Monday 27 May 2013

Mythical Bubbles.

Ever since reading Dick Walker's books, and Fred J. Taylor's articles, many years ago, I have known exactly what they are.  You also will know what they are.  Every angler in the country probably knows what they are.   What are they?  Tench bubbles.     Clumps of tiny bubbles are always an indication that your swim is crammed full of feeding tench.  Everyone knows it.
So, when I saw a two foot wide clump of small bubbles rise near my float, whilst fishing for tench a couple of days ago, I was prepared for, poised for, that bite, and the resultant superb green fish that would probably follow it.   A second and similar clump rose to the surface a couple of yards away.    No tench though.   To my right in tap clear water, some five feet deep, was yet another clump of bubbles, and as they dispersed I was already hunting for my Polaroid sunglasses in my fishing bag.  Donning them, I was able to easily and clearly see right down to the elodea, the Canadian pond weed some 4 feet down.  No fish visible though.  The tench had obviously cleared off, whilst I searched the depths of my bag, it had sought out similar depths further out in the lake.  After a couple of minutes a small carp, maybe nine or ten pounds approached the area, swimming a foot or so below the surface.   It headed straight for the spot where the last group of tench bubbles had risen.   It then dived down into the weed, turning itself upside down, displaying its pale belly quite clearly for me to see.  It then wriggled in the weed for a moment, almost as if giving itself a gentle massage.  Two or three seconds later a mass of "tench" bubbles came up immediately above the carp.
Well so much for angling legends and myths.  The "tench" bubbles were caused by a carp.  Now, no doubt some such bubbles are caused by tench, but quite obviously not always.  Other species can create them.  And if the bubbles are merely being freed from the oxygenating leaves of water plants, their size is unrelated to the fish.  Any fish, or shoal of fish disturbing that weed could generate small bubbles in profusion.
I have always been reluctant to accept many/any of the statements of other anglers about bubbles. Anglers on rivers often point at bubbles and claim they are originating from barbel, or chub, and from carp and bream on stillwaters.  I hate to disappoint them, but most of the time those bubbles are from decaying vegetation.  And often, in the shallows you can watch similar bubbles emerging from the silt.   I have often wondered how anglers can possibly believe that so many of the bubbles they see are from fish.  Very few are.   They see the bubbles in the shallows: decaying matter. They see the same bubbles where the bottom is too deep to see: fish!  
So it came as a shock to me , when one of the undisputed bubble sources, one I have always accepted as being from tench, proved to have been from something else.  I have been just as fallible and gullible as all those anglers I have criticized for so long.  But I am still learning, and long may that continue.


  1. I've been fooled many a time by bubbles. Tench release methane bubbles from the silt as they plough through it but I always thought they came through the gills. You'd see the same thing if you dragged a heavy lead through it though. Interesting behaviour by the carp — I once saw a shoal of carp rising vertically in the water and corkscrewing round in circles as they rose, turing over on the surface then going back down to start over again. Till this day I have no idea what they were up to!

    Never seen one turn upside down though... Who'd have thought they could?

  2. Hi Jeff, maybe some do come through the gills, but I would also think that the mere action of ploughing in deep would also release trapped bubbles. Occasionally I see large bubble groups that are obviously the result of a large fish suddenly, and as a one-off, ploughing into the bottom deposits. I have no idea what your carp were doing: intriguing though, especially as a group activity. The only other fish I have seen intentionally turn upside down have been S. American catfish in my aquariums years ago. They would either turn upside down to feed more easily from the surface, or else lie upside down against the roof of their "cave". I wonder whether wels might do something similar? I don't really know what "my" carp was doing either, but it is an activity I suspect the same fish performed at least half a dozen times. It wasn't feeding, as it remained horizontal, but inverted.

  3. Oh yes, and I am sure you will have seen barbel, occasionally doing that momentary display of their pale bits as they roll partially over on the river bed. Sometimes fish behaviour is equally as inexplicable as that of my wife.

  4. The pin prick bubbles we know and love are like yiu describe fish moving through weed, not just tench. The other bubbles to be interested in are the larger bubbles that move, often in double chains and are often from pike.

  5. Yes, I suspect that tench are probably the main fish that bulldoze their way through weeds, and that has maybe lead to an impression that the bubbles come from the tench's gills...and therefore that they are tench bubbles, rather than disturbed weed bubbles.
    Not heard about pike generating bubbles before. Might have to do some research, see if anything more is known.

  6. ...and now that the local canal is infested with signal crayfish I find they also produce 'tench' bubbles. though, I guess obviously, only the odd few