"I offer here a true rendition, into modern English, of Dame Juliana Berners' famous Treatise. She wrote in the London English of her day, where punctuation was a signal to stop for breath when reading aloud; this, and the fact that some of her phrases have vanished from the language, has forced me to choose, occasionally, between alternatives. The precise interpretation of her trout flies I have left for detailed discussion in Part III."—A.D.
This is an article from the May 20, 1957 issue
Solomon in his parables says that a good spirit makes a flourishing age; that is, a fair age and a long one. And since that is so I ask this question: which are the means and the causes that induce in a man a merry spirit? Truly, to the best of my belief, it seems they are good sport and honest games, which bring joy to man without any repentance afterwards. From this it follows that good sport and honest games are a cause of man's fair age and long life. Therefore now I will choose, out of four good sports and honest games—that is to say, hunting, hawking, fishing, and wildfowling. The best in my simple opinion is the form of fishing called angling with a rod, line and hook. Of this I shall treat as fully as my simple intelligence will allow, both for the reason of Solomon given above and because medicine teaches as follows:
Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fiant
Haec tria—mens laeta, labor, et moderate, dieta.
That is to say: If a man lacks a leech and medicine he shall make these three things his leech and his medicine, and he shall need no other; the first is a merry thought, the second is work (but not too exhausting), the third is a reasonable diet. First, then, a man who would have merry thoughts and a glad spirit must avoid contrary company and places of debate where he might have occasions of melancholy. If he wants work, but not too exhausting, to please himself he must choose a pleasant occupation without study, pensiveness or travel which will rejoice his heart and delight his spirit. If he wishes to eat and drink in moderation he must avoid all rowdy places, which encourage overeating and sickness, and he must frequent places where fresh air whets the appetite, and he must eat nourishing, easily digested food.
Now I shall describe these sports and games to find the best of them as well as I can; although that right noble and full worthy prince the Duke of York, late called the master of game, has already described the pleasure of hunting as I think to describe it and the other sports as well.
Hunting is in my opinion too exhausting. For the hunter must ever follow his hounds, traveling and sweating full force. He blows his horn until his lips blister. What he thinks to be a hare turns Out to be a hedgehog, thus he is angry and confused. In the evening he comes home rain-beaten and scratched, his clothes torn, wet-shod and muddy, with some of his hounds lost, others overdriven. Such griefs come to the hunter, with others that I dare not report, for fear of angering lovers of the chase. So it seems to me that this is not the best sport of the four.
It seems to me that the sport of hawking is also exhausting and trying to the temper. For often the falconer loses his hawks, just as the hunter loses his hounds; then his sport and pleasure are gone. Often he shouts and whistles until he has a horrid thirst. His hawk sits on a branch and ignores his orders; when he wants her to fly she bathes; with misfeeding she may have fits, swelling of the head, hard chalklike dung or many other diseases that bring sudden death to hawks. This proves that hawking is not the best sport of the four.
The sport of wildfowling seems to me very dull. For in winter the fowler cannot do well except in the coldest and hardest weather; which is unpleasant, for when he wishes to visit his snares he cannot for the cold. He makes many traps and snares, but he does very poorly. At morning he must walk through the dew and get wet to the tail. I could raise many more objections, but fear of giving offense prevents me. So it seems to me that hunting and hawking and wild-fowling are all so exhausting and painful that not one of them will induce in a man a merry spirit; which according to the said parable of Solomon is the cause of a long life.
It follows then without doubt that the best sport must be fishing with an angle. For every other kind of fishing is also exhausting and painful, often making folk wet and cold, which has been seen frequently to bring serious illness. But the angler need suffer no cold nor disease nor annoyance, unless he brings it on himself. For he may not lose at the most but a line or a hook, of which he may have plenty of his own making, as this simple Treatise shall teach him. Even then his loss is not serious. He may have no other annoyance, unless a fish break away after taking the hook, or he catches nothing; which are not serious annoyances. If he does not catch one fish he will catch another, so long as he follows the teaching of this Treatise; unless indeed there is nothing in the water. Even then he has a wholesome walk and is happy at his ease in the fresh air, sweet with the scent of meadow flowers, which gives him an appetite. He hears the melodious harmony of birds; he sees the young swans, herons, ducks, coots, and many other birds with their broods. This seems to me better than all the noise of hounds, the blasts of horns, and the birdcalls, that hunters, falconers, and wildfowlers can make.
If the angler catches fish no one is happier in spirit than he. Also whoever wishes to go angling must rise early, which is good for man in this way: that is to say, good for his soul for it shall make him holy; and his body healthy by making him whole; also it shall increase his goods for it shall make him rich. As the old English proverb has it: "Who rises early shall be holy, healthy, and happy."
Thus I have proved, as I set out to do, that the sport and game of angling is the very thing to induce in a man a merry spirit; which according to the said parable of Solomon and the said medical doctrine will give him a flourishing life and a long one. Therefore to all you who are virtuous, gentle, and freeborn I write and make this simple Treatise following, by which you may learn the full craft of angling to enjoy yourselves whenever you wish; to the intent that your old age may be the more flourishing and the longer to endure.
If you would be skilled in angling you must first learn how to make your tackle: that is to say, your rod, and your lines of various colors. After that you must know how to angle; in what part of the water, how deep, at what time of day, for what kind of fish, in what weather; how many obstacles there are to this kind of fishing called angling, and especially what bait to use for each kind of fish in every month of the year; also how to make your baits breed, where you shall find them and how you shall keep them; and the most skilled art of all, how to make your hooks, of steel or of osmund, some to be dubbed and some for the float and the ground bait. You shall hereafter find all these things expressed openly to your knowledge.
Here I shall teach you how to make your rod skillfully.
You shall cut, between Michaelmas and Candlemas (September and February), a fair staff a fathom and a half long (9 feet) and as thick as your arm, of hazel, willow, or ash. Heat it in a hot oven and straighten it. Then let it cool and dry for a month. Then bind it tightly with a "cockshoot cord" (the cord used in making cockshoots or nets to catch birds), and bind it to a form or to a good straight tree. Then take a plumber's wire, even and straight and sharp at one end. Heat the sharp end in a charcoal fire until it is white-hot. Then burn through the staff with it, always keeping straight in the pithe, making a hole at each end until they meet. Then burn the lower end with a little spit for roasting birds, and with other spits each bigger than the last, and the biggest last of all so that you make your hole tapering.
Then let it lie still to cool for two days.
Unbind the cockshoot cord and let the staff dry in the smoke of the house roof until it is dry through and through.
In the same season take a fair yard of green hazel and heat it to make it even and straight, and let it dry with the staff. When they are both dry, fit the yard into the hole in the staff, until it is halfway up.
Then, to finish the other half, which will be the crop, take a fair shoot of blackthorn, crab-tree, medlar, or juniper, cut in the same season and well dried and straightened ; and bind both crop and staff neatly, so that the crop enters accurately into the hole in the staff.
Then shave your staff until it tapers to the top.
Then put at each end of your staff a ferrule of iron or laton (an alloy something between brass and pewter) in the neatest way, with a spike in the lower end fastened with a split pin, so that you may take the crop in and out. Then set the crop a hand's breadth within the upper end of the staff, in such a way that the crop is as big there as in any place above. Then bind the crop with a line of six hairs down to the binding on the staff, tying the binding fast at the top with a loop to fasten the fishing line.
Thus you will have a rod so secret that you may go walking with it and no one will know its purpose. It will be light and handy to fish with whenever you desire; and to make it easier here is a figure as an example.
(Here follows a crude drawing, its lines so thickened by the clumsy engraving tool as to make it useless as a blueprint.)
After you have thus made your rod you must learn to color your horsehair lines in this manner: From the tail of a white horse take hair, the longest and finest you can find; and the rounder it is, the better. Divide it into six parts, so that you may color each part a different color. The colors are yellow, green, brown, tawny, russet and dusk color.
To make your hair a good green color do this: Take a quart of small ale and put it in a little pan, and put in it half a pound of alum. Put your hair in, and let it boil gently for half an hour. Then take out your hair and let it dry. Then take a pottle (about a half gallon) of water and put it in a pan, and put in two handfuls of weld (greenweed or dyer's weed, Reseda luteola), and press it with a tilestone, and let it boil gently for half an hour. When the scum is yellow put in your hair with half a pound of copperas beaten to powder, and let it boil "halfe a myle waye" (the time it takes to walk half a mile, about 10 minutes). Set it down to cool for five or six hours. Then take out the hair and dry it.
It is then the finest green there is for the water. The more copperas you use the better, or you may use verdigris instead.
In another way you may make a brighter green, thus: Steep your hair in a wood cask the color of light lead, and then put it in old weld as I have said before, except that you do not add either copperas or verdigris.
To make your hair yellow dress it with alum as I have said before, and afterwards with weld, without copperas or verdigris.
To make another yellow: Take a pottle of small ale, and press three handfuls of walnut leaves and put them in. Put in your hair until the color is as deep as you want it.
To make russet hair: Take a pint of strong lye and half a pound of soot and a little juice of walnut leaves and a quart (or a quarter of a pound?) of alum, and put them all together and boil them well. When it is cold put in your hair, until it is as dark as you wish to have it.
To make a brown color: Take a pound of soot and a quart of ale, and steep in it as many walnut leaves as you can. When they turn black take it off the fire. Put in it your hair, and let it lie until it is as brown as you wish.
To make another brown: Take strong ale and soot and mix them together. Put in your hair for two days and two nights, and it will be a right good color.
To make a tawny color: Take lime and water and put them together. Put your hair in for four or five hours. Take it out and put it in tanner's ooze (the liquor of tanbark) for a day. It will be as fine a tawny color as you will need.
The sixth part of your hair you will keep white, for use with the dubbed hook in fishing for trout and grayling, and for small lines to rye for roach and dace.
("Rye" in this sense is not found in any other document. It may refer to some particular method of fishing, or it may be a misprint for "try.")
When your hair is thus colored you must know for which water in which seasons they shall serve.
Green in all clear water from April to September.
Yellow in all clear water from September to November, for it looks like the weed and other grasses in the rivers when they are in flood.
Russet serves all through the winter to the end of April, both in rivers and in pools or lakes.
Brown serves for black and stagnant water, in rivers and other places.
Tawny for heathy or marshy waters.
Now you must make your lines in this way. First see that you have an Instrument, as in the figure shown following. Take your hair, and from the small end cut a full handful or more, because these tapering ends are not strong or sure. Turn your hair from the top to the tail, and divide it all into three parts. At one end make three separate plaits of the three parts, at the other end plait them all into one. Put the single plait into the end of your Instrument that has a single cleft, and set the other end fast with your wedge, about four fingers shorter than the full extent of the hair. Twine each strand the same way, exactly alike, and fasten them in three clusters. Then take out the other end from the cleft. Twine it in the same direction, then strain it a little and knot it so that it will not come undone. And that is good.
Here is a figure of your Instrument, to show you how to make it. It is all made from wood, except the bolt underneath, which is iron.
(The basic idea is a bolt about the length of a horsehair, with at one end a cleft knob for fixing one end of the hair; at the other end there seems to be a little wheel, by which all the hairs could be twisted together.
The result is clear enough: a triple line made by plaiting three separate strands of horsehair, each hair first doubled tip to root.)
When you have as many lengths as you think you will need, tie them together with a water knot or a duchess knot, cutting off the spare ends a straw's breadth from the knot. Thus you will make your line fair and fine, and safe for any kind of fish. And because you should know both the water knot and the duchess knot, here is a picture of them.
(But in fact the illustration is lacking.)
You must understand that the most difficult task in making your tackle is to make the hooks. To make them you need proper files, thin and sharp and beaten small; a semiclamp of iron; a bender; a pair of long and small tongs; a hard thick knife; an anvil and a little hammer.
For small fish, make your hooks from the smallest steel needles of square section that you can find, in this way: Put the needle in a red charcoal fire until it is as red as the fire. Then take it out and let it cool, and it will be well enough tempered to be filed. Then raise the barb with your knife, and sharpen the point. Then temper the work again, or it will break in the bending. Then bend it, as in the bend shown in the illustration.
(Again, the illustration is lacking.)
In the same way you make greater hooks from greater needles, such as embroiderer's needles, or tailor's, or shoemaker's spear points. Shoemaker's brads are best for big fish. They must all bend at the point when tested, or they will be no good. When the hook is bended beat the other end flat, and file it smooth lest it fray your line. Then put it in the fire again, and work it to an easy red heat. Then quench it suddenly in water, and it will be hard and strong.
To know your instruments, let them be as shown here. (See drawing, right.)
When you have thus made your hooks you set them on your line, in appropriate size and strength, like this: Take thin red silk, doubled for a big hook, but do not plait it. For small hooks it should be single. Bind the line thickly round the end of your hook for a straw's breadth; then set your hook and bind it with the same silk for two-thirds of its length, but when you reach the third part turn back your silk and bind it double. Tuck the end of the silk in at the hole two or three times, binding it fast each time around the shank of your hook. Wet the binding and draw it tight. See that your line is always fixed inside the bend of the hook, not outside. Then cut off all loose ends as close as you can.
You already know which size of hook to use for each kind of fish. Now I shall tell you how many hairs you need in your line for each kind of fish. You fish for the minnow with a line of one hair; for the growing roach, the bleak, the gudgeon and the ruff with a line of two hairs; for the dace and the great roach with a line of three hairs; for the large perch, the flounder, and the small bream with a line of four hairs; for the chub, the grown bream, the tench and the eel with six hairs; for the small trout, the grayling, the barbel, and the great chub with nine hairs; for the great trout with 12 hairs; for the salmon with 15 hairs. For the pike use a copper trace, colored brown with the brown dye already described, and armed with a wire; as I shall tell you later when speaking of pike.
Your lines should be weighted with lead, the nearest weight at least a foot from the hook, and the weight in keeping with the size of your line. There are three ways of weighting a running ground line. For the float on a lying ground line, 10 weights joined together; for the running ground line, nine or 10 small ones. The float should be so heavy that the least nibble from a fish will pull it under the water. Remember to make your weights round and smooth so that they do not catch on stones or weeds. To understand them better see this illustration. (See drawing, page 76.)
Make your floats like this: Take a fair cork, clean and with few holes, and bore through it with a small hot iron. Put a straight quill upright in the hole, remembering that the bigger the float the bigger the quill and the bigger the hole. Shape the float so that it is broad in the middle and tapers at each end, especially the lower end, as in the picture here. Smooth it on a grindstone or with a tilestone.
The float for a line of one hair is no bigger than a pea, for two hairs a bean, for 12 hairs a walnut, and so in proportion. (See drawing, page 77.) Every line except a ground line needs a float, and so does the running ground line; but not the lying ground line.
Now that I have taught you how to make all your tackle I shall tell you how to angle. There are six ways of angling.
1) On the bottom for trout and other fish.
2) On the bottom by an arch, or near piles where the tide ebbs and flows for bleak, roach, and dace.
3) With a float for any kind of fish.
4) With a minnow as live bait, without weight or float for trout.
5) With a fly on a line of one or two hairs, for roach and dace.
6) With an artificial fly for trout and grayling.
The first and the most important point in angling is to keep always away from the water, out of sight of the fish. Either stand well back, or else behind a bush, so that the fish do not see you; if they see you they will not bite. Also see that as far as possible you do not shadow the water, for such a thing will soon frighten the fish; and if a fish has been frightened he will not bite for a long time afterwards.
You should angle on the bottom, with your hook running or lying on the bottom for all fish that feed on the bottom. For all fish that feed above the bottom, you should angle to them in the middle of the water or somewhat beneath or somewhat above. Always remember that the bigger the fish the nearer the bottom he lies, and the smaller the fish the higher he swims.
The third point is that when the fish bites you must be neither too soon nor too late with your strike; you must wait until the bait is fairly in the fish's mouth and then wait no longer. This is for bottom-fishing. When you see your float pulled gently down, or moved gently in the water, then strike. Take care that you never strike too strongly for the strength of your line.
If you have the luck to strike a great fish with light tackle you must lead him in the water and tire him there until he is drowned and overcome, and then you may take him in any way you can. Ever beware of holding above the strength of your line, and as far as possible do not let the fish come out on your line's end straight from you, but keep him always under the rod and hold him always straight; so that your line may sustain and bear his leaps and plunges with the help of your crop, and of your hand.
Now I shall tell you in what place in the water you shall angle. Angle in a pool or in any deep standing water. In a pool there is no need to look for deep places; for a pool is only a prison for fish, where they live for the most part in hunger like prisoners; and therefore there is little skill in taking them.
In a river you should angle in every deep place where the bottom is clear, such as gravel or clay, without mud or weeds. Angle especially where there is an eddy, or good cover for fish, such as a hollow bank, or great roots of trees, or long weeds floating above in the water where the fish may hide themselves at certain times when they choose. Good places are deep stiff streams, waterfalls or weirs, and in floodgates or millraces. Other good places are in still water by the bank, with the stream running near, and a clear bottom, and in any place where you see fish rising or feeding.
Now you shall know at what time of day you should angle. From the beginning of May into September the biting time is early in the morning, from 4 to 8; and in the afternoon from 4 to 8, but this is not so good as in the morning and if it is a cold whistling wind and a dark lowering day; for always a dark day is much better to angle in than a clear one. From the beginning of September until the end of April angle at any time of the day.
Note that in pools many fish bite best in the noontide.
If at any time of the day you see trout or grayling leap, angle to them with the artificial fly appropriate to the month. And where the water ebbs and flows, the fish will bite some places at the ebb and other places at the flood. After this they rest behind piles and arches of bridges and such places.
The most favorable weather is a dark lowering day with a soft wind, as I said above. In summer a burning hot day is useless, but from September to April a fair sunny day is a very good time to angle. And if the wind in that season has any east in it, the weather is not good for angling; and when there is a great wind, when it snows, rains or hails, or is a tempest such as thunder or lightning, or sultry hot weather, then also angling is bad.
There are 12 impediments that can cause a man to take no fish, apart from casual bad luck. The first is wrong or badly made tackle. The second is wrong or bad bait. The third is to angle when the fish are not biting. The fourth is if the fish have been frightened by sight of a man. The fifth is if the water is very thick, either white or red, from recent flood. The sixth is if it is too cold for the fish to stir. The seventh is if it is too hot. The eighth if it is raining. The ninth if it is snowing or hailing. The tenth if there is a tempest. The eleventh, gales. The twelfth if the wind is in the east; and that is worst, because generally then the fish will not bite, either in winter or summer. West or north winds are good, but the south wind is the best.
I have told you how to make your tackle, and how to fish with it under all circumstances. Now make sure that you know what bait to use for every manner of fish in every month of the year, which is the chief art in the thing. Unless you know the right bait to use all the other craft you have learned will be useless, for you cannot bring a hook to the fish's mouth without a bait. Here follow the correct baits for every kind of fish in every month.
Because the salmon is the most stately fish that any man can angle for in fresh water I propose to begin with him. The salmon is a gentle fish, but cumbersome to take. Usually he is found only in the deep places of great rivers; and for the most part he keeps in midstream, so that a man cannot get at him. He is in season from March to Michaelmas, at which time you should angle for him with these baits if you can get hold of them. At the beginning and end of the season with a red worm, and also with the grub that breeds on dunghills and especially with a sovereign bait you find breeding on the water dock. The salmon does not bite on the bottom, but at the float. You may sometimes take him, but it happens very seldom, with an artificial fly when he is leaping, in the same way as you take trout or grayling. The above are well-proved baits for salmon.
We shall speak next of the trout, because he is a very dainty fish and also a very greedy biter. He is in season from March to Michaelmas. He is found on a clean gravel bottom and in a running stream. You may angle for him at all times with a running or lying ground line; except in leaping time, when you use an artificial fly. Use a running line early in the day, and a float later. In March angle for him with a minnow, hung on your hook by its other end, without float or weight; draw the minnow up and down in the stream until you feel the trout fast hooked. At the same time angle for him with a ground line with a red worm as the most certain bait. In April use the same baits and also the lamprey, called Seven Eyes. (The lamprey was frequently called Seven Eyes from the placing of its gills.) Use also the caterpillar that breeds in great trees and the red snail. In May use the stone fly and the grub under the cow turd and the silkworm, and the bait that breeds on a fern leaf. In June take the great red worm and nip off its head, and put it on your hook with a caddis worm before. In July take the great red worm and the caddis worm together. In August take a flesh fly and the great red worm and bacon fat, and bind them about your hook. In September take the red worm and the minnow, and in October the same; they are excellent for trout at any time of the year. From April to September the trout is leaping. Then angle for him with an artificial fly according to the month. You will find these artificial flies listed at the end of this Treatise, under the appropriate month.
The grayling, also called umber, is delicious to eat. You may take him as you do the trout. These are his baits:
In March and April, the red worm.
In May the green worm, a little ringed worm, the grub on the dock leaf and the hawthorn worm.
In June the bait you find between the wood and the bark of an oak.
In July the bait that breeds on a fern leaf, and the great red worm. Nip off the head of the great red worm, and put a caddis worm on your hook before it.
In August the red worm and the dock worm.
And all the year after the red worm.
The barbel is pleasant to eat, but indigestible, and sometimes dangerous. The eating of it often leads to a fever, and if eaten raw it has frequently proved fatal.
In March and April take fresh cheese, lay it on a board, and cut it into small squares as long as your hook. Then with a candle burn it at the point of your hook until yellow. Bind it on the hook with arrow maker's silk and roughen the surface to resemble a wood louse. This is a good bait all through the summer.
In May and June take the hawthorn worm and the great red worm. Nip off the head and put on the hook before them a caddis worm. This is a good bait.
In July take the red worm chiefly, together with the hawthorn worm. Take also the water dock-leaf worm and the hornet grub together.
In August and for the rest of the year take equal parts of sheep's tallow and soft cheese, and a little honey, and grind or press them together. Moisten the mixture until tough. Add a little flour and make up into small pellets. This is a good bait for bottom-fishing; but make sure it is heavy enough to sink, or it will be no use.
The carp is a dainty fish, but there are few in England, and therefore I shall discuss them briefly. He is a difficult fish to take, being so strongly armed in the mouth that weak tackle will not hold him. I myself know little about the right bait, and I am reluctant to write more than I know by experience; but I have been told on good authority, and have read in trustworthy books, that the minnow and the red worm are good baits for carp throughout the year.
The chub is a stately fish, and his head is a dainty morsel to eat. No other fish has such strong scales to armor his body. Because he is a strong biter there are many baits for him.
In March fish the bottom with a red worm, for commonly he will bite on the bottom at all times of year if he is hungry.
In April use the ditch grub that breeds in trees, the worm you find between the bark and the wood of an oak, the red worm, and young frogs with their feet cut off. Also the stone fly, the grub under the cow turd, and the red snail.
In May put together on your hook the grub that breeds on the osier leaf and the dock worm. Use also the worm that breeds on the fern leaf, the caddis worm, and a grub that breeds on the hawthorn; or use a grub that breeds on an oak leaf, a silkworm, and a caddis worm all together.
In June take the cricket and the dung beetle and a red worm with its head cut off and a caddis worm before, and put them all on your hook at once (!). Use also a grub from the osier leaf and young frogs with three legs cut off at the body and one cut off at the knee; or the hawthorn and caddis worms together; or a grub that breeds in a dunghill and a big grasshopper.
In July use the grasshopper and the bumblebee from the meadow; also young bees and young hornets; also a big-brindled fly found on paths in meadows, and the fly found on anthills.
In August use wortworms and maggots, and continue using them up to Michaelmas. In September the red worm, and any other baits you can find, such as cherries, tender young mice without hair, and the honeycomb.
The bream is a noble fish, and good to eat. Angle for him from March to August with a red worm; afterwards with a butterfly and a green fly, and with a bait you find among green reeds, and a bait that breeds in the bark of a dead tree. For young bream use maggots. For the rest of the year use the red worm and, in rivers, brown bread. There are other baits, but they are not easy, and therefore I shall pass over them.
A tench is a good fish, who heals other fish if they come to him when wounded. (It was believed that the grease on the skin of a tench was a healing ointment; wounded fish were alleged to rub themselves against it. The popular belief is mentioned by Izaak Walton.) For most of the year he is found in the mud, stirring most often in June and July, but otherwise very seldom. He is an evil biter.
All the year round use brown bread toasted with honey similar to a buttered loaf; and the great red worm. And for the best bait take the black blood from a sheep's heart and flour and honey; moisten them with water until a little softer than paste, and smear on the red worm. This is good for other fish also, and they will bite much better at all times.
The perch is good to eat and very wholesome, and a free biter. These are his baits.
In March the red worm.
In April the grub under the cow turd.
In May the blackthorn worm, and the caddis worm.
In June the bait that breeds on an old fallen oak, and the great canker worm.
In July the bait you find on the osier leaf, and the grub that breeds in a dunghill; and the hawthorn worm and the caddis worm.
In August the red worm, and maggots.
For the rest of the year the red worm is best.
The roach is an easy fish to take, and if he is fat and penned makes good eating. These are his baits.
In March the easiest bait is the red worm.
In April the grub under the cow turd.
In May the bait that breeds on an oak leaf, and the grub in the dunghill.
In June the bait that breeds on the osier, and the caddis worm.
In July houseflies, and the bait that breeds on an oak, and the nut worm, and mathewes and maggots in general until Michaelmas. After that use bacon fat.
The dace is a gentle fish to take, and if well fattened makes good eating.
In March his bait is a red worm.
In April the grub under the cow turd.
In May the dock canker, and the bait on the blackthorn and the bait that breeds on the oak leaf.
In June the caddis worm, and the bait on the osier and the white grub in the dunghill.
In July houseflies and the flies you find on anthills; then the caddis worm and maggots to Michaelmas. If the water is clear, you will take fish with these baits when others take none. After Michaelmas do as you do for roach, for commonly roach and dace bite at the same baits.
The bleak is only a feeble fish, but wholesome to eat. From March to Michaelmas his baits are as I have written above for roach and dace, except that all through the summer you may angle for him with a housefly, in winter with bacon fat and other bait described below.
The ruff is a very wholesome fish. You angle for him with the same bait, at the same seasons, as I have told you before for the perch. For they are alike in fishing and feeding, except that the ruff is smaller and must have smaller bait.
The flounder is a wholesome fish, and a free and subtle biter in his own way. Normally when he seeks his food he feeds on the bottom, and you must angle for him with a lying ground line. Use only one kind of bait, the red worm; which is indeed the principal bait for all kinds of fish. The gudgeon is a good fish for his size, and bites well on the bottom. His baits are as follows, all the year round: the red worm, caddis worm, maggots. You must use a float, and let your bait lie near the bottom, or on it.
When the minnow shines in the water he is better. Though his body is small, he is a ravenous and eager biter. Angle for him with the same baits as for gudgeon, except that they must be smaller.
The eel is indigestible, and also a ravener and devourer of young fry. The pike also devours fish; and therefore I put them behind all other fish for angling. The eel you will find in a hole in the bottom; he is blue-black. Put your hook a foot within the hole, using as bait a great earthworm or a minnow.
The pike is a good fish, but because he devours so many, even of his own kind as well as other fish, I love him the least. This is how you take him:
Use a codling hook, and take a roach or a fresh herring and a wire with a loop at the end; put the wire in at the mouth of the fresh herring and down the back until it comes out at the tail, and then put the line of your hook in after, and draw the hook into the cheek of the herring. Put a lead weight on your line a yard from the hook, and a float midway between, and cast into a pool which pike frequent. This is the best and most certain craft for taking the pike.
Another way of taking him is: Take a frog, and put in your hook at the neck, between the skin and the backbone; put on a float a yard above. Cast where the pike haunts and you shall have him.
Another way: Take the same bait and soak it in asafetida, and cast it in the water tied to a floating piece of cork; and you shall not fail to catch him. And if you want to see some good sport, tie the end of the line to the foot of a goose. Then you shall see hard pulling, as goose and pike pull against one another.
So now you know what bait to use for each kind of fish. Now I shall tell you how to keep and feed your live bait. Keep and feed them all in one place, yet each kind by itself with the thing on which it lives. So long as they are alive and fresh they are fine, but when they are in a stupor or dead they are useless; except for three kinds: hornets, bumblebees and wasps. These you shall bake in bread and afterwards dip their heads in blood and let them dry. Also except maggots. These, after they have grown big on their natural food, you shall feed further on sheep's tallow and a cake made from flour and honey. Then they will grow bigger than ever. When you have cleaned them with sand in a blanket bag kept warm under your gown, or in some other warm place two or three hours, they are at their best and ready to angle with. Also cut off the legs of frogs at the knee, and the legs and wings of grasshoppers at the body.
These following baits are made to last throughout the year. The first is flour and lean meat from the hips of a rabbit or cat, and virgin wax and sheep's tallow. Pound them in a mortar and then moisten the mixture with a little purified honey, and then make it up into little balls. Bait your hooks with balls appropriate to their size. This is a good bait for all fresh-water fish.
Another bait: Take equal quantities of sheep's suet and cheese, and pound them together in a mortar for a long time; with them take flour and moisten; after that mix with honey and make up into balls. This is a good bait for barbel in particular.
Another bait, for dace and roach and bleak. Take wheat and seethe it well, and then soak it in blood for a day and a night. This is a good bait.
This is a useful rule for baits for big fish. When you have taken a big fish, open the maw; use as bait whatever you find in it, for it is sure to be best.
These are the 12 flies with which you shall angle for trout and grayling. You shall dub them as follows.
The dun fly. the body of the dun wool and the wings of the partridge. Another dun fly. The body of black wool: the wings of the blackest drake: and the Jay und(er) the wing and under the tail.
The stone fly. the body of black wool: and yellow under the wing, and under the tail and the wings of the drake. In the beginning of May a good fly. the body of red wool and lapped about with black silk: the wings of the drake and of the red capons hackle.
The yellow fly. the body of yellow wool: the wings of the red cocks hackle and of the drake dyed yellow. The black leaper. the body of black wool and lapped about with the herl of the peacock tail: and the wings of the red capon with a blue head.
The dun cut: the body of black wool and a yellow-stripe after either side: the wings of the buzzard bound on with barked hemp. The maure fly. the body of dark (dusky) wool the wings of the blackest mail of the wild drake. The tandy fly at saint Williams day. the body of tandy wool and the wings contrary either against other of the whitest mail of the wild drake.
The wasp fly. the body of black wool and lapped about with yellow thread: the wings of the buzzard. The shell fly at saint Thomas day, the body of green wool and lapped about with the herl of the peacocks tail: wings of the buzzard.
The drake fly. the body of black wool and lapped about with black silk: wings of the mail of the black drake with a black head.
These figures are shown here as examples for your hooks (See drawing, opposite page.)
Here follows an order made to all those who shall understand this Treatise and use it for their pleasure.
You who can angle and take fish whenever you desire, as this aforesaid Treatise teaches and shows you, I charge and require you, in the name of all noble men, that you never fish in the private water of a poor man, such as his pond, stew, or other place needed to keep fish in, without his permission and good will; and that-you never break any man's traps, lying in his weir or in any other place belonging to him, nor take away any fish caught in them. When a fish has been caught in a man's trap, it has become his private goods, whether the trap has been laid in common water or in water which he has hired. If you take it away you rob him. That is a most shameful thing for any noble man to do, an action worthy of thieves and rascals, who are punished for their evil deeds by hanging or otherwise, whenever they may be seen and taken. ("Rascals" is literally brybours, men who seek alms by false pretenses.)
If you do as this Treatise shows you, you shall never have need to take the fish of other men; for you will have sufficient of your own catching if you are willing to work for them. It will be a very great pleasure to you to see the fair bright shining-scaled fishes deceived by your crafty means and drawn to land.
Also see that in going about your sport you break no man's hedge, and open no man's gate without shutting it again.
Also see that you never use this crafty sport out of covetousness to increase or save your money only, but principally for your solace, and to bring health to your body, and especially health to your soul. For when you go fishing you will not greatly desire many persons with you, which might set you off your game. And then you may serve God devoutly in saying well your customary prayers. Thus you will eschew and avoid many vices, especially idleness, well known to be the principal inducement in man of other vices.
Also, never be so greedy as to take too much game at one time, which you may easily do if you follow this Treatise in every particular; which may easily destroy your own sport, and the sport of others also. When you have sufficient game you should covet no more at that time.
Also take trouble to preserve the game in every way you can, and to destroy all such things that devour it.
All those who keep these rules shall have the blessing of God and of St. Peter, which blessing may He grant to them, Who has redeemed us with His Precious Blood.
Wynkyn de Worde, the printer of the 1496 edition of The Book of St. Albans, added the following postscript:
So that this Treatise may not fall into the hands of every idler who might desire it, as it might if it were printed by itself in a little pamphlet, I have compiled it in a greater volume of various books which will be of interest to gentle and noble men; so that the aforesaid idle persons, who would have little moderation in the sport of fishing, shall not utterly destroy it.
THE TYING OF THE FLIES
In a unique presentation, John McDonald and Dwight A. Webster analyze the Berners flies, proffer their own authoritative version of how they were tied and show them in four pages of full color paintings by John Langley Howard.