Sunday 9 February 2014

Five Tench and Four Canals.

It is hard not to feel deeply for those living on and around the Somerset Levels, those who have now had to endure about six weeks (so far) of completely horrendous flood conditions.   I suspect that any pumping done at low tide by the EA is quickly reversed by high tides and onshore winds.   It seems unlikely that mere dredging of the rivers will have any real effect if we get these conditions again next year, and any work needed will have to be well thought out.   I feel also for the local anglers and their fish.   I wonder how many fish will remain after all this...and where they might eventually be found as the water level falls. Do river fish tend to remain in the river channels, or do they seek calmer waters? Certainly any submerged ponds and lakes may well have had their carp and other species significantly "redistributed".   OK, duty done, regrets expressed for their local conditions.   I now hope my Somerset readers, if any, will similarly feel for me: no grayling fishing for about four weeks now.  I too am in need of a visit from Bonny Prince Charlie, who might also like to bring me £50,000.  Bit surprised that the Duke of Westminster, an incredibly rich man, only threw in the same fifty grand pittance.

My fishing over the last ten days or so has veered in two different directions:  some spells on the canals, and a couple more tench sessions...I suppose I was sort of getting them whilst they are on special Winter offer.  

I fished four different canals, each for just a half day or so.   Firstly, the Macclesfield Canal, for perch. As I left home the weather was calm, very little breeze, and fairly warm for February.   But it was not long after reaching my chosen swim that that all changed.  A strong wind began to blow from the right, aligning itself along the canal, and causing spindrift and waves that looked to be a foot high, but which probably were no more than 4 to 5 inches.  A promising bite saw the float drift into the wind and then disappear.  A bream of about a pound or so fought very well, aided no doubt by the immense sideways pressure of the wind on my rod.   Later after a small perch, and soon after lunch I decided to call it a day.  The wind was making the fishing most unpleasant, and the captures were not enough to justify remaining any longer. I could scarcely sit on my stool, and so went home to a bowl of my own design leek and bean soup.   Actually leek, bean and a large but random selection of spices from the kitchen cupboard.   My son refuses to eat it, describing it as toxic waste, but it is great on a cold day, and can usually make the nose water.  Actually, I would admit that my wife refuses to eat it too.

The second trip saw me on the Peak Forest Canal, giving "drop shotting" a try.   No bites, no signs of any interested fish, but this was my very first try at the method, on a canal I had not fished for about 50 years.  Three months ago I had never heard of drop shotting, and so I doubt that I was employing it with much skill at all.  I have been surprised by reports that suggest it to be very effective in the right hands.   I had a similar level of surprise many years ago, when I heard about catching cod on pirks...which essentially seem to be chrome car door handles with a treble hook attached.   I guess that drop shotting is a method rather further up the evolutionary angling tree, whose root was pirking.  I have much to learn about this method, and I guess I will have to try again soon.

Trip three was again after perch on the Llangollen Canal, which I am sure I used to know as the Shropshire Union Canal.   Another canal on which I have not fished for 50 years.   I remember causing a little controversy on the S.U.C. during a match.   I was still a junior but won the match overall, but most of my match weight was made up by a flounder, which had obviously come up from the River Dee.    Nothing in
A Tiny but Confident Looking Wren
the rules against flounders.  Trout, yes,  sticklebacks yes, but nothing about sea fish.   So I walked away with the first prize sweep money, to the annoyance of a couple or senior members, and to the amusement of others.   On this latest trip though I was not to get a bite, let alone see a fish.    I did see a kingfisher, the only one I think I have ever seen on a canal.  And a wren: quite a defiant looking little bird.

The fourth and last canal outing was an afternoon on the Trent and Mersey.  A canal I have never fished before. Four hours on a relatively mild day, sitting on a sodden and muddy towpath resulted in one small bream which rather greedily engulfed my lobworm.  A second bream , smaller still, tried the same trick a little later but, after showing itself as a half pound skimmer, it let go of the worm.  I doubt very much that it was hooked.  The canal fishing has not been fantastic, but it has provided me with a change of scenery.

So on to the tench trips.   The first day dawned with the lake very quiet and still,  overnight had been cold and the lake was only about 4.5 degrees.    But tench had fed at that temperature during January, and so I persisted.   By eleven o'clock, nothing had moved at all. Later I caught two tench, both males at the lower end of four pound fish.  Two other fish managed to shed the hooks.  The two males were not particularly pretty fish, the first having a torn mouth, the result of someone in the past being impatient or very rough when unhooking the fish.  The second had a cherry sized and cherry coloured tumour, just below and forward from its eye.  This could well also be a result of poor unhooking technique.   Both fish though, were typical in size as other males I have caught in the lake, certainly they were not unduly thin, and so it would appear they have little problems feeding and going about their general daily business.   This of course brings up the question, often asked by anglers, as to whether fish feel pain.    Most anglers seem to claim that fish do not feel pain "in the same way as we do". I suspect that many claim this in order to justify that angling is not cruel. I cannot say myself, with any conviction, that angling does not have any element of cruelty though. It does, sorry.  I also read a learned article that said that fish do not have the same brain structure as ourselves, and that the area in our own brains responsible for our pain perception is completely missing in fish.  I have often returned chub to the river, to see them swim off very casually, as if nothing untoward had happened to them.   I have also caught the same trout three times within two hours ...twice on the very same worm. It wasn't in enough pain to stop it feeling hungry.  BUT fish diverged from our branch of the Darwinian evolutionary tree many millions of years ago. Probably hundreds of millions of years ago.  So why should we be able to say that the same brain areas in fish are responsible for pain perception as those in our brains?   Is it not quite feasible that another area performs this function in fish?   When the evolutionary split occurred, did our common ancestors even have that particular brain lobe?  It seems a big wild guess to suggest that they did. For the creature on that tree cannot have, at that time, been more evolved than a modern fish.  If scientists can say that modern fish do not feel pain, they must also accept that our common ancestor also did not feel pain.  And therefore pain detection evolved much later in the tree leading eventually to Homo sapiens. Fish, although not endowed with the ability to perform too much in the way of mathematical calculus, or statistical analysis, are nevertheless very well evolved.  They are not in any way primitive, and I somehow cannot see that a fish, which has such sophisticated ways of detecting smell, taste, low and perhaps high frequency vibrations, would not also be able to feel pain.  Fish respond vigorously to being hooked... are we to assume that the only reason they fight is that they are being pulled in a direction in which they do not want to go?  Or could pain also be involved?   
How hot do you think your bathwater is?  I tested it recently and was very surprised to find that just 41 degrees is uncomfortable, and 42 degrees is almost painfully hot.  Before measuring it I had naively assumed my bathwater was 70 or 80 degrees!  Body temperature  is normally 37 degrees, and so your bathwater is no more than 4 or at most 5 degrees above your body temperature.   Now you may say that your black coffee is far hotter,  but whilst it is so hot you will just sip it, allowing that very small amount of very hot coffee to be almost instantly cooled by your mouth.   Ever caught a grayling?  It will almost invariable twist violently in your hands.    If the water it came from is say 5 degrees, your hand could easily be 25 degrees plus, and in theory anything up to 37 degrees, although that is unlikely.   You might be exposing that fish to a temperature difference of 20 or more degrees.   5 degrees makes you uncomfortable.  Is it possible that fish can feel such temperature differences as painful?  And why that grayling wriggles so much?  Much of a fish is covered by scales, and it might well be that scales provide some protection, not only from abrasive contact with rocks and other in-river objects, but also from the heat of your hands, or indeed the sun's heat if you keep the fish out of water too long. But not all of a fish is covered by scales, the head especially is free from such protection.  And what of mirror carp?  Have we inadvertently bred a fish that is more susceptible to pain across much of its body?

But on to the second tench trip.   Another successful session.   Four winter tench sessions, and all have produced fish for me!   Inexplicable.   Water temperature again just 4.8 degrees.  The fish came spread out
5 Pounds Exactly
over the day, the first being around mid-day.  Its weight bang on 5 pounds, a female.   Two males a little over four followed, the last one getting very well snagged.  All went completely solid.  Slackening off the line did nothing, the fish did not move. I walked to the left and pulled and the fish eventually came free and was landed after a great scrap.  Later a fourth fish went into the same snag, and again all locked up.  The previous tactic did not work, and it was only when I pulled for a break, that  I felt something give a little, and the fish came free.   But after just a few healthy thumps on the rod, the hook pulled out.   But three tench on a February day is a good result in anyone's money.

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