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Trout tickling is the art of rubbing the underbelly of a trout using fingers. If done properly, the trout will go into a trance-like state after a minute or so, and can then easily be thrown onto the nearest bit of dry land.
Trout tickling has been practiced for many centuries. It is mentioned in Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, where it is used as a metaphor for bamboozlement by Olivia's servant Maria, who is about to play a vengeful prank on the pompous steward, Malvolio:
Close, in the name of jesting! Lie thou there,
for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling.
The technique was a common practice used by boys, poachers and working men in times of economic stress, particularly during the 1930s depression-era. Poachers using the method required no nets, rods or lines or any other incriminating equipment if apprehended by the police or gamekeepers.
The fish are watched working their way up the shallows and rapids. When they come to the shelter of a ledge or a rock it is their nature to slide under it and rest. The poacher sees the edge of a fin or the moving tail, or maybe he sees neither; instinct, however, tells him a fish ought to be there, so he takes the water very slowly and carefully and stands up near the spot. He then kneels on one knee and passes his hand, turned with fingers up, deftly under the rock until it comes in contact with the fish's tail. Then he begins tickling with his forefinger, gradually running his hand along the fish's belly further and further toward the head until it is under the gills. Then comes a quick grasp, a struggle, and the prize is wrenched out of his natural element, stunned with a blow on the head, and landed in the pocket of the poacher.
In Scotland the technique is more often called "guddling" or sometimes "ginniling". The practice is currently illegal under most circumstances in Britain. A related method of catching catfish by hand is called noodling in the U.S.A.
|“||The fish in careless ease supinely laid,|
The grappling fingers of the swain invade.
Up from the deep he springs and bids the prey
Recant his error in aerial day.
Aelian, a Greek writer of about 230 A.D., writes in his De Natura Animalium (as published in England in 1565): "If men wade into the sea, when the water is low, end stroking the fish nestling in the pools, suddenly lay hands upon and secure them." While in Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, a ribald comedy dating from 1624, Estifania remarks "Were comes a trout that I must tickle, and tickle daintily"
The technique is also mentioned in several of Shakespeare's plays: in Twelfth Night, the servant Maria refers to the approach of the hated Malvolio, head of Olivia's household, with the words "for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling" (Act 2, Scene 5). Maria and others are conspiring to trap Malvolio into acting foolishly by forging a love letter from Olivia.
Trout tickling is also mentioned in later works: Mark Twain wrote about catching catfish in a similar manner while mentioning that salmon and certain other species can also be lured and caught in this way. It is also described as a poaching method in Roald Dahl's classic novel Danny, the Champion of the World, in Linda Buckley-Archer's science fiction novel Gideon the Cutpurse, in Robert A. Heinlein's fantasy novel Glory Road, and in the video game Theme Hospital as a hobby of many of the staff for hire.