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Observations on the BARBEL, and Directions how to fish for him.
Piscator. The Barbel is so called, says Gesner, by reason of his barb or wattles at his mouth, which are under his nose or chap3. He is one of those leathermouthed fishes that I told
seldom break his hold if he be once hook’d: 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 wholesomeness 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 summer, 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 summer, 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 parts 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 labour to cover it with the same sand, 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 of the year, be taken, by those who 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 breaking 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 Industriá Ani
(1) Though the spawn of the Barbel is known to be of a poisonous nature, yet it is often taken by country people medicinally; who find it, at once, a most powerful emetic and cathartic. And, notwithstanding what is said of the wholesomeness of the flesh, with some coostitutions it produces the same effects as the spawn. About the month of September, in the year 1754, a servant of mine, wl.o had eaten part of a Barbel, though, as I had cautioned him, he abstained from the spawn, was seized with such a violent purging and vomiting, as had like to have cost him his life. Hawkins.
malium; 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 wellscoured 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.
honest scholar, the long shower and my tedious discourse are
And now, my
(1) Graves, (which are the sediment of tallow melted for the making of caudles,) cut into pieces, are an excellent ground-bait for Barbel, Gudgeons, Roach, and many other fish, if thrown in the night before you angle.