The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation
by Izaak Walton
Observations of the Luce or Pike, with directions how to fish for him.
PISC. The mighty Luce or Pike is taken to be the Tyrant (as the Salmon is the King) of the fresh waters. Tis not to be doubted, but that they are bred, some by generation, and some not: as namely, of a Weed called Pickerel-weed, unless learned Gesner be much mistaken; for he sayes, this weed and other glutinous matter, with the help of the Suns heat in some particular Moneths, and some Ponds apted for it by nature, do become Pikes. But doubtless divers Pikes are bred after this manner, or are brought into some Ponds some other wayes that is past mans finding out, of which we have daily testimonies.
Sir Francis Bacon in his History of Life and Death, observes the Pike to be the longest lived of any freshwater-Fish, and yet he computes it to be not usually above forty years; and others think it to be not above ten years; and yet Gesner mentions a Pike taken in Swedeland in the year 1449 with a Ring about his neck, declaring he was put into the Pond by Frederick the second, more than two hundred years before he was last taken, as by the Inscription of that Ring (being Greek) was interpreted by the then Bishop of Worms. But of this no more, but that it is observed, that the old or very great Pikes have in them more of state than goodness; the smaller or middle sized Pikes being by the most and choicest palates observed to be the best meat; and contrary, the Eele is observed to be the better for age and bigness.
All Pikes that live long prove chargeable to their Keepers, because their life is maintained by the death of so many other Fish, even those of his own kind, which has made him by some Writers to be called the Tyrant of the Rivers, or the Fresh-water-woolf, by reason of his bold, greedy devouring disposition; which is so keen, as Gesner relates, a man going to a Pond (where it seems a Pike had devoured all the fish) to water his Mule, had a Pike bit his Mule by the lips, to which the Pike hung so fast, that the Mule drew him out of the water, and by that accident the owner of the Mule got the Pike. And the same Gesner observes, that a Maid in Poland had a pike bit her by the foot as she was washing clothes in a Pond. And I have heard the like of a woman in Killingworth Pond, not far from Coventry. But I have been assured by my friend Mr. Sea grave, of whom I spake to you formerly, that keeps tame Otters, that he hath known a pike in extream hunger fight with one of his Otters for a Carp that the Otter had caught, and was then bringing out of the water. I have told you who relates these things, and tell you they are persons of credit, and shall conclude this observation, by telling you what a wise man has observed, It is a hard thing to perswade the belly, because it has no ears.
But if these relations be disbelieved, it is too evident to be doubted that a pike will devour a Fish of his own kind, that shall be bigger than his belly or throat will receive, and swallow a part of him, and let the other part remain in his mouth till the swallowed part be digested, and then swallow that other part that was in his mouth, and so put it over by degrees; which is not unlike the Oxe and some other beasts, taking their meat, not out of their mouth into their belly, but first into some place betwixt, and then chaw it, or digest it after, which is called Chewing the cud. And doubtless pikes will bite when they are not hungry, but as some think in very anger, when a tempting bait comes near to them.
And it is observed, that the pike will eat venomous things (as some kinds of Frogs are) and yet live without being harmed by them: for, as some say, he has in him a natural Balsom or Antidote against all poison: and others, that he never eats the venomous Frog, till he have first killed her, and then (as Ducks are observed to do to Frogs in Spawning time, at which time some Frogs are observed to be venomous) so throughly washt her, by tumbling her up and down in the water, that he may devour her without danger. And Gesner affirms, that a Polonian Gentleman did faithfully assure him, he had seen two young Geese at one time in the belly of a pike. And doubtless a pike in his height of hunger will bite at and devour a dog that swimmes in a Pond, and there has been examples of it, or the like; for as I told you, The belly has no ears when hunger comes upon it.
The pike is also observed to be a solitary, melancholly and a bold Fish: Melancholly, because he alwayes swimmes or rests himself alone, and never swimmes in sholes or with company, as Roach and Dace, and most other Fish do: And bold, because he fears not a shadow, or to see or be seen of any body, as the Trout and Chub, and all other Fish do.
And it is observed by Gesner, that the Jaw-bones, and Hearts, and Galls of pikes are very medicinable for several diseases, or to stop blood, to abate Fevers, to cure Agues, to oppose or expel the infection of the Plague, and to be many wayes medicinable and useful for the good of Mankind; but he observes, that the biting of a pike is venomous and hard to be cured.
And it is observed, that the Pike is a fish that breeds but once a year, and that other fish (as namely Loaches) do breed oftner: as we are certain tame Pigeons do almost every month, and yet the Hawk a Bird of Prey (as the Pike is of Fish) breeds but once in twelve months: and you are to note, that his time of breeding or spawning is usually about the end of February, or, somewhat later, in March, as the weather proves colder or warmer; and to note, that his manner of breeding is thus, a He and a She Pike will usually go together out of a River into some ditch or creek, and that there the spawner casts her eggs, and the Melter hovers over her all that time that she is casting her spawn, but touches her not.
I might say more of this, but it might be thought curiosity or worse, and shall therefore forbear it, and take up so much of your attention, as to tell you, that the best of Pikes are noted to be in Rivers, next those in great Ponds, or Meres, and the worst in small Ponds.
But before I proceed further, I am to tell you that there is a great antipathy betwixt the Pike and some Frogs; and this may appear to the Reader of Dubravius (a Bishop in Bohemia), who in his Book of Fish and Fish-ponds, relates what, he sayes, he saw with his own eyes, and could not forbear to tell the Reader. Which was:
As he and the Bishop Thurzo were walking by a large Pond in Bohemia, they saw a Frog, when the Pike lay very sleepily and quiet by the shore side, leap upon his head, and the frog having exprest malice or anger by his swolne cheeks and staring eyes, did streatch out his legs and imbraced the Pikes head, and presently reached them to his eyes, tearing with them and his teeth those tender parts; the Pike moved with anguish, moves up and down the water, and rubs himself against weeds, and what ever he thought might quit him of his enemy; but all in vain, for the frog did continue to ride triumphantly, and to bite and torment the Pike till his strength failed, and then he sunk with the Pike to the bottome of the water; then presently the frog appeared again at the top and croaked, and semed to rejoyce like a Conqueror, and then presently retired to her secret hole. The Bishop, that had beheld the battel, called his fishermen to fetch his nets, and by all means to get the Pike, that they might declare what had hapned: and the Pike was drawn forth, and both his eyes eaten out, at which when they began to wonder, the Fisherman wished them to forbear, and assured them he was certain that Pikes were often so served.
I told this (which is to be read in the sixth Chapter of the Book of Dubravius) unto a friend, who replied, It was as improbable as to have the mouse scratch out the cats eyes. But he did not consider, that there be fishing Frogs (which the Dalmatians call the Water-Devil) of which I might tell you as wonderful a story, but I shall tell you, that tis not to be doubted, but that there be some frogs so fearfull of the Water-snake, that, when they swim in a place in which they fear to meet with him, they get a reed acrosse into their mouthes, which if they two meet by accident, secures the frog from the strength and malice of the Snake, and note, that the frog swims the fastest.
And let me tell you, that as there be Water and Land-frogs, so there be Land and Water-snakes. Concerning which take this Observation, That the Landsnake breeds, and hatches her eggs, which become young Snakes in some old dunghill, or a like hot place; but the Water-snake, which is not venemous (and as I have been assured by a great observer of such secrets) does breed her young alive, which she does not then forsake, but bides with them, and in case of danger will take them all into her mouth and swim away from any apprehended danger, and then let them out again when she thinks all danger to be past: These be accidents that we Anglers sometimes see and often talk of.
But whither am I going? I had almost lost my self by remembring the Discourse of Dubravius. I will therefore stop here, and tell you according to my promise how to catch this fish.
His feeding is usually of fish or frogs, and sometimes a weed of his own, called Pickrell-weed. Of which I told you some think some Pikes are bred; for they have observed, that where none have been put into Ponds, yet they have there found many: and that there has been plenty of that weed in those Ponds, and that that weed both breeds and feeds them; but whether those Pikes so bred will ever breed by generation as the others do, I shall leave to the disquisitions of men of more curiosity and leasure than I professe my self to have; and shall proceed to tell you that you may fish for a Pike, either with a ledger or a walking-bait; and you are to note, that I call that a Ledger bait, which is fixed, or made to rest in one certain place when you shall be absent and I call that a walking bait, which you take with you, and have ever in motion. Concerning which two, I shall give you this direction, That your ledger bait is best to be a living bait, whether it be a fish or a frog; and that you may make them live the longer, you may or indeed you must take this course.
First, for your live bait of fish, a Roach or Dace is, (I think) best and most tempting, and a Pearch is the longest lived on a hook, and having cut off his fin on his back, which may be done without hurting him, you must take your knife (which cannot be too sharp), and betwixt the head and the fin on the back, cut or make an incision, or such a scar, as you may put the arming wier of your hook into it, with as little brusing or hurting the fish as art and diligence will enable you to do, and so carrying your arming wier along his back, unto, or near the tail of your Fish, betwixt the skin and the body of it, draw out that wier or arming of your hook at another scar near to his tail: then tie him about it with thred, but no harder than of necessity you must to prevent hurting the fish; and the better to avoid hurting the fish, some have a kind of probe to open the way, for the more easie entrance and passage of your wier or arming: but as for these time, and a little experience will teach you better than I can by words; therefore I will for the present say no more of this, but come next to give you some directions, how to bait your hook with a frog.
VENA. But, good Master, did you not say even now, that some Frogs were venemous, and is it not dangerous to touch them?
PISC. Yes, but I will give you some Rules or Cautions concerning them: And first, you are to note, that there are two kinds of Frogs; that is to say (if I may so express my self), a flesh, and a fish-frog: by flesh frogs, I mean frogs that breed and live on the land; and of these there be several sorts also and colours, some being peckled, some greenish, some blackish, or brown: the green Frog, which is a small one, is, by Topsel taken to be venemous; and so is the padock, or Frog-padog, which usually keeps or breeds on the land, and is very large and bony, and big, especially the She frog of that kind; yet these will sometimes come into the water, but it is not often; and the land frogs are some of them observed by him, to breed by laying eggs; and others to breed of the slime and dust of the earth, and that in winter they turn to slime again, and that the next Summer that very slime returns to be a living creature; this is the opinion of Pliny: and Cardanus undertakes to give a reason for the raining of Frogs: but if it were in my power, it should rain none but water-Frogs, for those, I think are not venemous, especially the right water-Frog, which about February or March breeds in ditches by slime, and blackish eggs in that slime: about which time of breeding the He and She Frogs are observed to use divers Summer-sauts, and to croak and make a noise, which the land-frog, or Padok frog never does. Now of these water-frogs, if you intend to fish with a frog for a Pike, you are to chuse the yellowest that you can get, for that the Pike ever likes best. And thus use your frog, that he may continue long alive.
Put your hook into his mouth, which you may easily do from the middle of April till August, and then the frogs mouth grows up, and he continues so for at least six moneths without eating, but is sustained, none but he whose name is Wonderful, knowes how, I say, put your hook, I mean the arming wyer through his mouth, and out at his gills, and then with a fine needle and silk sow the upper part of his legg with onely one stitch to the arming wire of your hook, or tie the frogs leg above the upper joynt to the armed wire, and in so doing, use him as though you loved him, that is, harm him as little as you may possibly, that he may live the longer.
And now, having given you this direction for the baiting your ledger hook with a live Fish or frog, my next must be to tell you, how your hook thus baited must or may be used: and it is thus. Having fastned your hook to a line, which if it be not fourteen yards long, should not be lesse than twelve; you are to fasten that line to any bough near to a hole where a Pike is, or is likely to lie, or to have a haunt, and then wind your line on any forked stick, all your line except half a yard of it or rather more, and split that forked stick with such a nick or notch at one end of it, as may keep the line from any more of it raveling from about the stick, then so much of it as you intended; and chuse your forked stick to be of that bigness as may keep the fish or frog from pulling the forked stick under the water till the Pike bites, and then the Pike having pulled the line forth of the clift or nick of that stick in which it was gently fastned, will have line enough to go to his hold and powch the bait: and if you would have this ledger bait to keep at a fixt place, undisturbed by wind or other accidents which may drive it to the shore side (for you are to note, that it is likeliest to catch a Pike in the midst of the water), than hang a small Plummet of lead, a stone, or piece of tyle, or a turf in a string, and cast it into the water, with the forked stick, to hang upon the ground to be an Anchor to keep the forked stick from moving out of your intended place till the Pike come. This I take to be a very good way, to use so many ledger baits as you intend to make trial of.
Or if you bait your hooks thus with live Fish or Frogs, and in a windy day, fasten them thus to a bough or bundle of straw, and by the help of that wind can get them to move crosse a pond or mere, you are like to stand still on the shore and see sport, if there be any store of Pikes, or these live Baits may make sport, being tied about the body or wings of a Goose or Duck, and she chased over a Pond: and the like may be done with turning three or four live baits thus fastened to bladders, or boughs, or bottles of hay or flags, to swim down a River, whilst you walk quietly alone on the shore, and are still in expectation of sport. The rest must be taught you by practice; for time will not allow me to say more of this kind of fishing with live baits.
And for your dead bait for a Pike, for that you may be taught by one dayes going a fishing with me, or any other body that fishes for him, for the baiting your hook with a dead Gudgeon or a Roach, and moving it up and down the Water, is too easie a thing to take up any time to direct you to do it; and yet, because I cut you short in that, I will commute for it, by telling you that that was told me for a secret: it is this,
Dissolve Gum of Ivy in Oyle of Spike, and therewith annoynt your dead bait for a Pike, and then cast it into a likely place, and when it has lain a short time at the bottom, draw it towards the top of the water and so up the stream, and it is more then likely that you have a Pike follow with more than common eagerness.
And some affirm, that any bait annointed with the marrow of the Thigh-bone of an Hern is a great temptation to any Fish.
These have not been tried by me, but told me by a friend of note, that pretended to do me a courtesie, but if this direction to catch a pike thus do you no good, yet I am certain this direction how to roast him when be is caught, is choicely good, for I have tryed it; and it is somewhat the better for not being common: but with my direction you must take this Caution, that your pike must not be a smal one, that is, it must be more than half a Yard, and should be bigger.
First, open your Pike at the gills, and if need be, cut also a little slit towards his belly; out of these take his guts, and keep his liver, which you are to shred very small with Time, Sweet-margerome and a little Winter-savoury; to these put some pickled Oysters, and some Anchovies two or three, both these last whole (for the Anchovies will melt, and the Oysters should not); to these you must adde also a pound of sweet butter, which you are to mix with the herbs that are shred, and let them all be well salted (if the Pike be more than a yard long, then you may put into these herbs more than a pound, or if he be lesse, then lesse Butter will suffice): these being thus mixt with a blade or two of Mace, must be put into the Pikes belly, and then his belly sowed up, and so sowed up, as to keep all the Butter in his belly if it be possible, if not, then as much of it as you possible can, but take not off the scales; then you are to thrust the spit through his mouth out at his tayl, and then with four, or five, or six split sticks, or very thin lathes, and a convenient quantity of Tape or Filliting, these lathes are to be tyed round about the Pikes body from his head to his tayl, and the Tape tyed somewhat thick to prevent his breaking or falling off from the spit, let him be roasted very leasurely, and often basted with Claret wine, and Anchovyes, and Butter mixt together, and also with what moisture falls from him into the pan: when you have roasted him sufficiently you are to hold under him (when you unwind or cut the Tape that tyes him) such a dish as you purpose to eat him out of; and let him fall into it with the sawce that is rosted in his belly, and by this means the Pike will be kept unbroken and compleat: then to the sawce, which was within, and also in the pan, you are to adde a fit quantity of the best Butter, and to squeeze the juyce of three or four Oranges: lastly, you may either put into the Pike with the Oysters, two cloves of Garlick, and take it whole out, when the Pike is cut off the spit, or to give the sawce a hogo, let the dish (into which you let the Pike fall) be rubbed with it: the using or not using of this Garlick is left to your discretion.
This dish of meat is too good for any but Anglers or honest men: and I trust, you will prove both, and therefore I have trusted you with this secret.
Let me next tell you, that Gesner tells us there are no Pikes in Spain, and that the largest are in the Lake Thrasimane in Italy; and the next, if not equal to them, are the Pikes of England, and that in England, Lincoln shire boasteth to have the biggest. Just so doth Sussex boast of four sorts of fish; namely an Arundell Mullet, a Chichester Lobster, a Chelsey Cockle, and an Amerly Trout.But I will take up no more of your time with this relation, but proceed to give you some observations of the Carp, and how to angle for him.