The use of hook and line to catch great quantity of fish is an unproductive method to use. However, this is a method that was used in pre-conquest times for many of the same reasons as it is used today: it is less demanding upon materials. Today the use of rod, reel, line and hook is mainly employed by the sporting fraternity whilst the early medieval period the use of hook and line was part of ones' livelihood. Although there is some evidence to suggest that reels were employed in China c. 3000BC they were not in common use in this country until late 13th-early 14th century.
To angle is to fish with rod and hook and, in fact, the use of a pole or rod was not introduced into this county until the 13th century. The first recorded account of an angler was of an abbess fishing for carp and by 1496 the art of angling had produced its first book written in English; Treatise of Fysshynge with an Angle by Dame Juliana Berners. There is, however, a Byzantium illustration depicting what appears to be a fishing rod or pole. It is, of course, possible that the use of lengths of wood to aid in the practice of fishing actually took place, but this has not been documented as being a common exercise.
Of the many hooks that have been discovered from the period nearly all have been 2/o or above. This might seem to suggest that only the larger species of fish were sought after although smaller hooks would be more difficult to unearth and would also be more likely to disintegrate during the passage of time. All of the hooks I have seen show a simple round bend design with either an open eye or a spade end and have been made from iron. One such hook, found at West Hythe in Kent and dated to come from the 9th or 10th century, can be seen at the British Museum. The hook itself is approximately four inches long, somewhere between 8/o to 10/o in size, spade ended and is made from iron. The actual design differs little from that of hooks that were used by the early Romans or those used by Sir Izaak Walton. The barb seems oversized by today's standards but this may be due to the need to keep the fish secure on the line whilst 'long-lining' or because it is, as I discovered, by far the most difficult part of producing a hook.
The line itself would have to be strong, not too effected by water and easily obtainable. By far the most common material that would have all the necessary qualities would be that of nettle-hemp. The nettles would be gathered in the Spring and early Summer, the leaves stripped off them and the stems immersed in water for several hours. After removing from the water they would be pulped so that the individual strands would peel away producing long, thin fibres. These fibres would then be spun in the same way as flax or wool. The resulting 'yarn' would then be used in the making of fishing line, nets and bow strings. The two main methods employed with hook and line were simple hand lining for single fish and long-lining. The trace used for simple fishing is basically an iron forged hook, nettle-hemp line and stone weight for a sinker. This method would be useful for catching the larger fish in enclosed waters, rivers and from the sea shore.
Long-lining involves, as the name suggests, a long line to which several hooks are attached to by short snoods. The line could be fixed to solid points at low tide and baited at the return of the following low tide the fisherman would then go and collect the caught fish. This method gave the fisherman the opportunity to set out more than one long-line, in different locations and without too much concern for weather conditions. Long-lining could also be carried out from a small fishing boat: the line would be either floated upon the surface for top-feeding fish or sunk to the bottom for bottom-feeding fish. Whichever system was in use one end would have probably been secured to the boat to safeguard the line and hooks from being lost.