Friday, November 16, 2012

Duck Outruns Trout

I've spent the past few days down on the river once more, in brazen dereliction of my coveted post as head blogister, to conduct my private trout census, to get in one last sortie before winter sets about in earnest, and to observe the little negotiations and adjustments that Nature makes among her denizens to keep things humming along smoothly in their appointed orbits. I observed a little exchange worthy of record and comment.

The river flows reach their lowest point this time of year and the water is preternaturally clear, enough to read a standard credit card agreement in about six feet of current. The fish are correspondingly wary and difficult to approach; they avoid the still runs where they're easily spotted, they look askance from beneath the rougher water at my counterfeit comestibles, even more so than ordinarily. Success lies in finding that slender mean between their desire for privacy and their need to put on a bit of weight against the approach of winter. Float a midge larva or the right streamer down a riffle and you may come up with something.

Trust me

So between the clarity of the water, the low volume of the flow and any number of icthyophagic predators congregated for the fishing, the trout have a hell of a time of it until the ice sets in. Herons, kingfishers, the occasional overwintering eagle, flotillas of merganser, and local flyfishers like me are all looking for a few nice filets to pack home.

There is nothing, I had thought until now, faster than a spooked trout. Earlier in the day I'd been wading along down a smooth run of river in about two feet of crystalline water, surely no place for a trout, when I came face to face (so to speak) with a respectable fish lying stock still on the river bottom just at my feet, nearly invisible among the pebbles and moss. It lay there as still as death, probably no less surprised than was I. We looked at one another. I moved a foot closer. The trout kept still. I looked at it, it looked at the side of my stream boot. Again I moved my foot. It scooted off in a blur across the river bed.

Later, as I was standing in the stream casting an idle fly I spotted a little gang of three mergansers in their winter brown, hanging about a shallow riffle, probably six to eight inches of water running over a bed of river pebbles, the sort of rill no one bothers to fish unless they're a merganser, the sort of rill I have heard aspersed as an "unproductive riffle." One of them would go to the bottom of the rill, wait until it spotted a fish, then like a senator after a page it would rocket into the current, neck out, head submerged, ass in the air, legs churning along the bottom, kicking up a zig-zag rooster tail through the riffle at full bore until it came up with a four-inch trout, which it would display to its fellows and then down the hatch it went. Damnedest thing I ever saw, a duck outrunning a trout.

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