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Observations of the Nature and Breeding of the Trout, and how to fish for him, and the Milk-Maid's Song
PISCATOR. The Trout is a fish highly valued, both in this and foreign nations. He may be justly said, as the old poet said of wine, and we English say of venison, to be a generous fish: a fish that is so like the buck, that he also has his seasons; for it is observed, that he comes in and goes out of season with the stag and buck. Gesner says, his name is of a German offspring; and says he is a fish that feeds clean and purely, in the swiftest streams, and on the hardest gravel; and that he may justly contend with all fresh water fish, as the Mullet may with all sea fish, for precedency and daintiness of taste; and that being in right season, the most dainty palates have allowed precedency to him.
And before I go farther in my discourse, let me tell you, that you are to observe, that as there be some barren. does that are good in summer, so there be some barren Trouts that are good in winter; but there are not many that are so; for usually they be in their perfection in the month of May, and decline with the buck. Now you are to take notice, that in several countries, as in Germany, and in other parts, compared to ours, fish do differ much in their bigness, and shape, and other ways; and so do Trouts. It is well known that in the Lake Leman, the Lake of Geneva, there are Trouts taken of three cubits long; as is affirmed by Gesner, a writer of good credit; and Mercator says, the Trouts that are taken in the Lake of Geneva are a great part of the merchandize of that famous city. And you are further to know, that there be certain waters that breed Trouts remarkable, both for their number and smallness. I know a little brook in Kent, that breeds them to a number incredible, and you may take them twenty or forty in an hour, but none greater
than about the size of a Gudgeon. There are also, in divers rivers, especially that relate to, or be near to the sea, as Winchester, or the Thames about Windsor, a little Trout called a Samlet, \or Skegger Trout, in both which places I have caught twenty or forty at a standing, that will bite as fast and as freely as Minnows: these be by some taken to be young Salmons; but in those waters they never grow to be bigger than a Herring.
There is also in Kent, near to Canterbury, a Trout called there a Fordidge Trout, a Trout that bears the name of the town where it is usually caught, that is accounted the rarest of fish; many of them near the bigness of a Salmon, but known by their different colour; and in their best season they cut very white: and none of these have been known to be caught with an angle, unless it were one that was caught by Sir George Hastings, an excellent angler, and now with God: and he hath told me, he thought that Trout bit not for hunger but wantonness; and it is the rather to be believed, because both he, then, and many others before him, have been curious to search into their bellies, what the food was by which they lived; and have found out nothing by which they might satisfy their curiosity.
Concerning which you are to take notice, that it is reported by good authors, that grasshoppers and some fish have no mouths, but are nourished and take breath by the porousness of their gills, man knows not how and this may be believed, if we consider that when the raven hath hatched her eggs, she takes no further care, but leaves her young ones to the care of the God of nature, who is said, in the Psalms, 'to feed the young ravens that call upon him.' And they be kept alive and fed by a dew; or worms that breed in their nests; or some other ways that we mortals know not. And this may be believed of the Fordidge Trout, which, as it is said of the stork, that he knows his season, so he knows his times (I think almost his day), of coming into that river out of the sea; where he lives, and, it is like, feeds, nine months in the year, and fasts three in the river of Fordidge. And
you are to note, that those townsmen are very punctual in observing the time of beginning to fish for them; and boast much, that their river affords a Trout that exceeds all others. And just so does Sussex boast of several fish; as, namely, a Shelsey Cockle, a Chichester Lobster, an Arundel Mullet, and an Amerly Trout.
And, now, for some confirmation of the Fordidge Trout you are to know that this Trout is thought to eat nothing in the fresh water; and it may be the better believed, because it is well known, that swallows, and bats, and wagtails, which are called half-year birds, and not seen to fly in England for six months in a year, but about Michaelmas leave us for a hotter climate, yet some of them that have been left behind their fellows, have been found, many thousands at a time, in hollow trees, or clay caves, where they have been observed to live, and sleep out the whole winter, without meat. And so Albertus obkind of frog that hath her mouth naturally shut up about the end of August, and that she lives so all the winter: and
serves, That there is one hough it be strange to some,
yet it is known to too many among us to be doubted.2
And so much for these Fordidge Trouts, which never afford an angler sport, but either live their time of being in the fresh water, by their meat formerly gotten in the sea, not unlike the swallow or frog; or, by the virtue of the fresh water only; or, as the birds of Paradise and the cameleon are said to live, by the sun and the air.
There is also in Northumberland a Trout called a Bulltrout, of a much greater length and bigness than any in these southern parts; and there are, in many rivers that relate to the sea, Salmon-trouts, as much different from others, both in shape and in their spots, as we see sheep in some countries differ one from another in their shape and bigness, and in the fineness of the wool: and, certainly, as some pastures breed larger sheep; so do some rivers, by reason of the ground over which they run, breed larger Trouts.
1 View Sir Francis Bacon, exper. 899.
2 See Topsel, Of Frogs.
Now the next thing that I will commend to your consideration is, that the Trout is of a more sudden growth than other fish. Concerning which, you are also to take notice, that he lives not so long as the Perch, and divers other fishes do, as Sir Francis Bacon hath observed in his History of Life and Death.
And next you are to take notice, that he is not like the Crocodile, which if he lives never so long, yet always thrives till his death: but 'tis not so with the Trout; for after he is come to his full growth, he declines in his body, and keeps his bigness, or thrives only in his head till his death. And you are to know that he will, about (especially before), the time of his spawning, get, almost miraculously, through weirs and flood-gates, against the stream; even through such high and swift places as is almost incredible. Next, that the Trout usually spawns about October or November, but in some rivers a little sooner or later; which is the more observable, because most other fish spawn in the spring or summer, when the sun hath warmed both the earth and water, and made it fit for generation. And you are to note, that he continues many months out of season; for it maybe observed of the Trout, that he is like the Buck or the Ox, that will not be fat in many months, though he go in the very same pastures that horses do, which will be fat in one month : and so you may observe, that most other fishes recover strength, and grow sooner fat and in season than the Trout doth.
And next you are to note, that till the sun gets to such a height as to warm the earth and the water, the Trout is sick, and lean, and lousy, and unwholesome; for you shall, in winter, find him to have a big head, and, then, to be lank and thin and lean; at which time many of them have sticking on them Sugs, or Trout-lice; which is a kind of a worm, in shape like a clove, or pin with a big head, and sticks close to him, and sucks his moisture; those, I think, the Trout breeds himself: and never thrives till he free himself from them, which is when warm weather comes; and, then, as he grows stronger, he gets from the dead still
water into the sharp streams and the gravel, and, there, rubs off these worms or lice; and then, as he grows stronger, so he gets him into swifter and swifter streams, and there lies at the watch for any fly or minnow that comes near to him; and he especially loves the May-fly, which is bred of the cod-worm, or cadis; and these make the Trout bold and lusty, and he is usually fatter and better meat at the end of that month than at any time of the year. Now you are to know that it is observed, that usually the best Trouts are either red or yellow; though some, as the Fordidge Trout, be white and yet good; but that is not usual: and it is a note observable, that the female Trout hath usually a less head, and a deeper body than the male Trout, and is usually the better meat. note, that a hog back and a little head, to either Trout, Salmon or any other fish, is a sign that that fish is in
But yet you are to note, that as you see some willows or palm-trees bud and blossom sooner than others do, so some Trouts be, in rivers, sooner in season: and as some hollies, or oaks, are longer before they cast their leaves, so are some Trouts, in rivers, longer before they go out of
And you are to note, that there are several kinds of Trouts but these several kinds are not considered but by very few men; for they go under the general name of Trouts; just as pigeons do, in most places; though it is certain, there are tame and wild pigeons; and of the tame, there be helmits and runts, and carriers and cropers, and indeed too many to name. Nay, the Royal Society have found and published lately, that there be thirty and three kinds of spiders; and yet all, for aught I know, go under that one general name of spider. And it is so with many kinds of fish, and of Trouts especially; which differ in their bigness, and shape, and spots, and colour. The great Kentish hens may be an instance, compared to other hens: and, doubtless, there is a kind of small Trout, which will never thrive to be big; that breeds very many more than others do, that be of a larger size which you