Project Canterbury

The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Observations of the nature and breeding of the Trout,
and how to fish for him. And the Milk-maids Song.

PISC. The Trout is a Fish highly valued both in this and forraign Nations; he may be justly said (as the old Poet said of Wine, and we English say of Venison) to be a generous Fish: a Fish that is so like the Buck, that he also has his seasons; for it is observed, that he comes in and goes out of season with the Stag and Buck: Gesner sayes, his name is of a Germane offspring, and sayes he is a Fish that feeds clean and purely, in the swiftest streams, and on the hardest gravel: and that he may justly contend with all freshwater-Fish, as the Mullet may with all Sea-Fish, for precedency and daintinesse of taste, and that being in right season, the most dainty pallates have allowed precedency to him.

And before I go farther in my Discourse, let me tell you, that you are to observe, that as there be some barren Does, that are good in Summer, so there be some barren Trouts that are good in Winter, but there are not many that are so; for usually they be in their perfection in the month of May, and decline with the Buck. Now you are to take notice, that in several Countryes, as in Germany and in other parts, compar’d to ours, Fish do differ much in their bignesse, and shape, and other-wayes, and so do Trouts it is well known that in the Lake Lemon (the Lake of Geneva), there are Trouts taken of three Cubits long, as is affirmed by Gesner, a Writer of good credit; and Mercator sayes, the Trouts that are taken in the Lake of Geneva, are a great part of the Merchandize of that famous City. And you are further to know, that there be certain waters that breed Trouts remarkable, both for their number and smalnesse. I know a little Brook in Kent, that breeds them to a number incredible, and you may take them twenty or forty in an hour, but none greater than about the size of a Gudgion: There are also in divers Rivers, especially that relate to or be near to the Sea (as Winchester, or the Thames about Windsor), a little Trout called a Samlet or Skegger Trout (in both which places I have caught twenty or forty at a standing) that will bite as fast and as freely as Minnows; these be by some taken to be young Salmons, but in those waters they never grow to be bigger than a Herring.

There is also in Kent near to Canterbury, a trout: (called there a Fordidge trout) a trout (that bears the name of the Town, where it is usually caught) that is accounted the rarest of Fish, many of them near the bignesse of a Salmon, but known by their different colour, and in their best season cut very white; and none of these have been known to be caught with an Angle, unless it were one that was caught by Sir George Hastings (an excellent Angler, and now with God), and he hath told me, he thought that trout bit not for hunger but wantonness; and it is the rather to be believed, because both he then, and many others before him, have been curious to search into their bellies, what the food was by which they lived; and have found out nothing by which they might satisfie their curiosity.

Concerning which you are to take notice, that it is reported by good Authors, that there is a Fish, that hath not any mouth, but lives by taking breath by the porings of her Gills, and feeds and is nourished by no man knows what; and this may be believed of the Fordidge trout, which (as it is said of the Storke, that he knows his season, so he) knows his times (I think almost his day) of coming first into that River out of the Sea, where he lives (and it is like, feeds) nine months of the Year, and about three in the River of Fordidge. And you are to note, that the Townsmen are very punctual in observing the very time of beginning to fish for them; and boast much that their River affords a Trout, that exceeds all others. And just so doth Sussex boast of several Fish, as namely a Shelsey Cockle, a Chichester Lobster, an Arundel Mullet, and an Amerly Trout.

And now for some confirmation of the Fordidge Trout, you are to know that this Trout is thought to eat nothing in the fresh water; and it may be the better believed, because it is well known, that Swallows which are not seen to flie in England for six months in the Year, (but about Michaelmas leave us for a hotter Climate), yet some of them that have been left behind their fellows, have been found (many thousands at a time) in hollow trees, where they have been observed, to live and sleep out the whole Winter without meat; and so Albertus observes that there is one kind of Frog that hath her mouth naturally shut up about the end of August and that she lives so all the Winter, and though it be strange to some, yet it is known to too many among us to be doubted.

And so much for these Fordidge trouts, which never afford an Angler sport, but either live their time of being in the fresh water by their meat formerly gotten in the Sea, (not unlike the Swallow or Frog) or by the vertue of the fresh water only; or as the birds of Paradise, and the Camelion are said to live by the Sun and the aire.

There is also in Northumberland a Trout called a Bull-trout, of a much greater length and bignesse, than any in these Southern parts: and there is in many Rivers that relate to the Sea, Salmon-trouts, as much different from others, both in shape and in their spots, as we see sheep differ one from another in their shape and bignesse, and in the finenesse of their wool: and certainly, as some pastures do breed larger sheep, so do some Rivers, by reason of the ground over which they run, breed larger trouts.

Now the next thing that I will commend to your consideration is, that the trout is of a more sudden growth than other Fish: concerning which you are also to take notice, that he lives not so long as the Pearch and divers other Fishes do, as Sir Francis Bacon hath observed in his History of Life and Death.

And next you are to take notice, that he is not like the Crocodile, which if he lives never so long, yet alwayes thrives till his death: but ’tis not so with the Trout; for after he is come to his full growth, he declines in his body, but keeps his bignesse, or thrives onely in his head till his death. And you are to know, that he will about (especially before) the time of his Spawning, get almost miraculously through Weires, and Floud-gates against the stream, even through such high and swift places as is almost incredible. Next, that the Trout usually Spawns about October or November, but in some Rivers a little sooner or later: which is the more observable, because most other fish Spawn in the Spring or Summer, when the Sun hath warmed both the earth and water, and made it fit for generation. And you are to note, that he continues many months out of season: for it may be observed of the Trout, that he is like the Buck or the Ox, that will not be fat in many months, though he go in the very same pastures that horses do, which will be fat in one month; and so you may observe, that most other Fishes recover strength, and grow sooner fat, and in season then the Trout doth.

And next, you are to note, that till the Sun gets to such a height as to warm the earth and the water, the Trout is sick and lean, and lowsie, and unwholesome: for you shall in winter find him to have a big head, and then to be lank, and thin, and lean; at which time many of them have sticking on them Sugs, or Trout lice, which is a kind of a worm, in shape like a clove or pin, with a big head, and stickes close to him and sucks his moisture; those, I think, the Trout breeds himself, and never thrives till he free himself from them, which is till warm weather comes; and then, as he grows stronger, he gets from the dead still water into the sharp streams, and the gravel, and there rubs off these worms or lice, and then, as he grows stronger, so he gets him into swifter and swifter streams, and there lies at the watch for any flie or Minnow, that comes near to him; and he especially loves the May-flie, which is bred of the Cod-worm or Caddis; and these make the trout bold and lusty, and he is usually fatter and better meat at the end of that month, then at any time of the year.

Now you are to know, that it is observed, that usually the best trouts are either red or yellow, though some (as the Fordidge trout) be white and yet good; but that is not usual: and it is a note observable, that the female Trout hath usually a less head, and a deeper body than the male Trout; and is usually the better meat: and note that a hogback, and a little head to any fish, either Trout, Salmon, or other fish, is a sign that that fish is in season.

But yet you are to note, that as you see some Willows or palm-trees bud and blossom sooner than others do, so some Trouts be in rivers sooner in season; and as some Hollys or Oaks are longer before they cast their leaves, so are some Trouts in some Rivers longer before they go out of season.

And you are to note, that there are several kinds of Trouts, though they all go under that general name; just as there be tame and wild Pigeons, and of tame there be Cropers. Carriers, Runts (and too many to name) which all differ, and so do Trouts in their bignesse, shape, and colour; the great Kentish Hens may be an instance compared to other Hens. And doubtlesse there is a kind of small Trout, which will never thrive to be big, that breeds very many more than others do, that be of a larger size; which you may rather believe, if you consider that the little Wren and Titmouse will have twenty young at a time, when usually the noble Hawk, or the Musical Thrassel or Blackbird exceed not four or five.

And now I shall try my skill to catch a Trout, and at my next walking either this evening, or tomorrow morning I will give you direction, how you your self shall fish for him.

VENA. Trust me, Master, I see now it is a harder matter to catch a Trout than a Chub: for I have put on patience, and followed you these two hours, and not seen a Fish stir, neither at your Minnow nor your Worm.

PISC. Well Scholar, you must indure worse luck sometime, or you will never make a good Angler. But what say you now? there is a Trout now, and a good one too, if I can but hold him, and two or three turnes more will tire him: Now you see he lies still, and the sleight is to land him: Reach me that Landing Net: So (Sir) now he is mine own, what say you now? is not this worth all my labour and your patience?

VENA. On my word Master, this is a gallant Trout, what shall we do with him?

PISC. Marry e’en eat him to supper: We’ll go to my Hostis, from whence we came; she told me, as I was going out of door, that my brother Peter, a good Angler and a chearful companion, had sent word he would lodge there to night, and bring a friend with him. My Hostis has two beds, and, I know, you and I may have the best: we’l rejoice with my brother Peter and his friend, tell tales, or sing Ballads, or make a Catch or find some harmlesse sport to content us, and passe away a little time without offence to God or man.

VENA. A match, good Master, let’s go to that house for the linen looks white, and smells of Lavender, and I long to lie in a pair of sheets that smell so: lets be going, good Master, for I am hungry again with fishing.

PISC. Nay, stay a little good Scholar, I caught my last Trout with a Worm, now I will put on a Minnow and trie a quarter of an hour about yonder trees for another, and so walk towards our Lodging. Look you Scholar, thereabout we shall have a bit presently, or not at all: Have with you (Sir!) on my word I have him. Oh it is a great loggerheaded Chub; Come, hang him upon that Willow twig, and lets be going. But turn out of the way a little, good Scholar, towards yonder high hedge: We’ll sit whilst this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives yet a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn these verdant Meadowes.

Look; under that broad Beech-tree, I sate down, when I was last this way a fishing, and the birds in the adjoyning Grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an Eccho, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hallow tree, near to the brow of that Primrose-hil, there I sate viewing the silver-streams glide silently towards their center, the tempestuous Sea; yet sometimes opposed by rugged roots, and pibble stones, which broke their waves, and turned them into foam: and sometimes I beguil’d time by viewing the harmlesse Lambs, some leaping securely in the cool shade, whilst others sported themselvs in the chearful Sun; and saw others craving comfort from the swoln Udders of their bleating Dams. As I thus sate these and other sights had so fully possest my soul with content, that I thought as the Poet has happily exprest it:

I was for that time lifted above earth;
And possest joyes not promis’d in my birth.

As I left this place, and entred into the next field, a second pleasure entertained me, ’twas a handsome milk-maid, that had cast away all care, and sung like a Nightingale: her voice was good, and the Ditty fitted for it, ’twas that smooth song, which was made by Kit. Marlow, now at least fifty years ago: and the Milk-maids Mother sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger dayes.

They were old fashioned Poetry, but choicely good, I think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion in this critical age. Look yonder, on my word, yonder they both be a milking again, I will give her the Chub, and perswade them to sing those two songs to us.

God speed you good woman, I have been a Fishing, and am going to Bleak-Hall to my bed, and having caught more Fish then will sup my self and my friend, I will bestow this upon you and your Daughter; for I use to sell none.

MILK. Marrie, God requite you Sir, and we’l eat it chearfully: and if you come this way a Fishing two months hence, a grace of God I’le give you a sillybub of new Verjuice; in a new made Hay-cock for it, and my Maudlin shall sing you one of her best Ballads, for she and I both love all Anglers, they be such honest, civil, quiet men; in the mean-time will you drink a draught of Red-Cowes milk, you shall have it freely.

PISC. No, I thank you, but I pray do us a courtesie that shall stand you and your daughter in nothing, and yet we will think our selves still something in your debt; it is but to sing us a Song, that was sung by your daughter, when I last past over this Meadow, about eight or nine dayes since.

MILK. What Song was it, I pray? was it, Come Shepheard: deck your beards, or, As at noon Dulcina rested; or, Philida flouts me; or, Chevy Chase?

PISC. No, it is none of those: it is a Song, that your daughter sung the first part, and you sung the answer to it.

MILK. O, I know it now, I learn’d the first part in my golden age, when I was about the age of my poor daughter; and the latter part, which indeed fits me best now, but two or three years ago, when the cares of the World began to take hold of me: but you shall, God willing, hear them both, and sung as well as we can, for we both love Anglers. Come Maudlin, sing the first part to the Gentlemen with a merry heart, and Ile sing the second, when you have done.

The Milk-Maids Song.

Come live with me, and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, or hills, or fields,
Or woods, and steepy mountain yields.

Where we will sit upon the Rocks,
And see the Shepheards feed our flocks,
By shallow Rivers, to whose falls,
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses,
And then a thousand fragrant Poesies,
A Cap of flower, and a Kirtle
Imbroidered all with leaves of mirtle.

A Gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Slippers lin’d choicely for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A Belt of Straw, and Ivy-buds,
With Coral Clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat,
As pretious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an Ivory table be
Prepar’d each day for thee and me.

The Shepherds Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my Love.

VENA. Trust me, Master, it is a choice Song, and sweetly sung by honest Maudlin. I now see it was not without cause, that our good Queen Elizabeth did so often wish her self a Milkmaid all the moneth of May, because they are not troubled with cares, but sing sweetly all the day, and sleep securely all the night: and without doubt honest, innocent, pretty Maudlin does so. I’le bestow Sir Thomas Overbury’s Milkmaids wish upon her, That she may dye in the Spring, and have good store of flowers stuck round about her winding sheet.

The Milk-Maids Mothers Answer.

If all the world and Love were young,
And truth in every Shepherds tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee, and be thy Love.

But time drives flocks from field to fold
When rivers rage, and rocks grow cold,
Then Philomel becometh dumb,
The Rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward Winter reckoning yields.
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancies spring, but sorrows fall,

Thy gowns, thy shooes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy poesies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy Belt of Straw, and Ivy-buds,
Thy Coral Clasps, and Amber-studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee, and be thy Love.

What should we talk of dainties then,
Of better meat than’s fit for men?
These are but vain: that’s onely good
Which God hath blest, and sent for food.

But could Youth last, and love still breed,
Had joyes no date, nor age no need;
Then those delights my mind might move,
To live with thee, and be thy Love.

PISC. Well sung, good Woman, I thank you. I’le give you another dish of Fish one of these dayes, and then beg another Song of you. Come Scholar, let Maudlin alone, do not you offer to spoil her voice. Look, yonder comes mine Hostesse to call us to supper. How now? is my brother Peter come?

HOST. Yes, and a friend with him, they are both glad to hear that you are in these parts, and long to see you, and are hungry, and long to be at supper.

Project Canterbury