Reading of James Denison and Brian Robert's recent exploits with the big gudgeon of the London chalk streams reminded me that I once saw a gonk every bit as large as their captures in the river ten minutes from home, and perhaps larger still...
It was high summer when I last took a walk down there. A bright sunny day this and with gin clear water flowing it was an excellent opportunity for spotting fish so I was hoping to find the roach and perch who'd occupied a certain swim in early springtime. A narrow glide of smooth water no more than three feet in width flanked with high reeds and overhanging brambles far bank, it was just a little deeper than elsewhere nearby and the cover provided seemed to make the perfect lie for such a small shoal.
I found them again just where they'd been before and their number had increased encouragingly. So I crouched down quietly in the tall green stems with a long stick to make an observation gap with when I noticed another species had joined them. There were three gudgeon rooting about. The usual size, nothing remarkable. They were an interesting addition, though, because I'd never paid much attention to the species before but now found their habits fascinating. And then, out of nowhere, came a monster twice the size of the others...
I overbalanced in shock, and very nearly fell in!
The fish was astonishing. Truly a Lord of the Piscine Punyverse
Today I thought I'd join James and Brian in their mission to compile data for a useful graph Brian is in process of creating showing the length/weight relationship of Gobio gobio. Having made such graphs myself a while back I find such stuff fascinating for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is that of them predicting the maximum possible weight for certain species of fish for the river, the country, and ultimately, the world. So, I set out with the intention of catching gudgeon of any size, but really, I was hoping to catch that very big fish I'd seen.
I took along a precision 2lb capacity spring balance in half-ounce divisions to weigh them with, a gnat-weight plastic bag to weight them in, and a metal ruler to gauge them against. I wanted to be precise about it because such data has to be that or the graph produced really doesn't mean a thing when you're a quarter of an ounce light or heavy or a quarter inch short or long. And the smaller the species the truer that becomes.
I started out not in the intended swim but a deeper pool a little way upstream. What I hadn't bargained for was for the first fish caught to be not gudgeon who peak at five ounces but bullhead who peak at one. It was too small to bother measuring. Certainly no larger than any I'd caught before.
However, the next was a larger one but still not worth measuring. Then I had a minnow, and another, and another. I had two at once — one on the hook, the other on the worm's tail! All the usual size, though. Nothing to get excited about.
The third bullhead was worth measuring and came in at 9.5 cm (3 3/4 inches) in length and a massive 2.9 cm across the head. I estimated it weighing about a third of ounce because it was not nearly as long as a corpse I'd taken home in summer and weighed with great care at exactly half an ounce. However, the fish was actually my personal best by some margin so I was very pleased with it.
I then lost quite a large minnow. Then another about the same size too before the bites dried up. Quite miffed‚ actually. They looked big fish to my eyes...
At the reedy glide I was a little concerned to find it flowing with a little too much pace for my liking and two or three feet wider now the encroaching vegetation had died hard back.
I didn't think it looked very good for gudgeon but had a cast about anyhow. I did get bites, but these were proper ones more like those of perch or chublet than the tiny twangs of minnow or the indescribably subtle bites of bullhead. In came a very small perch. Then I lost similar so I thought my reckoning correct...
Just when I was about to leave not wanting perch that size on my hook with all the fiddly deep throat surgery that might involve, the tip flew round and in came the largest minnow I'd ever caught before. Quite an impressive fish. I measured her for the hell of it. 8.9 cm. I didn't try weighing her. But she was another personal best by at least a fingernail!
What happened next simply blew me away.
Having got used to catching very, very tiny fish across the last two hours and measuring them when they seemed measurable, the world itself had become very, very small indeed and that made very, very small things seem very, very large!
I struck a full blooded bite that moved the tip the enormous distance of one half-inch, when up from the water came what I first believed was a good sized bullhead, only to find a great fat minnow dangling in front of my popping eyes.
Minus her tail she had a body the size of a Swiss Army Knife! Plus her tail she was 10.2 cm long. As thick as my index finger across her back and fat in the belly, she was a giant the like of which I'd never seen.
Of course I weighed her... Because I had to!
Blimey, what a job that was. For the first time ever I really wished I had (God forbid!) a set of digital scales. Kitchen scales. You know? Purpose built for weighing out tiny accuracies of dead expensive shit like ambrosia and nectar, white truffle and saffron. Ones just like those Brian has found he must use for gudgeon, in fact. Because she went clearly half an ounce but a tiny, tiny, incalculable bit more.
I gave her nine drams and then gave up trying!
Nevertheless, my nine-dram minnow is a great big minnow. A really huge one. The record stands at 13.5 drams (and how it was weighed is anyone's guess, but I bet it was fun!) and that's a a seriously big minnow. But one that's only 4.5 drams (less than a quarter-ounce) more which is about the size of one of your ordinary minnows...
She was also 66.666 recurring as a percentage of that record. A devilish beast!