Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Unfinished Business - Numbskulls

I have a great deal of never-published-material in the IQ archive. This article was probably worth putting your way at the time of writing. But I started, and never finished!

It was supposed to be about fishing for Zander, and I intended to include pictures of both pike and zander skulls to illustrate my point (which was how to hook them efficiently).

I should have hit the publish button then, and to hell with it!

But I never did....

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The picture above is the skull of a perch. It's well worth studying if you are a predator angler because this skull is the typical one of Perciformes. All members of this huge family of fishes have similar skulls, or at least all members have the same bones in the same configuration with the same linkages between articulated jaw parts but with often very large differences in skull morphology. Marlin, for instance, are Perciformes. But so are ruffe. It's difficult to imagine that such vastly different fish are related at all, let alone that they both share a common ancestor. But they do.

There's just thirty or so Perciformes swimming in British waters but only a handful that attract the attention of anglers both as quarry and as bait (and often as bait for another Perciforme!). There's perch (of course), bass, mackerel, the various sea breams, sand eels, wrasse, and the subject of this article, zander.

You'll notice the absence of pike. Pike are not Perciforme, but Esociforme. These are a very small order of fishes that includes just two families — the pikes/pickerels, and mudminnows. By contrast, the Perciformes comprise of 160 families, about 10.000 species, and who in their splendour represent an astonishing 41% of all bony fish and are the largest order of all those animals with articulated spines — the vertebrates.  

Which order you are party to....

On the one hand we have narrowly specialised fish that evolved many millions of years ago to exploit a very particular niche and remain almost unaltered since then. On the other we have a burgeoning explosion of species each of whom evolved to exploit its particular niche amongst a myriad of alternative situations and no doubt continue to do so to this very day. The Perciformes are, by any definition, one of the most successful orders of animals that ever populated this planet.

Pike aren't related to perch, nor are they related to zander (in fact zander are more closely related to Marlin than they are to pike, which seems preposterous but is true). So, the old 'pike-perch' name for zander is most misleading, though it still persists in usage. It's remarkable that bait fishing for zander is for the most part conducted as if anglers were fishing for pike-perch, that is to say they are fishing for zander with pike tackle as if zander were actually a perch/pike cross. 

Now, you wouldn't fish for large perch with pike tackle and even if they grew to double figures you still wouldn't, and that's because perch fishing and pike fishing diverged centuries ago. Our approach to zander, though, has yet to split away and fully develop in its own right and remains tightly bound to pike fishing practises because the history of zander fishing is so very brief, sprouts from pike fishing in the first instance, and is yet to evolve into a separate and distinct branch of the sport.

What pike, perch and zander do share in common is in their habit of hunting live prey. Lures, therefore, will take all three. But they are also great scavengers, indeed the larger the specimen the more likely it is that it may prefer to scavenge. To explain this it must be taken into consideration that fish are, to all intents and purposes, weightless in water, and therefore it does not matter how big or small a fish is; it takes no effort whatsoever to stay put. However, it does take effort when either the water moves or the fish does because water possesses viscosity and that means them encountering drag.

Because the laws of physics demand that more energy be spent propelling large masses (but not weights because fish weigh nothing at all in water) through a liquid that has the same viscosity regardless of mass, far more is lost by a large fish than a small one in every spurt of speed. Indeed, a very large pike may be out of pocket in chasing and killing one small, quick and highly manoeuvrable roach but will soon be broke if it is unsuccessful too often. And that explains why dead baits take the very largest pike — they prefer an easy meal and have grown large because of it.

Fish have the remarkable ability of being able to grow larger and larger given great supplies of regular food in their annual periods of growth, so, a fifteen year old pike consuming a daily diet of pounds and pounds of hunted live reservoir trout may have grown quite sizeable but a fifteen-year old can feasibly grow just as large as your imagination will allow it to, but only if it specialises in consuming similar weights of dead ones.

Scavenging dead fish requires very little effort by comparison with the expensive act of hunting them down. Every morsel eaten is a gain rather than an expense because acquisition costs less than the morsel's worth. In short, very large specimens are those more successful than their brethren at acquiring food effortlessly.