Fish culture of a certain kind dates from very early times, but its scientific development has only come about quite recently. Most people know that in our own country the monks had stew ponds, where they kept fish, principally carp, and also that the Romans kept fish in ponds. In the latter case we hear more often of the eel than of other fish. The breeding of trout and salmon, and the artificial spawning and hatching of ova, are, however, an innovation of our own time.
Much has been discovered about the procreation of fish, and in no case have scientists worked so hard and discovered more than in the case of Salmonidæ. Fish culture, particularly trout culture, has become a trade, and a paying one. To any one who has the least idea of the difficulties to be overcome in rearing Salmonidæ, this fact alone proves that fish culture must have progressed to a very advanced stage as a science.
This advance has in very many, if not in the majority of cases, been made by the bitter experience gained through failures and mishaps, for these have led fish culturists to try many different means to prevent mischances, or to rectify them if they have happened. Some of the most serious difficulties experienced by the early fish culturists who bred Salmonidæ can now be almost disregarded, for they hardly exist for the modern fish culturist, with the knowledge he possesses of the experience of others.
So much of what has been done in fish culture is generally known to those who have studied and practised it, that the beginner can nowadays commence far ahead of the point whence the first fish culturists started. Many of his difficulties have been overcome for him already, and though he will not, of course, meet with the success of the man of experience, still he ought with the exercise of an average amount of intelligence to avoid such failures as would completely disgust him.
There are many pieces of water containing nothing but coarse fish which are very suitable for trout of some kind. Ponds, particularly those which have a stream running through them, will, as a rule, support a good head of trout if properly managed. Again a water which contains trout may become more or less depleted, and here it is necessary to supply the deficiency of trout by some means. The easiest way is, of course, to buy yearling or two-year-old fish from a piscicultural establishment, of which there are many in the kingdom, but I know that there are many fishermen who would much prefer to rear their own fish from the ova, than to buy ready-made fish. Any one who has the time and opportunity to rear his own fish will be amply repaid by the amusement and interest gained, and it should be the cheaper method of stocking or re-stocking a water.
The same remarks apply to a certain extent to waters which will not support trout, or where the owner wants more coarse fish. The stock of coarse fish may be improved by fish culture just as much as a stock of trout.
In his first year or two, it is very possible that the amateur will not save very much by being his own pisciculturist. If, however, he is careful, and works with intelligence, it is quite possible that he may succeed better than he had hoped and rear a good head of fish at a less cost than the purchase of yearlings. In any case he will have had a great deal of pleasure and gained experience as well as reared some fish.
In the present little volume, I propose to try and deal with fish culture in such a way as to help the amateur who wishes to rear fish to stock his own water. Much of the existing literature of the subject deals with it on such a large scale that the amateur is frightened to attempt what is apparently so huge an undertaking. Fish culture may, however, be carried out on a small scale with success, and though considerable attention is necessary, particularly with young Salmonidæ, it is not a task which involves a very great proportion of the time of any one undertaking it. It is absolutely necessary, however, that the amateur fish culturist should live on the spot, or have some one who is intelligent and perfectly trustworthy who does. In every case in my experience, trusting the care of young fish to a keeper or servant has resulted in failure, and in every failure I have seen where the fish have not been trusted to the care of a servant, the cause has been very obvious, and could easily have been avoided.
The rearing of trout is the most important branch of fish culture to the amateur, and fortunately but slight modifications are necessary in rearing other fish. What is good enough for trout is good enough for most fish, therefore I think that I shall be right in describing trout culture at considerable length, and dealing with other fish in a somewhat summary manner. The difference in the management, etc., of other fish I shall point out after describing how to rear trout.
To begin with, the amateur must not suppose that because he puts fish into a stream or pond he will succeed in stocking that water or increasing the head of fish. There are many other things to be considered. The river, stream, or pond must be of a suitable character for the fish, and there must be plenty of food. I am sure that it is much more important to consider carefully whether the water is suitable, and contains a proper supply of food, than to consider how the fish are to be obtained, for recourse may always be had to a professional fish culturist—fish of almost any kind and any age can be bought ready made.
The point I would impress upon the amateur more forcibly than anything else, is that he should be sure that there is plenty for his fish to eat in the water, before he thinks of putting them into it. It is for this reason that I devote my next chapter chiefly to the stocking of waters with food and to the improvement of the food supply in waters where some food already exists.