Tuesday 26 November 2013

At Last: Back for the Grayling

Interesting day yesterday.  Finally, after some weeks of high water, I was able to get back on the river. Project grayling.  Still just a little high, but certainly very fishable,  the water having cleared quite well, and only a few centimetres above the normal level for this time of year.   I had decided to fish a few different swims for an hour or so each.  On any smallish  river it seems rather pointless to remain static when after grayling.   They are not too difficult to catch as a rule, and after a couple of hours without one, I usually conclude that they are either not feeding, not there, or else the Gods are against me on the day.  
I had intended to be at my first choice of swim as soon as it was light enough to see a float, but I misjudged again, and was perhaps 30 minutes too late.   But I don't find that grayling feed much better in that first half hour, so it mattered very little.  I travelled light,  tackle and bait in a small landing net, one rod, a long handled small landing net, for I would, in one swim, have to stretch over extensive bankside vegetation, straining to reach and net any fish hooked there.  Too good looking a swim by far to ignore.   And a small folding stool... a small folding stool... a small...Damn!   I reached the first swim and realised I had left the stool in the car.    I had travelled even lighter than I had wished.   The water is too deep for wading, and being on the sunny side of the stream I did not wish to stand up, illuminated in full view.   Glancing around I saw, on the bank, something bright pink in colour.   Investigating, it proved to be a Disney Store food mixing bowl.   In perfect condition, still with the sticky price label attached.   Someone must have thrown it into the river upstream.  No idea why.   Although a bit garish in shocking pink, adorned with Mickey Mouse graphics, it is now in use in the kitchen.    On the bank it became, upside down, my seat for the day.  Not very generous in its level of comfort, but better than sitting on the grass, which was still coated in the residue from recent spate conditions.   

Travelling light, with the rod already made up, my almost ubiquitous 12 foot travel barbel rod ( I use it for almost anything except barbel) , makes for a very rapid deployment of tackle, and I was fishing within five minutes.   I was playing a fish within ten minutes, second cast.    It was an out of season brownie of about three quarters of a pound.  But a very healthy and fit looking fish.   

No sooner had my third cast hit the water than the bait was taken, and a fish charged downstream against the four pound line.  I caught a flash of a fair fish as it turned sideways.   That was the last time I saw it for quite a while. It stayed deep, but was very lively, refusing to be drawn to the surface, and I had visions of a huge grayling in my head.   Only in my head though, for the fish, after a lengthy and utterly superb scrap, proved to be another brownie.  A brown trout of no less than three pounds eleven ounces.   Again, out of season, and looking rather thin,   but at that size it was my biggest trout from the river, and so it had to be weighed for interest's sake.   Its slim body did not stop it putting up that brilliant scrap.  Very entertaining.   After a photograph it was returned safely, swimming off strongly.  The small landing net was quite inadequate for the size of fish.  Another lesson driven home ( one I should have remembered well) : forget the size of fish you expect to catch, and gear up for the larger ones that might just appear unexpectedly.

I usually find that the trout are quickest to find the bait, and that unfortunately, even out of season you often have to catch a resident trout or two first, before the grayling move in.    Unfortunately the theory failed on this occasion, no grayling coming to the net from the swim.   

About 9 o'clock a jet black mink stole cautiously along the riverside edge other bank.  It was in deep shadow, and being black, a good photograph was out of the question, even had I had the correct lens fitted. So I still have not managed any good pictures of mink.   Seeing it though, once again emphasised how surprising it is that some people still mistake them for otters.    More like an all black squirrel.  I should probably apologise to all those who saw and groaned at the joke earlier in this paragraph, but I am not going to...so there,  tough!   .

I fished another four swims before heading home.   At about half past two my hands started to turn blue, and I deemed it advisable to retire gracefully, with all my fingers intact.       Three of those swims were to give me a single brown trout each, all around the half pound mark, but the grayling remained stubbornly absent.   The grayling are not prolific in the river, and so I shall not complain too severely.     

But to come back to the big trout.   Its spot pattern was very different to all other trout I have taken from the river.   Like the grayling the trout are not prolific, and to catch five in one day has quite astonished me. What a shame it was the close season.    They are most probably wild fish, none ever having been stocked into the stream locally. That I know for certain.  Ten or fifteen miles or so upstream is the nearest that any trout are likely to have been stocked, and I must suspect that the fish I catch have been born in the river itself.  

There follow four pictures of trout I have caught from this stream.  The first is an absolutely stunning looking fish.  Such gorgeous evenly spread red and black spots, all with white surrounds on a fabulous greeny gold background.  Not a huge fish but an incredibly beautiful specimen.
Utterly Gorgeous Brownie Looking Surprised

The second fish is a very spotty fish, lots and lots of black spots, and if those spots are encircled with white, then the white blends in as a background, rather than as individual rings.

Many Black Spots

The third fish is the three pounds eleven fish from yesterday. It carries an absolute mass of both black and red spots, all very small, and is most unlike the other fish. It is the only fish I have caught that looks even remotely like this.
Enough Spots to Make a 1960's Measles Epidemic Quite Jealous.

The fourth fish is the first trout I ever caught from the stream, and actually my first fish of any species from it. Different again. It was also the first fish I caught after a break of more than 30 years not touching my rods. At the time I caught it, I suspected it might be a sea trout, but I have little knowledge of sea trout, never having knowingly caught one.  I have had several fish that I thought might have been guilty, but always, when asked, a more experienced sea trout angler has diagnosed the fish to be brown.  I really don't know myself, and suspect that, until I have seen a definite sea trout or two, I shall remain confused.  But at least, to judge from reading the odd forum and web site, I am not on my own struggling for positive IDs. That makes me feel a little better that, after more than 50 years with a rod, I still struggle to identify some of our native game fish.   Then again, I might just be damned annoyed that I have yet to catch one!
Apparently not a Sea Trout. (note the fibreglass rod)

 So: four fish, all apparently brownies, all looking very different from each other with vastly different spot patterns, all from the same small river. The genetics of trout must be quite fascinatingly complex.  Look at the first two: the spots are all very distinct from each other, but on one fish, scattered quite widely, on the other, very closely.  Yet something has arranged the spots so that none overlap, and the spread of spots in each case is very even.  The genetics to produce such an effect must be very complex indeed.  The third fish seems almost to break these rules, with spots scattered willy nilly, every available space being taken up by a spot, each spot being much smaller, no room for the white borders, and many spots appearing to overlap.  

I tried to do a bit of research a while back, to see whether anyone had investigated how genetics governs these patterns on animals: tigers, zebras etc., as well as fish.  I have found that there is very little information to be found, although surely someone must be researching it?   Life itself is very complex, and mixed in with life as a general theme, are all sorts of little extras, like these spotting and striping patterns which add yet more wonder to the entire process.   Oddly the only name I could find, who had done any research on this was Alan Turing, the genius who more or less invented the digital computer, down in Bletchley park, during the war.    I have to suspect that somewhere within these patterns,  the concepts of fractals, and similar mathematics will be found.  It is obvious that the spot patterning must in some way be encoded into the DNA.  Each and every trout is different, and so it also is apparent that every single spot, its colour and its position cannot be individually coded into the DNA of the fish.  So the DNA must code  for the process, rather than for the generation of each individual spot.  Some algorithms must be at work which ensure that the spots are randomly, yet fairly evenly, spaced.  The DNA has to decide in some way, how many spots and where, their colour, shape and size, and to ensure, as seems to be generally the case, that there is no overlap. There has to be some highly complex, underlying mathematics , a university style maths text book, written entirely as sequences of 4 different nitrogen bases: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G) and Cytosine (C). You may think that 4 is not enough...but all the data, in all the computers in the world, is just stored by TWO different numbers, or representational states: One and zero.  The four bases also code for the species, how many leaves, fins  or legs a creature or plant has, how it grows, all the biological processes going on inside its body and indeed anything it is able to do for itself following its birth. For a fish everything it needs to survive is coded into its DNA. Very few species of fish get any help from their parents. We might refer to it as instinctive behaviour, all encoded into the DNA.  DNA and the way it is coded into full recipes for life is way beyond my comprehension, but is obviously one of the wonders of our world...if not its greatest miracle.  I see things written, about our having sequenced the human genome, and tabulated it in, ( I think), about 20 thick volumes. Sequencing it is the simple part, just a listing of ALL the bases in order.  Decoding exactly how that translates into Fred Bloggs, or even that solitary hair on his little finger, is a whole other ball game, and the best anyone yet seems to have come up with is that certain genes, affect certain characteristics...say eye colour, or the various genetic diseases. The process of how the DNA within that gene specifies blue eyes will probably never, in my opinion, be fully understood.
If anyone reading this should know anything about how the leopard really gets his spots, I should be grateful for a few tips, as to where I need to look next.    


  1. Hmmm - with my little and useless knowledge of trout I'd say they were all browns, but the big 'un is a strange one indeed. Nice fish by the way. I've had trout like that before but not on the river I suspect you're on (if it's the same one i fish but lower down). Fish from the Derbyshire Wye especially the naturalised rainbows are often heavily spotted like that.
    have a look at the first picture on this page.

  2. I would agree Ian: all are brownies, although I have had to accept a more experienced friend's judgement on the 4th fish. As you say, the third fish is a real oddball, and it is the only brownie I have caught anywhere, that looked even remotely like that. It is astonishing just how much genetic variation there is in the brown trout as a species. Even within just one stream. Fascinating subject.
    Had a look at that rainbow. I have often wondered why they breed naturally in so few rivers here, and there is a quite persuasive clue in that blog. Maybe the farm bred rainbows are no longer ABLE to breed naturally? But I have no idea what might be wrong. But if ova or fry from the American/Canadian rivers were introduced into one of our trout streams, they might be more successful....not that it is something I would recommend. Incidentally I HAVE had a couple of rainbows from that river that I think you were referring to earlier. Has it ever been stocked with any rainbows?
    Your suspicions as to the river I was on are, I am quite sure, wrong. I suspect you are talking about a river that rises somewhere near where I think YOU live, and flows down to somewhere near to where you believe I live. If so, then you are mistaken. ;-)

  3. :-) the river that rises near where i live has a couple of ways rainbows can get in as far as i know. One is a small club lake near a stately home and a park with deers south of where i (probably incorrectly thought you lived) the other is a day ticket trout fishery 4 miles north of my house near the source of the river. Mentioned a lot in my early blogging days when i was a flyfisherman berfore I changed back to a coarse guy! As to the breeding in the Wye from what I know, but i'll stand to be corrected, is that although it is claimed that it is one of the few places where the trout can breed in the uk it is purely down to the breed of trout. If stocked elsewhere before triploiding and selection of better strains they would probably breed just as easily.

    1. I suspect that you are correct with that analysis of whether rainbows can breed or not in any river. It always struck me as rather odd that they could breed in one UK river, and not all the others. P.S. I do live where I think you think I live.

  4. and as for the secret locations i've been trying to work out - with absolutely no success - where you were zander fishing with Jeff!

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