is not the most important aspect of the sport. What truly matters are the life lessons that come from that act of fishing and the experiences that will stay with you forever.

About Hooked

“Hooked” is a new comic strip based on characters taken from the book “Learn To Fish, A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginning Anglers.” It features a multicultural cast of teens who love to fish and decide to form a fishing club in Cleveland. See “Hooked” monthly right here on the Signal Cleveland website produced in partnership with Dennis James Knowles and Gail Ann Grizzell of Cleveland’s The Fishing Foundation.

Dennis and Gail are avid anglers, outdoor enthusiasts, and writers. In 2010, they founded The Fishing Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; its mission is to enrich people’s lives through the sport of fishing. Professionally, Gail worked as grants director for Ideastream Public Media and other philanthropic organizations. Dennis is an Emmy award winning television producer and filmmaker. Together, they authored the book, Learn to Fish: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginning Anglers, and are the creators of the comic strip “Hooked.”