Project Canterbury

The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Observations of the Pearch, and directions how to fish for him.

PISC. The Pearch is a very good, and a very bold biting fish; He is one of the Fishes of prey, that like the Pike and Trout, carries his teeth in his mouth which is very large, and he dare venture to kill and devour several other kinds of fish: he has a hook’t or hog back, which is armed with sharp and stiffe bristles, and all his skin armed or covered over with thick, dry, hard scales, and hath (which few other Fish have) two Fins on his back. He is so bold, that he will invade one of his own kind, which the Pike will not do willingly, and you may therefore easily believe him to be a bold biter.

The Pearch is of great esteem in Italy saith Aldrovandus, and especially the least are there esteemed a daintie dish. And Gesner prefers the Pearch and Pike above the Trout, or any fresh-water-Fish: he sayes the Germanes have this Proverb, More wholsom than a Pearch of Rhine: and he sayes the River-Pearch is so wholsome, that Physicians allow him to be eaten by wounded men or men in Feavers, or to Women in Child-bed.

He spawns but once a year, and is by Physicians held very nutritive: yet by many to be hard of digestion: They abound more in the River Poe and in England (sayes Randeletius) then other parts, and have in their brain a stone, which is in forraign parts sold by Apothecaries, being there noted to be very medicinable against the stone in the reins: These be a part of the commendations which some Phylosophical brains have bestowed upon the fresh-water Pearch: yet they commend the Sea-Pearch, which is known by having but one fin on his back, (of which they say, we English see but a few) to be a much better fish.

The Pearch grows slowly, yet will grow, as I have been credibly informed, to be almost two foot long; for my informer told me, such a one was not long since taken by Sir Abraham Williams, a Gentleman of worth, and a lover of Angling, that yet lives, and I wish he may: this was a deep bodied Fish: and doubtless durst have devoured a Pike of half his own length: for I have told you, he is a bold Fish, such a one as but for extreme hunger, the Pike will not devour; for to affright the Pike and save himself, the Pearch will set up his fins, much like as a Turkie-Cock will sometimes set up his tail.

But, my Scholar, the Pearch is not only valiant to defend himself, but he is (as I said) a bold biting fish, yet he will not bite at all seasons of the year; he is very abstemious in Winter, yet will bite then in the midst of the day if it be warm: and note that all Fish bite best about the midst of a warm day in Winter, and he hath been observed by some, not usually to bite till the Mulberry-tree buds, that is to say, till extreme frosts be past that Spring; for when the Mulberry-tree blossomes, many Gardners observe their forward fruit to be past the danger of Frosts, and some have made the like observation of the Pearches biting.

But bite the Pearch will, and that very boldly: and as one has wittily observed, if there be twenty or forty in a hole, they may be at one standing all catch’d one after another; they being, as he saies, like the wicked of the world, not afraid though their fellows and companions perish in their sight. And you may observe, that they are not like the solitary Pike, but love to accompany one another, and march together in troops.

And the baits for this bold Fish are not many; I mean, he will bite as well at some, or at any of these three, as at any or all others whatsoever: a Worm, a Minnow, or a little Frog (of which you may find many in hay-time), and of worms, the Dunghil-worm called a Brandling, I take to be best, being well scowred in Moss or Fennel; or at a worm that lies under a cow-turd with a blewish head. And if you rove for a Pearch with a Minnow, then it is best to be alive: you sticking your hook through his back-fin, or a Minnow with the hook in his upper lip, and letting him swim up and down about mid-water, or a little lower, and you still keeping him to about that depth, by a Cork, which ought not to be a very little one: and the like way you are to Fish for the Pearch, with a small frog, your hook being fastned through the skin of his leg, towards the upper part of it: And lastly, I will give you but this advice, that you give the Pearch time enough when he bites, for there was scarce ever any Angler that has given him too much. And now I think best to rest my self, for I have almost spent my spirits with talking so long.

VENA. Nay, good Master, one fish more, for you see it rains still, and you know our Angles are like mony put to usurie; they may thrive, though we sit still and do nothing, but talk and enjoy one another. Come, come the other fish, good Master.

PISC. But Scholar, have you nothing to mixe with this discourse, which now grows both tedious and tiresome? shall I have nothing from you that seems to have both a good memorie, and a chearful Spirit?

VENA. Yes, Master, I will speak you a Copy of Verses that were made by Doctor Donne, and made to shew the world that he could make soft and smooth Verses when he thought smoothness worth his labour; and I love them the better, because they allude to Rivers, and fish and fishing. They be these:

Come live with me, and by my Love,
And we will some new pleasures prove,
Of golden sands, and Christal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the River whispering run,
Warm’d by thy eyes more than the Sun;
And there th’ inamel’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Most amorously to thee will swim,
Gladder to catch thee, then thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, beest loath
By Sun or Moon, thou darknest both,
And if mine eyes have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with Angling reeds,
And cutt their legs with shels and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset
With strangling snares or windowy net.

Let course bold hands, from slimy nest,
The bedded fish in banks outwrest,
Let curious Traytors sleave silk flies,
To ’witch poor wandring fishes eyes.

For thee, thou needs no such deceit,
For thou thy self art thine own bait:
That fish that is not catcht thereby,
Is wiser far, alas, than I.

PISC. Well remembred, honest Scholar, I thank you for these choice Verses, which I have heard formerly, but had quite forgot, till they were recovered by your happy memorie. Well, being I have now rested my self a little, I will make you some requital, by telling you some observations of the Eele, for it rains still, and because (as you say) our Angles are as money put to Use, that thrive when we play, therefore we’l sit still and injoy our selves a little longer under this honeysuckle-hedg.

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