Project Canterbury

The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Of the Minnow or Penk, of the Loach, and of the
Bull-head, or Millers-thumb.

PISC. There be also three or four other little fish that I had almost forgot that are all without scales, and may for excellency of meat be compared to any fish of greatest value, and largest size. They be usually full of eggs or spawn all the months of Summer; for they breed often, as ’tis observed mice and many of the smaller four-footed Creatures of the earth do; and as those, so these come quickly to their full growth and perfection. And it is needful that they breed both often and numerously, for they be (besides other accidents of ruine) both a prey, and baits for other fish. And first, I shall tell you of the Minnow or Penk.

The Minnow hath, when he is in perfect season, and not sick (which is onely presently after spawning) a kind of dappled or waved colour, like to a Panther, on his sides, inclining to a greenish and skie-colour, his belly being milk-white, and his back almost black or blackish. He is a sharp biter at a small worm, and in hot weather makes excellent sport for young Anglers, or boyes, or women that love that Recreation, and in the spring they make of them excellent Minnow-Tansies; for being washed well in salt, and their heads and tails cut off, and their guts taken out, they prove excellent for that use, being fryed with yolks of eggs, the flowers of Cowslips, and of Primroses, and a little Tansie.

The Loach is, as I told you, a most dainty fish, he breeds and feeds in little and clear swift brooks or rills; and lives there upon the gravel, and in the sharpest streams: He grows not to be above a finger-long, and no thicker than is suitable to that length. This Loach, is of the shape of the Eele: He has a beard or wattels like a Barbel. He has two fins at his sides, four at his belly and one at his tail; he is dapled with many black or brown spots, his mouth is Barbel-like under his nose. This Fish is usually full of eggs or spawn, and is by Gesner and other learned Physitians commended for great nourishment, and to be very grateful both to the palate and stomach of sick persons, and is to be fished for with a very small worm at the bottom, for he very seldom or never rises above the Gravel, on which I told you he usually gets his living.

The Millers-thumb, or Bull-head, is a Fish of no pleasing shape. He is by Gesner compared to the Sea-toad-fish, for his similitude and shape. It has a head big and flat, much greater than sutable to his Body; a mouth very wide and usually gaping. He is without teeth, but his lips are very rough, much like to a File. He hath two Fins near to his gills, which be roundish or crested, two Fins also under the Belly, two on the Back, one below the Vent, and the Fin of his tail is round. Nature hath painted the Body of this Fish with whitish, blackish, brownish spots. They be usually full of eggs or spawn all the Summer (I mean the Females) and those eggs swell their Vents almost into the form of a dug. They begin to spawn about April, and (as I told you) spawn several moneths in the Summer; and in the Winter the Minnow, and Loach, and Bull-head dwell in the mud as the Eele doth, or we know not where; no more than we know where the Cuckoe and Swallow, and other Summer-birds (which first appear to us in April) spend their cold winter melancholy moneths. This Bull-head does usually dwell and hide himself in holes or amongst stones in clear water; and in very hot daies will lie a very long time and very still, and sun himself, and will be easie to be seen upon any flat stone, or on any gravel, at which time he will suffer an Angler to put a hook baited with a small worm very near unto his very mouth, and he never refuses to bite, nor indeed to be caught with the worst of Anglers. Matthiolus commends him much more for his taste and nourishment, than for his shape or beauty.

There is also a little Fish called a Sticklebag; a Fish without scales, but hath his body fenc’d with several prickles. I know not where he dwells in winter, nor what he is good for in summer, but onely to make sport for boyes and women-Anglers, and to feed other Fish that be Fish of prey, as Trouts in particular, who will bite at him as at a Penk, and better, if your hook be rightly baited with him, for he may be so baited as his tail turning like the sail of a windmill will make him turn more quick than any Penk or Minnow can. For note, that the nimble turning of that or the Minnow is the perfection of Minnow-fishing. To which end, if you put your hook into his mouth, and out at his tail, and then having first tied him with white thred a little above his tail, and placed him after such a manner on your hook as he is like to turn, then sow up his mouth to your line, and he is like to turn quick, and tempt any Trout: but if he do not turn quick, then turn his tail a little more or lesse towards the inner part, or towards the side of the hook, or put the Minnow or Sticklebag a little more crooked or more strait on your hook, until it will turn both true and fast; and then doubt not but to tempt any great Trout that lies in a swift stream. And the Loach that I told you of, will do the like; no bait is more tempting, provided the Loach be not too big.

And now Scholar, with the help of this fine morning, and your patient attention, I have said all that my present memory will afford me concerning most of the several Fish that are usually fisht for in fresh waters.

VENA. But Master, you have by your former civility made me hope that you will make good your promise, and say something of the several Rivers that be of most note in this Nation; and also of Fish-ponds, and the ordering of them; and do it I pray good Master; for I love any Discourse of Rivers, and Fish and fishing; the time spent in such discourse passes away very pleasantly.

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