22 JULY 1905, Page 10

which may be quite a big one, four inches long

at least, but is often not more than an inch long. Besides the crayfish, they catch small wriggling eels, or stone loaches, or millers' thumbs, or gudgeon, or minnows. Whatever the prize may be, it is consigned to the water-pot. In the evening the whole mixed catch—crayfish, minnows, gudgeon, loaches, and eels—are put into a frying-pan and fried for tea. They paddle in all non-school hours during the week, and on Saturdays all day, with an interval for dinner; and their mothers say that as this has gone on for as long as human memories can recall, it is quite impossible to cure them of the wading habit, and they expect that the next generation will be web-footed.

The unconsidered smaller kinds of fish in our ponds and running streams, the " submerged tenth " of the river population, are a very interesting community to yatch and to make acquaintance with, even if not for the purposes of the frying-pan. They have their own peculiar habits and habitats, and to the fishery-owner, for example, they are somewhat important. Mr. Gilbey, writing of the Durham fishery, complained that the stream seemed to produce the most gigantic loathes, millers' thumbs, and minnows ever seen, for the express purpose of devouring trout fry. The little millers' thumbs, otherwise bullheads, and often called " pogges " (two syllables), are among the most interesting fish in our rivers. They are natural grotesques, like the gurnard, and belong to a particularly voracious race, one of which is often seen in Japanese paintings, while another, the sea pogge, lies at the mouths of salmon rivers, and more especially of the Tweed, and swallows salmon smolts wholesale as they enter the sea. The miller's thumb has a prodigally large head and mouth, high fins above and below like those of a perch, frills of fins on either side of where its neck ought to be, and another large spiky fin under its throat. Its mouth is enormous for its size, which is generally not much above three inches, though it sometimes reaches five or six. It is so armed with spikes as to be fairly safe from the attacks of birds, even of the dabehick, which has often been found choked by a bullhead in its throat. When caught, its first act is to expand all its fin-rays as if by an automatic lever.

Among the small fry of the river it is a little dragon. It hides under stones, whence it darts out on tiny fishes, insects, worms, and larvae. But it often cruises off into clear shallow water, where it makes itself invisible by a means used also by small flat-fish. If a bullhead is put in a clean basin with water containing ever so little mud suspended, in the course of a very short time the bullhead will have arrested every particle of the mud either on its back and head and fins, or on the bottom of the basin just around it. It seems able to attract the mud as a magnet attracts steel filings. Like the stickleback, this ugly little monster is a highly domestic character in the pairing time, though during the rest of the year it lives quite alone. The male finds a nice place between two stones, or in a hole in the gravel, and guards it by seizing the beads of all other bullheads which look as if they would like it. The female enters and lays her eggs, like miniature frog spawn, and then retires. The male mounts guard for some weeks, until the young ones venture out of the nest. In Germany, where fish food has always been valued, bullheads are eaten. There is no reason why they should be less palatable than gudgeon.

Stone loathes, soft, smooth, delicate fish, the very opposites of the aggressive-looking bullheads, are really excellent when they are large. John Ridd's dish of loaches which he took to Lorna Doone will be remembered by all readers of that delightful book. In nearly every part of Central and Western Europe the boys imitate John Ridd, and spear loaches with a steel fork. In Bohemia they are kept in fish-ponds and fed for the table. Loathes are among the provoking contra- dictions furnished by Nature. The common loach is seldom more than four inches long. Yet it is quite the beat in flavour of all our river fishes except the salmonidae, the eel, and the perch. There is a Continental loath, called the pond loath, which often exceeds a foot in length, but is quite uneatable owing to its mud-devouring habits.

Much has been written of the battles of the sticklebacks, and of their nest-making habit, the male being always the house-builder. But it is not generally known that they are far more common than any of the small fishes of our 'rivers. Sometimes the stickleback shoals appear in astonish-

ing numbers. Perhaps they were formerly more plentiful even than now. Pennant, who was particularly well informed about the natural history of the Lincolnshire fen country in his time, from wild geese to little fishes, says that every seven or eight years immense shoals appeared in the Welland and came up the river. They were evidently partly migratory, like whitebait. The fishermen caught them to manure the land, and even boiled them down for oil. For some time a man earned four shillings a day by selling these fish at a halfpenny a bushel.

Polwhele in his " History of Cornwall " declares that the ancient Britons never ate river fish and gave them no names. Consequently the Romans, who were very fond of fish, gave them all Latin names, and the smallest edible fish was called minimus, whence our " minnow." He is not right in thinking that the old inhabitants did not eat fish, for the " kiddie," a kind of fish-trap built along the sides of estuaries, is a pre- historic device which the Romans would scarcely have introduced. But it is very possible that they only ate a few kinds of fresh-water fishes, of which the minnow would not be one, though it is eaten in North Germany ; and Professor Seeley, supporting Frank Buckland's opinion that when fried they are " very good," mentions that at a dinner given by William of Wykeham to Richard II. and his Queen in 1394 seven gallons of minnows were served, among other fish. Though supposed to be very common, minnows have a provoking habit of being absent when "wanted,"—i.e., for bait. The fine fat large minnow is far less frequently found than is supposed, most of the so- called minnows being sticklebacks. The finest shoals of minnows the writer has ever seen were in the Colne below West Drayton, and the largest individual fish, " monsters " quite four and a half inches long, were caught on a hook when worm-fishing for trout or eels in a tiny Cornwall stream within twenty yards of the beach. The minnows not only seized the worm greedily, but fought and jumped when hooked. Minnows are extremely shy little fish. On the other hand, gudgeon, the only members of the smaller races of fish in our rivers which are generally prized as food, are extremely bold. They assemble in shoals, keeping close to the bottom, in most of the shallows of the Thames, and love to hang round bridges and landing stages, where they live on terms of guarded familiarity with all and sundry. The foals of gudgeon live strictly in " sizes." Four-inch gudgeon do not associate with three-inch gudgeon, three-inch gudgeon despise two-inch, and two-inch keep aloof from mere fry. They are bold in inverse ratio to size, the smallest cruising about close inshore, while the others keep further out. Like rooks, they "follow the plough," gathering at once where clouds of mud show that the bottom is disturbed. Gudgeon- fishers always carry a long rake with which to disturb the river-bottom.

When a pond in Essex was emptied recently some excite- ment was caused by the discovery that in it were "long worms which spat " ! This vicious and impolite conduct led to their being killed, without further identification. Some few fishes usually eject the food which is between their inner or throat teeth when taken out of the water, and in appearance the lamprey, which has no jaws, but only a round sucking mouth placed obliquely at the end of its body, looks very like a worm. Another lamprey, called the " mud lamprey," is much smaller, scarcely so thick as a pencil, and still more wormlike, for it goes through a larval form which has no visible eye. It burrows in the mud like an earthworm, and does not develop into a lamprey until after some years. Formerly it was considered to be a distinct species.