Fishing for the right word

I’ll start by saying I am neither a hunter of animals nor a fisher of fish. So I am a stranger to the tools of the trade and even the name of the catch of the day.

The source text is Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje (Fishing and Fishermen’s Tales), a 16th-century Croatian epic-style poem by Petar Hektorović. The poem tells the story of a man of the town who decides to take a break from his pet project, which is sapping his strength. The town happens to be on the Adriatic island of Hvar. He commissions two fishermen to take him out on a three-day fishing trip. They have various adventures as well as lots of time to talk, and he returns home refreshed.

There’s a lot of talk about fish and fishing, as one would expect. All fairly straightforward, except one particular fishing method — that of bucanje na ribe. The passages in question are these (and I’m sure there will be more, but these are all I have to go on for now):

Još Paskoj dovede sina za potribe / Koji š njim prisede da buca na ribe. (lines 61-62)
Gloss: Paskoj (one of the fishermen) is bringing along his son so he can sit beside Paskoj and buca for fish.

Noseć skrabijicu i š njom pobuk novi (lines 68-71)
Gloss: After the boat was loaded and everyone settled in, Paskoj suddenly jumped out and ran back home. He soon returned with a small container and a new pobuk (that is, the thing you buca with when you buca for fish).

Pojdoše naprida, opet ju spušćajuć / Kud je ribam črida, pobukom bucajuć. (lines 87-88)
Gloss: Moving on, again casting where the fish were schooling, buca-ing with the pobuk.

The translation I’m working with suggests “paddle” for the tool and the action. Paddling fish into a net, a new paddle, etc. But the Croatian word to me suggests something noisy — buka is noise.

There are a few copies of this work online, including one with notes and a glossary. The original translator did not have these resources at her disposal (how did translators work without the Internet?). But now we have the additional information given in the glossary of the annotated edition:

bucati – činiti buku udarajući u more posebnom spravom, pobukom ili bucalom [translation: to make a noise by hitting the water with a specific tool, a pobuk or bucalo]
pobuk – sprava za bucanje (v.), na štapu nataknut drven čunj, s izdubenim dnom, kojim se okomito udara u more, da se ribe plaše (búcalo, bucaljka) [translation: a tool for buca-ing: a wooden club with a hollowed-out bottom is attached to a stick; a vertical motion is used to hit the water to startle the fish]

So now I’m sure it’s not a paddle, but what is it? The picture in my head at this point resembles a toilet plunger. Right? A hollowed out club on a stick that you plunge vertically into the water to create a noise. I’m also picturing waves, maybe sound waves or physical waves — do they have something to do with this?

But what does it look like, really? Are people still fishing with these today? And does it have a name in English? Even if I can’t find an English name, if I know what it looks like, I can suggest possible terms that will create an accurate picture for English readers.

And now the fishing begins in earnest!  I’m using Google because what I really want are images.

buca na ribe — the initial results are mostly the original poem in one form or another

bucanje na ribe, on the other hand, gives me this:
“Evo, kako se bucanjem lovi riba: na donji deo štapa pričvrsti se drveno ili metalno zvono i njime se u dara (buca) u more. Riba se tada uplaši i počne bežati u prostor ograđen mrežom; na sličan način se riba lovi i kad je plaše bacanjem kamenja u vodu.”
Rough translation: So, how to fish by bucanje: Firmly attach a wooden or metal bell to one end of a stick and use it to hit (buca) the water. The fish get scared and start to flee to the area surrounded by a net. A similar method of fishing is to scare them by throwing a rock into the water.

So — now I have a bell on a stick, but also more search terms. I try ribolov bucanje. Had I known that most of the pictures turning up were of catfish (som in Croatian), that might have shortened my search. Instead, I’m still looking for sticks and clubs and bells. I get sidetracked by wooden lures — they look like clubs until I realize how small they are.

The next stage is trial and error. I can’t retrace my steps even with a few of the pages saved. Intuition and luck both play a role when you are doing searches like this. But I know that at some point I came across this page, and this is when my luck turned:

I searched for “buca” on the page and found a fantastic explanation of the procedure, which mimics the scene in the poem in question. The idea is that this tool with the hollowed out bottom, when wielded properly in the water, makes a sound like a cork being popped from a wine bottle. And this sounds to a catfish like a frog. So rather than this tool being used to scare the fish, it is used to lure the fish, which (as I learned from continued research) can then be caught in a net or by hook.

This page also suggested to me the alternate spellings “bučkati” or “buckati” And while typing in buck—, Google filled in the phrase for me: bucka za soma. Bingo! Try it!

So then I proceded to watch a lot of YouTube videos about catfish fishing. Here are two of the shorter ones: (The narrator in this news report says that the sound irritates the fish, provoking it to bite the lure.)

OK. But now — what is this in English? I tried these search phrases: catfish fishing sound; catfish fishing sound of frog; luring catfish by sound; luring catfish with stick. This last finally gave me something to go on. After much scrolling, a promising picture led me to this site:

It’s an Italian site with keywords like “glonk, catfish, clonk, clonc” — sounds promising! I start a new search: Catfish glonk. Google asks, “do you mean catfish clonk?” Yes, I think I do! The door opens wide. (Clonk Masterclass)

And yet another explanation, from Wikipedia: — The fish are not scared, attracted, or irritated, rather they understand the sound as threatening and come looking for the intruder.

And here’s yet another explanation of how it works:

Well, even if the operating principle is not clear, I now know that the English term for a bucalo or pobuk is a “clonk,” with the alternative name of “catfish caller.”

But am I any closer to a solution for the translation? Will a contemporary reader outside of Louisiana know what a clonk is? Would you?


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