Thursday, 1 March 2012

Relics from the Ice Age

In Falkus and Buller's Freshwater Fishing there is a chapter about the Whitefishes. These game fish are an ancient relic of our glacial past and are probably surviving remnants of migratory stocks which became land-locked during the last ice age.

There are two species, the common whitefish (represented by the powan, gwyniad and skelly) and the vendace. Each species is found in only a handful of glacial lakes in Snowdonia, Lake District and Scotland. The powan is the most common of these and is found in Loch Lomond, Loch Eck and Loch Carron.

Very few whitefish have been caught on rod and line, mainly because few anglers have ever tried to catch one. In Freshwater Fishing, Dick Walker speculates how he would set out to catch a powan from Loch Lomond and suggests that they should be regarded as a kind of stillwater grayling. Dick suggested either flyfishing during the summer or fishing worm or maggot during the winter.

Fred Buller once held the British record with a powan of 11.25 oz caught from Balmaha Pier whilst catching roach to use as bait for Lomond's legendary pike.

Powan spawn on gravel shallows at the mouth of the Endrick River and at this time of year, if you are lucky like Buller one may happen along whilst roach fishing from Balmaha Pier.

The introduction of the ruffe to Loch Lomond has impacted badly on the Powan as they feed on the powan's eggs.

I am ashamed to say that it was pike anglers (through discarded livebaits) who introduced the ruffe and other non indigenous species including bream and carp to the loch.

If you have ever wondered how to keep maggots in perfect condition on an extended trip I can reveal a foolproof method. After purchasing your maggots from the tackle shop:

1. Place them in a bucket in your bait fridge and  let them chill off for a couple of hours.

2. Tip the maggots into a polybag, suck out all the air from the bag and tie off.

3. Put an ice block or two in the base of a decent cool box, add a thick layer of newpaper, then place your polybag(s) in maggots in, add another thick layer of newspaper before finishing off with more iceblocks.

When you open the bags the maggots look dead, don't panic as after a couple of hours they will be as lively as the day you bought them from the tackleshop.

My first sight of Lomond did not disappoint, this is a stunning location. My plan was to fish a maggot feeder for roach hoping that a powan might happen along.

Balmaha Pier is a popular location and to avoid the crowds on the Saturday and Sunday I fished to the right of the Pier. I set up a light quivertip rod and started off with a helicopter rig with a short hooklength. Initially I struggled to find my rhythm but by lengthening the hooklength I started catching a few roach, perch and ruffe. Indeed I caught more ruffe in four days on Lomond than in the last 30 years of angling!

On the Sunday one of the anglers on the pier caught a powan of around a pound. It was clear that the bulk of the roach, (and powan?) were about twenty or thirty yards to my left.

I made an early start on Monday to secure the swim. I need not have worried as I had the place to myself.
I started catching roach from the off, pristine little fish in the four to eight ounce bracket with the odd larger fish to a pound. During the course of the day I was lucky enough to bag three powan with the largest at 1lb 2oz.

I returned on the last day of my holiday and managed a further five powan to 1lb 3oz.

It is weird but in the photo's they look more like herring, but in the flesh they look like grayling without that sail like dorsal.  Being a game fish they put up a reasonable fight for their size. Powan must not be kept in nets as they are fragile fish.

I had enjoyed my week with this relic from the Ice age and finally achieved a long held angling ambition.