SOME NATURAL ENEMIES OF TROUT
By K. N. A. TAYLOR
The true angler, the fellow who has the welfare of trout in his heart, particularly the small fry, notices the conditions of the streams he whips. He finds the amount of food in the stream; looks over the temperature of the water, whether cool or warmish; and interests himself in finding and studying the habits of the enemies the trout have to combat to make themselves lively contenders for the rod and reel.
I will name a few of the natural enemies of trout that I have found on some of the streams I have whipped. An enemy that yearly consumes dozens of small trout is the water snake. This snake is common on every Western stream. Some grow to be three feet long, some longer. No matter their length they try to swallow a trout twice their own size. Not so long ago, while resting after a series of long casts, casts that netted me a nice ponder, I saw a water snake winding its way toward me. On closer observation I found it had, in its mouth, a nine-inch trout struggling for freedom. I immediately killed it, but the trout was torn across the back so badly that I had to kill it.
That day I killed ten snakes, finding in every one of them small trout. One I well remember had a trout of six inches in its stomach. The snake was barely a foot long. Many times I have seen water snakes having acute indigestion over a trout five times their own size. As there are hundreds of trout, mostly small in the average stream, they fall easy prey to the water snake. It appeals to the observant angler that here is an opening for thought, that snakes do kill trout. Make it a point to exterminate every snake, and it won't be long before every snake will be extinct in your stream.
Turtles are another menace to the life of young trout. A turtle will waddle after spawning trout, eating the eggs as fast as they are laid. The frantic rushes of the female fish bother him not, for his armored back-is like a gladiator's.
Did you ever see a fingerling tangled in a mass of moss? The stuff hangs to them like glue, for it gets into their gills and strangles them. It's not nice stuff to step into, but dislodge it and it will float down stream. It will mean, perhaps, the disturbing of the trout you see. But it will save many a small trout from death.
The wide-awake angler will notice all of these conditions along the stream he loves. We all have a favorite. It is the subject; not just the catching of trout that interests him. Know all the history of them, their diseases, and how they grow, habits, foods, and the lure that are most effective and natural. Determine the vitality of the fish by their most active fighting; whether they die fighting or give in with a flip or two of their tails. If they are sluggish there might be some illegal dumping going on up the stream. Or they are gorging themselves with surplus food; a hatch of insects was on the day before you came. There are reasons for trout being sluggish when by nature they are the fastest fighters that swims.
Another enemy that is common is the salamander. California streams are infested with the red lizard-like animal. He, with the water snake does his share of damages. He is also a disturber of bait and clings like a clam to one's hook. He is second to the destructiveness of the water snake.
Not long ago, while fishing a small stream, I came upon a diseased trout. On its back were rows upon rows of little blisters that appeared under the skin. I skinned the fish and found the blisters were little solids that had penetrated to the flesh. I dug up a dozen books on trout, a few days later, wanting to settle my mind what the disease really was. I finally found the solution in the encyclopedia. The disease was explained as "Saprolegnia." The European salmon was nearly wiped out with this plague in 1877. The disease lives in small eggs in the dead vegetable matter in streams. It readily finds its way to the trout through an abrasion or cut. Salmon, when ascending a river, being bruised and cut, fall easy prey to the disease. All fish are subjected to it. Therefore, to end this paragraph, be careful to wet the hands before placing a captured fingerling back to the water.
In an unusually dry year some streams dry up, as is the case with a lot of California streams. Naturally when that occurs, myriads of little trout die. These streams are not stocked, nevertheless schools of trout find their way up them, during floods. It is the duty of every angler to gather together the brotherhood and take, by the use of nets the trout from the vanishing pools and find a live creek to transplant them in. It is only through the co-operation of the anglers, coupled with their enthusiasm for the pastime, that the next generation will enjoy the benefits of the trout as did their fathers. Can you imagine a vast wilderness void of trout?
Then there is the problem of stocking streams. All clubs are interested in that matter. Most all of them run into problems of rearing trout for the stream of their territory. Now it is a hard proposition to rear trout in a carp or sucker stream. Some clubs will spend time and money to plant a sluggish stream with trout. First, clean out the carp and suckers. These fish live on the eggs of trout and are a source of worry to the fish culturist Normally, a trout can leap, say eighteen inches, providing the fish is, say ten inches in length. Place a dam across the stream at the mouth. Carp and suckers butt up against this wall and are content to stay there. Plant the trout above the dam. Few carp and suckers will get over the dam, and if they do, trout are strong in numbers, and the carp and suckers will be fought off.
Some streams are warm and run slowly. For that stream it is best to find a trout that likes slow water. Putting the wrong kind of trout in a stream will not bring results. It is best to find the temperature of the water and then plant trout that will thrive there. For instance, plant German brown in slow moving streams. Brook trout for cold brooks; rainbows for fast moving streams and rivers. So it is with all these different topics that interest the earnest anglers. We'll change the subject again.
Did you ever come to a place in a well-known stream that was absolutely troutless? No one ever caught a trout in it as long as the oldest inhabitant could remember? Did you ever locate the reason? There's a reason, perhaps for a hundred yards of excellent water no trout were ever caught. Then some lucky angler, using just the right lure, caught the biggest pike that ever infested a trout stream. Then after Mr. Pike was caught it wasn't a week before anglers began to get trout in that troutless water. The pike had taken that particular part of the stream for his abode, and no trout wanted to be a dinner. That is a common occurrence in good many streams.
Last summer, another angler and myself were working on a theory that a certain part of the river we were whipping, which was fishless, was infested by a large pike or an unusually large trout was running loose. We watched other anglers pass the strip without casting a fly, so sure were they that the water was fishless. They were right. But my partner and I located the cause. He waded into the stream one morning to cross the creek. I followed. Imagine our surprise when we found boiling water bubbling about our feet, we had stepped into a hot spring of sulfur at that I No wonder there were no fish there. We fished down for a quarter-mile and found the water tainted with numerous sulfur springs, making that strip of water troutless.
And there you have it. There are dozens of interesting phases of the life of the trout that appeal to the angler who is angler with all his heart and soul. A mere basket of fish appeals to the vulgar, that is, an over-crammed one. A dozen trout! What more could an angler wish? The Hand that created the rainbow created with some of His color left from the rainbow, the Trout. They are the most beautiful creatures on earth.
And it's queer this trout fishing. I once saw a man, who had a lot of money, almost sob over losing a trout after running a mad race down stream, skinning shins and arms, and then — to lose him! I have even seen that man lose more money in a land deal than I make in a year, and smile over it. But lose a trout! Ah, me. That cannot be bought. That adds to the thrills of the greatest sport on earth, all the more why the American trout angler should conserve it.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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