Friday, 19 September 2014

Beauties and the Beasts

Beautifully Camouflaged:  LSD ( Photo credit: someone else)
My interest in fish drifts out rather further than just the fish I seek to catch and those available in the local fish and chip ship on a Friday night.   In Melbourne zoo, a couple of years ago I got to see a fish that I have always classed as the craziest, most extreme fish in the world.  Indigenous to Australian waters, and maybe some other tropical seas, is the leafy sea dragon.   This is the sort of fish that you might only imagine with an unhinged mind, having imbibed an overly large dose of LSD back in the sixties.    And it is maybe quite appropriate that the initials of the Leafy Sea Dragon are also LSD.  This is a fish that has taken camouflage to extremes, extremes to rival the most leaf-like and un-life-like insect in the Amazonian jungles. Quite beautiful.
Wonderfully Ugly Beastie: the Red Lipped batfish.
Photo Credit  A.N. Other.
But another fish has come to my notice, that now holds pride of place as the weirdest fish I have yet seen.  The red lipped batfish... from the Galapagos....where else?    This fish is built on stilts, walks rather than swims, and with the apparent addition of Liverpool  lipstick is quite an ugly specimen.   So I just love it. It possesses such a seriously disapproving look on its face, and sits there like a flying saucer ready to take off.
My fishing this last week or so has also been undertaken in  similarly diverse surroundings. Most trips have been half days in gorgeous areas, delightful and peaceful stretches of river, but one trip was to an industrial river, with bare concrete embankments, and major roads just feet away from the stream.  Noise was not an option here, it was mandatory and it reverberated between the banks non stop.  Quite one of the ugliest swims you could imagine, with trollies and old tyres in abundance to complete the picture.

  I have still been seeking that elusive two pound grayling, and have, en-route,  been catching plenty of trout, certainly over a hundred, but mainly small ones, but with some eight or nine of them over a pound, and a single three pound fish.   The grayling have mainly been small too, with only a solitary pound plus fish for the records.   Change was needed. So I faced the concrete, a culverted stream on Friday last.  Saturday  was to be the river Dove, and Monday the Dee.

The Dee is a noticeably larger river than those I am used to, and although normally I seem to be able to find some fish, the Dee did not respond well to my instincts.  Experiences on the smaller rivers do not necessarily scale up to larger rivers.  Of about 25 Dee fish caught, only a couple were worth the bother, a grayling of 1-5, and another of about half a pound.   All other fish caught were tiny, a couple of ounces or less, and mainly 6 inch mini-trout.  Pretty little things though.  I did wonder why so many seemed to be exactly the same small size, and why they seemed a little better looking than the small trout I catch locally.  It took three days for it to finally click in my head, and so:  

STOP PRESS!!!     I have just been consulting a web page about identification of parr.  Salmon or brown trout?  And I can now reveal that the 6 inch brown trout that I had been catching in numbers were not trout at all.  They were and are salmon parr.     And, although I have, as far as I know, never seen salmon parr before, I am now absolutely sure that this is indeed what they are.
Single spot on gill cover, longer pectoral fin, deeply forked tail, and prominent parr markings.....and its nose looks different.  A salmon, so one more beauty!    And I won't be getting that one wrong again.   Just the sea trout identification remains to get sorted now.  That could well mean a session aiming to catch one or two.  Somewhere.  

A buzzard took advantage of my lack of suitable camera gear to fly low and close over the far bank, whilst another sat motionless on a low telegraph pole whilst I drove past it.  But the Dove was a far
Pound and a Half Grayling in the Recovery Position
better venue for me, buzzard photo, or no buzzard photo, and apart from quite a few trout up to about a pound and a half, there were no less than four  grayling over a pound to keep me happy.   One fought like crazy, even going airborne several times.  As I drew it over the net, I KNEW that I had finally caught that two pounder.   I knew it right until I weighed it.  1-12.  ONE pound twelve ounces. How on earth?    The fish just looked huge.    I could only conclude that a fish that fights unexpectedly well, kicking way above its weight, somehow colours the mind, and magnifies the image that the eyes are seeing.  Even out of the water it looked to easily top two pounds.   Rare that I am over 4 ounces out when guessing the weight of a fish less than two pounds.    But a beautiful male fish, so I was happy,
Recovered. Back on its Own Feet, Flag Raised
even if numerically disappointed.    I may have mentioned this before, but the first grayling I ever saw was in the Dove at Dovedale.   It was a large male, a foot from the bank, in 18 inches of water.  I was a yard away. Every hue and colour was clearly visible to me, the orange edge to the dorsal, the coral pinks, the purples, the blacks, greys and creams.   I fell in love with grayling right there and then.   The love was to remain unrequited for about 40 years.  It was that much later when I caught my first ever "lady".   Ask most members of the public what our most beautiful creature is, and many will say the kingfisher, or perhaps the goldfinch. None will ever say it is a fish.  The public never see fish other than that fat grey carp cruising the local pond or as occasional fleeting shadows in a stream, They never see the magnificent spotting of those brown trout,  They have no idea just how gorgeous is the grayling, and indeed some other fish, such as the  rudd or crucian carp are.  What a shame they will ever remain in the dark.

Red Admiral Butterfly.
Having said that, I did manage to photograph a red admiral butterfly a couple of days ago.   Another beauty.  Many people confuse the smaller tortoiseshell   with the red admiral.   My mother used to mix them up.   The admiral is a much bigger butterfly. And far rarer. It still astonishes me how insects such as these, so light and fragile, with such disproportionately large wings, can fly with such skill, even in a fair wind.  They may not have the flying precision of a dragonfly, but when two butterflies are engaged in their mating flying display, I am always spellbound at their reactions and maneuverability.

Dove Dace
Dove Trout
But what of that two pound fish?   I have  analysed my catches to date: about 70 pound plus grayling from 5 rivers.  Locally, one river stands out, with a high percentage of pound plus fish.  But they top out at about a pound and a half.   I feel that out of 50 plus fish, if all are between 1-0 and 1-11 then there is little chance of my getting a two pounder, unless I discover some new and far better swims.  The Dee, I can make no comment about, one fish of 1-5, caught during my one and only trip there.  So the Dove remains my best option,  4 or 5 trips have produced 8 fish over that pound, with 1-11, 1-12 and 1-15 being the top three.   Statistically, without actually going into the maths, I suspect the Dove is by far my best bet at the moment.    Especially as it is often no more expensive to fish than my local river.   What I spend on extra petrol getting to the Dove, I would lose in snagged and lost tackle if I fished  locally.   My last Dove trip produced grayling, trout, dace and minnows.  I did not bother to photograph some rather ugly beasts: signal crayfish.  All from a lovely looking stretch.  But what of the ugly culverted river?  It also produced  grayling, trout, dace and minnows. Exactly the same fish species.  And one grayling was 1-7, a good fish. The Dove had kingfishers flashing past  me all day long.
And For Completeness: A Dove Minnow

  But dippers constantly flew back and forth along the culvert, in between the concrete banks.   This tells us one very important fact.   Fish and birds care far less about where they live than we do about where we fish.  Are we really able to look at a swim, above the surface and have any real idea how attractive it is to the fish underneath that surface?   Do they care at all about the old tyres, the trollies and other rubbish?  Or does such junk actually provide more hidey-holes for insects and such on which the fish feed? Is the junk majorly beneficial to the fish, in the same way that incompletely  treated sewage is also beneficial to fish growth and numbers?   Should I moan yet again about the locals throwing in more ASDA trollies, or try and encourage them?

And finally, another beauty and beast photograph from this week. Not the best quality pictures, but kingfishers with food are not renowned for posing exactly where I would like them to be.  First picture exactly as it came out of the camera. The second picture is heavily zoomed and cropped.   But at least the bullhead can be recognized as such.   Kingfisher pictures with fish almost always seem to be with bullheads.  I can only suspect that the species is an easier, more sedentary target. The bird spent a good five minutes bashing this fish to death on the branch, before the eventual head first swallow.  Kingfishers seem to have a remarkably good grip on slippery little fish, never dropping them even as they bash them on the tree branches.   Impressive.


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