The Carp is the queen of rivers; a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish; that was not at first bred, nor hath been long in England, but is now naturalised. It is said, they were brought hither by one Mr. Mascal, a gentleman that then lived at Plumsted in Sussex, a county that abounds more with this fish than any in this nation.
You may remember that I told you Gesner says there are no Pikes in Spain; and doubtless there was a time, about a hundred or a few more years ago, when there were no Carps in England, as may seem to be affirmed by Sir Richard Baker, in whose Chronicle you may find these verses:
Hops and turkies, carps and beer,
Came into England all in a year.
And doubtless, as of sea-fish the Herring dies soonest out of the water, and of fresh-water fish the Trout, so, except the Eel, the Carp endures most hardness, and lives longest out of its own proper element; and, therefore, the report of the Carp's being brought out of a foreign country into this nation is the more probable.
Carps and Loaches are observed to breed several months in one year, which Pikes and most other fish do not; and this is partly proved by tame and wild rabbits; as also by some ducks, which will lay eggs nine of the twelve months; and yet there be other ducks that lay not longer than about one month. And it is the rather to be believed, because you shall scarce or never take a male Carp without a melt, or a female without a roe or spawn, and for the most part very much, and especially all the summer season; and it is observed, that they breed more naturally in ponds than in running waters, if they breed there at all; and that those that live in rivers are taken by men of the best palates to be much the better meat.
And it is observed that in some ponds Carps will not breed, especially in cold ponds; but where they will breed, they breed innumerably: Aristotle and Pliny say six times in a year, if there be no Pikes nor Perch to devour their spawn, when it is cast upon grass or flags, or weeds, where it lies ten or twelve days before it be enlivened
The Carp, if he have water-room and good feed, will grow to a very great bigness and length; I have heard, to be much above a yard long. It is said by Jovius, who hath writ of fishes, that in the lake Lurian in Italy, Carps have thriven to be more than fifty pounds weight: which is the more probable, for as the bear is conceived and born suddenly, and being born is but short lived; so, on the contrary, the elephant is said to be two years in his dam's belly, some think he is ten years in it, and being born, grows in bigness twenty years; and it is observed too, that he lives to the age of a hundred years. And 'tis also observed, that the crocodile is very long-lived; and more than that, that all that long life he thrives in bigness; and so I think some Carps do, especially in some places, though I never saw one above twenty-three inches, which was a great and goodly fish; but have been assured there are of a far greater size, and in England too.
Now, as the increase of Carps is wonderful for their number, so there is not a reason found out, I think, by any, why they 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 decays also very mysterious: I have both read it, and been told by a gentleman of tried honesty, that he has known sixty or more large Carps put into several ponds near to a house, where by reason of the stakes in the ponds, and the owner's constant being near to them, it was impossible they should be stole away from him; and that when he has, after three or four years, emptied the pond, and expected an increase from them by breeding young ones, for that they might do so he had, as the rule is, put in three melters for one spawner, he has, I say, after three or four years, found neither a young nor old Carp remaining. And the like I have known of one that had almost watched the pond, and, at a like distance of time, at the fishing of a pond, found, of seventy or eighty large Carps, not above five or six: and that he had forborne longer to fish the said pond, but that he saw, in a hot day in summer, a large Carp swim near the top of the water with a frog upon his head; and that he, upon that occasion, caused his pond to be let dry: and I say, of seventy or eighty Carps, only found five or six in the said pond, and those very sick and lean, and with every one a frog sticking so fast on the head of the said Carps, that the frog would not be got off without extreme force or killing. And the gentleman that did affirm this to me, told me he saw it; and did declare his belief to be, and I also believe the same, that he thought the other Carps, that were so strangely lost, were so killed by the frogs, and then devoured.
And a person of honour, now living in Worcestershire, assured me he had seen a necklace, or collar of tadpoles, hang like a chain or necklace of beads about a Pike's neck, and to kill him: Whether it were for meat or malice, must be, to me, a question.
But I am fallen into this discourse by accident; of which I might say more, but it has proved longer than I intended, and possibly may not to you be considerable: I shall therefore give you three or four more short observations of the Carp, and then fall upon some directions how you shall fish for him.
The age of Carps is by Sir Francis Bacon, in his History of Life and Death, observed to be but ten years; yet others think they live longer. Gesner says, a Carp has been known to live in the Palatine above a hundred years But most conclude, that, contrary to the Pike or Luce, all Carps are the better for age and bigness. The tongues of Carps are noted to be choice and costly meat, especially to them that buy them: but Gesner says, Carps have no tongue like other fish, but a piece of fleshlike fish in their mouth like to a tongue, and should be called a palate: but it is certain it is choicely good, and that the Carp is to be reckoned amongst those leather-mouthed fish which, I told you, have their teeth in their throat; and for that reason he is very seldom lost by breaking his hold, if your hook be once stuck into his chaps.
I told you that Sir Francis Bacon thinks that the Carp lives but ten years: but Janus Dubravius has writ a book Of fish and fish-ponds in which he says, that Carps begin to spawn at the age of three years, and continue to do so till thirty: he says also, that in the time of their breeding, which is in summer, when the sun hath warmed both the earth and water, and so apted them also for generation, that then three or four male Carps will follow a female; and that then, she putting on a seeming coyness, they force her through weeds and flags, where she lets fall her eggs or spawn, which sticks fast to the weeds; and then they let fall their melt upon it, and so it becomes in a short time to be a living fish: and, as I told you, it is thought that the Carp does this several months in the year; and most believe, that most fish breed after this manner, except the Eel. And it has been observed, that when the spawner has weakened herself by doing that natural office, that two or three melters have helped her from off the weeds, by bearing her up on both sides, and guarding her into the deep. And you may note, that though this may seem a curiosity not worth observing, yet others have judged it worth their time and costs to make glass hives, and order them in such a manner as to see how bees have bred and made their honeycombs, and how they have obeyed their king, and governed their commonwealth. But it is thought that all Carps are not bred by generation; but that some breed other ways, as some Pikes do.
The physicians make the galls and stones in the heads of Carps to be very medicinable. But it is not to be doubted but that in Italy they make great profit of the spawn of Carps, by selling it to the Jews, who make it into red caviare; the Jews not being by their law admitted to eat of caviare made of the Sturgeon, that being a fish that wants scales, and, as may appear in Leviticus xi., by them reputed to be unclean.
Much more might be said out of him, and out of Aristotle, which Dubravius often quotes in his Discourse of Fishes: but it might rather perplex than satisfy you; and therefore I shall rather choose to direct you how to catch, than spend more time in discoursing either of the nature or the breeding of this Carp, or of any more circumstances concerning him. But yet I shall remember you of what I told you before, that he is a very subtil fish, and hard to be caught
And my first direction is, that if you will fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience, especially to fish for a river Carp: I have known a very good fisher angle diligently four or six hours in a day, for three or four days together, for a river Carp, and not have a bite. And you are to note, that, in some ponds, it is as hard to catch a Carp as in a river; that is to say, where they have store of feed, and the water is of a clayish colour. But you are to remember that I have told you there is no rule without an exception; and therefore being possess with that hope and patience which I wish to all fishers, especially to the Carp-angler, I shall tell you with what bait to fish for him. But first you are to know, that it must be either early, or late; and let me tell you, that in hot weather, for he will seldom bite in cold, you cannot be too early, or too late at it. And some have been so curious as to say, the tenth of April is a fatal day for Carps.
The Carp bites either at worms, or at paste: and of worms I think the bluish marsh or meadow worm is best; but possibly another worm, not too big, may do as well, and so may a green gentle: and as for pastes, there are almost as many sorts as there are medicines for the toothache; but doubtless sweet pastes are best; I mean, pastes made with honey or with sugar: which, that you may the better beguile this crafty fish, should be thrown into the pond or place in which you fish for him, some hours, or longer, before you undertake your trial of skill with the angle-rod; and doubtless, if it be thrown into the water a day or two before, at several times, and in small pellets, you are the likelier, when you fish for the Carp, to obtain your desired sport. Or, in a large pond, to draw them to any certain place, that they may the better and with more hope be fished for, you are to throw into it, in some certain place, either grains, or blood mixt with cow-dung or with bran; or any garbage, as chicken's guts or the like; and then, some of your small sweet pellets with which you propose to angle: and these small pellets being a few of them also thrown in as you are angling, will be the better.
And your paste must be thus made: take the flesh of a rabbit, or cat, cut small; and bean-flour; and if that may not be easily got, get other flour; and then, mix these together, and put to them either sugar, or honey, which I think better: and then beat these together in a mortar, or sometimes work them in your hands, your hands being very clean; and then make it into a ball, or two, or three, as you like best, for your use: but you must work or pound it so long in the mortar, as to make it so tough as to hang upon your hook without washing from it, yet not too hard: or, that you may the better keep it on your hook, you may knead with your paste a little, and not too much, white or yellowish wool.
And if you would have this paste keep all the year, for any other fish, then mix with it virgin-wax and clarified honey, and work them together with your hands, before the fire; then make these into balls, and they will keep all the year.
And if you fish for a Carp with gentles, then put upon your hook a small piece of scarlet about this bigness, it being soaked in or anointed with oil of petre, called by some, oil of the rock: and if your gentles be put, two or three days before, into a box or horn anointed with honey, and so put upon your hook as to preserve them to be living, you are as like to kill this crafty fish this way as any other: but still, as you are fishing, chew a little white or brown bread in your mouth, and cast it into the pond about the place where your float swims. Other baits there be; but these, with diligence and patient watchfulness, will do better than any that I have ever practiced or heard of. And yet I shall tell you, that the crumbs of white bread and honey made into a paste is a good bait for a Carp; and you know, it is more easily made. And having said thus much of the Carp, my next discourse shall be of the Bream, which shall not prove so tedious; and therefore I desire the continuance of your attention.
But, first, I will tell you how to make this Carp, that is so curious to be caught, so curious a dish of meat as shall make him worth all your labour and patience. And though it is not without some trouble and charges, yet it will recompense both.
Take a Carp, alive if possible; scour him, and rub him clean with water and salt, but scale him not: then open him; and put him, with his blood and his liver, which you must save when you open him, into a small pot or kettle: then take sweet marjoram, thyme, and parsley, of each half a handful; a sprig of rosemary, and another of savoury; bind them into two or three small bundles, and put them in your Carp, with four or five whole onions, twenty pickled oysters, and three anchovies. Then pour upon your Carp as much claret wine as will only cover him; and season your claret well with salt, cloves, and mace, and the rinds of oranges and lemons. That done, cover your pot and set it on a quick fire till it be sufficiently boiled. Then take out the Carp; and lay it, with the broth, into the dish; and pour upon it a quarter of a pound of the best fresh butter, melted, and beaten with half a dozen spoonfuls of the broth, the yolks of two or three eggs, and some of the herbs shred: garnish your dish with lemons, and so serve it up. And much good do you! Dr. T.