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Chapter 18. OF THE MINNOW OR PENK, OF THE LOACH, AND OF THE BULL-HEAD, OR MILLER'S-THUMB
PISCATOR. There be also three or four other little fish that I had almost forgot, that all are without scales; and may, for excellency of meat, be compared to any fish of greatest value and largest size. They be usually full of eggs or spawn all the months of sum mer; for they breed often, as 'tis observed mice and many of the smaller four-footed creatures of the earth do; and as those, so these come quickly to their full growth and perfection. And it is needful that they breed both often and numerously; for they be, besides other accidents of ruin, both a prey and baits for other fish. And first I shall tell you of the Minnow or Penk.
The Minnow hath, when he is in perfect season and not sick, which is only presently after spawning, — a kind of dappled or waved color, like to a panther, on his sides, inclining to a greenish and sky-color, his belly being milk-white, and his back almost black or blackish. He is a sharp biter at a small worm, and in hot weather makes excellent sport for young Anglers, or boys, or women that love that recreation. And in the spring they make of them excellent Minnow-Tansies; for, being washed well in salt, and their heads and tails cut off, and their guts taken out, and not washed after, — they prove excellent for that use; that is, being fried with yolks of eggs, the flowers of cowslips, and of prim roses, and a little tansy; thus used they make a dainty dish of meat.
The Loach is, as I told you, a most dainty fish: he breeds and feeds in little and clear swift brooks, or rills, and lives there upon the gravel, and in the sharpest streams: he grows not to be above a finger long, and no thicker than is suitable to that length. This Loach is not unlike the shape of the Eel: he has a beard or wattles like a Barbel. He has two fins at his sides, four at his belly, and one at his tail; he is dappled with many black or brown spots; his mouth is Barbel-like under his nose. This fish is usually full of eggs or spawn, and is by Gesner, and other learned physicians, com mended for great nourishment, and to be very grateful both to the palate and stomach of sick persons. He is to be fished for with a very small worm at the bottom; for he very seldom or never rises above the gravel, on which, I told you, he usually gets his living.
The Miller's-Thumb or Bull-Head, is a fish of no pleasing shape. He is by Gesner compared to the Sea-toad-fish, for his similitude and shape. It has a head, big and flat, much greater than suitable to his body; a mouth very wide and usually gaping. He is without teeth, but his lips are very rough, much like to a file. He hath two fins near to his gills, which be roundish or crested; two fins also under the belly; two on the back; one below the vent; and the fin of his tail is round. Nature hath painted the body of this fish with whitish, blackish, brownish spots. They be usually full of eggs or spawn all the summer, I mean the females; and those eggs swell their vents almost into the form of a dug. They begin to spawn about April, and, as I told you, spawn several months in the summer. And in the winter, the Minnow, and Loach, and Bull-Head dwell in the mud, as the Eel doth, or we know not where; no more than we know where the cuckoo and swallow, and other half-year birds, which first appear to us in April, spend their six cold, winter, melancholy months. This Bull-Head does usually dwell and hide himself in holes, or amongst stones, in clear water: and in very hot days will lie a long time very still, and sun himself, and will be easy to be seen upon any flat stone, or any gravel; at which time he will suffer an Angler to put a hook baited with a small worm very near unto his very mouth: and he never refuses to bite, nor indeed to be caught with the worst of Anglers. Matthiolus commends him much more for his taste and nourishment than for his shape or beauty.
There is also a little fish called a Sticklebag: a fish without scales, but hath his body fenced with several prickles. I know not where he dwells in winter, nor what he is good for in summer, but only to make sport for boys and women-anglers, and to feed other fish that be fish of prey, as Trouts in particular, who will bite at him as at a Penk; and better, if your hook be rightly baited with him: for he may be so baited as, his tail turning like the sail of a windmill, will make him turn more quick than any Penk or Min now can. For note, that the nimble turning of that, or the Minnow, is the perfection of Minnow fishing. To which end, if you put your hook into his mouth, and out at his tail; and then, having first tied him with white thread a little above his tail, and placed him after such a manner on your hook as he is like to turn, then sew up his mouth to your line, and he is like to turn quick, and tempt any Trout: but if he does not turn quick, then turn his tail a little more or less towards the inner part, or towards the side of the hook; or put the Minnow or Sticklebag a little more crooked or more straight on your hook, until it will turn both true and fast: and then doubt not but to tempt any great Trout that lies in a swift stream. And the Loach that I told you of will do the like: no bait is more tempting, provided the Loach be not too big.
And now, Scholar, with the help of this fine morning, and your patient attention, I have said all that my present memory will afford me concerning most of the several fish that are usually fished for in fresh waters.
VEN. But, Master, you have, by your former civility, made me hope that you will make good your promise, and say something of the several rivers that be of most note in this nation; and also of fish-ponds, and the ordering of them: and do it, I pray, good Master, for I love any discourse of rivers, and fish and fishing: the time spent in such discourse passes away very pleasantly.