Category Archives: Folklore about British fish

A history of pike

File:Pike caught frog.jpg

Pike were sometimes in the back of my mind when I swam in rivers and lakes as a child, my imagination fed by terrible tales told by other children and myself of their bite. Britain and Ireland, the latter where it was probably introduced by the English in the 17c, are home to one species of pike: the northern pike (Esox lucius).

The English common name “pike” is an apparent shortening of “pike-fish”, in reference to its pointed head, Old English píc originally referring to a pickaxe. The generic name Esox derives from the Greek for a kind of fish, itself a word of Celtic origin related to the Welsh eog and Irish Gaelic iach (salmon) Wikipedia

Izzac Walton, who published the famous The Compleat Angler in 1653, said of the pike

” The mighty luce or pike is taken to be the tyrant, as the salmon is the king of the fresh waters” from here.

Pike will aggressively strike at any animal in the vicinity, even at other pike. Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size, an observation referred to by the renowned English poet Ted Hughes in his poem ‘Pike’. The poem begins:

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold
Killers from the egg, the malevolent aged grin
They dance on the surface among the flies
Read and listen to introduction and complete poem here read by Ted Huges

Although generally known as a “sporting” quarry, most anglers release pike they have caught because the flesh is considered bony, especially due to the substantial (epipleural) “Y-bones”. However, the larger fish are more easily filleted, and pike have a long and distinguished history in cuisine and are popular fare in Europe. Historical references to cooking pike go as far back as the Romans. The flesh is white and mild-tasting. Fishing for pike is said to be very exciting with their aggressive hits and aerial acrobatics. Wikiepdia

Danger of being bitten by a pike

  • River Swimming Water Safety mentions Pike attack as a risk of open water swimming “You can get a good bite from a pike. This seems to happen when people simulate the movements of a fish.”
  • Why nobody is safe when the pike are biting (The Times) Lots of tales of the amazing exploits of pike “In 1922, The Field carried a report about a 14lb pike caught at Newbury on February 19 that year. The fish had an entire newborn pig in its stomach.”

The Stronsay Beast

While reading about basking sharks, I came across the story of the Stronsay beast, a large, dead sea-creature that washed ashore on the island of Stronsay in the Orkney Islands, after a storm in 1808. The decomposed carcass was said to measure 55 feet in length, without the tail. The terrible beast was reported in the local press athe time:

“Its flesh was described as being like ‘coarse, ill-coloured beef, entirely covered with fat and tallow and without the least resemblance or affinity to fish’. The skin, which was grey coloured and had an elastic texture was said to be about two inches thick in parts.”
Account of the Stronsay Beast as reported in The Orcadian newspaper. From The Stronsay Beast

The Natural History Society of Edinburgh was unable to identify the carcass and decided it was a new species, probably a sea serpent. Later the anatomist Sir Everard Home dismissed the measurement, declaring it must have been around 36 feet, and deemed it to be a decayed basking shark as basking sharks can take on a ‘pseudo plesiosaur’ appearance when they decompose. “First the shark’s jaws – which are attached only by a small piece of flesh – drop off leaving what looks like the remains of a long neck and a small skull.” More here

References