The consumption of fish was an important part of life in the early mediaeval period and therefore the catching, preparation, storage <ref>Details of storage and preparation can be found in Ann Hagen, A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption, Anglo-Saxon Books.</ref> and cooking <ref>For authentic recipes please see BR & SM Levick, Wulfwyn's World-wide Cauldron, Regia Anglorum (Medwaeg).</ref> played an equally significant role in everyday life. Although in AD 730, according to Bede, Bishop Winfrid of Colchester apparently:
===Hook and Line===
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 mediaeval 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.
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<ref>I have tried to make use of nettles during the latter part of the year with little success due to the firmness of the stems. I believe that the stems during the early part of the year would have enough moisture to make the necessary difference; I have yet to try it. </ref>, 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<ref>It was here I had hoped to produce the results of strength tests on the nettle hemp made during the latter part of last year! </ref>. The two main methods employed with hook and line were simple 9 hand lining for single fish and long-lining. The trace used for simple fishing is basically an iron forged hook, nettle-hemp li<ref>Not more than three or four hooks per line. Any more hooks would run the risk of tangles or would need fixing as a long-line. </ref> 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.
A long quantity of nettle-hemp is then tied to the main line using the clove-hitch knot; these need to be equally spaced along the main line. After the length of the main line has been completed it is then that the hemp is tied together, using the sheet-bend, to form the mesh. The most difficult and important part of the operation is the ability to make sure that the mesh is kept to the same dimensions: fingers or a piece of scrap wood may be used as a rough guide. To help hold the nettle-hemp a netting needle may be used. The netting needle can be made out of wood, bone or antler.
Stone weights have been found that have been attributed as net sinkers. These weights have a hole or holes bored into them and help, with the aid of buoyant floats, keep the net vertical in the water and fished as a gill or seine net. An alternative style of net sinker has been found at Hedeby in Northern Germany. Rather than drill a hole through a stone, a hoop of willow or hazel is made around the stone which is fairly flat to start with, then across and either side of the stone, some bark crosses are sewn with fine bark strips to the hoop, pinning the stone in between. The hoop left sufficient room between the stone and the hoop itself.
Long-netting could also take place in similar locations to that of the on-shore long-liner. The net would be angled so that the incoming tide would wash over it and then, on its way out, fish would become entrapped. A variation upon this is to make a tide pool out of rocks, which allows the tide to flood it and bring in fish too, but as the tide runs back out to sea, the pool drains through the stones trapping the fish behind the rock wall.
Haaf-netting (from the Norse 'haf', the open sea) was a form of net fishing practised in areas like the Solway Firth mudflats to catch salmon. The nets used are cumbersome affairs - 16 feet (5 meters) of meshed twine slung over a 14 foot pole. The fishermen would form a line and walk up to their chests against the tide in the channel. The haafer holds the net against the water with his left hand and grips the beam with his right. He pulls six meshes with his thumb to make a bag, and when a salmon enters he presses down on a special rung. The haaf floats to the top; the netsman turns his back to the tide, kills the fish with his 'mell', or mallet, and flings it into a special compartment - while concentrating on not being swept away by the strong tidal flow.<ref>From a report in The Independent on Sunday (2nd February 1992) by Andy Murray.</ref>
Although little has been recovered in the way of wicker fish traps, they are referred to in Anglo-Saxon texts<ref>''Ælfric's Colloquy, Ibid.'', page 3.</ref> and from illustrations from the period. The traps would have mainly been used in flowing rivers and tidal estuaries to catch all manner of fish including eel, salmon, trout, dabs, flounders, etc. They would have been about 5 feet long and would have consisted of two chambers: a large opening funnelling into the main basket.
The fences - laid out in a series of V-shapes - were used to funnel the outgoing tide, and its fish, into nets at the apexes. They would have yielded several hundred thousand fish per year: far too many to supply a single community, suggesting that the trapping was carried out for commercial purposes. The fish would have been salted, dried and, presumably, sold to communities in south-east England. It is not known who maintained these traps but, just seven miles away is Bradwell-on-Sea, where one of Englands earliest monasteries stands, founded in 654 AD. Across the Thames estuary from the Blackwater lies the estuary of the River Medway with similar terrain features. Along the Medway estuary, although no extensive finds such has been found on the Blackwater, references to 'fish factories' are included in the Domesday Book. One wonders!<ref>David Keys - Archaeology Correspondent.</ref>
It is likely that the trap was flat bottomed to allow it to lie on the river or sea bed without rolling with the current or tide. For eels it would need to be baited with a dead fish, this would attract the carnivorous eel into the funnel and once inside, they would find it difficult to escape. Single chambered traps may also have been used by the early mediaeval fisherman; these would have been something akin to the salmon putchers used earlier this century in Scotland and on the Severn River. The main advantage of these traps was that smaller fish could be caught, there was little danger of the fish swimming away from them as in the case with a net and they were relatively easy to maintain.
A number of fishing spears has been identified from the period and these have taken a number of different styles.