PIKE AND PERCH.*
THE pike, though classed among coarse fish, and, in salmon and trout rivers, detested as vermin, presents many attractions to the humbler sort of angler. He is a voracious feeder, and a fairly spirited fighter when hooked on light tackle. He sometimes attains gigantic proportions, and when taken from clean water a pike of over 5 lb. has some very good meat on his numerous bones. The pike's outward appearance betrays his inward character. The long snout and capacious jaws, the cruel green eyes and the solitary habits,—these are the signs of the fresh-water shark, the cannibal among fishes :—
"The pike, fell tyrant of the liquid plain, With ravenous waste devours his fellow train."
• Pike arid j'arch. By William Senior and others. "Par, Feather, and Fin Series." London ; Longmans and Co. [5s.] .
The voracity of the pike is the subject of innumerable legends. The reader of Punch will remember how Mr. Briggs was attacked on dry land by one which barked like a dog. We venture to disbelieve the old story of an infant which was found in the belly of a pike. But other fishes, from the size of a minnow up to several pounds, frogs, water-rats, and all manner of small waterfowls are voraciously preyed upon. A gamekeeper has assured us that he has twice seen pike seize a swallow as it touched the surface of a lake. The giant pike is also the subject of innumerable legends. The late Lord Inverurie devoted much time to collecting and sifting the records, and his list may be found in fishing-books. The best authorities are agreed that there is no evidence which can be considered beyond dispute of any pike exceeding 40 lb. It is, however, possible that in the Irish lakes monsters of 50lb. or 60 lb., which are often talked about, do exist, and may some day be brought to the scales. Whoever is fortunate enough to capture one of these leviathans should have it carefully weighed in the presence of as many witnesses as can be pro- cured, for his testimony is sure to be doubted by some one.
Four writers have contributed to the present volume of the successful "Fur, Feather, and Fin Series." Mr. William Senior (the well-known "Redspinner " of the Field news- paper) writes on the natural history of the pike, and gives accounts of various days' sport in lakes and rivers; "John Bickerdyke " contributes chapters on modern improvements in tackle and the secrets of the angler's art ; Mr. W. H. Pope deals with pike in trout waters and the methods of extermi- nating them ; Mr. Alexander limes Shand has a chapter on cookery, in which he discourses rather vaguely and gives recipes, which would be more useful in the kitchen if they entered into details and condescended to deal with weights and measures. The volume is much embellished by some admirable illustrations which make the angler long to get out his rod and start for the nearest piece of water.
The methods of capturing so voracious a fish are numerous, but they resolve themselves into two classes : fishing with a live bait or a dead bait. The latter includes the host of artificial baits, which are always being improved, and which make such an attractive display in the windows of fishing- tackle shops that few anglers can pass them without for a moment flattening their noses against the glass. They have their advantages, but on the whole a natural bait is more effective, and now that pickled and bottled roach, dace, gudgeon, bleak, and sprats can be bought everywhere, of attractive brilliancy and enduring toughness, the objection to the natural bait is almost removed. In fishing with a living bait the work of moving so as to attract the pike is performed by the unfortunate bait, and it is therefore rightly considered an inferior branch of the art. For whether the angler uses the ordinary tackle, -with a large float, or the paternoster, which the monks are supposed to have invented to supply their larder on Fridays, or the ledger-tackle, which keeps the bait at the bottom of the river, little skill is required, after the bait has been put out, until a fish has to be played and landed. In fishing with a dead bait the conditions are reversed, and suc- cess depends entirely on the artful manner in which the fisher- man imparts a lifelike motion to his lure. It is a strange thing that a maimed, or apparently helpless, fish seems to have a peculiar attraction for the pike ; and the wobbling of a spinning bait or the odd gyrations of the troller's bait some- times have alluring effects which a free and lively little fish would not. Trolling is the oldest method of pike-fishing, and is the sub- ject of many books, some dating back to the fifteenth century, at which time, apparently, the pike was considered a greater delicacy on the table than the salmon. De gustibus non eat disputandum ! The ancient method of trolling is now dis- credited among sportsmen, for as the pike was allowed to gorge the bait, he had to be killed when landed, however small and out of condition. The ingenuity of modern fisher.. men has devised an apparatus of hooks by which the troller can hook the pike in the mouth or lips, and, if in a generous humour, return the undersized fish to the water. In the ancient method of trolling, the gimp of the hooks was passed through the body of a little dead fish and out at the tail. The hooks were drawn up to the mouth of the bait, which was stitched together, the tail, likewise, being tied to the gimp and the fins cut off so as not to catch the weeds. With a. good long rod and a stoutish line, let us imagine the angler
by the riverside on a bright October day when the weeds were just rotting, and he knew that the pike would be waiting for passing fish wherever the cover was thickest :—
" He wandered along the river side, and, arriving at a hole or eddy, or place where his experience told him that pike would be lurking, he would drop the bait in the quietest possible manner into the water, first of all close to the bank. The bait should touch the bottom, and then by a deft up and down movement of the rod with the right hand, and an indrawing with the left of the line, to be coiled on the grass by his side, he would bring the bait out of the water, and with not more than a yard of the line hanging from the top would make the next cast a little further out. Working the water by this roving and sinking method, slowly or briskly as he might be inclined, in favourable rivers, it was thus possible to fish, as the saying goes, every inch of the water with the thirty yards of line at his disposal. The real sport of the method came when the fish attacked the bait. As a rule, the pike would seize it by the middle, and the skill of the angler, which could only be gained by experience, was displayed to begin with by his immediately distinguishing the strike of a fish from such an obstruction as a weed. The line would then be left in all respects free, and if the pike was in earnest it would immediately dash, or glide slowly away to its haunt, wherever that might be. Sometimes it would be ten or twelve, sometimes twenty or thirty, yards off; but it was imperative that there should be no check to this movement of the fish. Having executed its run, the fish would stop for the natural process of pouching or gorging ; that is to say, the pike would gradually twist round the bait until its head was absorbed, the body and tail followed, and when the appetite was good the
whole was pretty rapidly taken down into the tight gullet We have followed the fish to its haunt or lair, and left it in the act of pouching. This was one of the prime excitements of the transaction. Sometimes a fish would gorge in a very leisurely way, occupying perhaps five, or even ten, minutes. Not infre- quently in the case of a big fellow in a sanguinary humour the bait would be pouched at a gulp. But the angler would be uncertain as to this, and must wait until the fish began to move off again. This would be indicated in the majority of cases by a trembling of the line and a little tug which could easily be felt. Then it was the habit of the fish, having pouched his bait, the line all the time being perfectly free, to make another move, and then. according to the canons, the angler would winch up his line and slightly strike. The merest twitch would be sufficient, for the soft gullet is different from the armour plate of the mouth with which the spinner has to reckon."
Such was the old method of trolling, and the modern "snap- tackle" for trolling is not wholly satisfactory in weedy corners where pike are usually to be found. Nowadays spinning is the method followed by the most skilful anglers ; and great skill and long practice are required to attain perfection. For not only must a bait armed with innumerable hooks be east to a great distance, but it must then be drawn back in such a manner as to spin through the water not too near the surface and not too near the weeds. "John Bickerdyke " thinks the largest fish are got by spinning, though more are got by live-baiters. In lakes it is the most amusing method of fishing, but in weedy rivers and small ponds the trials to the temper are very great as, time after time, the bait is drawn out covered by a mass of green stuff. As far as sport goes, spinning gives the hardest work and requires the most art of any method of catching pike. It is also equally effective with perch (a most delightful fish to catch), to which the last chapters of this book are entirely devoted. After spinning for large _perch, or, in summer, casting a fly-spoon with a trout rod, we incline to the paternoster. It is an ingenious piece of tackle, which can be baited with a large worm or a small fish, and which adapts itself to fishing holes and corners at any depth. Moreover, the expectation of a twitch as the line is held between the fingers is quite as power- ful an emotion as watching for the bobbing of a float. In our opinion a perch is superior eating to any pike. Mr. A. I. Shand recommends fried perch ; we venture to suggest a grilled perch to gastronomers. Some like perch southe ; but it is at best a mawkish dish. Mr. Senior speaks of the Zander (well known in Continental waters and at the German table d'hiite) as a foreign ally of the pike. It is, in fact, a member of the family Percidx, and not connected with the pike.