fishing, act of catching fish for consumption or display. Fishing—usually by hand, club, spear, net, and possibly by hook—was known to prehistoric people. It was practiced by the ancient Persians, Egyptians, and Chinese, and it is mentioned in the Odyssey and in the Bible. It is a major means of subsistence and livelihood today, not only in societies such as those in the South Pacific but also in most nations of the world (see fisheries).
The development of fishing as a sport or pastime is comparatively recent, although books on the art and philosophy of angling have been published since the early 16th cent.; the most famous work is Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler (1653). The basic equipment of modern sport fishing consists of a barbed metal hook at the end of a nylon or Dacron line, and a wood, fiberglass, or metal rod, or pole, that usually has some type of spool, or reel, near the handle around which the line is wound. Recreational fishing, which is practiced throughout the world, may be done in either fresh- or saltwater. The most popular game fish are salmon, trout, bass, and pike in freshwater, and sailfish, tuna, marlin, tarpon, and bonefish in saltwater. In the United States each state issues fishing licenses and sets regulations as to the season in which a certain species of fish may be caught, the minimum permissible size, and the number that may be taken per day. There are two basic types of freshwater tackle, those for fly casting and those for bait casting.
Fly rods and reels are light and require that a hooked fish be "played" rather than reeled in by force; they are used to catch fish that inhabit running streams, such as trout and salmon. Live bait (worms, insects, minnows, or frogs) or artificial flies and lures are cast into or on the stream as an enticement for the fish to bite.
A sturdier rod and reel are used for bait casting, which is done mainly in lakes and large rivers. Live bait or a variety of plugs, spoons, and other artificial lures can be cast and pulled in, "popped" along the surface, trolled from a moving boat, or allowed to rest near the bottom. Spinning tackle, which greatly simplifies bait casting by allowing the line to unwind more evenly, has become very popular.
Heavier rods and reels of the bait-casting type are used in saltwater fishing; trolling and casting from the surf are the usual methods. In big-game fishing, sport fishers troll the open ocean for large fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark. The familiar bamboo pole, without reel, continues to be used for still fishing. Fishing with handlines through holes in the ice and spearfishing underwater are also popular. High-tech devices such as underwater cameras have been introduced, but are regarded by many as unsporting.
There are many annual tournaments both for catching fish and for accuracy and distance in casting; records are kept for the largest catch in each species. The International Game Fish Association (founded 1939) standardizes rules for saltwater fishing throughout the world. The largest ratified catch of any type is a 2,664-lb (1,208-kg) white shark caught off the Australian coast in 1959.
See W. Radcliffe, Fishing from Earliest Times (1921); A. J. McClane, McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia and International Angling Guide (1974); A. von Brandt, Fish Catching Methods of the World (1984).