Project Canterbury

The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Observations of the Umber or Grayling, and directions how to fish for them.

PISC. The Umber and Grayling are thought by some to differ as the Herring and Pilcher do: But though they may do so in other Nations, I think those in England differ nothing but in their names. Aldrovandas sayes, they be of a Trout kind: and Gesner sayes, that in his Countrey (which is Swisserland) he is accounted the choicest Fish. And in Italy, he is in the moneth of May so highly valued, that he is sold then at a much higher rate than any other Fish. The French (which call the Chub Un Villain) call the Umber of the Lake Lemon, Un Umble Chevaliere; and they value the Umber or Grayling so highly, that they say he feeds on Gold, and that many have been caught out of their famous River of Loyre, out of whose bellies grains of gold have been often taken. And some think that he feeds on Water-time, and smells so at his first taking out of the water; and they may think so with as good reason as we do, that our Smelts smell like Violets at their being first caught; which I think is a truth. Aldrovandus sayes, the Salmon, the Grayling, and Trout, and all Fish that live in clear and sharp streams, are made by their mother Nature of such exact shape and pleasant colours, purposely to invite us to a joy and contentednesse in feasting with her. Whether this is a truth or not, is not my purpose to dispute; but ’tis certain, all that write of the Umber declare him to be very medicinable. And Gesner sayes, that the fat of a Grayling being set with a little Honey a day or two in the Sun in a little glass, is very excellent against redness, or any thing that breeds in the eyes. Salvian takes him to be called Umber from his swift swimming or gliding out of sight, more like a shadow or a ghost than a fish. Much more might be said both of the smell and taste, but I shall only tell you, that S. Ambrose the glorious Bishop of Milan (who liv’d when the Church kept Fasting days) calls him the flowre fish, or flowre of fishes, and that he was so far in love with him, that he would not let him pass without the honour of a long Discourse; but I must; and pass on to tell you how to take this dainty fish.

First, Note, That he grows not to the bigness of a Trout; for the biggest of them do not usually exceed eighteen inches, he lives in such Rivers as the Trout does, and is usually taken with the same baits as the Trout is, and after the same manner; for he will bite both at the Minnow, or Worm, or Fly, (though he bites not often at the Minnow) and is very gamesome at the Fly, and much simpler, and therefore bolder than a Trout; for he will rise twenty times at a fly, if you miss him, and yet rise again. He has been taken with a fly made of the red feathers of a Parraketa, a strange outlandish bird, and he will rise at a fly not unlike a gnat or a small moth, or indeed, at most flies that are not too big. He is a Fish that lurks close all winter, but is very pleasant and jolly after mid-April, and in May, and in the hot months: he is of a fine shape, his flesh is white, his teeth, those little ones that he has are in his throat, yet he has so tender a mouth, that he is oftner lost after an Angler has hooked him than any other Fish. Though there be many of these Fishes in Trent, and some other smaller rivers, as that which runs by Salisbury, yet he is not so general a Fish as the Trout, nor to me so good to eat or to Angle for. And so I shall take my leave of him, and come to some Observations of the Salmon, and how to catch him.

Project Canterbury