Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Voracity of fish


Perhaps no individual member of the animated kingdom, all things considered, possesses so insatiate an appetite as the most noted of our fresh-water fish,—for example, the pike, perch, and trout. I remember, some eight years ago, when at college, meeting with a singular instance of the gluttony of the pike. I had been perch-fishing at Godstow, and, I believe I must add, had trespassed on a piece of water strictly preserved (which, however, I was unaware of at the time). I observed two or three very fine chub and perch basking in the sun on the top of what was really no more than a ditch of about four feet broad, and perhaps as many deep; and as I well know that a chub is not averse to a minnow bait, and that a perch is especially partial to one, I tried a fine minnow, and threw in my line, standing behind a clump of pollards, so as to keep my shadow from scaring the fish. All, however, was of no avail; the great lazy fellows swam round and round my bait, smelling and peering, but refusing to bite, yet sending the unlucky minnow into agonies of fear by their approach. At length I had given up the job as hopeless, and lay down on the grass, retaining my rod between my knees, when I felt a shock that caused me to feel as if my trousers had been pulled by the teeth of a dog. Starting up, I let my winch run, and a fine run I had for it all down the bank, to keep pace with the fish, which had hooked himself, and tore away like a salmon. However, not to be diffuse, after not less than half an hour I landed (I had fortunately a gimp hook) a jack weighing just 6 lbs. 2 oz.; but it turned out that a chub of about a pound had taken my minnow, and the jack had flown at the chub. The hook still remained in the chub’s lip, and through that had gone through the lower jaw of the jack, so that it looked precisely as if two fish were struggling for the bait at once, as the jack had seized the chub by the head, but not with sufficient force to kill the latter. I was, it is true, fishing with rather a large hook, as I knew the fish ran high (and all perch-fishers are aware that a jack will frequently rush at their bait unexpectedly), and consequently I was using gimp, without which Mr. Jack would have placed me at a non-plus, no doubt. Amongst other contents of this gluttonous gentleman’s stomach were a small mouse or rat, I cannot clearly recollect which, and a young kingfisher, besides several half-digested dace and bleak.

The trout also is almost as greedy as the pike, and the extent to which a large trout will gorge himself with May-flies, none but those who have seen would believe.

I have had a perch of half a pound weight steal eight or nine minnows from my hook, and yet at last be caught by coming once too often; and after an experience of many years at cod-fishing as a pastime, and having seen many hundreds opened, I have come to the serious conclusion that a codfish never can have enough. So extraordinary and varied has been the nature of the contents of some whose “post mortem” I have attended, that I abstain from mentioning them, in sheer doubt as to whether the inexperienced reader would believe me. A jack or a trout will eat his own weight of food in forty-eight hours, and be ready for more.

It has been asserted that there is no better bait for a perch than a perch’s eye, which I am not at all unwilling to believe, having myself caught whitings with a whiting’s eye. Mackerel will bite at a piece of a mackerel, as will sanddabs at a piece of a dab, and cod and pike swallow their own young wholesale. It is difficult to account for this unnatural voracity on the part of fish, inasmuch as their supply of proper food is inexhaustible. There is nothing surprising in the fact of one fish devouring another fish, provided it be of a different species; but otherwise it seems unaccountable. We see, it is true, the sparrow-hawk kill the pigeon, and the tiger the antelope; but the sparrow-hawk does not devour the sparrow-hawk, nor the tiger the tiger; and yet amongst fish this cannibalism, if I may be allowed to use the word, is not the exception, but the rule. I do not myself feel disposed to look for any reason, being content to accept a fact my experience has shown me to be a fact; but it is at the same time not a little puzzling that most fish should possess appetites so utterly out of proportion to that of a biped or a quadruped.

Astley H. Baldwin.