Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lake Fish

My friends and I spent our formative years on the banks of the Hudson River. For the better part of our collective childhood and early adolescence, we explored the rivers' coves, eddies, runs and pools (late adolescence was spent exploring girls). In time, we came to understand the river, and to know its fish (we still haven't a clue about women). As bicycles gave way to Chevettes, Horizons and Firenzas, we were able to apply that understanding to the Battenkill, its tributaries, and its trout. Stillwater, by way of contrast, was always something of a mystery.

Lakes and ponds lacked the character of rivers, they lacked motion, and - perhaps most importantly when we were very young - all the area's lakes were just outside the reach of a reasonable bike ride. I suppose it was this matter of accessibility that jaded us to lakes and ponds, and is probably the source of a bias that exists to this day. We generally avoid stagnant puddles, and favor flowing ditches.

Now that we're older, each of us is a dedicated fly rodder, and as is the case with most bug chuckers we are fascinated by running water. We've bounced all over the country looking for Salmo Trutta, Oncorhynchus Mykiss, and Salvelinus Fontinalis. Like so many kindred spirits we've an especial appreciation of big trout and as I'm sure you're aware, the biggest trout are generally found in lakes. Herein lies the rub.

A lake fish has advantages a river fish simply does not. Foremost, they haven't continuous current with which they must contend. As a result, they don't expend as much energy as their river dwelling cousins. This excess energy is instead channeled into growth. This growth is fueled by an abundance of forage, which is generally lacking in rivers. Quite simply, lake fish have more to eat and work less to earn a meal. They grow more quickly, and to larger proportions.

For river-loving fly rodders, the implication is that trophy river fish are not to be measured on the same scale as trophy lake fish. A ten or twelve pound brown trout is likely one of the largest - if not the largest - of its species in the Battenkill. In a ditch like the Salmon River, a tributary to Lake Ontario, ten or twelve pound browns are respectable but hardly kings of all they survey. Owing to the aforementioned biases, I viewed such enormous lake bred fish with a little bit of disdain.

Until Ben caught this beast ...

Unlike so many of its Salmon River cousins, Ben's fish didn't have a mark on it: not a single lamprey scar, no obvious hook marks, nothing (see below).

This is exceptional because the fish was caught in the river's upper-fly zone. He swam through miles of heavy flow, past fly-rodders and bait dunkers, meat fishermen and catch and release anglers, newbies and river veterans alike. He managed all that in a river that sees more fishing traffic than most any other body of water within 300 miles. You might say these lake-run fish contend with challenges that river bred fish simply do not face.

What a fish. Much respect.

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