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The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

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

PISC. The Barbel is so called (saies Gesner) by reason of his Barb or Wattels at his mouth, which are under his nose or chaps. He is one of those leather-mouthed Fish that I told you of, that very seldom break his hold if he be once hook’d: but he will often break both rod and line if he proves to be a big one.

But the Barbel, though he be of a fine shape, and looks big, yet he is not accounted the best fish to eat, neither for his wholsomness nor his taste: But the Male is reputed much better than the Female, whose Spawn is very hurtful, as I will presently declare to you.

They flock together like sheep, and are at worst in April, about which time they Spawn, but quickly grow to be in season. He is able to live in the strongest swifts of the Water, and in Summer loves the shallowest and sharpest streams; and loves to lurk under weeds, and to feed on gravel against a rising ground, and will root and dig in the sands with his nose like a hog, and there nests himself: yet sometimes he retires to deep and swift Bridges, or Floud-gates, or Weires, where he will nest himself amongst piles, or in hollow places, and take such hold of mosse or weeds, that be the water never so swift, it is not able to force him from the place that he contends for. This is his constant custom in Summer, when he and most living creatures sport themselves in the Sun, but at the approach of Winter, then he forsakes the swift streams and shallow waters, and by degrees retires to those parts of the River that are quiet and deeper; in which places (and I think about that time) he Spawnes, and as I have formerly told you, with the help of the Melter, hides his Spawn or eggs in holes, which they both dig in the gravel, and then they mutually labour to cover it with the same sand, to prevent it from being devoured by other fish.

There be such store of this fish in the River Danubie, that Randeletius sayes, they may in some places of it, and in some moneths of the year, be taken by those that dwell near to the River, with their hands, eight or ten load at a time; he sayes, they begin to be good in May, and that they cease to be so in August, but it is found to be otherwise in this Nation: but thus far we agree with him, that the Spawn of a Barbel, if it be not poison as he sayes, yet that it is dangerous meat, and especially in the moneth of May; which is so certain that Gesner and Gasius declare, it had an ill effect upon them even to the indangering of their lives.

This fish is of a fine cast and handsome shape, small scales, and plac’d after a most exact and curious manner, and, as I told you, may be rather said not to be ill, then to be good meat; the Chub and he have (I think) both lost a part of their credit by ill cookery, they being reputed the worst or coursest of fresh-water-fish: but the Barbel affords an Angler choice sport, being a lusty and a cunning Fish; so lusty and cunning as to endanger the breaking of the Anglers line, by running his head forcibly towards any covert, or hole, or bank: and then striking at the line, to break it off with his tail (as is observed by Plutarch, in his Book De industria animalium) and also so cunning to nibble and suck off your worm close to the hook, and yet avoid the letting the hook come into his mouth.

The Barbel is also curious for his baits, that is to say, that they be clean and sweet; that is to say, to have your worms well scowred, and not kept in sowre and musty moss, for he is a curious feeder; for at a well-scowred Lob-worm, he will bite as boldly as at any bait, and specially, if the night or two before you fish for him, you shall bait the places where you intend to fish for him with big worms cut into pieces: and note, that none did ever over-bait the place, nor fish too early or too late for a Barbel. And the Barbel will bite also at Gentles, which (not being too much scowred, but green) are a choice bait for him: and so is cheese, which is not to be too hard, but kept a day or two in a wet linen cloth to make it tough: with this you may also bait the water a day or two before you fish for the Barbel, and be much the likelier to catch store; and if the cheese were laid in clarified honey a short time before (as namely, an hour or two) you were still the likelier to catch Fish: some have directed to cut the cheese into thin pieces, and toast it, and then tie it on the hook with fine silk: and some advise to fish for the Barbel with Sheeps tallow and soft cheese beaten or work’d into a Paste, and that it is choicely good in August, and I believe it: but doubtiesse the Lob-worm well scowred, and the Gentle not too much scowred, and cheese ordered as I have directed, are baits enough, and I think will serve in any moneth: though I shall commend any Angler that tries conclusions, and is industrious to improve the Art. And now, my honest Scholar, the long showre, and my tedious Discourse are both ended together: and I shall give you but this Observation, that when you fish for a Barbel, your Rod and Line be both long, and of good strength, for (as I told you) you will find him a heavy and a dogged fish to be dealt withal, yet he seldom or never breaks his hold if he be once strucken. And if you would know more of fishing for the Umber or Barbel, get into favour with Doctor Shelden, whose skill is above others; and of that the Poor that dwell about him have a comfortable experience.

And now lets go and see what interest the Trouts will pay us for letting our Angle-rods lie so long, and so quietly in the water for their use. Come, Scholar, which will you take up?

VENA. Which you think fit, Master.

PISC. Why, you shall take up that; for I am certain by viewing the Line, it has a Fish at it. Look you, Scholar: well done. Come now, take up the other too: well, now you may tell my brother Peter at night, that you have caught a lease of Trouts this day. And now lets move toward our lodging, and drink a draught of Red-Cowes Milk, as we go, and give pretty Maudlin and her honest mother a brace of Trouts for their supper.

VENA. Master, I like your motion very well, and I think it is now about milking-time; and yonder they be at it.

PISC. God speed you, good woman, I thank you both for our Songs last night; I and my companion have had such fortune a fishing this day, that we resolve to give you and Maudlin a brace of Trouts for supper, and we will now taste a draught of your Red-Cowes milk.

MILKW. Marry, and that you shall with all my heart, and I will be still your debtor when you come this way: if you will but speak the word, I will make you a good Sillabub, of new Verjuice, and then you may sit down in a haycock and eat it, and Maudlin shall sit by and sing you the good old Song of the Hunting in Chevy Chase, or some other good Ballad; for she hath good store of them; Maudlin, my honest Maudlin hath a notable memory, and she thinks nothing too good for you, because you be such honest men.

VENA. We thank you, and intend once in a moneth to call upon you again, and give you a little warning, and so good night: good night, Maudlin. And now, good Master, lets lose no time; but tell me somewhat more of Fishing, and if you please, first something of Fishing for a Gudgion.

PISC. I will, honest Scholar.

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