Fishing Lines: Doctor slug in the mud

THE neighbour was very apologetic. 'We've got this creature in our dried-up pond and we're not sure what it is. We rather hoped you might come and capture it. It's about two feet long and looks like a giant slug,' he added.

What do you take to capture a two-foot slug? A spear? A club? A bag of salt? Surely not a rod. I compromised and fetched the giant landing net, specially for monster pike and salmon but so far, alas, unsullied by anything except an unusual butterfly.

I was convinced the Creature of the Black Lagoon would be an eel. On dark summer nights, when the ground is damp, eels will travel across land to find new homes. It is not unusual to drain a lake or pond and find almost black eels, like snakes from hell, hiding in the sludge.

But when I saw something stir, I realised it was not a swamp monster or even a huge slug. It was something as slimy as an eel, but not quite as repulsive: a tench, once called the doctor fish. This name comes from the belief that tench are physicians to other fish, especially pike. In perhaps the earliest angling book, A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle, Dame Juliana Berners says the tench 'heelith all manners of other fysshe that ben hurt yf they maye come to hym'. Walton believed that pike would not eat tench, and 'forbears to devour him though he be never so hungry'.

Nonsense it may have been, but early physicians regularly used essence of tench slime, along with powdered bits from the fish's ears, in their potions. You certainly don't catch many tench with the snuffles. Whether this is because of its natural slime or some mysterious built-in aspirin is not clear. More interesting to the fisherman is the tench's ability to survive in conditions that would kill any other fish. If tench are dying, don't drink the water.

They can also hang on in when waters start to dry up. As long as there is damp mud, tench will bury themselves and wait for better (or wetter) days. They live happily in mud and much of their food is filtered from it, so it is no surprise to find that their usual shade is an unexciting brown, the colour of old hospital tiles. It is probably a good camouflage, though I'm told gypsies used to catch tench with hay rakes from farm ponds.

A rake would certainly have been easier. My nice new net looks as if it has been catching alligators. The only way to rescue the tench, apart from wading waist- deep, was to scoop out a netful of mud and rootle through it to find the fish. This activity stirred other dormant tench to life and I caught four, all about 3lb. There may have been more but the pond looked as if a JCB dance party had been held there when I'd finished. The tench are now in the Ouse, where for the moment at least, there is plenty of water. They'll probably hate it.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent