If, like me, your formative fishing years were spent catching sticklebacks (usually with the same worm) or splashing through the gravels turning over stones in a quest for bullheads and stoneloach, then you probably have a bit of a soft spot for Britain’s mini-species. Even so, they are not fish that are often heralded in print. Until now! The Little Book of Little Fishes is a delightful volume, a celebration of all things small. And reading it may well instantly transport you back to your childhood.
Mark Everard is an aquatic biologist and as a writer is probably best known for his work on roach, though among his other books are volumes on barbel and dace (a species deemed too big for this book). This scientific knowledge comes across well in the Little Book of Little Fishes – there is a thorough overview of the ecology of each species, supplemented with an anthology for each. Mark has scoured the breadth of angling literature in a search for tidbits on tiddlers.
A lot of the information unearthed I found quite fascinating. For example – the number of these fish that have attributed in the past as being good to eat. I expect a lot of today’s anglers will have heard of the Victorians love of gudgeon - to that Mark has found references to minnows, bleak and ruffe making good eating. And lampreys, whose reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac is even celebrated in verse in an eighteenth century poem.
As a six and seven year old, I briefly lived in Grantham and well remember catching both kinds of British loach from the River Witham. What I hadn’t realised, until I read Mark’s book, was how rare the Spined Loach is – restricted as it is to just 5 river catchments in the East of England. And, staying in Lincolnshire – we also discover an economic use for sticklebacks – as a manure for the fields! The mind boggles at the numbers of this little fish there must have been to make this a viable proposition, though we are told they were often collected by the cart load!
The book is produced to Medlar’s usual high production values. Hard-backed with glossy paper, and with colour prints throughout accompanying Mark’ excellent writing. It makes an ideal gift for anglers of all ages.
Medlar Press 25 July 2008
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