Sunday, 21 May 2017

How Big is a Zebra?

A silly question you might suggest, but a question to which most of us have a pretty accurate answer, even those of us that have recently not been anywhere near a zoo, or to Africa for that matter.   A more relevant question here might be "How big is a robin?"   Or perhaps a red admiral butterfly, or a stag beetle?  In each case I doubt I have a reader who could not give a pretty good idea of the size of each of those animals. He probably has more detail too, for instance that the Zebra's body stripes are vertical. He perhaps might know that each individual zebra has a unique pattern of those stripes, yet each of those individuals will be sufficiently different as to be identifiable by its stripe pattern. And it is also a very interesting question as to how those stripes are created, or how a trout gets its spot distribution, each of those being different too.    That pattern generation was a question so interesting that even the great Alan Turing did some research on it.   Biological mathematical enactments of chaos theory seems to have part to play in the creation of these patterns.

But if instead of the title question I had asked "How big is a roach?", or "What size is a bream?", you would have been unable to answer, unless supplied with a photograph, or the fish itself.  Why the difference?   Fish are pretty much unique in the animal kingdom, in that their adult size is not anything like a standard size. The size of an adult fish ( most especially in freshwater) is determined my numbers of fish present, water quality and by food availability. Not just by "This is how big it will grow".  Do I hear someone shouting "What about dogs?"   I should have added, "species that have not been mucked about with by man", although a dalmatian will always be about the same size as any other dalmatian.  A Yorkshire terrier is still the same species as an old English sheepdog, and they could breed quite viably, although various stages in the process would have a fair degree of discomfort involved for one or both partners.  In some ponds rudd of maybe 6 inches or so are fully mature, able to breed, and unable to grow any larger in that location.   In another water they might all be expected to reach a couple of pounds.  In some way, fish, having been evolving for half a billion years, have managed to do things differently.
Angling Times Photo of a Brace of Huge Roach.

There is another thing I have noticed about fish.  Did any of you see the Angling Times photo recently of a huge brace of roach?  3-14 and 2-10.     I have reproduced the photograph here, and hope that Angling Times will not be too upset by my doing so.   These two fish are, quite obviously not young fish.  Fish do not get to be of near record size in a short lifespan.  But examine them closely: they look very young.  Not a mark on them, no wrinkles about the eyes, no care worn, thin skeletal looks. They just look very young fish.       And it is something I have often seen before, both in photos of fish, and in my own captures.  If a fish is unaffected by disease, by parasites, or by predators and goes largely uncaught by anglers, it can still look newly minted, at almost any age or size, even if that fish lives in a river.  Fish seem to have some inbuilt anti-aging mechanism, that most other species, especially humans, do not have.  It is a trick I could use myself these days, if I had any idea how they do it, and maybe fish might provide a fertile hunting ground for those scientists doing research on extending the human life span.   More relevantly, for anglers, it enables us to catch large fish that are unutterably beautiful.  If big fish chasing had been more of a 'grab a granny' type of activity, it would be have been far less popular.

Two Pounds Exactly.

So:  How big is a roach?  ...or this roach in particular.

The answer in this case is exactly two pounds: a fish I caught by accident a couple of weeks ago whilst fishing for something else entirely.  Not my biggest roach, but in my view any roach over one pound is an excellent fish, and two pounders are great gifts indeed...even if unintended captures.  The circumstances of this capture though, were so bizarre, that I still scarcely believe them myself, and knowing that, I am not going to ask any of you to believe it either.  Therefore I am not going to go into any detail. That's right: I am not telling you,  so there, nah na na nah, nah!   As some comedians might say: "Always leave them wanting more". But there was a useful lesson to be had there: when an opportunity arrives, take it. So I re-jigged my approach so as to specifically seek roach, and using mainly Warburton's bread  ( one of my all time favourite baits), I landed a few more good roach over  a period of  three days, with a total of fourteen of the fish going  over a pound.   Very pleasing. But I was unable to get an intentional two pounder, the best going 1-15.  That happens to me a lot, catching a fish just under a particular well known and recognized target size.    I did however get a second accidental capture whilst chasing the roach:  this time it was a rudd.  3 pounds one ounce.  One hell of a fish. My best rudd ever, but once again, a completely unintended success.   But, taking the same lesson  a second time, I sought out some weedier, shallower water and fished specifically for rudd, whilst keeping the thick sliced bait.   Again I was unable to better or equal the fish that had intruded into the roach sessions. But:
2-7 and...

2 pounds 8 Ounces of Gorgeous Rudd

  With fish of 2-5, 2-7 and 2-8, to add to the 3-1, I had no reason to complain or moan about it.  More young looking fish. So, quite a successful few days. Yet another intruder blundered its way rather forcefully into the rudd session, nearly dragging my rod into the water.  A common carp of fifteen pounds gave me quite a bit of drama, on a 13 foot light trotting rod, a centrepin and 4 pound line.  It made a number of long runs, luckily all were directed well away from the nearby dense reedbeds. And I was fortunate in that I had filled the reel with a much longer length of line than I would normally have used, had I been using that same centrepin for river fishing, where too much line can create a  "bedding in" problem that makes smooth long trotting difficult.

All in all a very big change from the last two or three weeks of the river season, which had cut up very rough for me, with very few fish at all in the landing net.  I may have to revisit these redfins a bit later in the season, once they have got over their spawning period.   The rudd, if not the roach, were just beginning to show the first signs of an expanding waistline.

This last week or so the crucians have been calling me again, although I suspect they may not quite be fully in the swing of things, feeding freely.  Three sessions on one good crucian lake brought two blanks, and four fish on the third day.
High Backed Crucian.
Two pound fish were again on the menu, with a couple reaching that mark, the best being a super cuddly example, very high backed indeed, a fish that scored 2.7 on the Richter scale.  Bread again of course, with a very delicate lift method rig being used to present it. There is scientific research that demonstrates that crucians, caught in a water with predators such as pike, develop much higher backs than fish living without the presence of predatory fish. The body shape to me suggests why the lift method works so well with the species. After "bending" down to pick up a bait, the fish would soon have to get back on an even keel.

I should perhaps add a couple of things that I may have missed out when writing about the lift method  recently. I always overshot a lift float, such that the bottom tell-tale shot actually sinks the float.  The depth is then adjusted carefully, the objective being to get the line from float to that last shot as near vertical as possible.  A couple of inches too deep and it needs a bit of tension in the line twixt reel and float. Admittedly there is then very fine control as to how much of the float shows, but, there is a disadvantage. Any fish swimming nearby, wafting the bottom of the rig around, may move that shot along the bottom.  If it moved towards the angler, a lift bite will be seen: a false lift bite being generated as the line tension is eased. The shot is still on the bottom and the fish, having passed by, is probably now nowhere near when the strike is made.  With the line vertical, most bites seem to be lift bites, rather than the float bobbing under, and a lift is almost invariably a sign of a fish with the bait in its mouth.  Fishing lift method is probably the only time I bother being so very precise, aiming to get the float depth set to within half an inch or so.  And it should probably be pointed out that the lift method is one way of getting single shot sensitivity, whilst using a float taking quite a large shot load in total. It allows casting at a far greater distance than would otherwise have been possible with a single shot float. I find a float that will take half a dozen shot  will of course rise a little more slowly than a single shot float, but I quite like the drama of seeing an antenna rise several inches, in such a leisurely way.

I fished a second water, a small reservoir that I had fished for crucians a few years ago.   All I had caught back then were hybrids. I knew they were not pure bred fish, But were they Crucian/goldfish...crucian/common carp? I thought the former.  A dozen or so such fish decided me not to go back there in any hurry. But I didn't really know at the time exactly what they were, so I recently decided I would go back to check, using the greater knowledge that I now have. After catching half a dozen or so, I concluded they were goldfish, and crucian/goldfish hybrids.    But pleasingly, very pleasingly, this time I also had five proper crucians. None much over half a pound, but any crucian is a delight for me to catch.  

A third, local water has proved more difficult, with only one crucian from three half day sessions.  Several tench happened along to cut through the quiet periods, causing havoc by charging into the lilies when hooked, and another common carp tested the mettle, having been hooked an inch away from the same lily pads.  Twice though, fish, that I think were tench, managed to actually bite through the line very near the hook.  I was not broken, the fish either bit through the line with their pharyngeal teeth, or managed to cut me off on a snag very near to the hook.  Most odd.  A pair of kingfishers were working this small reservoir, catching small roach and perch very effectively indeed. I missed bites watching them.  They bashed the heads of the fish a few times and then flew off to a small nearby stream where it would seem they must have young. A couple of other unusual bird events happened on the same water.  After flying very low over the middle of the water a few times a pigeon, of the town centre type, actually landed on the water, right in the middle of the lake.  After 3 or 4 seconds it took off again and flew away.   Was it collecting water in its plumage to give to its young in this dry weather, rather like some Australian bird species do?  I have no idea.  But a heron also landed in the lake, sitting in the water like a mallard. It picked up a floating dead fish, and then flew off again. It, unlike the pigeon, had an obvious motive.    Once before I saw a heron land on a large pond.  It then paddled its way back to the bank and shallow water...with legs totally unsuited to the job of course.    I only now realize it also could have probably taken off again from the water, had it but tried. Herons are such fascinating creatures. One, on a local little pond, used to dive in, pelican-like, to take small fish being reeled in by the anglers.

Couple of interesting birds again this week: the photo is of what I think is a stonechat, seen on a patch of waste ground as I was taking a stroll recently.  A new bird for me.

But also, much rarer: I was catapulting some bait out one day, when a previously unseen bird took sudden evasive action, so as to not be blasted by the group of small pellets. Rather like a shotgun blast without the blast...or the shot...or the gun.  Only got a quick look at it, but it was most definitely a bittern.   The only one I have ever seen. Brown, a little smaller than a heron.   

 And yesterday, to finish off nicely, being very traditional, using a Mk IV Richard Walker Avon, and float fished bread: more crucians. I like the way crucians, when feeding, usually reveal their presence, either by blowing a few bubbles, or more often, by dashing quite vertically to the surface, and with a great splash, diving straight back down again. A few even jump clear of the surface. Spring is here, well advanced now, and fish captures are definitely back on the menu.  But  I am now torn between more of the same, and the alternative of my old friends the Tincas.

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