"Tickling trout is one activity where man takes pleasure in his or her power over nature." - Charlie Murphy

"...here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling." -  Twelfth Night (Shakespeare)

"I despair! There are no single women left. Those remaining are gay or mad." He sucked at his pint, swivelled on his barstool and turned to me again. "Married, gay or mad - they are all the women I meet these days. I tire of finding the wrong one, and please don't tell me 'there are plenty of fish in the sea'. It doesn't work, not any more."

I nodded. It was hard to argue the case. After all, I'd found the same for too long. I had wandered the highways and byways, seeking life, love and partnership and found this to be almost inviolable, immutable, writ by the cruel gods who were playing with my life. I'd once, long ago given up the battle, had ceased casting my rod into the murky waters of life to land the woman of my dreams. I knew exactly what he meant.

I sipped at my pint. It was good, so I sipped again. My companion attacked his as though a babe unweaned, and ordered another, raising his eyebrows at me in question. "Another?"

"Oh, no thanks, I'm meeting my fiancée soon." It was easy to say, so easy. I doubted he would find it as easy to hear.

"So you're a lucky man, eh?" He sucked down another draught, turned to me. "What's the secret?"

I thought for a moment. "It's not about trawling, nor about skillful angling. It's about patience. Like tickling trout."

He looked at me quizzically, and I knew I had some explaining to do.

The Facts of the Matter

Yes, this is for real. People do tickle trout. Allow me to explain. According to artist Charlie Murphy, "trout tickling [is] an apparently sensuous and extraordinary technique for catching fish which involves a hypnotic predation by seducation [sic]."

The practice goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and is probably the simplest method of catching fish. Well, simple in terms of tackle, at any rate. This would be a distinct advantage to one particular class of people, namely, poachers, for it meant they could stroll nonchalantly down a riverbank, unfettered by rods, lines or nets. The Lincolnshire Poacher would not want to be caught near the manor's river emburdened with nets and lines, the local constable would pick him out in a second.

Tickling trout (it doesn't have to be trout, but in the UK that's the popular choice of fish) requires no more equipment than most of us are equipped with, and a little perseverance.The method is simple. Find a river where the fish are plentiful, locate a point where they are likely to be feeding. Lie down quietly on the bank, with your arm in the water, and according to some, slowly move your fingers. At this point remember that your hand and arm will go numb, unless the water is warm.

Now for the patience bit. You wait, and you watch. And you watch and wait, and sooner or later, a fish will swim close by. Now the game begins. You slowly, slowly move toward it, because unless you are lucky indeed, you are unlikely to find it in the palm of your hand. The trick is to get to the point where you can stroke the fish's belly, tickle it if you will. Once you have it in this position, a quick scoop and you land your fish. Observe the hunting bears - they use just this trick to catch fish, flipping them out with practiced ease, and the hunters and poachers of generations ago learned that patience is the key.

And in fact, it's not just trout. Other fish were considered fair game, as an account given by a medieval poacher shows:

"...for the great desire I had for a tench I laid me down on the bank and just with my hands quite simply, and without any other device, I caught that tench and carried it off..."

Ah, I hear you say, you'd need a great deal of luck! Well maybe so, and maybe not. As Arnold Palmer (or was it Gary Player?) once said "It's a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get". Now go, and practice, and all the best.

Finally, Giles de la Bédoyère said in his Playing a Poem:

Sometimes the sun-kissed shallows
Can harbour basking trout;
You simply slide your hand down,
Tickle, then lift one out.

aneurin's father used to tickle trout: "From what I can recall, it was as simple as sticking your hand in the water, waiting for a fish to come by, and scooping the bugger out"

themanwho also tells me it's referred to in Danny, the Champion of the World. Thanks!

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