Apparently, there's more plastic in the ocean than fish. And the amount is set to treble in a decade unless we stop tipping our packaging into it.
No mention about the fate of our rivers, I note. But I guess the same holds true. We must stop throwing our single-use plastic containers and coke bottles into our inland waters, too. Filling the sea with plastic waste is bad enough. But to do the same to our rivers would be the last straw. And here's another thing we could do without: straws, plastic ones.
No need to wait for another screen-full of Attenborough to tell me. Chucking plastic around the place is something I'd never dream of doing. In sea, lake, river, anywhere in the world. But I do.
What follows is a confession.
Way back in 1890s, in a suburb of Buenos Aires, the more eccentric Brit' members of the Hurlingham Club had an idea. If they could import cricket and polo into the country, why not fly-fishing? A small stream called the Morron became the first in Argentina to be stocked with trout. They say these trout could take everything the fly-fishing members threw at them - but not the electric bars the Buenos Aires summers blasted down on them. Not surprisingly, there was no second season. It was back to polo.
Before this, many attempts had been made by biologists from Europe and Argentine fly-fishing enthusiasts to introduce trout.
But it wasn't until the Argentine government contacted an America, John Wheelock Titcomb, that the dream became a reality. As Chief of the Division of Fish Culture in the National Fisheries Bureau in the States, Titcomb had unrivalled experience of such projects. Even so, it took him many months of intense field studies down in Central Patagonia - on the shores of lake Nahuel Huapi around Bariloche - to conclude that the ecosystem there was indeed suitable for the introduction of trout and other salmonids.
This was in 1903. But how to get salmonid eggs from America to Central Argentina? A two-month journey by steamboat, then by horse overland across sun-blasted and inhospitable terrain - with no refrigeration? How indeed.
It was Edgar Allen, head honcho at the Leadville hatchery in Colorado, who suggested they use British steamers that shipped beef from Argentina to the UK. These had onboard cooling compartments. After a ten-day trip to Southampton, the eggs boxes were re-packed onto another steamer for a further six-week journey to Buenos Aires. Then a day-and-a-half trip south by train. Then by horseback for the final three hundred miles to Nahuel Huapi.
Yes. These were very keen fly-fishermen indeed.
Now the reason I tell you this is because 102,000 of the first salmonid eggs delivered were fertilised eggs of salvelinus fontinalis, the brook trout.Greenish-brown, with a marbled pattern of a lighter yellowish colour on their back and sides - the whole effect highlighted by a sprinkling of small red dots outlined in blue - all this topped by fins iced with snowy white tips, the brook trout is without question, the most beautiful of all salmonids. The one that fills me with more excitement than any other. Just to see them.
Native to North-East America, where it is the state fish of nine states - and Canada, where it is the Provincial Fish of Nova Scotia- the brookie in Argentina is a long way from home. As I was, too - way down in Patagonia, camped out on the banks of a river I knew was brookie-friendly, down tarmac trails considerably more hospitable than those taken of old.
Titcomb was right. The brookies love it in Patagonia. But not everywhere. There are two ways you can tell whether or not a brookie feels at home in these 'foreign' parts. The first is the fact that they are actually still there to begin with. But secondly - and more interesting to me - if brookies like a place, they like it big time. And they super-size themselves to prove it. Tubby-tubbiness of a high order.
Rico Pico is more than a river. It’s an area. A bump on the side of Central Argentina on the Chilean border awash with trout-filled rivers, streams, ditches, lagunasand esteros- marshlands.It’s also very rocky, making it a slow half-day’s drive south of Esquel, even if you’re in hurry.
It's here we camped. On the banks of the Rio Corcovado, a broad-shouldered river that storms outof the gruesomely blue Lago Vintter, its heaving, wind-blown waves tipped with icy-cream tops, just like the fins of a brook trout. These almighty waves foam when the lake
turns on the land and thrashes it.
It was here some years ago, in the lower Corcovado, on an open shallow of gravel and shale, that I found my first shoal of brookies tucked under the bushes on the far bank. Happy to be there - and ready to snap at anything that moved. But just as long as I kept moving on. For 'game on' meant 'move on', as the rest of the shoal would be soon gone, too.
But this was in December. Not the best brookie fishing time. Top time is later on in March and April when the big spawning fish back out of Vintter into the river in their hundreds - and hundredweights. But it wasn't the river brookies that interested me on this particular trip. The esteros were my chosen hunting grounds. The marshes topped up by the waters seeping out of the lakes at their outlets.
It wasn't just the boulders that stood wall-high on the track on the half-an-hour bouncy-bouncy to one of the smaller, more sheltered lagos than the violent Vintter. The wind was also whipping up thigh-high whitecaps; high enough to have Greg, saddling up the inflatable, worried about the journey across the laguna to the outlet.
When we finally arrived there, Greg's relentless rowing wasn't over. Two hours of him pulling me back and forth off a sand bank that sloped off from a reed bed, produced nothing. We didn't even see what we were looking for: a
swirl, At best, a 'bust' on the surface. Anything to indicate where brook trout might be lurking. Where a shoal was hunting.
Some guides talk a non-stop orgy of weird-beard nonsense about brook trout. In fact, all you need know is where there's one brookie, there's a shoal. There's no mistaking it. If you hook one, you have a shoal on the end of the line. But first, find the shoal.
There's a fine line between fishing and sitting on a boat looking like an idiot. I'll go for that. But Greg and I weren't going anywhere until we'd located that shoal.
From a stationary boat positioned just out from the outlet, I fished a 7-weight, 200 grain sink tip line, casting out as far as I can, letting it sink well down, waiting for Greg to turn the skiff and start rowing away from the line, telling me it's time to start stripping. It's team fishing. We both fish the fly.
Greg's flies fashioned for brookies are different than the patterns I throw at rainbows in the Rio Pico and her tributaries. One look at them and you want to take them home and keep them as pets. Streamer things on #8 long shank hooks, they are best described as Christmas tree decorations. Shimmering with flash, they incorporate just about everything but a partridge on a pear tree. (Partridge feathers are just TOO dull.) To add bells wouldn't be so bad an idea, but there's no need for added weight. By the time you've finally located that elusive shoal, you'll have done enough weighting for one day.
The shoal we eventually managed to locate in the lake had been painfully pernickety. But I had a couple. Nothing under five pounds, up to eight. One day brookies can play hard-to-get, the next they are sitting down and having lunch with you. But not today. Today a hundred thousand caterpillars that had stripped the lenga bushes of all their greenery joined us on our picnic.
We had pulled the inflatable onto a gravel bank just off the last point before the lake widens out into a vast marshland, striped with deep, narrow, mud-bottomed channels cutting into and under the bank forming caves and cavernous overhangs and corridors. Here, bookies lie waiting for whatever the stream brings them from the lake. More than likely, a cartoon-coloured miniature of itself delivered expressly on the current. That would do nicely.
Standing close to the bank, there will be probably more brookies lying in a mud-walled cellar right under your feet than in the waters in front of you.
Between these channels, the ground is firm enough to wade, if you don't mind being ankle-deep in weeds and thigh-high in reeds that make fish-spotting in the channels, barely a rod's length across, the first problem you have to overcome. The second, is getting your fly to their depth in such a tight area. The third, is being able to see if your fly has been taken without the trout seeing you. Lastly, the problem of landing it. You might be able to hook a fish in open water, but if it turns - as it will do - directly below there are outcrops of thick spire and weed clumps that make perfect refuge and cut-off point for a fleeing fontinalis on the run.
Greg and I headed for the larger and slightly shallower pool nearest the lake, just before if slims and dives down to darker, deeper depths. It being the first dumping ground for whatever might be coming their way from the lake, this was the restaurant table the bigger fish pre-book, claim as theirs and guard fearlessly.
The risk of being out in the open outweighed by the opportunity of being the first there and therefore the first served. But served what? What allows these lunkers to get to such a large size?
A half hour watching these fish in situ, swaying from left to right, head-butting the stream bed, an action accompanied by a cloud of mud as if they were lighting up a cigar - this and an investigative fist into the sludge - revealed all. It was scud suppers all round. All day long. These monsters are plump-full of protein. Shrimp of a diminutive size compared to those you might find on an English chalk stream. You might be able to fit three, perhaps four of those grey-green crustaceans on the nail of your little finger.
"Do you have 12lb tippet?" I asked. Greg's forehead screwed up like a piece of paper in disbelief at my request. We had been fishing 5lb all week.
Yes, he had it. But it took us some time to get the end through the eye of my #20 plastic-backed scud.
"The knot is the same size as the scud," Greg said, his face still in a twist.
Six inches up from the scud, I clipped on a tiny #4 split shot weighting 0.2g. The synthetic scud had to plummet down at least three foot if the trout leaning up
against the bank beneath a reed clump was to see it. And if I was to be able to see the take, I'd need an indicator. I pulled a small piece of wool, from my fly patch and tied it four foot up from the shot - and shot the whole thing out and up.
The first cast, the fish made no movement. The second, a fin flickered. The third, the fish pulled out sedately, like a liner from its mooring. Out of the corner of my eye I could see it moving for something. But it was my wool, now submerged, that I was watching.
It stopped. It dipped. I struck.
What happened next was pre-planned. I had taken fish from these channels before. When they feel the hook, they stop for a fraction of a second, then turn and head downstream to safe zones mid-stream at high speed. And that's the last you see of them.
I wanted to see this one.
For this reason, you only have one option. You don't give that fish an inch. In that fraction of a second - before realises what's happened - you clamp down on the line, lift the rod tip high (your bank manager hears the creek of top-price carbon) and horse it out in the direction of the pre-ordered net Greg has already got lowered into the water.
The rod bending tip to butt, the tippet singing the blues, twanging like a guitar string, the only movement the fish can make is net-ward.
It's team fishing again.The fish was netted and on the bank in five seconds.
"What a fight!" I screamed seeing just how big and beautiful my brookie was out of the water. Ten pounds, and the rest.
"Fight? There wasn't one!" Greg said, wiping an un-ironed forehead.
"Perhaps. But getting you to see why I needed a cable as a tippet was."
A click of the camera later, the brookie was back in the beauty parlour.
- Vice a #18-20 Tiemco
- Wind dark olive thread to bend. Tie in short length 2lb mono and a strip of plastic just round the bend
- Dub thread with dark olive Polydub material. Wind dub to eye
- Pull plastic tight over scud back. Secure behind eye
- Rib with mono. Secure
- Whip finish. Varnish