Trout in the Town Blog

18/01/2013 - 16:42
I saw that Theo Pike had posted this in his urban trout blog ( just think that the film and Theo's synopsis nails it.

This is the underlying passion that Trout in the Town needs to kindle and ignite in communities that live around some of the best, most valuable and most un-loved wild trout and grayling populations in the UK.

08/01/2013 - 15:55

trout with egg sac


So, at this time of year, trout streams across the UK will play host to some genuine - and almost entirely hidden - miracles. Much of this will be played out in the microcosmos found in the tiny breathing spaces between irregularly-shaped gravel chips. It doesn't matter whether the trout stream is in the middle of a busy city or in pristine countryside - new life is currently finding a way. In fact, I can think of a bus stop only a few hundred meters from where I currently sit that the queues of passengers will be standing almost within touching distance of a new generation of tiny trout. Each occupying parallel but completely separate universes.

Our (largely) warm and wet winter of 2012 will mean that lots of streams would have seen spawning efforts starting perhaps in November. The males chasing rivals away from prime spawning sites and the females fluttering their bodies sideways to thrash and scrape small depressions in the gravel bed.

The eggs shed and fertilised by the most persistent (or sneaky!) males in these depressions have then been buried by further thrashing. The resultant mounds of gravel covering the scooped out nests containing the fertilised eggs are called "redds" and come with a remarkable ventilation system. The raised "bump" profile (that can initially be seen as a much brighter patch - until the regrowth of algae camouflages it again) forces water to flow between the gravel particles. This keeps the eggs supplied with vital oxygen. However, especially at the early stages of egg development, the redds are very sensitive to disturbance. Anglers wading on top of or through such redds can easily kill the majority of eggs inside. Also, if the gravels become smothered with fine sediment at any point when either the eggs or the baby fish (alevins) are sheltering inside - they will suffocate and die.

As the baby trout develop within the spherical egg membranes, the eyes, spinal columns and yolk sacs of individual fish become visible. The longer this development goes on, the more mobile the little trout become inside their protective shells.

An arduous hatching procedure ensues in which the tiny trout (just over a centimeter long) wriggle, gasp and thrash their way out of a split in the egg membrane. These newly-emerged baby trout (complete with large yolk sac for nutrition) are programmed to STAY WITHIN THE GRAVEL until the large yolk sac is entirely absorbed (which will take them through to spring).

Emerging from the gravel in spring is a huge step into the big wide world - and with no yolk sac to rely on - independent feeding must take place to avoid starvation. For now though let us consider that from November through to somewhere roughly around April the gravelly beds (especially at the tails of pools) of our trout streams will hold the future generation of trout that can live up to the wildest of fly fishing dreams.

Even for a totally selfish angler, stomping on these areas of refuge is a bad idea for the prospects of future encounters. The fact that, even after the eggs have hatched, the tiny trout are hiding in the cramped spaces between gravel chips make them extremely vulnerable to being trodden on. Probably more insidious though is the threat of suffocation caused by siltation. This could be the result of channel modification/presence of weirs that promotes silt accumulation, rampant bank erosion due to one of two main causes (invasive plant species that die back in winter or unrestricted heavy grazing and trampling by livestock), badly implemented drainage of roads, construction sites, buildings, forestry plantations or agricultural fields - the list goes on.

The video is a short insight into what goes on in the gravel (and why people should think twice about disturbing or smothering it).

Troutearlylifeblog from Paul Gaskell on Vimeo.

04/12/2012 - 14:25
Three local guides - Paul Gaskell and John Pearson (both of SPRITE and Discover Tenkara) along with Orvis guide Stuart Crofts - gave a free guided tenkara experience valued at over £500 on Saturday. The event was run as a thank-you to people who have supported SPRITE over the last few years. We were delighted to receive very generous donations direct to SPRITE charitable funds from two attendees (one a brand new member and one existing member) that totaled almost £100. Very many thanks for such generous donations (whether volunteering "in kind" or in cash) as all will be focused on continuing to look after the river and educate people in the value of their urban rivers and wildlife.

Some selected quotes from attendees include:

"I've learned more this morning than in the last 5 years of fishing"

"Just wanted to thank you for a fantastic 'Tenkara Day' on Saturday. I had a great time, learnt masses and masses and I was really touched by how generous everyone was with their time and knowledge – regardless of how many questions that I asked!!"

"Hi Guys, Just a note to say I really enjoyed the Tenkara day on Saturday. I
have made a donation through paypal"

My moustache from "Movember" was still very much in effect (as seen in some of the pictures below!) and any last minute donations to that worthy cause should be aimed here:

20/11/2012 - 15:19

Just be thankful you are not a trout at this time of year:

"Non Migratory" trout trying to migrate from Paul Gaskell on Vimeo.

25/09/2012 - 16:25
Sunday the 23rd September saw the first "Riverlution" festival for a whole collection of local river users and interest groups including local rivers trust members, kayakers, cyclists, river stewards, breweries, traders and more.

SPRITE (Sheffield Trout in the Town group) teamed up with Discover Tenkara to offer kids (and their parents or guardians!) the chance to try traditional Japanese style fly fishing known as "tenkara".

The starting point was looking in the bug sample tray to see the kinds of wriggly things that lived in the river in the city centre. This lead straight on into learning how to tie an artificial fly with SPRITE and Fly Dresser's Guild members:

Not bad at all for a first effort!


This entitled participants to get a sticker on their certificate:

Next (for another sticker) came the "on the street" casting lesson:

Then, once togged up in thigh waders, safety sun glasses, buoyancy aid and armed with tenkara rod, line and landing net (all bought and provided by SPRITE), it was into the river for a practice at playing fish with "Freddy The Magic Plastic Fish"

That gave three full stickers on the certificate - and gained the chance to try to catch a fish for real!

It was hard to persuade participants that their time was up and to return to dry land!

All the participants had a great experience and many,many thanks to all SPRITE supporters who helped out on the day and during the preparations.

Riverlution was the first "full on" public use of a Tenkara in the Town event to engage local communities with their urban river. It followed on from a very successful trial back at the beginning of summer following a SPRITE habitat working party with David and grandson Connor proving to be excellent guinea pigs. Both of them hooked a trout on their third ever casts each! Pictures of this fantastic inauguration below:




As with many things in life, when it comes to the joy of catching that first fish, a picture is worth a thousand words:


27/06/2012 - 15:06
It was my great pleasure to travel up to the west coast of Scotland on Sunday (24th June)to meet up with Alan Kettle-White and Daniel Brazier of Argyll Fisheries Trust . Staying over until Tuesday enabled me to get in a habitat survey of the Black Lynn Burn in Oban on the Monday as well as meeting local stakeholders such as businessman Graham MacQueen of MacQueen Brothers who are keen to have local community members discover, re-engage and value their local urban river. Hopping into the river to walk along the riverbed was the best way to get to know the burn.
It didn't take long to find signs of life:

In fact, away from prying eyes, there was some very good habitat- particularly for juvenile trout (although also a lot of Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed also in evidence!)


As long as this small structure does not conceal services (such as sewage/gas pipes or electrical cables) and appropriate permission can be gained, the variety in depth and flow upstream of this low weir can be improved. This would be a simple case of removing part of the structure.


Other parts of the channel presented, perhaps, some "bigger opportunities for improvement" For example:



It will be great to sit down and design some habitat works to give a helping hand to the mixed assembly of a few small finnock and stream-dwelling brownies (one of which made a brief appearance for the Oban Times photographer - courtesy of the pre-rigged Tenkara rod!) that we saw during the visit.

I was also lucky enough to get the guided tour of a small part of Loch Awe from Senior Fisheries Biologist Alan Kettle-White (and superb Ferox/all round angler). Alan lives on the shore of the Loch has accounted for a LOT of the Loch Awe Ferox captures on rod and line - ALL returned alive of course. Going out on his boat allowed Alan to show me a whole host of amazing things on the echo sounder screen. First of all, the "false bottom" of plankton hanging in a dense layer many meters below the surface (although well off the bottom over 200ft down!). His knowledge of the surrounding hills, their effect on the wind and the knock-on effect on the distribution of microscopic food (and hence everything that feeds on the level below them in the food chain) equates to the content of dozens of masterclasses. It is this kind of knowledge (as well as a huge amount of skill with tuning lures so that they perform just right) that allows him to be such a consistent catcher of the mysterious and rare Ferox. A couple of his fish (weighing around a mere 25lb and over 30lb respectively!!!!) are pictured below:



The biology and behaviour of these prehistoric leviathans is a fascinating story that we are just beginning to get some handle on - thanks to people like Alan. Genetics work (for example by Andrew Ferguson and Alistair Duguid) clearly demonstrates that the Ferox is a totally separate beast from the generally much shorter-lived standard wild brown trout that they share a home with. For instance, particular gene - Ldh5 (100)- that carries the code for a specific version of an enzyme (Lactose dehydrogenase)is very much more common in Ferox trout. In addition, the DNA in the "mitochondria" of their cells (inherited solely down the maternal line: ) shows an entirely separate ancestry between the two kinds of trout. For the first part of their lives, Ferox have a similar (or slightly slower) growth rate compared to the other trout. BUT - as their bodies (and crucially their mouths) get large enough, they start specialising on prey of steadily larger and larger sizes. Now - we all know that all brown trout will prey on fish whenever they get the chance. The big difference here is that, as soon as they get big enough, Ferox really go to town on the top predator role. This causes a huge "gear change" upwards in their growth rate.

Just as an example of how different this is from the run of the mill "chomping fish when the chance arises" behaviour. Alan caught a Ferox of 8lb in 2008 and was able to fit a small plastic ID tag to it. The fish was recaptured in 2012 weighing an incredible 28lb. These are fish that might take 4 years to get larger than about a pound in weight....but once their mouths are big enough to swallow char, other trout and (since their introduction) various coarse fish species....Its worth taking a second to think about that; 20lb weight increase in four years.

Out of interest, we saw some very large shadows hanging in the water column on the fish finder - but none were willing to take one of Alan's trolled lures on the Tuesday morning that we spent on the boat.

There was also proof positive that Ferox were patrolling around. Thanks to the recently initiated radio transmitter tagging programme, Alan can now track a number of previously captured fish from suitably high vantage points above the loch. Although we couldn't get a signal from the two fish that had been logged recently in the area close to Alan's house (having both been originally caught and tagged in a part of the loch over 20 miles away!!!) - we did pick up a signal from one tagged fish on our drive along the 26-mile Loch towards the nearest train station on my way home.

On the video below you can hear the electronic "blips" that are being picked up from a 25lb Ferox somewhere in the basin just in front of the lay-by where we could stop the van. Hopefully towards the end of this year, if the tags can be retained in the fish, we might start to find out conclusively where some of these fish go to spawn (and whether this is in just one area - or perhaps several and previously unknown areas).

Ferox tracking from Paul Gaskell on Vimeo.

Many thanks to Alan for hosting me and for everyone else that came to the various meetings and site visits. Now all I need to do is get writing that Advisory Visit report and making plans for habitat works on the Black Lynn.
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