There is im­mense beauty to be found in a sim­ple angling trip, but when a tran­quil stretch of wa­ter is sul­lied by fun­gal in­fes­ta­tions, it hits the heart of fish­ing en­thu­si­asts, says Michael Wi­gan

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Michael Wi­gan loves noth­ing more than a clas­sic fish­ing tale, but re­cent fun­gal in­fes­ta­tions threaten to ruin the fun

Angling is of­ten per­ceived as a sort of in­tense com­bat ac­tiv­ity; as a pas­time that takes place in dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ries, in­volv­ing risk and re­quir­ing su­per­hu­man per­for­mance.

Rugged pi­o­neers in ob­scure coun­tries are oft pic­tured cradling vast fanged fish from dark, night­mar­ish wa­ters, set­ting a for­mi­da­ble prece­dent for all those who fol­low in their wake.

But not all an­glers fit this mould, and I know some­one who bucks the trend. He is a re­tired pro­fes­sional who re­sides in an English new-town. To mod­er­ate that fact he spends a month each year in the wilder­ness, qui­etly fish­ing for wild brown trout. Let’s call him Old Jim.

Flick­ing tiny flies at tiny trout, Old Jim whiles away hours on tran­quil wa­ters. Size, to him, is im­ma­te­rial – the sheer bliss of soli­tude is enough to ful­fil his mis­sion. Upon see­ing any dis­tant shad­ows – an in­quis­i­tive passer-by or fel­low wan­derer – he pre­tends not to no­tice, ad­dress­ing once more the minia­ture rif­fles where his Lil­liputian quarry is nes­tled. Old Jim wouldn’t kill a sin­gle trout for all the world. He in­stead re­turns them lov­ingly to their beau­ti­fully peaty home.

When he talks of th­ese rest­ful days, he en­ters a dream world, mist­ily de­scrib­ing sub­sec­tions of pools as hal­lowed zones, drift­ing into the realms of a per­sonal Shangri-La.

Then in 2018, the year of the late-sea­son floods, the peace was some­what sul­lied. There was Old Jim, pro­tect­ing his tiny dry flies (some of which are pink as he be­lieves fly shape, not colour, is what counts) when an almighty lunge grabbed hold – a much larger fish sud­denly at­tached to the end of his line. First sea trout, then fully grown salmon be­gan as­sault­ing his gos­samer tackle.

He was rat­tled, but he adapted, ac­cept­ing that gross in­trud­ers had in­vaded his fairy tale ter­ri­tory, and in due course landed five salmon in a sin­gle week on a river no one fishes.

He started tak­ing an in­ter­est in them, but the fas­ci­na­tion was fleet­ing. Old Jim is back with his mi­cro­gear, twid­dling away hours on hid­den pools. Big salmon may be oc­ca­sional spoil­ers, but they darn well aren’t go­ing to wreck the whole show.

A story in a dif­fer­ent vein oc­curred this sum­mer. A keen salmon man fished a de­cent river for a week. He saw noth­ing; not a scale, not a sin­gle salmon salute.

On the Satur­day he at­tached a size 10 fly, a ‘Wil­lie Gunn/Cas­cade mix’, and plugged on. A fish took it which he ini­tially mis­took for two fish in one. Havoc en­sued. He felt, as he de­scribed it, ‘real weight and the erup­tion of power’. Hav­ing crashed around the con­fines of the river, the salmon – in his view weigh­ing in at over 30lb – bust off. But for this an­gler, as for Old Jim, his ac­count was that of a text­book fish­ing ad­ven­ture.

It is be­cause game angling has this sense of ex­plo­ration, pit­ted against un­seen ad­ver­saries in an alien sub-aqua en­vi­ron­ment, that this year’s fun­gus in­fes­ta­tion of wild salmon was so dis­turb­ing. The dream fish was in­jured and hurt­ing badly. Its in­stincts were harmed, its bal­ance and equi­lib­rium dam­aged. In­stead of an emis­sary from a beau­ti­ful other world, it be­came a dark por­tent.

As the lab­o­ra­tory re­sults from dis­eased salmon rolled in I re­alised some­thing else. Most tested salmon showed signs of bac­te­ria or virus. They had traces of sev­eral dis­eases, all known and recog­nised.

The nor­mal good health of the fish held them in check. None was iden­ti­fi­able as the pri­mary cause be­hind the fun­gal at­tacks, in which a meta­bolic change, fa­mil­iar in spent salmon, had got an early foothold, sup­pos­edly be­cause the fish had low­ered im­mu­nity.

In this sense, salmon are like all liv­ing crea­tures. They can look pris­tine and im­mac­u­late. But be­hind this out­ward majesty, or­gan­isms are grap­pling des­per­ately for con­trol.

When an an­i­mal or bird dies out­doors, de­com­po­si­tion be­gins from within. The seeds of pu­tre­fac­tion are imbed­ded even in the most healthy bod­ies. We do not need to be re­minded of this, but it re­mains a back­ground fact.

“In­stead of an emis­sary from a beau­ti­ful other world, it be­came a dark por­tent

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