Friday 22 July 2016

A Leopard Cannot Change its Spots....But

The last time I fished the river my car was broken into, the window smashed, leaving me with a bill for over £300. I had fished from 4am until 8am, and was not expecting trouble during those hours, but the area must have had round the clock vandalism. Yobbos who get up early!  Whatever next?  I had not been back to this inner city river since then, but the time had now come, I had learned of a new parking spot, and after some truly devastating floods of the winter I needed to see whether the fish were still present.  I travelled light, arrived early and parked...although the car park looked quite desolate, next to a crumbling shopping parade. A feeling of post Armageddon remained, and I once again worried about the safety aspect of leaving the car there, but crossing fingers I grabbed my gear, abandoned  the car to what I thought was its probable fate and wandered down to the river.   The river has been extensively tailored for flood control, but now is largely neglected.  It is full of the varied debris cast in by uncaring locals, and luxuriant growths of giant hogweed suggest that the local council also cares not too much for the watercourse either.    The river was low, and clear, revealing that, at the bottom of the floodbanks, the river bed is that of a spate river, rocky and having extremely variable depths and flows.

I was seeking a chub, and spotting a deeper looking area, some eight yards by four, I lobbed a large lump of breadflake, on a light leger, to the far edge of the deeper water, into which it sank from sight. Three feet, maybe four feet of water.  Less than two minutes has passed before a vicious bite pulled the rod tip around, and a good solid thumping passed its way up the carbon fibre.  In the heavier current closer in, it was difficult to control, and it used its deep profile to good effect in the current, for it was no chub, but a bream.    A male, something over five pounds, in excellent condition, with only faint traces of spawning tubercles remaining on its head.  My first bream from one of the more rapid sections of the river. A significant fish, because I felt that, if a bream could survive the winter's major flood, then everything else could do so too.  Although, having seen the river at the time, God only knows how they survived.

A Very Healthy River Bream.
A fish, in broad daylight, within minutes. So I was convinced that , bream being shoal fish, the spot would give up some more of the species.   It didn't.   But a cast into some faster, streamier water produced another bite, and another fish.   This time a brown trout of maybe twelve ounces.  It surged upstream powerfully, and when landed, displayed that gorgeous greenish brown colour, speckled with red and black spots. A good looking truly wild fish. I was far less surprised to catch the trout than I was the bream.  The swim went dead, with no more signs of life, other than about a hundred Canada geese, a few swallows, swifts, house martins, sandmartins, mallards and goosanders, two herons.   All were appreciative of the river. A flotilla of twenty goosanders moved upstream. 

The Upper Quartile of the Goosanders
 They dived down together, like a squadron of U-boats, bent on sinking every small fish they found.  These may well be just one female with its young.  I don't know the maximum egg count that a goosander might lay, but I certainly saw one female on another local stream with 15 very young chicks in tow.   These must have been from a single clutch of eggs, so nineteen seems possible too. These nineteen were all pretty much full grown, and so the stretch of river has provided enough food, enough small fish for twenty birds.  Yet I see very few small fish at all. Do they only eat fish?

I moved a few hundred yards upstream. The new swim, on another river, would have screamed grayling at me, but there are no grayling here and so chub were still on the menu, chef''s speciality of the day.  But when the bite came, it was once more no chub.  Another bream: and from quite fast water.  And larger than the first.   Over the next few hours three more decent bream were landed, the largest being a very plump fish of a bit over seven pounds. Four others shed the hook, which in retrospect, may have been a little too small.  Back in the late sixties, early seventies, bream of this size were rare, rare enough to be included in a photograph in the later editions of Walker's Still Water Angling.   There is a lot of suggestion that today's far bigger fish are the exclusive result of the use of large amounts of high protein bait.  But this river is rarely fished, and is not subject to much bait being input at all.   I have to therefore advance the theory that the mild winters of the last decade or two, have also made a major contribution to the growth rates of our fish species. So many waters produce so many big fish these days that it surely cannot be otherwise?

The final fish of the day also powered its way upstream when hooked, and gave a very good scrap indeed, one totally different from the breams' fights, which had utilised the currents on their flanks to make landing them difficult.   This last fish proved to be a trout.  And a good one at 2-11.  But this fish did not have the characteristic features of the earlier brownie, it was silver, with black star shaped spotting, all the spots being black, with a white underbelly.  

Trout or Sea Trout?  That is the Question.  
 These were all the signs I had been told to look out for in a sea trout.  But I still have little confidence in my abilities to correctly identify a sea trout so asked around. And as is usual, those I asked were split in their opinions,   some said brownie, some said sea trout, and  slob trout was mentioned as well.  One angler, for whom I have the greatest respect suggested that it was a brownie because sea trout have slate grey fins.  All in all it is hard not to come to the conclusion that no-one really knows, and that unless  a fish is caught actually in the sea, or very near to the sea, no one seems to be sure.   The problem is compounded by the simple fact that brown and sea trout are the same species,  some fish choosing to migrate downstream from the rivers, others deciding to remain. 
Whilst in the river as parr, very young trout, I have to assume that all the fish look pretty much identical, all therefore having some red and some black spots amongst those lilac coloured parr marking stripes.   Then some head for the sea, pausing in the estuary to acclimatize to the changed conditions, adjusting to the salt content.   I would expect there to be some internal body changes, if only to the chemistry dealing with salt.    But once in the sea it would seem that, unlike leopards, trout can change their spots, and the red spots disappear, sea trout only having black spots.    It seems unlikely that the arrangement of spots, or their number, could change, so I must assume that  the red ones become black and that they possibly change in shape to a more star like spot.   There are many more questions that I have.     To what extent do the fish change as their re-exposure to fresh water progresses.   Do any decide to then remain in the river rather than returning to the sea?  After some time would their red spots then return?   Do sea trout interbreed with the river's resident brownies?    And do their fins slowly turn from slate grey to a more brown colour?    Fish in the local rivers are very variable, and I have caught a few fish that look very silvery, yet may well be browns.  But are these actually long stay sea trout in the process of reverting to look live resident fish ( or perhaps heading back towards the sea)?   Were all silvery coloured browns once sea trout?   Will they ever become indistinguishable from wild brownies?  Do any adult browns head off to the sea? Why is it all so bloody difficult?  Does ANYONE really know?

I am having trouble with the moon as well.  The moon is just NOT right.  It is behaving oddly.   When I first went to the Far East, near to the Equator, one of the first things I noticed there, was that
the moon was sitting sideways in the sky.   It did not take much thought to realise that a half moon in the tropics is either the top half, or the bottom half.  The locals accept this as normal, only getting significantly confused when they see the DreamWorks Film Logo.

But I am now confused back home, OUR moon is not right.  I have observed this problem before but never figured out the solution to it.  I even asked an Astrophysicist to explain.   But she was French and probably did not understand the question. On some days, depending upon how the earth, Moon and Sun and juxtaposed, the moon can be visible in daylight. Such was the case a few days ago. 
Moon, Just before Sundown, Camera Held Horizontally.
So: here is the moon, last week, just before  sunset.   You will note that is it a 3/4 moon.  Waxing or waning?   No idea but that is irrelevant.  As I took the photograph, the sun was about to set over my right shoulder, at an estimated angle of 135 degrees to the right of where I was pointing the camera. The moon does not shine by itself of course, it shines due to reflected sunlight.   And the reason we see some parts of the moon as dark, or invisible, is that, that part is where the sun don't shine.    Now it seems to be fairly simple logically, to deduce that the brightest part of the moon should be that directly facing the sun, but as can be seen in the photo, the brightest part of the moon is its upper right edge, and is pointing up into the sky at an angle of about 45 degrees...WHILST THE SUN IS ON THE HORIZON TO MY RIGHT.   Why was it not looking something like the dreamworks moon?    This is not a one off, but a constant feature of how the moon can appear. I have tried to figure out what I am missing in this interpretation, but so far have not twigged.  I cannot look at the moon these days without being annoyed that there is something about it that I fail to understand...and it is in all probability, blatantly obvious, a forehead slapping realisation, a "How can I have been such an idiot? " moment.  I get a few of those.

P.S.  It was waxing, as it went to full moon  days later.


  1. We were having similar moon dilemmas last night, sitting in Corfu and convinced that the moon rose over adjacent Albania at a noticeably different time and height than the night before.

    Sounds like your urban river has several surprises in it.

  2. You were right of course: the moon does rise at a different time each day, and in a different direction. It could be argued that it always rises at the same feet ;-) There are more surprises that those in the river for sure. Urban rivers are worth far more than the passing glance most anglers give them.