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If You've Ever Wondered Why...

By Scott Heywood

If you've ever wondered why trout tuck themselves unseen under grassy cut banks or why they hide in log jams or why they are so reluctant to come to the surface to take a fly, I offer the reasons below in the form of photos.

Just for a moment, imagine you are a trout (this is easier for some than others). Imagine seeing a mouth-watering hopper (granted, your mouth is always watered if you are a trout), you see this delectable big bug floating in the surface film towards you. You glide from your cave in the deep shadows under your grassy bank to glide up to the surface. Just as you open your mouth to inhale the bug, your are plucked from the river and painfully hoisted into the sky. This is an entirely new view for you and with two points of pain piercing your back, not a very good maiden voyage.

Suddenly, you find yourself screaming across the surface of the water. You momentarily lose altitude as your pilot shakes the water from her wings, then you continue on. You struggle mightily to free yourself. In the case of the two trout below, you are able to work yourself free and you plummet many feet to the river below. You smack hard then race for cover wondering what the hell just happened. If you are not so lucky, you might fall into a patch of thick riverside willows to die gasping for air or hit the open ground where that same bird of prey circles back to pick you up. You then take flight again soon landing on the big branch of some cottonwood tree where a sharp beak rips you open before you are consumed alive.

So can you blame a trout for being ultra careful? Mink, heron and otters, as well as a host of other predators eagerly pursue trout. Trout who make it out of their parr mark years (the piscine equivalent of diapers), have learned well to be extra cautious. If they don't, they die and their less than cautious genes die with them! 

So below are a few examples of the survivors. I offer them my congratulations!

In the photo above, the wounds were probably caused by an osprey or bald eagle as they are single scars on opposite sides of the back. A mink or otter would have two holes on each side of the back. I'm guessing the bird got one talon in well, but the opposing talon did not penetrate sufficiently to get a good hold on this trout. 

Below is another fish, on another day on another river. Remarkably similar wounds but slightly different.

And here is another brown with a serious wound long healed. He seemed a bit odd and when I held him out of the water, I could see his spine was badly deformed where a large wound had healed on his left side. His spine looked like 3 inches had been excised from his back then the two ends put back together. He must have lived this way a long time. Maybe an otter or an osprey had grabbed him when he was just a parr-marked youngster. I took a quick photo and slid him back into the stream. As he finned away, I encouraged him to spawn well.