Creasy's Column for Reel Life April 2019
By Hugh Creasy
Winter is coming. Give thanks.
Give thanks for the chill water washing green slime from river bed rock; give thanks for floods that wash humanity’s detritus out to sea and out of sight; give thanks for the floods that tumble boulders and grind them to sand and gravel and form beds for life’s great cycle to turn once again.
In the space between great events the hen trout hurries to wash a stony bed, drawn by chill waters. It is her season and the eggs she carries hold the future of her kind. She makes a bed with quivering tail, in gravel chosen for its size and placement to be the best place for her progeny’s survival. There is an air of desperation about her, and it may be her last act before death. She cleans as best she can, the stony nest, and expels her eggs, while her mate covers them with milt, and swims aside while she covers the redd with fine gravel and stones to protect their treasure.
The kype-jawed jack has fought for his place by her side, and after fulfilling his duty he is spent, skin blackened, eyes bulging, fins shredded, he makes a final lunge at the predators, creatures of his own kind, who wait downstream for stray eggs that drift in the current. His strength has gone, he holds nothing at bay, and he seeks sheltered water where, with gaping jaw, he rests. If he has a week or two of calm water and easy feeding, he may recover. But he has undergone three seasons of hard living. He has fought for his place in the river, he has fought for his right to breed. His progeny are probably among those he has fought to protect the redd. His scarlet gills pump oxygen from the water but the action is desperate and death comes close.
There are more redds being made and more hen fish move with a gaggle of suitors. The mating imperative is powerful and the fish forgo food in their desperate need.
There is another predator lying in wait. A cunning protagonist in the fight for survival. From the shore he casts a filament of line, invisible but strong and tipped with a barbed hook carrying an ersatz egg. His target is not the spawning hens – he seeks to tempt the would-be suitors and the opportunists lying in wait for spillage from the nest. These are maiden fish in prime condition. They will be orange-fleshed and fat, and when they’re caught they will fight with savage vigour.
This predator is backed by millions of years of evolution that has sent him to the top of the food chain. In his hand there is an instrument that carries the benefit of billions of dollars spent on the military-industrial complex, and an oil industry that has transformed and is capable of destroying the planet. All this technology to catch a creature with a brain smaller than a pea.
The angler must feel slightly ridiculous. He is inserting himself in a process that has been part of life on Earth since the first creatures swam the sea. Evolution obeys no rules. Survival is the imperative and the weak will not survive.
So he dangles his little imitation egg in the water and the fish swallows it and the angler feels pride.
There is something, though, that sets him aside. He has a conscience and he has the imperative of self-interest. To continue feeling pride and self-satisfaction he limits himself to a number of fish that will allow the species to carry on and he stops his game when there is a danger to its survival.
So, rivers are closed, methods restricted and disciplines imposed. Some object. Their hunger is all-encompassing and they would not care as long as their pride is assuaged.
The lower reaches of most rivers are still open, but there are dangers. Duck shooters will be out in force and consideration must be given to their rights. They have a short season, and many have spent a lot of money on equipment and maimais. To have anglers blundering around river banks and casting flies among the decoys is not giving them a fair go. There is plenty of water for all.
Anglers should be checking out their waders and boots. Cold water will spoil your day if you are sloshing around the river, and the extra weight carried in wet gear can be tiring. The upside of winter is that cold and faster-running water will cut back algae and make wading easier and safer.
The chills of winter have advantages, so let’s make use of them.