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it myself; and if I thought it needful I might prove it, but I think it is needless.
And this eel, of which I have said so much to you, may be caught with divers kinds of baits: as namely, with powdered-beef; with a lob, or garden-worm; with a minnow; or gut of a hen, chicken, or the guts of any fish; or with almost any thing, for he is a greedy fish.' But the eel may be caught, especially, with a little, a very little lamprey, which some call a pride, and may in the hot months be found many of them in the river Thames, and in many mud-heaps in other rivers; yea, almost as usually as one finds worms in a dunghill.
Next note, that the eel seldom stirs in the day, but then hides himself; and therefore he is usually caught by night, with one of these baits of which I have spoken, and may be then caught by laying hooks, which you are to fasten to the bank, or twigs of a tree; or by throwing a string cross the stream with many hooks at it, and those baited with the aforesaid baits; and a clod or plummet, or stone, thrown into the river with this line, that so you may in the morning find it near to some fixed place, and then take it up with a drag-hook or otherwise. But these things are, indeed, too common to be spoken of, and an hour's fishing with any angler will teach you better both for these and many other
1 To this truth, I myself can bear witness. When I dwelt at Twickenham, a large canal adjoined to my house, which I stocked with fish. I had from time to time broods of ducks, which, with their young ones, took to the water. One dry summer, when the canal was very low, we missed many young ducks, but could not find out how they went. Resolving to make advantage of the lowness of the water to clean the canal, a work which had not been done for thirty years before, I drained and emptied it, and found in the mud a great number of large eels. Some of them I reserved for the use of my family, which, being opened by the cook, surprised us all; for in the stomachs of many of them were found, undigested, the necks and heads of young ducks, which doubtless were those of the ducks we had missed. The fact seems to have been, that the water being shallow, they became an easy prey, and were pulled under by the eels, or if you will by the heels.-H. They will not only feed on young ducks, as I know to my cost, but also on water-rats. I have also witnessed (and the same thing was observed in one of the Cumberland lakes) a number of small eels drive a shoal of little fish to the side of the canal in Hampton Court Park, and there greedily feed on them.-ED.
2 This method will succeed with trout and other fish besides eels; but the genuine angler will not hold this to be good sport.-R.
common things in the practical part of angling, than à week's discourse. I shall therefore conclude this direction for taking the eel, by telling you, that in a warm day in summer, I have taken many a good eel by snigling,' and have been much pleased with that sport.
And because you that are but a young angler, know not
1 The best method of sniggling is this: take an ordinary-sized needle, whip it only about the middle part, to three inches of the strongest fine twine, waxed, and fastened above, to several yards of whip-cord or packthread thrust the end of your needle into the head end of a large lob worm, and draw him on till you have got it up to the middle of the worm : then in the end of a small long stick, which you may fix in a joint or more of your rod, let there be stuck another needle, fastened well from slipping out, with about half an inch of the point appearing: put this also into the head of the baited worm, and holding the whole length of the cord in your hand, together with the stick, thrust your worm between the cleft of any clods or piles in shallow water, till you have lost sight of it; then gently draw your stick away, laying it aside, keeping the line still in your hand, till you perceive it to draw, and after some time strike as directed. The needle which before this lay buried straight in the worm, will, by your stroke, be pulled quite across the throat of the eel, and hold him fast. When he is landed, you may, by squeezing one of the points through his skin, draw that and the whole line after it.
Bobbing for Eels is thus performed: String a large number of worms with a needle, on a fine but strong pack-thread; running them from head to tail, till you have strung about a pound; then wrapping them about a dozen times round your hand, tie them fast with the two ends of the thread, that they may hang in hanks or links: fasten these to a strong cord, about two yards long; and about eight inches above the worms tie a knot; upon this let a plummet of lead rest, being bored through, that it may easily slip to and fro: it is made in shape of a pyramid, of about half a pound weight let the broad end hang downward. Tie the cord to a strong taper pole, about three yards long. Angle with this in a muddy water, in the deeps or sides of streams. You will find the eels tug at it eagerly: then draw up worms and eels, not with a jerk, but with a steady, swift, and even hand; and giving it a smart twitch, shake them suddenly off on land, or into your boat, and turn your baits directly over into the water again. You may take in this way three or four usually at a time.-BROWNE.
Spearing for Eels is a practice resorted to very generally during the cold months, when eels lie, almost torpid, deeply embedded in the muddy banks of streams or pounds. Eel-spears have usually six or seven prongs, with long handles, and need only be jammed into the mud in likely places and immediately pulled out again.-ED,
what snigling is, I will now teach it to you. You remember I told you that eels do not usually stir in the day-time, for then they hide themselves under some covert, or under boards or planks about flood-gates, or wears, or mills, or in holes in the river-banks: so that you, observing your time in a warm day, when the water is lowest, may take a strong, small hook, tied to a strong line, or to a string about a yard long; and then into one of these holes, or between any boards about a mill, or under any great stone or plank, or any place where you think an eel may hide or shelter herself, you may, with the help of a short stick, put in your bait, but leisurely, and as far as you may conveniently and it is scarce to be doubted, but that if there be an eel within the sight of it, the eel will bite instantly, and as certainly gorge it: and you need not doubt to have him, if you pull him not out of the hole too quickly, but pull him out by degrees; for he lying folded double in his hole, will, with the help of his tail, break all, unless you give him time to be wearied with pulling, and so get him out by degrees, not pulling too hard.
And to commute for your patient hearing this long direction, I shall next tell you how to make this Eel
a most excellent dish of meat.
First, wash him in water and salt; then pull off his skin below his vent or navel, and not much further: having done that, take out his guts as clean as you can, but wash him
not: then give him three or four scotches with a knife; and then put into his belly and those scotches, sweet herbs, an anchovy, and a little nutmeg grated or cut very small; and your herbs and anchovies must also be cut very small, and mixed with good butter and salt: having done this, then pull his skin over him all but his head, which you are to cut off, to the end you may tie his skin about that part where his head grew, and it must be so tied as to keep all his moisture within his skin: and having done this, tie him with tape or packthread to a spit, and roast him leisurely, and baste him with water and salt till his skin breaks, and then with butter: and having roasted him enough, let what was put into his belly, and what he drips, be his sauce.
When I go to dress an eel thus, I wish he were as long and big as that which was caught in Peterborough river in the year 1667, which was a yard and three-quarters long. If you will not believe me, then go and see at one of the coffee-houses in King-street in Westminster.
But now let me tell you, that though the eel thus dressed be not only excellent good, but more harmless than any other way, yet it is certain that physicians account the eel dangerous meat; I will advise you therefore, as Solomon says of honey, Prov. xxv. 16, "Hast thou found it, eat no more than is sufficient, lest thou surfeit, for it is not good to eat much honey." And let me add this, that the uncharitable Italian bids us, "give eels, and no wine to our enemies."
And I will beg a little more of your attention to tell you, that Aldrovandus and divers physicians commend the eel very much for medicine, though not for meat. But let me tell you one observation; that the eel is never out of season, as trouts and most other fish are at set times; at least most eels are not.1
1 The haunts of the eel are-weeds; under roots, stumps of trees; holes and clefts of the earth, both in the banks and at the bottom, and in the plain mud; where they lie with only their heads out, watching for prey. They are also found under great stones, old timber, about flood-gates, weirs, bridges, and old mills. They delight in still waters, and in those that are foul and muddy; though the smaller eels are to be met with in all sorts of rivers and soils.
Although the manner in which eels, and indeed all fish, are generated,
I might here speak of many other fish whose shape and nature are much like the eel, and frequent both the sea and
is sufficiently settled, as appears by the foregoing notes, there yet remains a question undecided by naturalists, and that is, whether the eel be an oviparous or a viviparous fish? Walton inclines to the latter opinion. The following relation from Bowlker, may go near to determine the question :
Being acquainted with an elderly woman, who had been wife to a miller near fifty years, and much employed in dressing of eels, I asked her, whether she had ever found any spawn or eggs in those eels she opened? She said she had never observed any; but that she had sometimes found living eels in them, about the bigness of a small needle; and particularly that she once took out ten or twelve, and put them upon the table, and found them to be alive-which was confirmed to me by the rest of the family. The time of the year when this happened was, as they informed me, about a fortnight or three weeks after Michaelmas; which makes me of opinion that they go down to the sea, or salt-water, to prepare themselves for the work of propagating and producing their young. To this I must add another observation of the same nature, that was made by a gentleman of fortune not far from Ludlow, and in the commission of the peace for the county of Salop; who, going to visit a gentleman, his friend, was shown a very fine large eel, that was going to be dressed, about whose sides and belly he observed a parcel of little creeping things, which at first made him suspect it had been kept too long; but, upon nearer inspection, they were found to be perfect little eels or elvers. Upon this, it was immediately opened, in the sight of several other gentlemen; and in the belly of it they found a lump about as big as a nutmeg, consisting of an infinite number of those little creatures, closely wrapped up together, which, being put into a basin of water, soon separated, and swam about the basin. This he has often told to several gentlemen of credit in his neighbourhood, from some of whom I first received this account; but I have lately had the satisfaction of having it from his own mouth; and therefore I think this may serve to put the matter out of all doubt, and may be sufficient to prove that eels are of the viviparous kind."-[Notwithstanding this deliberate evidence, it is now generally agreed by naturalists, that eels are oviparous. See note at page 236. Mr. Yarrell thinks that the notion of their being viviparous probably arose from the worms, or Entozoa, with which they are infested, and of which Rudolphi has enumerated eight different species.- ED.]
Eels, though never out of season, are best in winter and worst in May. And it is to be noted, that the longer they live the better they are.
OF BAITS FOR THE EEL, the best are lob-worms, loach, minnows, small pope, or perch, with the fins cut off; pieces of any fish, especially bleak, as being very lucid, with which I have taken very large ones.
As the angling for eels is no very pleasant amusement, and is always attended with great trouble and the risk of tackle; many, while they angle for other fish, lay lines for the eel, which they tie to weeds, flags, &c., with marks to find them by. Or, you may take a long packthread line, with a leaden weight at the end, and hooks looped on at a yard distance