A DRY SPELL

Michael Wi­gan re­flects on the hot sum­mer and the re­sult­ing chal­lenges for both fish and an­glers

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Michael Wi­gan re­flects on the long hot sum­mer's im­pact on fish­ing

An­glers are stir-crazy. They were peer­ing through heat hazes at re­ced­ing water-edges all sum­mer. Scot­land had no sig­nif­i­cant rain since May. Fish­er­folk gloomily sur­veyed shrink­ing pools, turn­ing to view the cloud of dust pro­claim­ing the ar­rival of an­other de­spon­dent fisher re­hears­ing fa­mil­iar woes. Was it 1976 when it was last so low? Or was it 1967? One man bravely said it was in­ter­est­ing to see the pools di­vested, the boul­ders be­side which fish lie, the riverbed nor­mally oc­cluded by rip­pling dark water. An­other wiseacre sur­mounted the lethargy of ma­rooned salmon by sink­ing flies marginally deeper then fast-strip­ping. There is sport in see­ing fish­less fel­low an­glers writhe. But who wants to? A lady in a lo­cal shop ex­ulted about swim­ming in the River Thurso’s sea pool with salmon all around her. Out­side the shop a list­less an­gler dole­fully ob­served she could eas­ier have tailed one man­u­ally than he could ex­tract one on string with a stick. An­glers re­learnt old pas­times. Many had for­got­ten the over­looked joys of the trout lochs. Oth­ers took to the briny: there was still some water there. One fel­low on the north coast hauled aboard cod, gurnard, pol­lack and mack­erel in an af­ter­noon. What’s wrong with that – you can even eat them. In fish­ing lodges mid­night oil sput­tered through elon­gated poker-play­ing ses­sions. Wine mer­chants ran as dry as rivers. Part­ners and non-an­glers made it worse by vaunt­ing their sun­tans ly­ing in heat too strong for midges. Walk­ing the hill was like tram­pling through corn­flakes. Whilst an­glers ex­hib­ited their famed pa­tience, what were salmon do­ing? I spoke to a creel fish­er­man a mile out­side the Ber­riedale River in Caith­ness. Salmon were air­borne all around him. Why? My guess, as goofy as any, is that they held far off­shore to avoid pre­da­tion. Seals, por­poises and dol­phins can out­run salmon, but cap­ture is harder in open water; the ideal salmon hunt­ing tac­tic for sea mam­mals is by cor­ner­ing. Else­where salmon massed in deep pools near the mouth. This way they avoid – mostly – at­ten­tion from seals, while the salty in­ter­tidal water keeps par­a­sites and fun­gus at bay. Their re­cep­tors tickle, sens­ing natal water chem­istry and ev­ery day pulls spawn­ing yet closer. The urge to reach spawn­ing redds equals any in na­ture. On the Pa­cific north-west beached salmon are pushed from pools choked with their own kind rather than drop­ping back and fore­go­ing re­pro­duc­tion. Scot­tish salmon will swim far up trib­u­taries to reach orig­i­nal nurs­eries de­spite the risks of get­ting ma­rooned or at­tacked by ot­ters, ospreys and ea­gles. Their be­hav­iour in­spires awe as much as their sil­ver bod­ies do. This fish can ex­cite paranormal fas­ci­na­tion. An­gler ded­i­ca­tion can be seen as a bi­o­log­i­cal in­stinct too. One man per­formed an odyssey de­serv­ing study by be­havioural sci­ence. I rang him de­part­ing for Rio de Janeiro. A three-day salmon slot had ma­te­ri­alised. He flew back af­ter two days, slug­ging through con­gested air­ports to Scot­land. Ap­pear­ing grog­gily on the river­bank af­ter cross­ing half the world he and his friend fished doggedly, soothed by the magic fly in the magic water. God is just – they caught one. He then missed his In­ver­ness flight and drove home to Wales in a hire car. His mis­sion saluted the king of fish. Equal­ity-fix­ated politi­cians need to take note. They have just pro­duced a pike con­sul­ta­tion. This pro­poses pro­tect­ing pike, even in rivers where salmon are in­ter­na­tion­ally pro­tected, and even though pike eat young salmon. Salmon eat noth­ing in fresh­wa­ter, and host other pro­tected species like fresh­wa­ter mus­sels. Equat­ing pike with salmon ig­nores 988 years of le­gal his­tory through which salmon held pole po­si­tion. Okay, so this pleases vir­tu­ous pike an­glers. But how many will fly from Rio for a few hours on pike water? Eu­ro­pean rivers which once had salmon are now stuffed with pike. Will pike an­glers fund care-tak­ing of fresh­wa­ters as game an­glers do? Or will block-headed ges­ture pol­i­tics pre­vail?

“Their be­hav­iour in­spires awe as much as their sil­ver bod­ies do

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