Gateway to the Classics: Fish Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
 
Fish Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock


[Illustration]

A speckled trout on a brook bottom.

Photo by Verne Morton.

The Brook Trout

Teacher's Story

"Up and down the brook I ran,

where beneath the banks so steep,

Lie the spotted trout asleep."

—Whittier.

dropcap image UT they were probably not asleep as Mr. Whittier might have observed if he had cast a fly near one of them. There is in the very haunts of the trout, a suggestion of where it gets its vigor and wariness: The cold, clear streams where the water is pure; brooks that wind in and out over rocky and pebbly beds, here shaded by trees and there dashing through the open,—it makes us feel vigorous even to think of such streams. Under the overhanging bank or in the shade of some fallen log or shelving rock, the brook trout hides where he may see all that goes on in the world above and around him without being himself seen. Woe to the unfortunate insect that falls upon the surface of the water in his vicinity or even that flies low over the surface for the trout will jump easily far out of the water to seize its prey! It is this habit of taking the insect upon and above the water's surface which has made trout fly-fishing the sport that it is. Man's ingenuity is fairly matched against the trout's cunning in this contest. I know of one old trout that has kept fishermen in the region around on the qui vive  for years; and up to date he is still alive, making a dash now and then at a tempting bait, showing himself enough to tantalize his would-be captors with his splendid size, but always retiring at the sight of the line.

The brook trout varies much in color, depending upon the soil and the rocks of the streams in which it lives. Its back is marbled with dark olive or black, making it just the color of shaded water. This marbled coloration also marks the dorsal and the tail fins. The sides, which vary much in color, are marked with beautiful vermilion spots, each placed in the center of a larger, brownish spot. In some instances the lower surface is reddish, in others whitish. All the fins on the lower side of the body have the front edges creamy or yellowish white, with a darker streak behind.

The trout's head is quite large and somewhat blunt. The large eye is a little in front of the middle of the head. The dorsal fin is at about the middle of the body, and when raised is squarish in outline. Behind the dorsal fin, and near to the tail is the little, fleshy adipose fin, so called because it has no rays. The tail is fan-shaped, slightly notched at the end and is large and strong. The anal fin is rather large, being shaped much like the dorsal fin, only slightly smaller. The ventral fins are directly below the dorsal fin and a little behind its middle. The pectorals are low down, being below and just behind the gill arches.


[Illustration]

Where the trout hide.

In size the brook trout seldom is longer than seven or eight inches, but in the rivers of the Northeastern United States specimens weighing from six to eleven pounds are sometimes taken. It does not flourish in water which is warmer than 68°, but prefers a temperature of about 50°. It must have the pure water of mountain streams and cannot endure water of rivers which is polluted by mills or the refuse of cities. Where it has access to streams that flow into the ocean, it forms the salt water habit, going out to sea and remaining there during the winter. Such specimens become very large.

The trout can lay eggs when about six inches in length. The eggs are laid from September until late November, although, as Mr. Bream says, the brook trout are spawned at some locality in almost every month of the year except mid-summer. One mother trout lays from 400 to 600 eggs, but the large-sized ones lay more. The period of hatching depends upon the temperature of the water. In depositing their eggs the trout seek water with gravelly bottom, often where some mountain brook opens into a larger stream. The nest is shaped by the tail of the fish, the larger stones being carried away in the mouth. To make the precious eggs secure they are covered with gravel.

There have been strict laws enacted by almost all of our states with a view to protecting the brook trout and preserving it in our streams. The open season in New York is from the 15th of April to the 1st of September, and it is illegal to take from a stream a fish that is less than five inches in length. It is the duty of every decent citizen to abide by these laws and to see to it that his neighbors observe them. The teacher cannot emphasize enough upon the child the moral value of being law-abiding. There should be in every school in the Union children's clubs which should have for their purpose civic honesty and the enforcement of laws which affect the city, village or township.

Almost any stream with suitable water may be stocked with trout from the national or the state hatcheries, but what is the use of this expense if the game laws are not observed and these fish are caught before they reach maturity, as is so often the case?


References—American Food and Game Fishes, Jordan and Evermann; Guide to American Fishes, Jordan.

Lesson XL

The Brook Trout

Leading thought—The brook trout have been exterminated in our streams largely because the game laws have not been observed. The trout is the most cunning and beautiful of our common fishes and the most valuable for food. If properly guarded, every pure mountain stream in our country, could be well stocked with the brook trout.


Method—A trout may be kept in an aquarium of flowing water indefinitely and should be fed upon liver and hard clams chopped. If there is no aquarium with running water, the trout may be kept in an ordinary jar long enough for this lesson. The object of this lesson should be not only the study of the habits of the fish, but also a lesson in its preservation.


Observations—

1. In what streams are the brook trout found? Must the water be warm or cold? Can the trout live in impure water? Can it live in salt water?

2. Do the trout swim about in schools or do they live solitary? Where do they like to hide?

3. With what kind of bait is trout caught? Why does it afford such excellent sport for fly-fishing? Can you tell what the food of the trout is?

4. What is the color of the trout above? What colors along its sides? What markings make the fish so beautiful? What is its color below? Has the trout scales? Do you see the lateral line?

5. What is the general shape of the brook trout? Describe the shape, position and color of the dorsal fin. Describe the little fin behind the dorsal. Why is it unlike the other fins? What is the shape of the tail fin? Is it rounded, square or crescent-shaped across the end? What is the position and size of the anal fin compared with the dorsal? What colors on the ventral fins and where are they placed in relation to the dorsal fin? What color are the pectoral fins and how are they placed in relation to the gill arches?

6. Describe the trout's eyes. Are they large and alert? Do you think the trout is keen-sighted?

7. When and where are the eggs laid? Describe how the nest is made. How are the eggs covered and protected?

8. Why are there no trout in the streams of your neighborhood? Could a trout live in these streams? Can you get state aid in stocking the streams?

9. What are the game laws concerning trout fishing? When is the open season? How long must the trout be to be taken legally? If you are a good citizen what do you do about the game laws?

10. Write a story telling all you know about the wariness, cunning and strength of the brook trout.


Supplementary reading—The following from Fish Stories by Holder and Jordan: "The Trout of Los Laurelles;" "The Golden Trout of the High Sierras;" "The Lure of the Rainbow." "The Story of the Salmon" in Science Sketches, "The Master of the Golden Pool" in Watchers of the Trails; The Story of the Fishes, Baskett; Neighbors with Wings and Fins, Johonnot.


Trout

"It is well for anglers not to make trout, of all fishes, the prime objective of a day's sport, as no more uncertain game loves the sunlight. Today he is yours for the very asking, tomorrow, the most luscious lure will not tempt him. One hour he defies you, the next, gazes at you from some ensconcement of the fishes, and knows you not, as you pass him, casting, by.

I believe I accumulated some of this angling wisdom years ago, in a certain trout domain in New England, where there were streams and pools, ripples, cascades and drooping trees; where everything was fair and promising to the eyes for trout; but it required superhuman patience to lure them, and many a day I scored a blank. Yet on these very days when lures were unavailing, the creel empty save for fern leaves, I found they were not for naught; that the real fishing day was a composite of the weather, the wind, even if it was from the east, the splendid colors of forest trees, the blue tourmaline of the sky that topped the stream amid the trees, the flecks of cloud mirrored on the surface. The delight of anticipation, the casting, the play of the rod, the exercise of skill, the quick turns in the stream opening up new vistas, the little openings in the forest, through which were seen distant meadows and nodding flowers—all these went to make up the real trout fishing, the actual catch being but an incident among many delights.

Just how long one could be content with mere scenery in lieu of trout, I am not prepared to say; if pushed to the wall, I confess that when fishing I prefer trout to scenic effects. Still, it is a very impracticable and delightful sentiment with some truth to it, the moral being that the angler should be resourceful, and not be entirely cast down on the days when the wind is in the east.

I am aware that this method of angling is not in vogue with some, and would be deemed fanciful, indeed inane, by many more; yet it is based upon a true and homely philosophy, not of today, the philosophy of patience and contentment. "How poor are they that have not patience," said Othello. It is well to be content with things as we find them, and it is well to go a-fishing, not to catch fish alone, but every offering the day has to give. This should be an easy matter for the angler, as Walton tells us that Angling is somewhat like poetry; men are to be born so."

—Fish Stories, Jordan and Holder


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