A Wonderful, Wild, Wensum Brown... or is it?

John Bailey

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Let me give you a bit of background because I genuinely need some help here.

I began fishing the Wensum, and other Norfolk rivers, just a little too late to capitalise on the huge browns that lived there, back in years leading up to the Seventies. The history books record numerous browns of 6 pounds plus, including doubles, that were taken, especially from the mill pools. I was intoxicated by the idea of catching one myself as a teenager and young man in his twenties, even though the heyday of these great fish was over. I came close. I rubbed shoulders with a fish of perhaps 7 pounds in Lyng mill pool between 1973 and 1975, when it vanished.

Even more exciting, during the spring of 1975 I stumbled across an even larger creature in Worthing mill pool, a few miles up river. This beast was at least 12 pounds, spotted like a leopard, and I watched it comb the gravels for minnows and gudgeon over several weeks. In retrospect, I did not give that fish my all, and there were many things I could have tried but sadly did not. I’d love the chance again.

b8de4c0c-d278-4189-be46-3336cd74e160.jpeg


Mark says, "Thanks for the 'wild trout' verdict. I'm happy with 'may have been a stockie once',
but was probably stocked at 1.5lb and has been in the river several seasons, gaining strength,
camouflage and cunning all the time, is now fin-perfect and well-muscled from a life in the current.
Has fed more on flies and grubs than pellets. And has possibly eluded capture for most of its life."


To some degree, I have been blessed with a second bite at this particular cherry. These past ten years, some big browns have again come from the Wensum, and even more so from the upper Bure. I have no doubt that the big browns caught mid-last century were native, but my question is – what about the source of these later fish? The photograph shows my friend Mark Hayes with a 5.13 Wensum brown, where I have seen and weighed fish up to 7.08. Robbie Northman has caught similar fish from the upper Bure. These are great fish, whatever their parentage, but quite obviously it would be good to know what that parentage is.

Both the Wensum and upper Bure do have stocks of small wild browns in their upper reaches, so it is quite possible that bigger fish have moved downstream, looking for increased food levels. I have no doubt that big browns can easily traverse sluices without much difficulty. However, it is equally possible, is it not, that these fish are browns stocked into the occasional small syndicates found along both rivers? They could easily be introduced fish that have grown on to a large size on a diet of minnows, and of course, signal crayfish.

I have heard various theories about how a big brown can be verified, one way or another, by looking at fins, spotting patterns, and so on. My problem is that many of these theories contradict each other, leaving me still groping in the dark. It might be that killing the fish, or at least taking scales, could establish the true identity of these trout, but I wouldn’t want them killed, and who would carry out the tests anyway?

From what I hear, these fish are not unique, and certainly other Eastern rivers hold similar spotted surprises. I’d relish knowing any way of forming a definitive opinion from looking at a photograph alone, especially of a fish that has perfect fins and superficially at least looks the real deal. So, answers, please!
 

Hardrar

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Generally, Wild fish have red spots and much fewer of them. See below, they often have smaller mouths and more pronounced teeth. They also have a more “rounded” appearance. Modern Triploid Browns can soon get big, as they only feed and don’t breed also. Trout farm bred fish tend to have darker and heavier spotting.
We used to get some big predatory browns in the River Hull, but most of the fishing on the upper reaches was closed 20 years ago sadly, some went 20 plus, hardly any spots and all red, very toothy, but small gape, relative to body size.
Looking at the one in the picture, looks farm bred to me.
Lower image is a local River Seven Wild trout.
Top picture a stocked Brownie- black heavier spotting same beck.
7B19E99B-7F5C-4305-B401-6DDBF99B29E3.jpeg
 

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bobmiddlepoint

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I’d relish knowing any way of forming a definitive opinion from looking at a photograph alone, especially of a fish that has perfect fins and superficially at least looks the real deal. So, answers, please!

You can't from a photograph alone.
Fin perfect would suggest wild bred but isn't 100%.
Spot pattern and colour tell you next to nothing. Colour is down to habitat and time of year.
Scale reading might help but on a river with good natural feeding it might not (similar growth rates in both hatchery and river).
Genetics is probably your only real hope. Take samples and compare wit the little trout in the headwaters. Even then stocking with fertile fish in the past will muddy the waters.

That said it would be pretty miserable sod who called the fish in the photo a stocky!


Andy
 

loxie

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It's impossible to tell from a photo. I've a pretty good eye for a stockie, I used to sell about 10% of UK stocked browns at one time, and Id say if it was stocked it was years ago. It could easily be wild. Either way it's a stunning fish!
 

Hardrar

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Let me give you a bit of background because I genuinely need some help here.

I began fishing the Wensum, and other Norfolk rivers, just a little too late to capitalise on the huge browns that lived there, back in years leading up to the Seventies. The history books record numerous browns of 6 pounds plus, including doubles, that were taken, especially from the mill pools. I was intoxicated by the idea of catching one myself as a teenager and young man in his twenties, even though the heyday of these great fish was over. I came close. I rubbed shoulders with a fish of perhaps 7 pounds in Lyng mill pool between 1973 and 1975, when it vanished.

Even more exciting, during the spring of 1975 I stumbled across an even larger creature in Worthing mill pool, a few miles up river. This beast was at least 12 pounds, spotted like a leopard, and I watched it comb the gravels for minnows and gudgeon over several weeks. In retrospect, I did not give that fish my all, and there were many things I could have tried but sadly did not. I’d love the chance again.

View attachment 37371

Mark says, "Thanks for the 'wild trout' verdict. I'm happy with 'may have been a stockie once',
but was probably stocked at 1.5lb and has been in the river several seasons, gaining strength,
camouflage and cunning all the time, is now fin-perfect and well-muscled from a life in the current.
Has fed more on flies and grubs than pellets. And has possibly eluded capture for most of its life."


To some degree, I have been blessed with a second bite at this particular cherry. These past ten years, some big browns have again come from the Wensum, and even more so from the upper Bure. I have no doubt that the big browns caught mid-last century were native, but my question is – what about the source of these later fish? The photograph shows my friend Mark Hayes with a 5.13 Wensum brown, where I have seen and weighed fish up to 7.08. Robbie Northman has caught similar fish from the upper Bure. These are great fish, whatever their parentage, but quite obviously it would be good to know what that parentage is.

Both the Wensum and upper Bure do have stocks of small wild browns in their upper reaches, so it is quite possible that bigger fish have moved downstream, looking for increased food levels. I have no doubt that big browns can easily traverse sluices without much difficulty. However, it is equally possible, is it not, that these fish are browns stocked into the occasional small syndicates found along both rivers? They could easily be introduced fish that have grown on to a large size on a diet of minnows, and of course, signal crayfish.

I have heard various theories about how a big brown can be verified, one way or another, by looking at fins, spotting patterns, and so on. My problem is that many of these theories contradict each other, leaving me still groping in the dark. It might be that killing the fish, or at least taking scales, could establish the true identity of these trout, but I wouldn’t want them killed, and who would carry out the tests anyway?

From what I hear, these fish are not unique, and certainly other Eastern rivers hold similar spotted surprises. I’d relish knowing any way of forming a definitive opinion from looking at a photograph alone, especially of a fish that has perfect fins and superficially at least looks the real deal. So, answers, please!
When was this caught? Winter Coarse fishing session? No leaves on the trees and bankside vegetation looks like mid Winter. Clothing of the Angler also suggests Winter?
The fish is very fat for a Winter caught specimen?
The fish has no Pearl lines in its anal fins, or any fins, which in condition as good as that, it would usually have in a Wild fish.
 

bobmiddlepoint

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The fish has no Pearl lines in its anal fins, or any fins, which in condition as good as that, it would usually have in a Wild fish.

OK I'll ask as I've never heard the term, what are pearl lines in fins?
Are you talking about the silver/pearly sheen you sometimes see running along the fins from the base?


Andy
 

Lewis Chessman

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If you have access to a microfiche reader then reading scales isn't very hard to get the hang of. I would look for either constant, faster growth (farmed) or periodic growth (wild) in the first two years.
I'm more familiar with this method regarding Atlantic salmon but unless you have very mild winters I'd expect to see seasonal growth rings on a native fish's scales.
If you have any contacts with a local library or uni they might have an old machine in a store room which you might borrow. If not, they go for under £50 on eBay but usually are 'collect' only.
 

loxie

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If you have access to a microfiche reader then reading scales isn't very hard to get the hang of. I would look for either constant, faster growth (farmed) or periodic growth (wild) in the first two years.
I'm more familiar with this method regarding Atlantic salmon but unless you have very mild winters I'd expect to see seasonal growth rings on a native fish's scales.
If you have any contacts with a local library or uni they might have an old machine in a store room which you might borrow. If not, they go for under £50 on eBay but usually are 'collect' only.
While I would never wish to wee on anyone's strawberries but the same temperature constraints apply in farms as well as wild environments. The big difference is the speed of growth but there are plenty of variables and brown trout have a smaller gap than rainbows.
 

Hardrar

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OK I'll ask as I've never heard the term, what are pearl lines in fins?
Are you talking about the silver/pearly sheen you sometimes see running along the fins from the base?


Andy
They have a pearlescent line along with a black line running along the anterior edges of their pectoral, pelvic anal fins.
 

Hardrar

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Would also comment, that the fish is being badly handled, if it was returned? I always keep them in the net.
 

bobmiddlepoint

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They have a pearlescent line along with a black line running along the anterior edges of their pectoral, pelvic anal fins.

Right, I know what you mean but had never heard the term. Plenty of wild fish have neither “pearl lines” or black lines on the edges of their fins.

Andy
 

John Bailey

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I’m delighted this thread is still running, as I do believe it is throwing so much up that is pertinent to so many of us, and angling in general.

I’ve been thinking back to 2002/2003 when I spent a great amount of time in Ireland, writing a book called Fly Fishing In Ireland (Gill and Macmillan, Dublin). I spent a fascinating afternoon on Corrib with the legendary guide on the lough, Roy Pierce, and some of what he told me has come back into my mind as a result of this recent debate. As Roy said, even on a single water there can be many different versions of the wild brown...

"On the Corrib there are regional differences amongst the fish stocks. For example, you’ll catch a torpedo-shaped trout, which is an open lake fish. Some trout have rounded fins and are a bit flabby, and these are weed bed fish that don’t move much and just gorge on insects. Then you’ve got noticeably sharp-tailed trout and these are deep water fish, often daphnia feeding. Spotting patterns change as you move around the lake, and very frequently you’ll find subtle changes in belly colour that reflect the ground they have been feeding over.”

What Roy told me tallied with what I had found out during my years of ferox madness, “feroxide” as Chris Yates called it. There was a time when I could look at any picture of any ferox and tell you with very reasonable certainty which loch it lived in. So, if even genuine wild browns exhibit all these variations, does the plot thicken further?
 

aenoon

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While I would never wish to wee on anyone's strawberries but the same temperature constraints apply in farms as well as wild environments. The big difference is the speed of growth but there are plenty of variables and brown trout have a smaller gap than rainbows.
Errmm no.
I used to keep my growing races at a constant 9 degrees, even when river was frozen.
It meant growth was constant all year round.
Brown or otherwise.
 

loxie

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Errmm no.
I used to keep my growing races at a constant 9 degrees, even when river was frozen.
It meant growth was constant all year round.
Brown or otherwise.
I'm intrigued as to how you kept your water at a constant 9 degrees and why? Where were you farming trout?
 

Lewis Chessman

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When reading salmon scales I was more focused on the later growth rings than the juvenile stages as I was looking to discern between wild and farmed/escapee stock.
However, wouldn't the regular availability of food to farmed juvenile trout all year round give them a faster growth rate compared to wild fish regardless of water temperature?
The fact that cage-raised smolts mature so quickly in freshwater lochs compared to wild fish suggests to me it is so (one year instead of two or three). I've no doubt growth will be less in the colder months for both but still greater for the farmed fish, surely?
 

John Bailey

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Fascinating, as ever, all this. It has driven me to calculate the trout I have seen, or been close to seeing, in my life.

Here goes... Browns. Sea trout. Rainbows. Steelhead. Slob trout. Ferox trout. Marble trout. Lenok trout. Brook trout. Dolly Varden trout. Cutthroat trout. Sonaghan trout. Gillaroo trout. Bull trout. Ohrid trout. Adriatic trout, and a whole lot of trout in the Onon system whose Mongolian names I could not fathom.

Perhaps specialised, single-species fly anglers need all these trout forms to keep the freshness alive? Or, is he who is tired of browns, must be tired of life?

And if you think my list is a good one, have you read Trout by James Prosek (Alfred A Knopf. New York 1996)? His line-up runs to scores!
 

Lewis Chessman

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I have a copy of James Prosek's 'Trout of the World'. It's a good book with a hundred+ illustrations of diverse trout like this:

1-P1040018.JPG


Worth picking up if you like that sort of thing (as my old granny used to say).
 

loxie

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When reading salmon scales I was more focused on the later growth rings than the juvenile stages as I was looking to discern between wild and farmed/escapee stock.
However, wouldn't the regular availability of food to farmed juvenile trout all year round give them a faster growth rate compared to wild fish regardless of water temperature?
The fact that cage-raised smolts mature so quickly in freshwater lochs compared to wild fish suggests to me it is so (one year instead of two or three). I've no doubt growth will be less in the colder months for both but still greater for the farmed fish, surely?
Absolutely it's the absolute growth rate that is important but in some circumstances wild browns can grow nearly as fast as farmed ones and it's not always really obvious which scales are which.
 

loxie

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Fascinating, as ever, all this. It has driven me to calculate the trout I have seen, or been close to seeing, in my life.

Here goes... Browns. Sea trout. Rainbows. Steelhead. Slob trout. Ferox trout. Marble trout. Lenok trout. Brook trout. Dolly Varden trout. Cutthroat trout. Sonaghan trout. Gillaroo trout. Bull trout. Ohrid trout. Adriatic trout, and a whole lot of trout in the Onon system whose Mongolian names I could not fathom.

Perhaps specialised, single-species fly anglers need all these trout forms to keep the freshness alive? Or, is he who is tired of browns, must be tired of life?

And if you think my list is a good one, have you read Trout by James Prosek (Alfred A Knopf. New York 1996)? His line-up runs to scores!
There is a great deal of overlap between species of trout and types and the nomenclature is extremely dubious. For instance brook trout and dolly varden are actually charr while steelhead and rainbows are technically salmon. Browns, sea trout, Ferox, gillaroo, slob trout and sonaghan are all genetically identical but have features and habits which seem to make them separate subspecies but a scientific definition is virtually impossible. No one has yet been able to come up with a plausible definition of a sea trout. That being said generally speaking I know one when I see it, to misquote Justice Potter Stewart.
 

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