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Chapter 7. OBSERVATIONS OF THE SALMON, WITH DIRECTIONS HOW TO FISH FOR HIM
PISCATOR. The Salmon is accounted the King of fresh-water fish, and is ever bred in rivers relating to the sea; yet so high, or far from it, as admits of no tincture of salt, or brackishness. He is said to breed or cast his spawn, in most rivers, in the month of August: some say that then they dig a hole or grave in a safe place in the gravel, and there place their eggs or spawn, after the melter has done his natural office, and then hide it most cunningly, and cover it over with gravel and stones; and then leave it to their Creator's protection, who, by a gentle heat which He infuses into that cold element, makes it brood and beget life in the spawn, and to become Samlets early in the spring next following.
The Salmons having spent their appointed time, and done this natural duty, in the fresh waters, they then haste to the sea before winter, both the melter and spawner: but if they be stopped by flood-gates or weirs, or lost in the fresh waters, then those so left behind by degrees grow sick, and lean, and unseasonable, and kipper; that is to say, have bony gristles grow out of their lower chaps, not unlike a hawk's beak, which hinder their feeding; and, in time, such fish so left behind pine away and die. 'Tis observed that he may live thus one year from the sea; but he then grows insipid, and tasteless, and loses both his blood and strength, and pines and dies the second year. And 'tis noted, that those little Salmons called Skeggers, which abound in many rivers relating to the sea, are bred by such sick Salmons that might not go to the sea, and that though they abound, yet they never thrive to any considerable bigness.
But if the old Salmon gets to the sea, then that gristle which shows him to be kipper wears away, or is cast off, as the eagle is said to cast his bill, and he recovers his strength, and comes next summer to the same river, if it be possible, to enjoy the former pleasures that there possessed him: for, as one has wittily observed, he has, like some persons of honor and riches, which have both their winter and summer houses, the fresh rivers for summer, and the salt water for winter, to spend his life in; which is not, as Sir Francis Bacon hath observed in his "History of Life and Death," above ten years. And it is to be observed, that though the Salmon does grow big in the sea, yet he grows not fat but in fresh rivers; and it is observed, that the farther they get from the sea, they be both the fatter and better.
Next I shall tell you, that
though they make very hard shift to get out of the fresh rivers into the sea,
yet they will make harder shift to get out of the salt into the fresh rivers,
to spawn, or possess the pleasures that they have formerly found in them: to
which end, they will force themselves through flood-gates, or over weirs, or
hedges, or stops in the water, even to a height beyond common belief. Gesner
speaks of such places as are known to be above eight feet high above water. And
our Camden mentions in his Britannia the like wonder to be in Pembrokeshire,
where the river Tivy falls into the sea; and that the fall is so downright, and
so high, that the people stand and wonder at the strength and sleight by which
they see the Salmon use to get out of the sea into the said river: and the
manner and height of the place is so notable, that it is known far by the name
of the Salmon-Leap. Concerning which take this also out of Michael Drayton, my
honest old friend, as he tells it you in his "Polyolbion."
And when the Salmon seeks a fresher stream to find,
Which hither from the sea comes yearly by his kind;
As he towards season grows, and stems the wat'ry tract
Where Tivy, falling down, makes an high cataract,
Forced by the rising rocks that there her course oppose,
As though within her bounds they meant her to enclose, —
Here, when the laboring fish does at the foot arrive,
And finds that by his strength he does but vainly strive;
His tail takes in his mouth, and, bending like a bow
That's to full compass drawn, aloft himself doth throw,
Then springing at his height, as doth a little wand,
That, bended end to end, and started from man's hand,
Far off itself doth cast; so does the Salmon vault:
And if at first he fail, his second summersault
He instantly essays; and, from his nimble ring
Still yerking, never leaves until himself he fling
Above the opposing stream.
This Michael Drayton tells you of this leap or summersault of the Salmon.
And, next, I shall tell you, that it is observed by Gesner and others, that there is no better Salmon than in England; and that, though some of our northern counties have as fat and as large as the river Thames, yet none are of so excellent a taste.
And as I have told you that Sir Francis Bacon observes, the age of a Salmon exceeds not ten years, so let me next tell you, that his growth is very sudden: it is said, that, after he is got into the sea, he becomes, from a Samlet not so big as a Gudgeon, to be a Salmon, in as short a time as a gosling becomes to be a goose. Much of this has been observed, by tying a ribbon, or some known tape or thread, in the tail of some young Salmons, which have been taken in weirs as they have swimmed towards the salt water, and then by taking a part of them again, with the known mark, at the same place, at their return from the sea, which is usually about six months after; and the like experiment hath been tried upon young swallows, who have, after six months' absence, been observed to return to the same chimney, there to make their nests and habitations for the summer following: which has inclined many to think, that every Salmon usually returns to the same river in which it was bred, as young pigeons taken out of the same dove-cote have also been observed to do.
And you are yet to observe further, that the he-Salmon is usually bigger than the Spawner; and that he is more kipper, and less able to endure a winter in the fresh water, than she is: yet she is, at that time of looking less kipper and better, as watery, and as bad meat.
And yet you are to observe, that as there is no general rule without an exception, so there are some few rivers in this nation that have Trouts and Salmons in season in winter; as 'tis certain there be in the river Wye in Monmouthshire, where they be in season, as Camden observes, from September till April. But, my Scholar, the observation of this and many other things, I must in manners omit, because they will prove too large for our narrow compass of time; and therefore I shall next fall upon my direction how to fish for this Salmon.
And for that: first you shall observe, that usually he stays not long in a place, as Trouts will, but, as I said, covets still to go nearer the spring-head; and that he does not as the Trout, and many other fish, lie near the water-side, or banks, or roots of trees, but swims in the deep and broad parts of the water, and usually in the middle, and near the ground, and that there you are to fish for him; and that he is to be caught as the Trout is, with a worm, a minnow, which some call a Penk, or with a fly.
And you are to observe, that he is very seldom observed to bite at a minnow, yet sometimes he will, and not usually at a fly, but more usually at a worm, and then most usually at a Lob or garden-worm, which should be well scoured, that is to say, kept seven or eight days in moss before you fish with them: and if you double your time of eight into sixteen, twenty, or more days, it is still the better; for the worms will still be clearer, tougher, and more lively, and continue so longer upon your hook. And they may be kept longer by keeping them cool and in fresh moss; and some advise to put camphor into it,
Note also, that many use to fish for a Salmon with a ring of wire on the top of their rod, through which the line may run to as great a length as is needful when he is hooked. And to that end, some use a wheel about the middle of their rod, or near their hand, which is to be observed better by seeing one of them, than by a large demonstration of words.
And now I shall tell you that which may be called a secret. I have been a-fishing with old Oliver Henley, now with God, a noted fisher both for Trout and Salmon, and have observed that he would usually take three or four worms out of his bag, and put them into a little box in his pocket, where he would usually let them continue half an hour or more before he would bait his hook with them; I have asked him his reason, and he has replied, "He did but pick the best out to be in readiness against he baited his hook the next time": but he has been observed, both by others and myself, to catch more fish than I or any other body that has ever gone a-fishing with him could do, and especially Salmons. And I have been told lately, by one of his most intimate and secret friends, that the box in which he put those worms was anointed with a drop, or two or three, of the oil of ivy-berries, made by expression or infusion; and told, that by the worms remaining in that box an hour, or a like time, they had incorporated a kind of smell that was irresistibly attractive, enough to force any fish within the smell of them to bite. This I heard not long since from a friend, but have not tried it; yet I grant it probable, and refer my reader to Sir Francis Bacon's "Natural History," where he proves fishes may hear, and, doubt less, can more probably smell; and I am certain Gesner says the Otter can smell in the water, and I know not but that fish may do so too. 'Tis left for a lover of angling, or any that desires to improve that art, to try this conclusion.
I shall also impart two other experiments, but not tried by myself, which I will deliver in the same words that they were given me by an excellent angler and a very friend, in writing: he told me the latter was too good to be told, but in a learned language, lest it should be made common.
"Take the stinking oil drawn out of Polypody of the oak by a retort, mixed with turpentine and hive-honey, and anoint your bait therewith, and it will doubtless draw the fish to it."
The other is this: "Vulnera Hederæ grandissimæ inflicta sudant Balsamun oleo gelato, albicantique persimile, odoris veto longé suavissimi."
'Tis supremely sweet to any fish, and yet assafœtida may do the like.
But in these things I have no great faith, yet grant it probable; and have had from some chemical men, namely, from Sir George Hastings and others, an affirmation of them to be very advantageous: but no more of these, especially not in this place,
I might here, before I take my leave of the Salmon, tell you, that there is more than one sort of them, as namely, a Tecon, and an other called in same places a Samlet, or by some, a Skegger: but these and others, which I forbear to name, may be fish of another kind, and differ, as we know a Herring and a Pilcher do; which, I think, are as different as the rivers in which they breed, and must by me be left to the disquisitions of men of more leisure, and of greater abilities than I profess myself to have.
And lastly, I am to borrow so much of your promised patience, as to tell you that the Trout or Salmon, being in season, have at their first taking out of the water, which continues during life, their bodies adorned, the one with such red spots, and the other with such black or blackish spots, as give them such an addition of natural beauty as, I think, was never given to any woman by the artificial paint or patches in which they so much pride themselves in this age. And so I shall leave them both, and proceed to some observations on the Pike.