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Trout tickling ~ by Ron

Trout tickling

There can be much free food to be found in your woodlands, and the menu could be augmented with fresh fish, if you can master the art of trout tickling!

When you are walking along the banks of a stream or small river you will often startle a trout and it is likely to swim underneath the bank. If you lie, face down, on the bank at the point where the fish was last seen, you can then, very gently, slide both hands (two or three feet apart) beneath the bank and move inwards in a pincer movement. You will need a very gentle and delicate touch, much as though you are caressing your lover!

Keep your hands as low as you can as you try to stroke the underbelly of the unsuspecting fish. Remember that you will not be able to see what is going on under the bank, so you will have to identify by touch. Is it a stone, a tree root, a trout or even something horrid? If it is a fish then you will need to gently rub its underbelly whilst deciding which way around it is, then move your hands towards the head of the trout and smoothly, but firmly, tighten your grip around the gill/fin area behind the head.

You have now “tickled a trout” - but that’s not the end of the story! You will now need to try to stand up, whilst maintaining your grip on the fish with both hands and get well away from the stream. If you try to throw your trout back onto land, whilst still in the prone position, apart from unnecessarily damaging your fish, it will go ballistic and there is a fair chance that the next thing you hear will be a plop, as it regains its freedom!

It may seem difficult at first, but with practice it is possible to become quite proficient. A good way to hone your skills is by trying to locate and ‘catch’ the soap in your bath, without looking! If you are in the happy position of owning your own woodland what could be nicer than smoking your own trout with your own wood providing the smoke?

Trout tickling has been with us for a very long time and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ when the lady-in-waiting Maria greets the arrival of her supervisor and head of Olivia’s household, the foolish Malvolio, with the words “for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling” (Act 2, Scene 5).

Posted in: Practical Guides, Woodland Activities ~ On: 17 April, 2007

36 comments so far

Melanie Barnes
2 September, 2007

Please investigate the claim that women and their pheromones make them more effective in the art of trout tickling.

20 September, 2007

Yes, I’ve heard that women make better anglers for that reason.

18 October, 2007

@ 2 previous posters: You dont think you are being sexist? Fact is that most anglers are men and always have been men. Pheromones from any mammal, would not be effective on a fish as they communicate with very different chemical signals. Let the statistics speak for themselves and stop trying to make everything into a gender struggle.
On a side-note I have heard that womens menses attracts bears. :-)

4 November, 2007


How exactly were the two first posts being sexist? I believe it was you that began the “gender stuggle” with your reply.

Duncan R. Bell
6 November, 2007

What fun!

I used to catch lots of trout by hand as a boy, and haven’t given up yet. The method described works, but limits you to finding and going for one trout at a time. Try looking in shallower water (up to 12 inches deep), under all the flat rocks. and where water plunges down a level (little waterfall plunge pools). If there are trout in there you can catch them and haul them out easily, unharmed. Put them back if they’re undersized (8 inches usually, check with your local water authority in England and Wales.) Handy for me, the span between my thumb and small finger ends is exactly 8 inches. Wear an old wool pullover: it keeps you warm even if you’re wet, and I once got a small trout because it swam past my hand and up my sleeve!

To kill the trout, tap the back of its head smartly on the rock you pulled it from – it dies instantly.

You can also catch eels this way – twice the protein of beef, and good to eat if over 14 inches long. (I smoke them over oak chippings along with mackerel). You need a knife to kill them, or they suffer: blade tip in the brain, and sever the spinal cord where the fin ends under the fish (the vent i.e. anus) as they have an extra conglomeration of nerves there that help them control the tail.

(33 years catching other people’s trout by hand or with rod and line. Best hand catch – 3 pound sea-trout in 6 feet of water! I put my left-hand index finger in its mouth, and right hand round its tail, and kicked like mad to keep above water and get to shore. My Mother was very surprised, and said “Well, that’s tea sorted!”).

20 April, 2008

As a yougster (late 1940’s early 50’s) I too used to ‘tickle’ trout in the river/stream that ran in front of my home. I was reasonably succesful but when out to really impress, we (our little gang)would go up stream a little way. There was a Sheep Dip fed by a pipe from higher up stream. We would shut the outlet draining valve in the dipping pool, open up the inlet valve from the stream and leave it a few days. On our return we would reverse the proceedure, draining the pool slowly. You would be amazed how many trout would be there. We would select the ‘best’ release the rest, go home and accept the praise for our skill at tickling! This always took place out of the dipping season of course. However,my family eventually moved far away, but on a re-visit to my old home to visit neighbours, I was overjoyed to find I could still tickle and catch a fish. Unfortunately I was dressed in my best clothes – my mother was far from please when I walked in, proud of my catch but oblivious to the state I was in. Happy days! Mel.

16 June, 2008

Hi All what fun! Sounds like you get more sucess than I do on the fly. Does anybody stock their lakes or ponds with Trout? If so what do you do.

Roy Symes
28 July, 2008

Sounds fun. I would like to try it.

I doubt if it is legal??


John Westcott
26 August, 2008

Roy is correct, it is currently ilegal in the UK,in most cases, as it is considered to be poaching. You need a licience to catch fish and you wont get one for this method.

Mal Wright
29 September, 2008

Well isn’t it amazing that something as skillful and fun as tickling trout is illegal. In a time where green is best just think how much energy goes into making a fishing rod, reel, hooks, fishing line, tackle box, waders the list goes on and on. Then there is the licensing department and fisheries that do a marvelous job and would be better served doing other things than stopping parents and their kids learning the art of Trout Tickling. Well you know what they say about common sense….It’s not very common. I recently was chatting with some friends over lunch and the subject of trout tickling came up and they thought it was a great joke and had never heard of it before in their life? They thought I was having a lend of them. Jokingly comparing that method of fishing with Ernie from sesame streets method of catching fish by saying here fishy fishy fishy and they jumped on his boat. As funny as that was it took quite a bit of convincing to prove to them that tickling trout was true.

I used to tickle trout when I was a boy and it was very exhilarating and an activity that I thoroughly enjoyed. My dad told me of my uncle’s skill in the art of tickling trout. He was truly a genius for sure, he would wade along the banks of deep water holes that were very reedy on the outer edge, it would be up to 8 feet deep and due to the fact he was only a little over 5 feet tall the trout were often too low for his hands to reach. But this did not stop him, he simply held onto the reeds and used his feet to gently rub the underbelly of an unsuspecting trout slowly bringing it up to reachable distance and moving one hand under it followed by the other and then would flip the trout onto the bank. He most surely was a pro at trout tickling.

And the local policeman or wildlife officer of the day would have been the first to buy that fish off him and congratulate him on a job well done. Common sense will hopefully one day become more common.

Rob W
12 October, 2008

My Uncle (it always seems to be an uncle!) taught me to catch fish this way. The method seemed to work best under rocks. For a trout to hide under a rock it would have at least two holes, one for the trout to go in, and one to come out. You locate the trout by trial and error, exploring each hole. When the trout was found you could use your other hand to find the other end of the trout. Catching the trout was then easy, so long as you didn’t mind getting wet.

To kill the fish he would put a thumb in its mouth and pull the head back, breaking its neck, all under water.

He would sometimes leave the fish there if he thought he might have been seen and come back later.

The problem with making this legal is that on a suitable river it is VERY easy to catch fish. I once caught 13 in about an hour, including an eel and one that was so deep (about 4 feet) that I was under the water holding my breath!.

You could catch them under banks as well, but there was a risk of finding a water rat that way and they bite.

Bailiffs would sometimes put barbed wire under the water covering the best trout hides and so you had to be very careful about this as well.

16 October, 2008

The best things in life seem to be the sort of thing mr plod frowns upon. Don’t you think?
There’s nought better than going home with a little something in ya pocket and, if that little something was swimming, running or growing moments earlier then you know it’ll taste all the better when you eat it in the next half hour or so. AND if that little something belongs to somebody else because the law says so then hey! what e don’t know won’t hurt e.
Used to tickle a few trout, it’s worth the first fifty trys to succeed believe me.some of you will, some of you won’t but if you stick with it you’ll see what i mean. Hoping to find a suitable stream soon as its been twenty years. Just got me a pair of lovely ferrets Orm and Sylke. Started hunting rabbits with the air rifle again. Enjoying the Autumn and all its fruits. Generally going back to my roots and my youth. Towns shit!! enjoy Owen.

Dave@cheap fishing reels
27 October, 2008

Wow, I have never heard of trout tickling, seems like it would be hard to do ….

17 January, 2009

Somebody post a video and then maybe I’ll believe it.

Another David
5 March, 2009

“Somebody post a video and then maybe I’ll believe it.”

Have a look on youtube David.

Did it as a kid.

8 April, 2010

There used to be a programme on itv many years ago presented by a countryman who demonstrated country crafts. I think his surname was Hargreaves. Maybe there is some archive foootage somewhere, ‘cos I remember seeing him demonstrate the skill of trout tickling. Have just googled , and His Name was Jack Hargreaves and the programme he presented was called Out of Town and it looks like dvd’s are available. It seems any useful skills where man may utilise skills to feed himself and produce anything to earn a living are demonised illegalised or abandoned because we can import the produce more cheaply! I fear for the ability of us to support our selves in the future. What happens when we cannot get supplies or afford the supplies from abroad?

Dave Hanson
15 June, 2010

It is still ILLEGAL to take trout in this way.

Ron is advcocating breaking the law !!

David Too!
17 June, 2010

It’s a natural and humane way of catching a feed.
Have done it myself in a small stream in NZ many years ago.
Yes,it’s illegal there too, Dave. Why???
The trout isn’t even a native of NZ.
Some laws are worth disregarding Dave!

24 June, 2010

I’ve always wanted to tickle trout; and I don’t see why it is illegal

30 June, 2010

It is a total myth that women’s pheromones have an affect on fish, this was started by Carp anglers many years ago mainly as a joke about their baits. All fish can’t detect female pheromones and that’s a clinical fact.

6 July, 2010

Everythings illegal nowadays! and the things make a good point

29 August, 2010

Very interesting, never tried it before though.

Dave three
13 September, 2010

Tickling trout, eels and YES the king of fish, the ‘Salmon’ is one of the true great enjoyable gifts of nature and life. A great and skillful pastime/way of life passed down from generation to generation slowly being lost because of the boring sad herberts i.e. fisherman who use rods etc and bailiffs who think they own every b****y stretch of water, lakes etc and every fish in them. I have a lot of nasty words for them but i will refrain from using them here. Common sense, decency and a brain to think for one’s self have well and truelly gone in todays society. Why should some clown who buys a rod etc and pays for a license have controll over gifts from nature that are free to us all?

This subject really boils my blood. Ive seen banks tangled in line that never degrades, fish dead on line that has snagged on the bottom and the angler has snapped the line. Ive seen swans, geese and ducks etc hooked on line after swallowing bait inc hooks etc, and one duck that couldnt fly as it had its wing badly tangled in line. Tickling trout is more enjoyable than rod fishing, keeps you fit and gets you truelly involved in nature but most importantly does not damage the environment or hurt fish.

I will continue to catch fish with my barehands until the day i die and all you anglers and bailiffs can go take a long walk off a short cliff. When i have kids i will teach them everything i know. I have no respect for your part in controlling nature and how people harmlessly interact with it. Nice to hear all the stories of others tickling fish. Keep it up and enjoy yourselves.

27 September, 2010

Now I’m intriqued…I want to try this! Can the invasive Asian carp be caught this way?

If it really can become, with practice, that easy to catch so much fish so quickly, I can understand it being declared illegal– especially if it’s in an area that’s already been (or is close to being) overfished.

But I do admit to being irked that this method might be illegal everywhere, even if one had purchased a fishing license.

TROUT TICKLING TOO! | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
6 October, 2010

[…] have been some comments regarding the legality of tickling trout but, as far as I know, the practice would only be illegal if you were fishing in private waters, […]

25 October, 2010

River fish aren’t exactly ‘free’. Water boards spend millions on maintaining water quality, banksides and footpaths have in some cases to be managed/maintained, and in many cases the trout in there are bred in farms and released for the benefit of the licence paying fishermen. With a rod and line, the fish have an option – to take the bait, or not. ‘Tickling’, pure and simple is very clever and requires much patience. On the other hand, when we were kids, out for the whole day we used to watch the shallows for fish, throw in a pebble to scare it under a rock – then just wade in, stick our hands in and pull it out. This is NOT ‘tickling’. We even had short (6″) sticks with a hook lashed to the end for those we couldn’t get a grip of. None of these fish were taken home, we roasted them for lunch on sharpend sticks over the hot ashes of a small bright fire (carefully putting the fire out afterwards and covering it over). Delicious – and yes – it IS poaching!

Dave three
24 January, 2011

Are you telling me nature cant take care of itself and that the rivers cant cope without human influence? Thats rubbish. The reason tickling is illegal is because the greedy rich toffs will not stand local lads fullfilling their natural right to enjoy the river and its bounty because they think that money buys them the right to own the river and the fish in it. The term poaching was created by these people. In fact if you research your history youll find it is another way for the rich to enslave the free/poor into working in their factories etc because they arent allowed to feed themselves from the wild even though its a birthright! Instead we have to give our lives over to them by working to pay for farmed fish in a supermarket. A bloody disgrace.

Dave three
13 July, 2011

Also forgot to add in my last post. Most of the salmon dont make it back to the rivers anymore because they are trawled in or just outside uk waters and sold only to the finest uk restauraunts or flogged at great profit by the uk government/fisheries companies to the world while we eat farmed fish!!!! Common sense has evaporated in the uk due to the greed of the pound note and the control over people.

4 June, 2012

Would love to try. How big a river do you normally need to get good fish. I’ve a little stream near the house maybe five feet wide and not very deep – are there likely to be Rhein in this suitable for tickling?

4 June, 2012

Sorry typo- any, not Rhein. Hate predictive text.

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18 February, 2013

[…] an article about trout tickling in the UK.  Be sure to read the […]

Ulrich Brossmann
20 March, 2015

It is simply sad and disgusting how many people advocate here breaking the law to KILL wild trout. Probably be nothing could be said against to try it for fun – if the fish is released (should suffer no harm).

David Too!
21 March, 2015

Ulrich Brossmann, I find you sad and disgusting, but I wouldn’t break the law and kill you.
I would catch you for the fun of it, then release you. I prefer to kill and eat wild Trout.Yum

Ulrich Brossmann
26 March, 2015

David Too!, I hope you are kidding! and not serious about breaking laws and killing just for fun. I do share the views of the “Wild Trout Trust”. http://www.wildtrout.org/content/trout-facts. Please show them respect.

26 March, 2015

Think this conversation has run its course.

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