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Chapter 8. OBSERVATIONS OF THE LUCE OR PIKE, WITH DIRECTIONS HOW TO FISH FOR HIM
PISCATOR. 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 says, this weed and other glutinous matter, with the help of the sun's heat in some particular months, 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 such other ways as are past man's 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 fresh-water 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, declar ing he was put into that pond by Frederick the Second, more than two hundred years before he was last taken, as by the inscription in 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 Eel is observed to be the better for age and bigness.
All Pikes that live long prove chargeable to their keepers, be cause their life is maintained by the death of so many other fish, even those of their own kind; which has made him by some writers to be called the Tyrant of the Rivers, or the Fresh-Water-Wolf, 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 angled out 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. Seagrave, of whom I spake to you formerly, that keeps tame Otters, that he hath known a Pike, in extreme 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 relate 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 persuade 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 ox, and some other beasts, taking their meat, not out of their mouth immediately into their belly, but first into some place betwixt, and then chew it, or digest it by degrees after, which is called chewing the cud. And doubtless Pikes will bite when they are not hungry, but, as some think, even for very anger, when a tempting bait comes near to them.
And it is observed that the Pike will eat venomous things, as some kind of frogs are, and yet live without being harmed by them; for, as some say, he has in him a natural balsam, or antidote against all poison: and he has a strange heat, that, though it appear to us to be cold, can yet digest, or put over, any fish-flesh, by degrees, without being sick. And others observe, 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 thoroughly washed 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 swims in a pond; and there have been examples of it, or the like; for, as l told you, "The belly has no ears when hunger comes upon it."
The Pike is also observed to be a solitary, melancholy, and a bold fish: melancholy, because he always swims or rests himself alone, and never swims in shoals 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 anybody, 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 ways 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 oftener, 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 says he saw with his own eyes, and could not forbear to tell the readers. 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 expressed malice or anger by his swollen cheeks and staring eyes, did stretch out his legs and embraced the Pike's 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 whatever 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 the Frog sunk with the Pike to the bottom of the water: then presently the Frog appeared again at the top and croaked, and seemed to rejoice like a conqueror, after which he presently retired to his secret hole. The Bishop, that had beheld the battle, called his fisherman to fetch his nets, and by all means to get the Pike, that they might declare what had happened: and the Pike was drawn forth, and both his eyes eaten out; at which when they began to wonder, the fisherman wished them to for bear, 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 first book of Dubravius, unto a friend, who replied, "It was as improbable as to have the mouse scratch out the cat's 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 he some Frogs so fearful of the Water-Snake, that, when they swim in a place in which they fear to meet with him, they then get a reed across into their mouths, which, if they two meet by accident, secures the Frog from the strength and malice of the snake; and note, that the Frog usually swims the fastest of the two.
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 Land-Snake 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 venomous, and, as I have been assured by a great observer of such secrets, does not hatch, but 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 myself by remember ing the discourse of Dubravius. I will therefore stop here, and tell you according to my promise how to catch this Pike.
His feeding is usually of fish or frogs, and sometimes a weed of his own called Pickerel-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 leisure than I profess myself 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 from it; 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, though a dead one may catch, 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 Perch 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 wire of your hook into it, with as little bruising or hurting the fish as art and diligence will enable you to do; and so carrying your arming-wire along his back, unto or near the tail of your fish, betwixt the skin and the body of it, draw out that wire or arming of your hook at another scar near to his tail: then tie him about it with thread, but no harder than of necessity 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 easy entrance and passage of your wire 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.
VEN. But, good Master, did you not say even now, that some Frogs were venomous, 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 myself, 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 of several colors, some being speckled, some greenish, some blackish or brown: the Green-frog, which is a small one, is by Topsell taken to be venomous; and so is the Padock or Frog-padock, 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 venomous, 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 summersaults, and to croak and make a noise, which the Land-frog or Padock-frog never does. Now of these Water-frogs, if you intend to fish with a frog for a Pike, you are to choose 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 frog's mouth grows up, and he continues so for at least six months without eating, but is sustained, none but He whose Name is Wonderful knows how: I say, put your hook, I mean the arming-wire, through his mouth, and out at his gills, and then with a fine needle and silk sew the upper part of his leg with only one stitch to the arming-wire of your hook, or tie the frog's leg above the upper joint 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 fastened your hook to a line, which, if it be not fourteen yards long, should not be less 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 ravelling from about the stick than so much of it as you intend. And choose 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 cleft or nick of that stick in which it was gently fastened, he will have line enough to go to his hold and pouch the bait. And if you would have this Ledger-bait to keep at a fixed 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, — then hang a small plummet of lead, a stone, or piece of tile, or a turf, in a string, and cast it into the water with the forked stick, to hang upon the ground, to be a kind of 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 across a pond or mere, you are like to stand still on the shore and see sport presently 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 along 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 day's 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 easy 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 oil of spike, and therewith anoint 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 than likely that you have a Pike f ollow with more than common eagerness.
And some affirm, that any bait anointed 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 courtesy. But if this direction to catch a Pike thus do you no good, yet I am certain this direction how to roast him when he is caught is choicely good, for I have tried 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 small 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 the belly. Out of these take his guts; and keep his liver, which you are to shred very small with thyme, sweet marjoram, and a little winter-savory; 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 add 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 less, then less butter will suffice. These being thus mixed, with a blade or two of mace, must be put into the Pike's belly, and then his belly so sewed up as to keep all the butter in his belly if it be possible; if not, then as much of it as you possibly can: but take not off the scales. Then you are to thrust the spit through his mouth, out at his tail; and then take four, or five, or six split sticks, or very thin laths, and a convenient quantity of tape or filleting; these laths are to be tied round about the Pike's body from his head to his tail, and the tape tied somewhat thick to prevent his breaking or falling off from the spit. Let him be roasted very leisurely, and often basted with claret-wine, and anchovies, and butter, mixed 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 ties him, such a dish as you purpose to eat him out of; and let him fall into it with the sauce that is roasted in his belly; and by this means the Pike will be kept unbroken and complete. Then, to the sauce which was within, and also that sauce in the pan, you are to add a fit quantity of the best butter, and to squeeze the juice of three or four oranges: lastly, you may either put into the Pike, with the oysters, two cloves of garlic, and take it whole out, when the Pike is cut off the spit; or to give the sauce a haut-gout, let the dish into which you let the Pike fall be rubbed with it. The using or not using of this garlic is left to your discretion. [ M. B.]
This dish of meat is too good for any but anglers, or very 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 Thrasymene in Italy; and the next, if not equal to them, are the Pikes of England; and that in England, Lincolnshire boasted to have the biggest. Just so doth Sussex boast of four sorts of fish; namely, an Arundel Mullet, a Chichester Lobster, a Shelsey 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, and to dress him: — but not till he is caught.__________________
*In his 19th Book, De Subtil. ex.