Project Canterbury

The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Observations of the Carp, with Directions how to fish for him.

PISC. The Carp is the Queen of Rivers, a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish, that was not at first bred, nor hath been long in England, but is now naturalized. It is said, they were brought hither by one Mr. Mascal a Gentleman that then lived at Plumsted in Sussex, a County that abounds more with this fish than any in this Nation.

You may remember that I told you, Gesner says, there are no Pikes of Spain; and doubtless, there was a time, about a hundred or a few more years ago, when there were no Carps in England, as may seem to be affirmed by S. Richard Baker, in whose Chronicle you may find these Verses.

Hops and Turkies, Carps and Beer
Came into England all in a year.

And doubtless as of Sea-fish the Herring dies soonest out of the water, and of fresh-water-fish the Trout, so (except the Eele) the Carp indures most hardness, and lives longest out of his own proper Element. And therefore the report of the Carps being brought out of a forraigne into this Nation is the more probable.

Carps and Loaches are observed to Breed several months in one year, which Pikes and most other Fish do not. And this is partly proved by tame and wild Rabbits, as also by some Ducks, which will lay egs nine of the twelve moneths, and yet there be other Ducks that lay not longer then about one month. And it is the rather believed, because you shall scarce or never take a Male Carp without a Melt, or a Female without a Roe or spawn, and for the most part very much; and especially all the Summer Season; and it is observed, that they breed more naturally in ponds then in running waters (if they breed there at all); and that those that live in Rivers are taken by men of the best palats to be much the better meat.

And it is observed, that in some ponds Carps will not breed, especially in cold ponds; but where they will breed, they breed innumerably; Aristotle and Pliny say, six times in a year, if there be no Pikes nor Pearch to devour their Spawn, when it is cast upon grasse, or flags or weeds, where it lies ten or twelve dayes before it be enlivened.

The Carp, if he have water-room and good feed, will grow to a very great bignesse and length: I have heard, to be much above a yard long. ’Tis said (by Jovius, who hath writ of Fishes) that in the Lake Lurian in Italy, Carps have thriven to be more then fifty pound weight, which is the more probable, for as the Bear is conceiv’d and born suddenly; and being born is but short-liv’d: So on the contrary, the Elephant is said to be two years in his dams belly (some think he is ten years in it) and being born growes in bignesse twenty years; and ’tis observ’d too that he lives to the Age of a hundred years. And ’tis also observ’d that the Crocadile is very long-liv’d, and more then that, that all that long life he thrives in bignesse, and so I think some Carps do, especially in some places; though I never saw one above 23 inches, which was a great and a goodly Fish: But have been assured there are of a far greater size, and in England too.

Now, as the increase of Carps is wonderful for their number; so there is not a reason found out, I think by any, why they should breed in some ponds, and not in others of the same nature, for soil and all other circumstances: and as their breeding, so are their decayes also very mysterious: I have both read it, and been told by a Gentleman of tryed honesty, that he has known sixty or more large Carps put into several ponds near to a house, where by reason of the stakes in the ponds, and the Owners constant being near to them, it was impossible they should be stole away from him: and that when he has after three or four years emptyed the pond, and expected an increase from them by breeding young ones (for that they might do so he had, as the rule is, put in three Melters for one Spawner) he has, I say, after three or four years, found neither a young nor old Carp remaining. And the like I have known of one that has almost watched the pond, and at a like distance of time, at the fishing of a pond, found of seventy or eighty large Carps not above five or six: and that he had forborn longer to fish the said pond, but that he saw in a hot day in Summer, a large Carp swim near to the top of the water with a Frog upon his head, and that he upon that occasion caused his pond to be let dry: and I say, of seventy or eighty Carps, only found five or six in the said pond, and those very sick and lean, and with every one a Frog sticking so fast on the head of the said Carps, that the Frog would not be got off without extreme force or killing: and the Gentleman that did affirm this to me, told me he saw it, and did declare his belief to be (and I also believe the same) that he thought the other Carps that were so strangely lost, were so killed by frogs, and then devoured.

But I am faln into this Discourse by accident, of which I might say more, but it has proved longer than I intended, and possibly may not to you be considerable; I shall therefore give you three or four more short observations of the Carp, and then fall upon some directions how you shall fish for him.

The age of Carps is by Sir Francis Bacon (in his History of Life and Death) observed to be but ten years; yet others think they live longer. Gesner saies a Carp has been known to live in the Palatinate above a hundred years: But most conclude, that (contrary to the Pike or Luce) all Carps are the better for age and bigness, the tongues of Carps are noted to be choice and costly meat, especially to them that buy them: but Gesner saies, Carps have no tongue like other Fish, but a piece of flesh like Fish in their mouth like to a tongue, and should be called a palate: But it is certain it is choicely good, and that the Carp is to be reckoned amongst those leather-mouthed fish, which I told you have their teeth in their throat, and for that reason he is very seldom lost by breaking his hold, if your hook be once stuck into his chaps.

I told you, that Sir Francis Bacon thinks that the Carp lives but ten years, but Janus Dubravius has writ a Book of Fish and Fish-ponds, in which he saies, That Carps begin to Spawn at the age of three years, and continue to do so till thirty: he saies also, That in the time of their breeding, which is in Summer, when the Sun hath warmed both the earth and water, and so apted them also for generation, that then three or four Male-Carps will follow a Female, and that then she putting on a seeming coyness, they force her through weeds and flags, where she lets fall her Eggs or Spawn, which sticks fast to the weeds, and then they let fall their Melt upon it, and so it becomes in a short time to be a living fish; and as I told you, it is thought the Carp does this several moneths in the year, and most believe that most fish breed after this manner, except the Eele: and it has been observed, that when the Spawner has weakened her self by doing that natural office, that two or three Melters have helped her from off the weeds, by bearing her up on both sides, and guarding her into the deep. And you may note, that though this may seem a curiosity not worth observing, yet others have judged it worth their time and costs to make Glasse-hives, and order them in such a manner as to see how Bees have bred and made their Honey-combs, and how they have obeyed their King, and governed their Common-wealth. But it is thought that all Carps are not bred by generation, but that some breed other wayes, as some Pikes do.

The Physicians make the galls and stones in the heads of Carps to be very medicinable; but ’tis not to be doubted but that in Italy they make great profit of the Spawn of Carps, by selling it to the Jewes, who make it into red Caviare, the Jewes not being by their Law admitted to eat of Caviare made of the Sturgion, that being a Fish that wants scales, and (as may appear in Levit. 11) by them to be reputed unclean.

Much more might be said out of him, and out of Aristotle, which Dubravius often quotes in his Discourse of Fishes; but it might rather perplex than satisfie you, and therefore I shall rather chuse to direct you how to catch, than spend more time in discoursing either of the nature or the breeding of this Carp, or of any more circumstances concerning him, but yet I shall remember you of what I told you before, that he is a very subtil Fish, and hard to be caught.

And my first direction is, that if you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience; especially to fish for a River Carp: I have known a very good Fisher angle diligently four or six hours in a day, for three or four daies together for a River Carp, and not have a bite: and you are to note, that in some ponds it is as hard to catch a Carp as in a River; that is to say, where they have store of feed, and the water is of a clayish colour: But you are to remember, that I have told you there is no rule without an exception, and therefore being possest with that hope and patience which I wish to all Fishers, especially to the Carp-Angler, I shall tell you with what bait to fish for him. But first you are to know, that it must be either early or late; and let me tell you, that in hot weather (for he will seldom bite in cold) you cannot be too early or too late at it. And some have been so curious as to say, the 10 of April is a fatal day for Carps.

The Carp bites either at worms or at paste, and of worms I think the blewish Marsh or Meadow worm is best, but possibly another worm not too big may do as well, and so may a green Gentle; And as for pastes, there are almost as many sorts as there are Medicines for the Toothach, but doubtless sweet pastes are best; I mean, pastes made with honey or with sugar: which, that you may the better beguile this crafty Fish, should be thrown into the Pond or place in which you fish for him some hours before you undertake your tryal of skill with the Angle-rod: and doubtless if it be thrown into the water a day or two before, at several times and in small pellets, you are the likelier when you fish for the Carp to obtain your desired sport: or in a large Pond to draw them to any certain place, that they may the better and with more hope be fished for, you are to throw into it in some certain place, either Grains or Bloud mixt with Cow-dung, or with Bran; or any Garbage, as Chickens guts or the like, and then some of your small sweet pellets with which you purpose to angle: and these small pellets being a few of them also thrown in as you are Angling.

And your paste must be thus made: Take the flesh of a Rabbet or Cat cut small, and Bean-flowre, and if that may not be easily got, get other flowre, and then mix these together, and put to them either Sugar, or Honey, which I think better, and then beat these together in a Mortar, or sometimes work them in your hands (your hands being very clean) and then make it into a Ball, or two, or three, as you like best for your use: but you must work or pound it so long in the Mortar, as to make it so tough as to hang upon your hook without washing from it, yet not too hard: or that you may the better keep it on your hook, you may knead with your paste a little (and not much) white or yellowish wool.

And if you would have this paste keep all the year for any other Fish, then mix with it Virgins wax and clarified honey, and work them together with your hands before the Fire, then make these in to balls, and they will keep all the year.

And if you fish for a Carp with Gentles, then put upon your hook a small piece of Scarlet about this bigness [__], it being soked in, or anointed with Oyl of Peter, called by some Oyl of the Rock, and if your Gentles be put two or three dayes before into a box or horn anointed with honey, and so put upon your hook, as to preserve them to be living, you are as like to kill this crafty fish this way as any other: But still as you are fishing chaw a little white or brown bread in your mouth, and cast it into the pond about the place where your Flote swims. Other baites there be, but these with diligence, and patient watchfulness, will do it better than any that I have ever practised, or heard of: And yet I shall tell you, that the crumbs of white bread and honey made into a paste is a good bait for a Carp, and you know it is more easily made. And having said thus much of the Carp, my next discourse shall be of the Bream, which shall not prove so tedious, and therefore I desire the continuance of your attention.

But first I will tell you how to make this Carp that is so curious to be caught, so curious a dish of meat as shall make him worth all your labour; and though it is not without some trouble and charges, yet it will recompence both.

Take a Carp (alive if possible), scour him, and rub him clean with water and salt, but scale him not, then open him, and put him with his bloud and his liver (which you must save when you open him) into a small pot or kettle; then take sweet Margerome, Time and Parsley, of each half a handful, a sprig of Rosemary, and another of Savoury, bind them into two or three small bundles, and put them to your Carp, with four or five whole Onyons, twenty pickled Oysters, and three Anchovies. Then pour upon your Carp as much claret wine as will onely cover him; and season your claret well with salt, Cloves and Mace, and the rinds of Oranges and Lemons, cover your pot and set it on a quick fire, till it be sufficiently boiled; then take out the Carp and lay it with the broth into the dish, and pour upon it a quarter of a pound of fresh butter melted and beaten, with half a dozen spoonfuls of the broth, the yolks of two or three eggs, and some of the herbs shred, garnish your dish with Lemons and so serve it up.

DR. T.

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