Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Lords of the Piscine Punyverse — Revelation (Pt 1)

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! 


  1. I read the opening line and resisted the temptation to scroll down looking for a photo of a monster gudgeon, I read through... And there wasn't one! Then I noticed this was part 1 - suspense.

    Nice minnow btw, how long will you be able to resist those kitchen scales I wonder?

  2. I'm off to buy them right now Brian. Essential is what they are. I don't think the gudgeon are where they were in summertime. I have an idea where they might be, but they'll take some finding!

  3. Jeff if you read this and haven't bought any yet, I've these surplus to requirements (FOC).


    Amazon sent me a replacement as one was thought to have got lost in the post, The 'lost' one turned up a week later. Just mail or text me your address if you want them.

    Some big small fish you caught there, nice one. Talking of Gudgeon, there is one particular swim on the Avon that always produces some clonkers they usually take a liking to a 12mm pellet intended for Barbel. Such an interesting fish and making a comeback it seems.

    1. I didn't get out to Argos in the end, Mick, so yes I'll certainly have them if they're no good to you.

      I caught my largest gudgeon on a pellet on the Avon below Saxon Mill near where you fished on your first trip. It was a very big pellet! And a very big gudgeon, though at the time I failed to realise how large it really was. Only when I got home did the penny drop but it was too late by then! I caught more than one that day, but I've never caught one there since.

  4. Uncanny Jeff, I just the other day caught by far the biggest minnow I have ever seen! When I can get time to blog again I will share it. I'm interested in the bullheads having never caught one on a baited hook - any tips?

    1. The picture of it shows just how big it is alongside one of the ordinary minnows, Russel. Thanks for sending it. Be interested in reading your blog about it.

      Bullheads like stony, streamy water. I'd imagine down your way the streams coming off the moors might be where they'd be. I'd only caught two before this day. Both came from shallow water. These three came from the deepest part of the river but it was only three feet, the rest is more like a foot and often less. They live under stones and are very territorial, I've heard, so you have to return them exactly where they came from or they become disorientated. I think they fight if one goes back in another's territory.

  5. Jeff

    That's right up my street, sir. Well done on an incredible catch of perfection in miniature.


    1. I thought you'd enjoy it, SK. It was such an enjoyable and surprising little trip and now I can't wait to get back to the place armed with an even shorter rod and suitable scales and hunt down the biggest minnow ever seen!

      First time I've worn tweed for fishing in my life, too. Bought it recently and I promised Judy I'd keep it for best...

      Fishing is 'best,' surely?

  6. Isn't fishing for these mini fish quite fascinating at times. Well worth the effort. Big minnows abound in the Dove, as well as bullheads, one of which managed to engulf a very large lobworm on a size 10 hook one winter's day. As a kid I am sure I had a stickleback which even now would have exceeded any current British record, if anyone has been able to suffer the embarrassment of claiming it. In my 11 year old eyes it was fully 6 inches long and pregnant. I have never yet managed to catch, on rod and line, a stone loach, although local streams hold many of them. Has anyone caught one fairly on rod and line I wonder.
    Check Ebay for small digital scales. I bought a set that go up to about 500 grams, and which I understand are extremely popular with the dispensers of certain powders late at night in certain dark alleyways..

    1. Yes it is. I haven't done it in years — not since I was kid. We used have gudgeon matches on a local park lake. I learned more about fishing then than I can say. I used to catch loads of sticklebacks in a local farm pond with worms under a matchstick. Worms just tied on the cotton line! But not seen one in many years. Strange little fish! Can't say they're pretty.

      Mick Newey has kindly sent me a set of suitable scales, JAYZS. I'm prepared for the next session. When I can find a few spare hours...

    2. Still catching the odd stickleback Jeff, since being surprised to find they are quite common in our local spate rivers, and not just having an easy life in little ponds. And one of our local ponds even says, on its wildlife noticeboard, that it hold the ten spined species. Must have a go.

  7. Steve in Colorado10 February 2015 at 02:12

    Here in the mountains of northern Colorado I've developed a liking for this sort of angling... I have access to some tiny streams (on public land) that hold incredibly beautiful wild trout- browns, cutthroats, rainbows, brookies. Streams small enough to jump across- were I some years younger, ahem!
    The fish are small- but heart-breaking innocent in their zeal to chase a fly and so gorgeously colored- 'fresh from God's palette' as a friend once said.
    On a short ultralight rod with a 3 weight line and 6X tippet they fight like monsters of the deep. And these streams hold the frequent surprise of a six or eight inch behemoth...
    And VERY few anglers bother these places- because as anyone knows, if it ain't big it ain't worth it. I'm glad to know there are others who like this form of angling.

    1. Steve, it was a great deal of fun and I sorely regret not doing it in so many years because, as you say, it is rewarding in a way that big fish fishing isn't. Hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that is so enjoyable about it but maybe it is the pursuit of the worthless that makes it so. Overlooked and under appreciated streams do contain wonders that we should take time for. Something very engaging about being so close up and personal with the fish they hold, even though they are tiny.

      I've pulled out my finest little wisp of a rod for the next trip. Seven and a half feet of fine carbon that's in deep trouble against large fish but makes you wonder if you'll ever land the smallest!

  8. Steve in Colorado11 February 2015 at 02:16

    Jeff, in my case I've enjoyed this sort of angling because it takes me away from the madding crowd. Colorado is home to any number of officially designated Gold Medal trout streams and rivers. These are stretches containing trophy sized trout and are strictly artificial lure only, catch and release (my style of angling in any case). They attract very large numbers of anglers; both native and out-of-state alike. There is no closed season here- if you can stand the rigors of fishing the South Platte in February then God bless you and I'll toast a hot toddy to you!
    I used to fish those waters; and banked my share of lovely large fish... but the crowds kept getting larger- and more 'foreign', if you will. Fisherman- I won't call them anglers- starting arriving in droves from Texas and Kansas to attack the rivers. They were arrogant and obnoxious and some were outraged at the regulations. "Wudya mean I gotta put the dam fish back in da water??!!! I done paid fer my license dammit!!!! I wanna fry it up fer mah dinner!!"
    Sigh. So twenty years or so ago I started looking for the quiet places. And I've found them...
    Some still yield very respectable fish if you know how to read the water and thus suss out their hidey spots.
    Others are the little streams mentioned before....
    But pretty much all the places I go these days I find myself alone- on a meandering water in the High Country, bothered only by eagles, ospreys, deer, elk, and the occasional bear (and they're just big shaggy dogs that won't molest you if you return that courtesy).
    Angling for me is a solitary pursuit; I occasionally go out with others to local waters but in the main the sport is my way of regaining my connection with nature and a slower pace in life.
    Tight lines, my friend.