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Sounds Fishy to Me!

Updated on August 9, 2015

Angling is a popular past time

An angler with his catch on a canal in Devises England
An angler with his catch on a canal in Devises England | Source


" It sounds fishy to me! " is a very apt adage where the subject of fishing is concerned. We have all heard the tale about the ' one that got away' as the angler holds his arms outstretched to indicate the size of the fish that he had almost caught, but it got away.

I have, in the course of my research on subjects related to fishing, come across some very weird examples, of 'fishy' stories. Some are just fanciful such as that mentioned above,others border on the incredulous for two main reasons. One-the content of the story itself, two- because it is written by eminent writers on the subject in days gone by.

The stories put to print by these eminent writers are, I find, repeated without question by other later writers, with very few doing any meaningful research for themselves. There follows examples of these stories which mainly derive from the 1800's or even earlier.

A quote from someone ---

" Anglers are trying to catch something they can not see, and quite often isn't there !"

Tench are large fish of the carp family


Tales about the Tench being an healing fish!

My first example of such tales is the one that alludes to the Tench being a healing fish here I quote from the book 'The complete Angler 1847 where the author Isaak Watson states--"Well this fish , besides his eating , is very useful both dead and alive for the good of mankind. But I will meddle no more with that, my honest humble art teaches me, no such boldness, there are many foolish meddlers in physic and divinity, that think themselves fit to meddle with hidden secrets, and so bring destruction to their followers."

"But I will not meddle with them any further than to wish them wiser, and shall tell you next, for I hope as to be so bold 'that the tench is the Physician of fishes, and for the Pike especially, and that the pike, being either sick or hurt , is cured by the touch of the Tench. it is to be observed that the tyrant Pike will not be wolf to his Physician, but forbears to devour him though he be ever so hungry"

A gentleman was unfortunately unable to leave his house , for some time, through an accident. he amused himself by making small artificial flies, which he did very neatly. He kept some Minnows and a Tench about two and a quarter inches long, in a very large wide mouthed bottle, all the Minnows had died but one. The man who was just finishing a fly then held it upon the surface of the water in the bottle to try the fly. The Minnow darted at it so rapidly, that he could not withdraw the fly in time to prevent the hook from pricking the Minnow. the little fish descended three quarters of the way down the bottle, poised himself for a moment with his nose pointing downwards, then swiftly went the remainder of the way down, rubbed his nose for a few seconds against the side of the tench, and then swam about as lively as before. This tale was according to its author confirmation, before his very eyes of a wounded fish which immediately began to seek a remedy to heal himself.

Camden, in his 'Britannia' also alluded to this circumstance -" I have seen the bellies of Pikes which have been rent open,have their gaping wounds presently closed by the touch of the tench, and by his glutinous slime perfectly healed up"

The Bull trout

British freshwater fish { 1879}
British freshwater fish { 1879}

Bull trout and Salmon in a fishy tale

The Reverand W. Haughton writes of a Mr F Buckland who was informed by Mr. Dunbar that the weight of Bull trout caught between February and August 1871, was Seventeen thousand, nine hundred and thirty seven pounds, and only two Salmon were taken. From the first of September to December 1871, the weight of Bull trout destroyed was forty five thousand, nine hundred and forty two pounds, but only 13 Salmon and the same number of Salmon grisle."

The Bull trout seems to be the name given to various species at various locations during the 1800's. It was at the time when these species of ' bull trout' were believed to be decimating the Salmon population by eating their eggs. Sergeant Harbottle, officer of the Tyne Salmon Fishery Tynemouth {north east England}, stated that he was taking Salmon for the sake of procuring ova in December 1871, he caught two 'bull trout' which disgorged Salmon eggs-" By a slight pressure of the hand I squeezed out of the stomachs nearly three wine glassfulls of Salmon eggs, which would be about two to three thousand in number"

The Little American girl and the taming of the Carp

There is on record a tale of a little American girl that tamed Carp in her pond. The child was not six years old and lived close to the bank of a pond in the village of Rockynook, near Kingham, Massachusetts.

She began by throwing crumbs into the water, gradually, it was alledged, the fish began to recognize her foot steps, and darted to the edge whenever she approached. At last they would even take food from her hand and allow her to stroke their scaly sides. The control over wild beasts was not more complete than that which was attained by this child over her fin folk, who rejected all overtures from the rest of the neighbours, and would trust no one else no matter how tempting the food they offered might be.

When a few years afterwards the child unfortunately died, during a visitation of cholera, the fish was said to have shown symptoms of distress, swimming disconsolately up and down at the spot where their protector was wont to look for them, and rejected the food offered by good natured townsfolk. Thus the writer adds-" It will be seen that even fish are not so cold blooded but they will recognize the act of kindness" { Boston Transcript}

Grayling and char

British freshwater fish
British freshwater fish
It was once believed that swallows spent the winter hidden in mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds.
It was once believed that swallows spent the winter hidden in mud at the bottom of lakes and ponds.

Tales from the British Angler

The next fishy tale is from the book The British Angler, by John Williamson published in London 1740. here John Williamson writes about fish migration from the sea to the rivers, while in the process of this explanation he states " The better to confirm this opinion that the Fordige {River} trout not feeding in the river, we may reflect that swallows, bats and wagtails which are called birds of passage and not seen to fly in England for six months of the year, have been found, even in 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. There is also a kind of frog which hath her mouth naturally shut up about the end of August and lives so all winter"

It was once widely believed that swallows and wagtails hibernated in winter, even that along with frogs, they hid in the mud at the bottom of ponds and lakes until spring arrived, when they would take to the air once again.

Talking of fish the author wrote of the Grayling--" The French who despise the Chub, value the Umber or Grayling so highly, that they say he feeds on gold, and that many have been caught in the river Loire, out of whose bellies grains of gold have been taken. Some think that this fish feeds on water thyme, and that he smells of it at his first taking out of the water, just as our smelts have the odour of violets at their first being caught ". He goes on to write of the medicinal attributes of the Grayling. " The fat of this fish being set with a little honey a day or two in the sun, in a little glass is thought excellent against redness or swarthiness or anything breeds in the eyes"- Sounds fishy to me!

Gesner speaks of a pike taken in Sweden in the year 1449 with a ring about his neck, declaring that he was put in the pond by Frederick the Second, more than two hundred years before. Unless the inscription on that ring was misinterpreted{ it was in Greek} by them. I presume this not to be unlikely.

John Williamson continues to write--" A man going to a pond, where a Pike had already devoured all the other fish, to water his Mule, had his beast bitten on the lips, to which the Pike hung so fast, that the creature drew him out of the water, and by that new way of angling, the owner of the Mule became master of the Pike" he goes on to tell of other instances of Pike biting the feet of men and women who entered the water. Then he states " He [the Pike} is said never to eat the venemous frog, till he has killed,, and then so thoroughly washed her, by moving her up and down in the water, that he may devour her without danger"

To conclude on the subject of the Pike which are many and varied I convey a tale from Gesner who affirms " that a Polish gentleman faithfully assured him that he had seen two young geese at one time in the belly of a Pike. Gesner went on to say " There is no doubt but this fish in the height of its hunger will snap at and devour a dog swims in the pond, there having been examples of it doing so" -Sounds fishy to me!

The Pike

The Pike is a voracious fish. But some tales about it seem very fishy
The Pike is a voracious fish. But some tales about it seem very fishy | Source

And Finally the case of the mysterious disappearing Carp

Izaak Walton in his book the Complete Angler 1897 talks of the mysterious disappearance of Carp from certain ponds. " now as an increase in Carp is wonderful for their number, so there is not reason to be found, I think, by any, why Carp should breed in some ponds and not in others of the same nature for soil and all other circumstances.

And as their breeding, so are their demise mysterious! I have both read it and been told by a gentleman of tried honesty, that he has known 60 or more large Carps put in several ponds near to a house, where by reason of the stakes in the ponds, and the owners nearness to them, it was impossible they should be stole away from him, and that when he has, after three to four years, emptied the pond, and expected an increase from them by breeding young, he has, I say, after three or four years, has not found either a young or old Carp remaining."

Izaak Walton continues " And the like I have known one, that almost watched the pond, and at a distance of like time, emptied the fishing pond and found that of 70-80 large Carp not more than 5-6 were left. The Tale of the gentleman states ' That on one hot summers day he saw a large Carp swim near the top of the water with a frog upon his head. And that he, upon that occasion, caused the pond to be emptied, and found that of 70-80 large Carp that had been used to stock the pond only five or six remained, and these very sick, lean, and with every one a frog sticking so fast to the heads of the said carp, that the frog would not get off without extreme force or killing'. And the gentleman did affirm this to me, told me he saw it? and did declare that the belief to be { and I also believe the same } that he thought the other Carps, that were strangely lost, were also killed by frogs, and then devoured. And a person of honor, now living in Worcestershire assured me he had a necklace or collar of tadpoles, hanging in a chain of beads about the Pikes neck and to kill him, whether it be for meat or malice must be the question"

It sounds fishy to me!




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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, there are truly some amazing legends, glad you enjoyed them, thank you for your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I love these old stories, or should i say--legends. Thanks for finding this great information. It was so entertaining.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      edwinbrown-thank you for being the first to visit and for leaving your appreciated comments as you say-let us believe who we will, but most importantly, enjoy! best wishes to you.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Amusing stories to be sure, and perhaps some contain a grain or two of truth, but - hey - tall tales by fishermen have probably been around for as long as fishermen.

      Let us believe who we will, but most importantly, enjoy!


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