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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
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 - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'