Project Canterbury

The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Observations of the Bream, and directions to catch him.

PISC. The Bream being at a full growth is a large and stately Fish; he will breed both in Rivers and ponds: but loves best to live in ponds, and where, if he likes the water and Air, he will grow not only to be very large, but as fat as a Hog: he is by Gesner taken to be more pleasant or sweet then wholsome; this Fish is long in growing, but breeds exceedingly in a water that pleases him, yea, in many Ponds so fast, as to overstore them, and starve the other Fish.

He is very broad with a forked tail, and his scales set in excellent order, he hath large eyes and a narrow sucking mouth; he hath two sets of teeth, and a lozing like bone, a bone to help his grinding. The Melter is observed to have two large Melts, and the Female two large bags of eggs or spawn.

Gesner reports, that in Poland a certain and a great number of large Breames were put into a Pond, which in the next following winter was frozen up into one intire ice, and not one drop of water remaining, nor one of these fish to be found, though they were diligently searcht for; and yet the next Spring when the ice was thawed, and the weather warm, they all appeared again. This Gesner affirms, and I quote my Author, because it seems almost as incredible as the Resurrection to an Athiest. But it may win something in point of believing it, to him that considers the breeding or renovation of the Silk-worm, and of many insects. And that is considerable which Sir Francis Bacon observes in his History of Life and Death (fol. 20) that there be some herbs that die and spring every year, and some endure longer.

But though some do not, yet the French esteem this Fish highly, and to that end have this Proverb, He that hath Breams in his pond is able to bid his friend welcome. And it is noted, that the best part of a Breame is his belly and head.

Some say, that Breams and Roaches will mix their eggs, and melt together, and so there is in many places a Bastard breed of Breams, that never come to be either large or good, but very numerous.

The Baits good to catch this Bream are many. First, paste made of brown bread and honey, gendes, or the brood of wasps that be young, and then not unlike Gentles; and should be hardned in an oven, or dried on a tile before the fire; or there is at the root of docks, or flags, or rushes in watry places, a worm not unlike a Magot, at which Tench will bite freely. Or he will bite at a Grashopper with his legs nipt off in June and July, or at several flies under water, which may be found on flags that grow near to the water side. I doubt not but that there be many other baits that are good, but I will turn them all into this most excellent one, either for a Carp or Bream, in any river or Mere: it was given to me by a most honest and excellent Angler, and hoping you will prove both, I will impart it to you.

1. Let your bait be as big a red worm as you can find, without a knot. Get a pint or quart of them in an evening in garden walks, or chalky Commons after a showre of rain; and put them with clean Mosse well washed and picked, and the water squeezed out of the Moss as dry as you can, into an earthen pot or pipkin set dry, and change the Moss fresh every three or four dayes for three weeks or a moneth together, then your bait will be at the best.

2. Having thus prepared your baits, get your tackling ready and fitted after this sort. Take three long Angling Rods, and as many and more silk, or silk and hair lines, and as many large Swan or Goose-quil floats. Then take a piece of Lead made after this manner, [sketch of sinker] and fasten them to the lower ends of your Lines. Then fasten your link-hook also to the lead, and to the end of your Line, let there be about a foot or ten inches between the lead and the hook, but be sure the lead be heavy enough to sink the float or quil under water, and not the quil to bear up the Lead. Note, that your link next the hook may be smaller than the rest of your line, if you dare adventure for fear of taking the Pike or Pearch, who will assuredly visit your hooks, till they be taken out (as I will shew you afterwards) before either Carp or Bream will come near to bite. Note also, that when the worm is well baited, it will crawl up and down, as far as the Lead will give leave, which much inticeth the Fish to bite without suspicion.

3. Having thus prepared your baits, and fitted your tackling, repair to the River, where you have seen them to swim in skuls or shoals in the Summer time in a hot afternoon, about three or four of the clock, and watch their going forth of their deep holes and returning (which you may well discern) for they return about four of the clock most of them seeking food at the bottom, yet one or two will lie on the top of the water, rolling and tumbling themselves, whilst the rest are under him at the bottom, and so you shall perceive him to keep Sentinel: then mark where he playes most, and stayes longest (which commonly is in the broadest and deepest place of the River), and there, or near thereabouts, at a clear bottom, and a convenient landing place, take one of your Angles ready fitted as aforesaid, and sound the bottom, about eight or ten foot deep, two yards from the bank is the best. Then consider with your self, whether that water will rise or fall by the next morning by reason of any water-mills near, and according to your discretion take the depth of the place, where you mean after to cast your ground-bait, and to fish, to half an inch; that the Lead lying on or near the ground-bait, the top of the float may only appear upright half an inch above the water.

Thus you having found and fitted for the place and depth thereof, then go home and prepare your ground-bait, which is next to the fruit of your labours to be regarded.

The Ground-Bait.

You shall take a peck, or a peck and a half (according to the greatness of the stream, and deepness of the water, where you mean to angle) of sweet gross-ground barely-malt, and boil it in a kettle (one or two warms is enough) then strain it through a Bag into a tub (the liquor whereof hath often done my Horse much good) and when the bag and malt is near cold, take it down to the water-side about eight or nine of the clock in the evening, and not before; cast in two parts of your ground-bait, squeezed hard between both your hands, it will sink presently to the bottom, and be sure it may rest in the very place where you mean to angle; if the stream run hard or move a little, cast your malt in handfuls the higher upwards the stream. You may between your hands close the Malt so fast in handfuls, that the water will hardly part it with the fall.

Your ground thus baited, and tackling fitted, leave your bag with the rest of your tackling, and ground-bait near the sporting-place all night, and in the morning about three or four of the clock visit the water-side (but not too near) for they have a Watch-man, and are watchful themselves.

Then gently take one of your three rods, and bait your hook, casting it over your ground-bait, and gently and secretly draw it to you till the Lead rests about the middle of the ground-bait.

Then take a second Rod and cast in about a yard above, and your third a yard below the first Rod, and stay the Rods in the ground, but go your self so far from the water-side, that you perceive nothing but the top of the floats, which you must watch most diligently, then when you have a bite, you shall perceive the top of your float to sink suddenly into the water; yet nevertheless be not too hasty to run to your Rods, until you see that Line goes clear away; then creep to the waterside, and give as much Line as possibly you can: if it be a Carp or Bream, they will go to the farther side of the River, then strike gently, and hold your Rod at a bent a little while; for if you both pull, you are sure to lose your Game, for either your line or hook, or hold will break; and after you have overcome them, they will make noble sport, and are very shie to be landed. The Carp is far stronger and mettlesome than the Bream.

Much more is to be observed in this kind of Fish and Fishing, but it is far fitter for experience and discourse than paper. Only thus much is necessary for you to know, and to be mindful and careful of, That if the Pike or Pearch do breed in that River, they will be sure to bite first, and must first be taken. And for the most part they are very large, and will repair to your ground-bait, not that they will eat of it, but will feed and sport themselves amongst the young Fry, that gather about and hover over the Bait.

The way to discern the Pike and to take him, if you mistrust your Bream hook, (for I have taken a Pike a yard long several times at my Bream-hooks, and sometimes he hath had the luck to share my line.)

Take a small Bleak, or Roach, or Gudgion, and bait it, and set it alive among your Rods two foot deep from the Cork, with a little red worm on the point of the hook, then take a few crums of White-bread, or some of the ground-bait, and sprinkle it gently amongst your Rods. If Mr. Pike be there, then the little Fish will skip out of the water, but the live-set Bait is sure to be taken.

Thus continue your sport from four in the morning till eight, and if it be a gloomy windy day, they will bite all day long. But this is too long to stand to your rods at one place, and it will spoil your evening sport that day, which is this,

About four of the clock in the Afternoon repair to your baited place, and as soon as you come to the water side, cast in one half of the rest of your ground-bait, and stand off: then whilst the Fish are gathering together (for there they will most certainly come for their supper), you may take a pipe of Tobacco; and then in with your three rods as in the morning: You will find excellent sport that evening till eight of the clock; then cast in the residue of your ground-bait, and next morning by four of the clock visit them again for four hours, which is the best sport of all; and after that let them rest till you and your friends have a mind to more sport.

From St. James Tide until Bartholomew Tide is the best, when they have had all the Summers food, they are the fattest.

Observe lastly, That after three or four dayes fishing together, your Game will be very shie and wary; and you shall hardly get above a bite or two at a baiting: then your onely way is to desist from your sport about two or three dayes; and in the mean time (on the place you late baited, and again intend to bait) you shall take a turf of green, but short grass, as big or bigger than a round Trencher; to the top of this turf, on the green side, you shall with a Needle and green thred fasten one by one as many little red worms as will near cover all the turf; Then take a round board or Trencher, make a hole in the middle thereof, and through the turf placed on the board or Trencher, with a string or cord as long as is fitting, tied to a pole, let it down to the bottom of the water for the Fish to feed upon without disturbance about two or three dayes; and after that you have drawn it away, you may fall to, and enjoy your former recreation.

B. A.

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