Thursday, 17 September 2009

Small Stream Adventures - Revelation

I had my tooth fixed the other morning, a gold crown makeover for a molar that broke in half a couple of years back whilst on a particularly testing job. There was no time to get to a dentist at the time so I had to pull the loose broken half out, and then in time it just became manageable, and so I never got around to it. It was Judy’s fault, this tooth job. She just booked us all in for a check up and I found that no more rot had occurred since the last time I went to the dentist, a distantly memorable event that involved root canal work on the very tooth I had replaced, and that must have been twenty years ago!

Actually the dentist sold me the tooth. I said that I was happy with the busted molar just so long as nothing further was going to go wrong with the ruin of this lifetime troublesome peg. ‘A crown would ensure that’, I was assured. It could be precious metal or some other stuff I can’t remember, perhaps porcelain? A gold tooth! Hmmm….!

I’m not a fan of really visible ostentatious gold teeth unless worn by old wise gentlemen with white beards, on whom they look rather fetching, but a molar in gold is the better tooth by far, and dentists rate them as best of all because of the metals inert character and malleability which ensures that the tooth beds without stress. If I had the cash I would have all my crappy old NHS fillings torn out and refilled with gold, in fact I would have the whole damn lot overhauled, the losses replaced and the entire set of choppers made good, and for good.

Not that they are half bad for my age – I still retain 32 out of the 36 full set, and that’s a good deal higher than the appalling national average. I thank my Swiss army knife toothpick .

Anyways, what this has to do with fishing is that my bike ride back home took me over a lower stretch of the same stream where I had seen some large roach earlier in the year and so I diverted and decided to explore it, take the valley footpath, and see if I could find fish. It was a great disappointment though with not a yard over six inches depth in miles of river and thus fishless save minnows and sticklebacks, until I reached the interesting stretch where I had spotted the roach.

I thought it would good fun to go and see them again and on the way down pushed my way through the undergrowth and into a few likely places. In the deep shade of a bush that came right down and covered over the stream I found some more roach and a single perch, about twenty of them and up to about half a pound or so. They were quite still, just hanging in the water, doing nothing whatsoever. I watched them doing nothing for some time and then moved along.

Fifty yards downstream I came to a slightly wider than usual stretch that looked to be about two feet deep, about the maximum for this tiny rivulet. The sun was shining off the water straight onto my face and I could not see a thing from directly above the water but I caught sight of two white specks moving downstream at a faster speed than that of the flow, specks that I instantly recognized as those carried on the back of a fungus infected fish. I peered into the water hoping to catch sight of it but it was impossible to make out anything because of the glare. So I waited a few minutes till a cloud passed in front of the sun and then resumed my spying.

What I saw took my breath away!

At first I couldn’t make out exactly the size of it, but it was outsize in this place, simply enormous!

It was a shoal, and a strange one at that. What I saw was a hundred or more fish of all sizes from an ounce or less up to perhaps a pound and a half, comprising of more or less exactly half perch, half roach! They were all swimming in formation, patrolling upstream and then downstream, over and over and again. Never stopping for one moment. Apart from the one infected fish that had given the game away, all were in pristine condition and the perch especially vivid and heavily barred in black. At the centre were the biggest roach and perch, fish of more or less equal size, and all around them flocked smaller and progressively smaller fish until at the head and tail of this restless shoal swam the very smallest fish of all.

I found a sharp stick, dug some little worms from the black mud of the bank, and dropped them over their heads as they swam. The perch mopped them up.

I knew that roach and perch sometimes did swim in the same places, indeed I have many times seen shoals of both together, but always of very small, same size fish. I had no idea that large fish of these species would do the same and that small fish of both species would follow their example. The biggest perch could have easily eaten three quarters of the shoal members if they had wanted to! No problem.

It’s just plain wrong, surely?

This is the Bethnal Green Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy hanging out with the Kray gang!

There must be good reason, and given the gin clear, open and very shallow state of the stream I’m willing to bet that the reason is one of health and safety, of risk management, the sinking of species specific instincts into the pool of collective individual protection that the largest shoal affords the oldest, largest and therefore wisest members. When your perceived enemies are no longer bucket mouths but sharp beaks and you cannot hide under the only bush over deepish water in the stretch because another shoal has for itself then I suppose, regardless of the mortal threat inherent in swimming with those who would ordinarily be your enemy… it's all fins to the pumps!

No perch would have thought of and arranged such a thing. They devour other fish without blinking a hard black eye, roach if they are around, indeed they’d devour their own children, mother even, and would not blanch at taking a bite out of nanny and granddad's ragged tails

Big roach are clever though, aren’t they? Family members may not on their menu but they don’t think twice about putting them in the firing line!

‘Katie, Johnny, get to the edge of the shoal, and none of your lip…’

Astute too…

‘Ronny, Reggie, Hi! We have a proposition…’

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