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Chapter 14. OBSERVATIONS OF THE BARBEL, AND DIRECTIONS HOW TO FISH FOR HIM
PISCATOR. The Barbel is so called, says Gesner, by reason of his barb or wattels at his mouth, which are under his nose or chaps. He is one of those leather-mouthed fishes that I told you of, that does very seldom break his hold if he be once hooked: but he is so strong, that he will often break both rod and line, if he proves to be a big one.
But the Barbel, though he be of a fine shape, and looks big, yet he is not accounted the best fish to eat, neither for his wholesome ness nor his taste: but the male is reputed much better than the female, whose spawn is very hurtful, as I will presently declare to you.
They flock together like sheep, and are at the worst in April, about which time they spawn, but quickly grow to be in season. He is able to live in the strongest swifts of the water, and in sum mer they love the shallowest and sharpest streams; and love to lurk under weeds, and to feed on gravel against a rising ground, and will root and dig in the sands with his nose like a hog, and there nests himself: yet sometimes he retires to deep and swift bridges, or flood-gates, or weirs, where he will nest himself amongst piles, or in hollow places, and take such hold of moss or weeds, that, be the water never so swift, it is not able to force him from the place that he contends for. This is his constant custom in sum mer, when he and most living creatures sport themselves in the sun; but at the approach of winter, then he forsakes the swift streams and shallow waters, and by degrees retires to those pans of the river that are quiet and deeper: in which places, and I think about that time, he spawns; and, as I have formerly told you, with the help of the melter, hides his spawn or eggs in holes, which they both dig in the gravel: and then they mutually labor to cover it with the same, to prevent it from being devoured by other fish.
There be such store of this fish in the river Danube, that Rondeletius says they may in some places of it, and in some months in the year, be taken by those that dwell near to the river, with their hands, eight or ten load at a time. He says, they begin to be good in May, and that they cease to be so in August, but it is found to be otherwise in this nation: but thus far we agree with him, that the spawn of a Barbel, if it be not poison, as he says, yet that it is dangerous meat, and especially in the month of May; which is so certain, that Gesner and Gasius declare it had an ill effect upon them, even to the endangering of their lives.
This fish is of a fine cast and handsome shape, with small scales, which are placed after a most exact and curious manner, and, as I told you, may be rather said not to be ill, than to be good meat. The Chub and he have, I think, both lost part of their credit by ill cookery, they being reputed the worst or coarsest of fresh-water fish. But the Barbel affords an Angler choice sport, being a lusty and a cunning fish; so lusty and cunning as to endanger the break ing of the Angler's line, by running his head forcibly towards any covert, or hole, or bank; and then striking at the line, to break it off with his tail, as is observed by Plutarch, in his book "De Industria Animalium"; and also so cunning to nibble and suck off your worm close to the hook, and yet avoid the letting the hook come into his mouth.
The Barbel is also curious for his baits, that is to say, that they be clean and sweet; that is to say, to have your worms well scoured, and not kept in sour and musty moss, for he is a curious feeder: but at a well-scoured Lob-worm he will bite as boldly as at any bait, and specially if, the night or two before you fish for him, you shall bait the places where you intend to fish for him with big worms cut into pieces: and note, that none did ever over-bait the place, nor fish too early or too late for a Barbel. And the Barbel will bite also at gentles, which not being too much scoured, but green, are a choice bait for him; and so is cheese, which is not to be too hard, but kept a day or two in a wet linen cloth to make it tough: with this you may also bait the water a day or two before you fish for the Barbel, and be much the likelier to catch store: and if the cheese were laid in clarified honey a short time before, as namely, an hour or two, you were still the likelier to catch fish. Some have directed to cut the cheese into thin pieces, and toast it, and then tie it on the hook with fine silk: and some advise to fish for the Barbel with sheep's tallow and soft cheese beaten or worked into a paste, and that it is choicely good in August, and I believe it: but doubtless the Lob-worm well scoured, and the gentle not too much scoured, and cheese ordered as I have directed, are baits enough, and I think will serve in any month; though I shall commend any Angler that tries conclusions, and is industrious to improve the art. And now, my honest Scholar, the long shower and my tedious discourse are both ended together: and I shall give you but this observation, that when you fish for a Barbel your rod and line be both long, and of good strength; for, as I told you, you will find him a heavy and a dogged fish to be dealt withal, yet he seldom or never breaks his holds if he be once strucken. And if you would know more of fishing for the Umber or Barbel, get into favor with Doctor Sheldon, whose skill is above others; and of that the poor that dwell about him have a comfortable experience.
And now let's go and see what interest the Trouts will pay us for letting our Angle-rods lie so long, and so quietly, in the water, for their use. Come, Scholar, which will you take up?
VEN. Which you think fit, Master.
PISC. Why, you shall take up that; for I am certain, by viewing the line, it has a fish at it. Look you, Scholar! Well done! Come now, take up the other too; well! Now you may tell my brother Peter at night, that you have caught a leash of Trouts this day. And now let's move toward our lodging, and drink a draught of red-cow's milk as we go, and give pretty Maudlin and her honest mother a brace of Trouts for their supper.
VEN. Master, I like your motion very well; and I think it is now about milking-time, and yonder they be at it.
PISC. God speed you, good woman! I thank you both for our songs last night: I and my companion have had such fortune a-fishing this day, that we resolve to give you and Maudlin a brace
of Trouts for supper, and we will now taste a draught of your red-cow's milk.
MILK-w. Marry, and that you shall with all my heart, and I will be still your debtor when you come this way: if you will but speak the word I will make you a good syllabub, of new verjuice, and then you may sit down in a hay-cock and eat it; and Maudlin shall sit by and sing you the good old song of the "Hunting in Chevy Chace," or some other good ballad, for she hath store of them. Maudlin, my honest Maudlin, hath a notable memory, and she thinks nothing too good for you, because you be such honest men.
VEN. We thank you, and intend once in a month to call upon you again, and give you a little warning, and so good night. Good night, Maudlin. And now, good Master, let's lose no time; but tell me somewhat more of fishing, and, if you please, first something of fishing for a Gudgeon.
PISC. I will, honest Scholar.