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Fish speak - A to Z

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by Lesley Crawford


It has often struck me that trout fishing has its own unique language. To a non fisher we often come across as eccentrics - not to say madmen - given to muttering apparent mumbo jumbo about twitching a Daddy or rolling a nymph. Of course we might know what we are talking about but outsiders will not. Sometimes even the best of us get caught out by terminology - so if you fear you don't know your drag from your agile darter or your naturals from your overheads then look no further.

In the old days showing
the fish the butt meant
playing it with care
rather than force
Agile Darters - I love this rather silly term, it is actually used to describe a particular type of nymph and how it moves in the water but I think it's just appropriate for the trout themselves.

Butt - Nothing rude intended here as the butt is the end of the rod beneath the reel seat. 'Giving fish the butt' is thought by many to mean playing it hard to the point of brutality. Wrong. It's actually 'showing the fish the butt' and meant that in the old days the longer rod was hoisted back over the shoulder and the butt end pointed at the fish. This allowed the flexibility of the rod to absorb the shocks of the fish and it was less likely to come off. Far from being violent it meant playing fish was done sensibly using the dynamics of the rod rather than brute force.

Cannibal trout - This term is often used when describing large trout or ferox. It implies the fish have become large toothy lank specimens not worthy of the table. Actually all trout can have cannibalistic tendencies in the sense they are not averse to eating any smaller fish they can wrap their jaws around and not necessarily of their own kind. For example trout of around 1lb plus will consume sticklebacks and do well on them. These apparent 'cannibals' still make great eating - likewise healthy ferox of say 5lb plus which consume Arctic Char will also make a fine meal.

All trout can exhibit
cannibalistic tendencies
- not just Ferox
Drag - No not a cross dresser, simply the little switch or button on the side of the reel which determines resistance when the line is being pulled out from the reel - hopefully by a very large fish! Not enough of us make proper use of it but it's an essential aid if you are likely to connect with major sized fish.

Effort - Something that few anglers record when filling in any catch return. They may happily record their best trout at 3lb but not say it took an intensive week of fishing to get it. Equally they might say they blanked but fail to report they only fished for 3 hours and of that sat on the bank eating lunch for forty minutes! The degree of effort should always be shown on catch returns.

Fingering - This is actually a musical term for hitting certain piano notes but some old guard anglers use it to describe a fluttery style of retrieve akin to a speeded up figure of eight retrieve without palming the line. Aesthetically pleasing and still useful in river trouting providing you keep control of the line.

It's a good idea to do
a few short casts to begin
with before wading in
to avoid lining trout
Glitter - Something you don't want the nylon to do. Glittery nylon can be made less apparent by a rub of mud or special anti flash applications. Coloured nylon e.g. brown or green is not necessarily better than clear stuff. Remember that in sunlight, shadows of line and nylon crossing the water are obvious no matter colour what you use.

Heather Fly - Also known as Bibio or Red Legs, this bumbling terrestrial insect which resembles a poor flying hawthorn fly is a vitally important hatch in the trout's calendar. Appears from mid August to late September in great numbers given the right conditions. Hatches best in warmish dry weather with a good breeze, poor hatches occur in flat calms and/or heavy rain. Best imitation is undoubtedly a nice straggly Bibio (size 10 or 12) given a lick of mucilin and fished slowly amongst the real things.

Induced Take - A phrase originally coined by Sawyer and Kite to mean drifting a nymph down in front of a river trout then lifting the rod tip to make the nymph rise and fall like a natural. Equally applicable however for working sea trout patterns on a fast retrieve, loch style, where a flashy fly like a Dunkeld is made to chase a black bushy 'prey' like a Zulu. Greedy big trout will sometimes intercept the top dropper prey in an effort to beat the apparent chasing 'fish' to the draw.

Jumpers - Trout which leap out of the water to snatch an airborne insect cannot be struck too fast. Sometimes as they jump skyward they actually have your fly already in their mouths. Too slow on the strike and the trout will have spit it out before it re-enters the water. A common phenomenon at mayfly time.

Not all early season
sea trout are kelts
Kelts - Salmon kelts are reasonably easy to spot, the proportions are all wrong. Sea trout kelts are less easy though they will still look out of condition fish with dull colour and far less fight than the fresh silver children of the tides. Some anglers believe it is only kelt trout which are caught in the early part of the year when the season opens in late February. However, immature 'maiden' fish which have not yet spawned make for excellent sport and they can be found around the northern coasts of Scotland in reasonably significant numbers - notably North Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland - right from the word go. These are shoaling sea dwelling clean trout which come in and out of the tides but do not run far upriver. Technically called finnock (small sea trout) though some are as large as 3lb plus.

Lined - To line a trout is to put it down and this is a common sin amongst those anglers fond of blind distance casting. The trout's natural habitat is next to food and shelter and therefore it is much more likely to be found in the nooks and crannies of a shoreline rather than out in cold sterile deep water. Thus a few short casts should always be made standing a little way back from the bank before wading in especially early and late in the season when trout are closer in.

Midges - English and Scottish midges differ. South of the border, the former is a common term for small wispy flies (CDC midges and the like) which broadly imitate chironomids. These patterns are also sometimes referred to as 'buzzers' but either way in England midges tend to be a pretty harmless creatures readily munched on by trout. Scottish midges on the other hand are an unreservedly nasty breed of tiny insect designed to send grown men and women into paroxysms of pain, rage and helplessness. While not as deadly as their larger cousins the mosquito or black fly which carry disease, these pin head sized flies can relentlessly bite the fairer skinned amongst us and spoil an otherwise excellent fishing day. Scottish midges hatch most profusely in dull overcast conditions especially from peaty acid soil and they linger in billions amongst warm wet heather. They cannot fly in strong winds and are not so prevalent in bright sunshine. Worst times of year are late July to mid September when even the best repellents in the world seem to have little effect. Head nets sometimes help if you get them on quick enough otherwise its purgatory in muggy still weather.






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