January 20, 2010

Trout and the Theory of Relativity

Art may imitate wild nature; less often does it dare to place itself in the midst of it, and when it does, it may come out second best.
John Hart

Chironomidae. The family of non-biting midges. It's a large family. In the Pacific Northwest alone, there are more than 1500 variations, of which almost 80% spend their entire, albeit short lives in and around water. That's why I've always been so absorbed by them, or perplexed, or frustrated, depending on my success with tying imitations. Some of them look uncomfortably similar to mosquitos. Some are very large, and some, well, they're just plain really hard to see. I know when I'm doing a good job or not, and I have the best critics, trout, to thank, or curse, for that. Chironomids are often the major food source for them, and at the very least a staple. That's amazing, especially when you see first hand just how small some of these little guys are. How could any respectable trout ever get enough to eat? But when you witness a hatch and are awed by the sheer numbers whirring about their anchor points in massive dark clouds, or see the surface of the water almost percolate as they burst from their pupal shucks, well, then it begins to sink in. Add to that the fact that they hatch all year long. Yes, even in winter, too. And to further complicate matters, there will usually be several different types of chironomidae hatching at the same time. So, when you have thousands of pupa arriving at the surface simultaneously, it's your job to figure out which specie is, at the moment, the preferred snack. For which fish. For how long. On the surface? The bottom? Somewhere in between? All of the above? I guess you get the picture. The more I learn about this particular food source, the more intrigued I become, while at the same time battling this undercurrent of doubt and hopelessness.
And so I arrive at the theory of relativity. To a trout, especially one who spends his life in an environment where food, and lots of it, is always available, what's relative at any given moment may change each time he spots a different tasty morsel. Or, he may decide that only the brown one with the black stripes will do. He may get so absolutely dialed in on that brown one with the black stripes that nothing else appeals to him. That's when everything not brown with black stripes ceases to be food, for him, at least. That doesn't mean all of his possible competitors will agree.To some of them, only the slowly rising olive pupas close to the bottom are the delicacy, while others rise unabated to the surface. Of course you also have the younger, less experienced and therefore more aggressive fish who are still in the buffet stage. They cruise, an eye out for anything they see other fish drawn to, then try to beat them to it. It's about learning through what's relative to others, which can sometimes get them in trouble, or caught, or both.
Lots of food. Lots of other choices, too, apart from the multitudes of hatching minutiae. What's relative? What's not? See? It can be mind boggling. Or, it can be amazing. Amazing when you solve enough of the riddle to enjoy the reward, which is to observe in your indicator a subtle quiver, or downright violent submersion. Then you know, that for this fish, at this instant, your offering was indeed relative.

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