Jon Beer on trout varieties.
It is that lovely time of year once more: bees buzzing, buds bursting, income tax forms and council tax demands dropping onto the mat like April showers. Also trout rising. It's the trout I wish to speak of.
Fishermen have an obsession with size. Many blokes do. They read stuff like this in the sure and certain hope that they will acquire the secret of catching lots of very big trout. I have no wish to disappoint my readers: I will tell you how to catch lots of big trout. You must go to waters that contain lots of very big trout and fish there. It is the only way to do it.
Of course, everybody wants to fish these waters so it will cost you a fortune and it will serve you right. Several things could happen next. You may just run out of money. Or, you could belatedly come to your senses and realise that there is no great achievement in catching two-pound trout in a water that is stocked with two-pound trout. Alas, such enlightenment is rare amongst fishermen so you will probably do the first thing. Either way, you will eventually renounce such over-sized, over-stocked fisheries and stumble away, a broken man. A sorry tale - and all because of a vaunted preoccupation with the size of a fish.
Look: Britain is much blessed with trout. They are everywhere. They live, naturally, in every county in the land.
Look: Britain is much blessed with trout. They are everywhere. They live, naturally, in every county in the land. But very few of these trout are even close to a pound in weight and the vast majority are less than half this size. That is the natural pyramid of the generations: in a healthy, stable trout water there will always be far more small fish than large fish. And a wild brown trout of a pound is a large fish indeed.
I did not sit down intending to rant like this. I wanted to encourage folk to get in amongst the smaller waters where trout fishing - for real wild trout - can be found for a few pounds - free, sometimes, if you are polite and ask nicely. They can be found in the unlikeliest places. The Great Carp Boom of recent years has seen the creation of huge numbers of large holes filled with water and carp. But the water must be clean and is often supplied by a small clear stream with a natural head of wild trout. Wild trout can be found in the headwaters of most of the great lazy rivers of the east. My best day's trouting last year came from a Somerset stream, on the waters of a coarse fishing club in Frome. The day-ticket cost £2 and Philip and I stopped counting after we had caught fifty fine little trout. Just one weighed over a pound, a dark ugly brute, well past its prime. The rest were half this size, brilliant little gems with bellies of butter-yellow and spots of the brightest vermilion on their flanks. Which brings me, in my tortuous way, to what I have been working towards all this time.
The familiar native brown trout is an extraordinarily exotic creature. It can display more variation in colour and patterning than any other lump of British fauna. It can range from silver with a sprinkling of black speckles to a bold mosaic of bold spots and pale rings on a field of anywhere from grey through green to gold. Some of this variety is controlled by the fish itself: the dark pigment cells in the trout skin are under the control of the eye so the fish can change shade to some extent, dark or light. Blind fish are always dark - but trout from caves are always pale. Some of it may be diet: red spots seem to need carotene in the food. But none of this explains why fish caught on subsequent casts in a highland loch could almost belong to different species. Or two fish from adjacent lies in a stream. Why is one a riot of bold colours whilst its neighbour is a demure study in monochrome?
Time was when each of these variations was regarded as a subspecies, from the black-finned trout of the Welsh mountains to the gillaroo of some Irish Loughs. What a fun time the 19th Century was to go fishing, catching different trout from different waters. Then the men in white coats declared all this to be nonsense and that all trout were essentially the same species because they could interbreed successfully. What no-one spotted until the last quarter of the 20th Century is that they don't much. Interbreed, that is. Trout may occupy same loch for thousands of years and yet remain genetically isolated by spawning at different times and places. Recent studies have shown that trout in adjacent tributaries can be just as genetically distinct. So now it seems that much of the glorious variation in trout patterning and coloration may indeed be genetic. And the Black-finned Trout of Wales really are different creatures from the Gillaroo and the Ferox.
I hope so. So, this spring, go out and find yourself some wild trout and, when you catch one, don't look at the size, feel the quality. Take a good look at the gem on the end of the line.
Find real wild fishing has just got easier to. The Angling 2000 scheme began on a few rivers of the South West. Fishermen buy a book of vouchers and then use them for fishing on any of numerous beats on the trouty little streams on offer. Details of the beats and access are in the Angling 2000 booklet or visit www.angling200.org.uk It's a great scheme and has grown each year. Something similar was initiated in Wales last year, on the headwaters of the Welsh Wye. Details of the Upper Wye Passport can be found at www.wyeuskfoundation.org. This year it is the turn of the north of England. The Eden Rivers Trust is hoping to launch its own passport to the headwaters and tributaries of the River Eden. You can follow developments on www.edenriverstrust.org.uk
Anyone who wants to catch a wild trout, or who is interested in protecting or restoring trout streams, or is just interested in trout - should be a member of the Wild Trout Trust. Find out more at www.wildtrout.org
Jon Beer contributes regularly to publications including Trout & Salmon and The Telegraph. A collection of these can be found in Jon's book 'Gone Fishing - Adventures in pursuit of wild trout'.
Articles by the same author
- Essential Skills - Dry Fly and Mayfly with Oliver Edwards
- New Canadian Beaver report spells doom for Scottish salmon
- Fly Fishing for Atlantic Bass - new book reviewed
- The Streamside Guide - Road Trips
- Wet Fly Fishing on Rivers - Essential Skills with Oliver Edwards
- Venezuelan smorgasbord at Los Roques
- Pope of the Madison
- The principles of layering - the base layer
- Game Fishing by Bob Church
- The Streamside Guide - Planning the Trip