Drawing a line: vintage angling pictures

boy fishing

Image source: Public Domain Images
Vintage pictures like this make us want to head straight for our fishing tackle.

As anglers, we know that fishing is now an inspirational pastime, profession, and pursuit. But it’s been capturing the imaginations of artists and writers since time immemorial as well? We’ve got the pictures to prove it.

We scoured the British Library archives and dipped our toe in dusty corners of the internet to bring you photos, drawings and sketches of angling in times gone by.

The English riverbanks of old

british fishing idyll

Image source: British Library
A 19th century British idyll

Taken from a 1885 tome on English landscape, the scene in this vintage picture will be familiar to many anglers. The calm, serene country setting, the solitary angler in pursuit of his quarry. This could very well be an illustration of a picturesque English river today.

leave room for anglers to cast

Image source: British Library
Now that’s why you give an angler room on the riverbank.

Another recognisable scene – it seems that anglers back in the day were just as conscious of the need to give an angler space on the riverbank as we are now. It’s good angling etiquette, to be sure. But it also helps you avoid a swift hook to the face!

Looking at this picture, we can’t help being a little nostalgic for the old days. His exclamation of “Oh! I say, you know” perfectly conjures up the English gentleman of yore. A similar scenario has probably taken place on many 21st century riverbanks, although the language would have been more… colourful.

Some pretty big fish

salmon fishing in history

Image source: British Library
Today’s salmon anglers might be envious of this haul.

These Canadian fishermen from 1889 have caught some salmon that anglers today would be proud to call their own. Armed with hooks and rods, and a simple canoe, they prove that time out on the water is always well-spent, especially if you take big fish like those back to the shore with you.

man as bait fishing picture

Image source: British Library
Seems that man is the best bait in this picture.

But those salmon pale in comparison to this big fish. Tapping into some deep fear of what lies beneath, this 1891 picture shows a giant fish avoiding the hook and heading straight for the man-sized snack instead…

massive fish being caught

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Imagine dragging this behemoth to the shore…

Thankfully the giant fish in this picture chose to snack on other fish, rather than the fishermen. Titled “Big Fishes Eat Little Fishes”, this is a picture of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engraving, which currently resides in the British Museum. It’s a manic explosion of fish that dates all the way back to the 16th century. Can you imagine dragging that beast to the shore? The catch of a lifetime!

Hemingway having caught marlin

Image source: Wikimedia Commons/John F. Kennedy Library
Those are some pretty enormous marlin

Author of The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway, was obviously no stranger to big fish, as this picture of him with his family and four huge marlin attests. Although Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s fish (above) was something plucked from an artist’s imagination, this picture, taken in 1935, shows that there really are some big fish lurking beneath the waves.

Nightmarish and celestial anglers

the red fisherman

Image source: British Library
This would be a terrifying sight on the riverbank

We don’t know about you, but some depictions of fishing and fishermen are best left in dusty books. How terrifying would this “Red Fisherman” from the 1880s be, if encountered riverside? Although, if we look a bit closer, it does bear a remarkable resemblance to some of the grumpy, early morning faces we’ve seen on the river. Before the strong tea kicks in, of course.

cherubic anglers fishing

Image source: British Library
Casually reeling in the catch of the day

Moving swiftly on from the stuff of anglers’ nightmares to more celestial figures. We found that there are plenty of cherubic anglers in vintage pictures, like this one from 1891. These innocent figures are casually reeling in a pretty enormous fish with effortless ease. It’s alright for some, huh? Especially when they have heavenly powers on their side.

Looking on the lighter side

fighting with big fish

Image source: British Library
Now that’s a helluva fish

But, for the rest of us mortal anglers, it takes a bit more work to reel in a big catch! This comic sketch from the 19th century goes to show that vintage angling pictures aren’t all serious. Drawn in 1898, this sketch shows the fun side of angling. Not to mention depicting man’s eternal struggle to catch that elusive, big fish.

Hard work pays off

woman having caught fish

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
That’s a catch to be proud of

But sometimes a bit of hard work pays off, as this woman shows with her impressive catch. A picture from the more recent past, her fishing gear is a bit more snazzy than some of the earlier images, but you can see that the satisfaction of a good day’s work is the same.

There’s nothing like a blast from the past to make you appreciate how good angling is today. And how we’re all part of a long, proud tradition of people who love nothing more than to head out to the water with our fishing tackle.

Have you got any vintage photos of your family members out on the river? Or, like Richard Handel of UK Carp & Coarse Fishing, do you have some old school pictures from your own angling library? Share them with us on our Facebook page.