Sunday 13 January 2019

Small Brook Fishing Pt.6 - No Stones to be Upturned, Loach by Design

The chance discovery of a tiny brook that was home to certain species of fish I’d not caught before had whetted our appetites. Before we fished it you see I stumbled upon a field report that spurred us on even more because of the Dace potential. Over five or so ‘field’ trips , Sam and myself managed to catch some nice fat dace, brook brown trout and even some roach.

After a session on my tod when a bullhead was caught without even a nudge on the quiver we'd scaled down our tactics for the next session and managed to register bites from a few Miller’s Thumb's to add another tick to Sam's species caught tally. However the interest didn't stop there because like the bullhead there was another fish here we'd not caught before, let alone seen, and that was the Stone Loach.

Stone Loach by rod and line, Stone Loach by design I ask you ?

The field report (screen grab below) was carried out some time ago now and they were already starting to dwindle in numbers, then again , the bullheads are still here, the Loach too ?, no reason why they wouldn’t ? Ok it was 20 years since the report, that's a heck of a long time ago, I had some hair back then and a bulging bank balance, how times change.

After some much needed googling to get some background information on this little fish a plan was hatched, now the Beardie or Stone Loach is a small, purely freshwater, fish, 140mm (5.5”) in length at most. Its body is cylindrical except near the tail, where it is flattened sideways, its eyes are set high on its head and its mouth low all adaptations for life on the bottom in and amongst stones and debris which luckily makes up most of this little brooks bed.

Its most noticeable feature is the six barbels set around its mouth (from which it gets its name “Beardie”), with which it can sense prey, also an adaptation for bottom living. Generally grey and brown, its tail is bright orange. It spawns from spring to late summer, shedding its sticky eggs amongst gravel and vegetation. For a small fish it is very fecund, one 75mm female was found to spawn 10,000 eggs in total in spawning episodes from late April to early August.

The species is found in clean rivers and around loch shores throughout west, central and Eastern Europe and across Asia to the Pacific coast.

In the British Isles apparently they were originally found only in the South-east of England, but they have been widely spread by humans for use as bait, Loach Tails are still used as bait for Salmon in some places, or for food, yes really.

The problem is they are retiring fish, and by day they lie motionless under a stone, so their presence is often unsuspected in brooks that hold a good stock of them.

At night they leave their fastness’s and feed, though their very poor swimming powers limit the length of their excursions. Apparently they are extremely voracious and will eat any living matter, nymphs, insects, crustacians, worms etc and it is generally conceded that they feed by touch and smell, aided by their barbels rather than sight.

They supposedly feed at or very close to the bottom.

The fact that they are occasionally caught by anglers (generally Gudgeon anglers) shows their appetite sometimes overcomes shyness, but anyone wishing to catch loach and rod and line should fish in darkness.

Pffffffffffffttttttttttttttttttttttttttt !!!!

Not sure I could justify fishing in to dark for them....

The Loach however has an interesting structural peculiarity.

It can breathe like other fish through its gills, but when it finds itself in water insufficiently oxygenated it will come to the surface to gulp down air. The air is dealt with within the intestines, a process known as intestinal breathing and oxygen is passed to the body.

The stream dweller has little need for this secondary breathing apparatus, but many foreign species of Loaches live in waters that dry up seasonally, and they are capable of subsisting in mud, breathing in pure air, until the water returns.

Could they be spotted a little like topping Roach at dusk ?

Now it’s surprising what you can find on the web these days and I found a pretty good report which confirmed their nighttime feeding habits (Nocturnal Foraging in the Stone Loach Barbatula Barbatula Fixed or Environmentally Mediated Behaviour ( Yes really, who gets these jobs ?, I want in)  that concluded that the small benthic dweller in temperate rivers and lakes, gradually shifts to daytime foraging when fish are hungry and no acute predation risk is present.

Foraging activity in Stone Loach always remained significantly higher during the night compared to the twilight and the day, independent of food availability, even after the fish had lost more than 20% of their initial body weight. The absolute levels of daytime activity significantly decreased, while nocturnal movements significantly increased. Activity stopped almost completely when a predator was present.

Unlike the Wife, the Stone Loach did not adopt daytime foraging even when there was no acute daytime predation risk and the fish were starving. This indicates that in Stone Loach an anticipated rather than observed predation risk is taken into account when estimating the predation risk at any time of the day.

Such a strict behaviour might be especially important for benthic dwellers with a low swimming speed, and therefore escape potential, in relation to fast moving daytime predators.

But there were some encouraging signs for a daytime caught fish mind you because smaller fish, for example, spent a larger proportion of their time active during the day in order to compensate for their body size, even though daytime foraging was riskier in the short-term due to a higher predation risk.

There was a glimmer of hope to one’s obvious insanity !!!!

So how to tackle up for these wee bearded beasties then?
To be honest, looking at this weight, length graph I stumbled upon, they ain’t ‘that’ small, so if I could register a bite from a bullhead I should be able to register a bite from a Loach that’s for sure.

Now they like gravely bottoms (don’t we all) so the method in one’s madness was to ditch the quiver set-up for bite detection.

Then maybe fish a moving bait initially, or one that slowly dragged along the bottom to try and get the fish moving if there were any in the area.  

So it was out with the 2g Drennan Crystal Dibbers, a tiny pole float, small in stature and unobtrusive to be able to tackle these lilliputian lethiathans.

A small hook, straight through to a tiny hook and a single maggot or small worm as bait. A small worm has ridiculous wriggling ability, far more than any maggot anyway, to get these fish away from their lair anything to catch their eye is an advantage over a grub.

I'd switch between the two during the fishing as there are some nice Dace to be caught here as well. The float would be fished over-depth so the bait would slowly move over the bottom, that was the plan anyway.

Now the 8ft wand rod would stay because the good thing about it is that the line loaded on the reel that I purposely had this brook in mind for is a light as anything, so there is little to no resistance meaning that the float could be cast in theory despite only weighing a little more than a gnats nadger.

As a back-up we'd have Sam's 5ft 5" quiver rod just in case the swim suited a static rather than a moving bait.

We had only explored a very small section of this brook so locations new and old would be sought to try and close another one of my challenges.

So anyway, enough of the preamble Mick, how did the first session go?

Well this location we'd not fished it before, but the field report as described seemed to come from this area and the access looked a little easier for me and the Tangleator to get fishing quick, not only that but it looked a decent length to start off with as well so give us the best opportunity of covering as much of this diminutive waterway as possible.

No messing straight in to it.....

Well to be fair I had some time to kill before picking the kids up from school so I went to go and case it out first and apart from it being probably a little too clear, wow what a little stretch. Plenty of character, easy access and also lots of different swims, deeper areas, shallow areas over gravel, even a weir.

So, how did the first session go ?

To be fair it went ok, we fished maybe 5 or 6 likely looking swims and Sam caught the first fish, a chunky bullhead and probably caught maybe 4 or 5 during the two hours session. The biggest not huge but went nearly 6.5 grams on the scales, so around 25% of the British record. All good fun though with Sam in amazement of the prehistoric look of the fish.

A small Perch was caught in a deeper area over some gravel but to be honest the little waterway could do with a bit more water on it, It was very shallow indeed in places and gin clear. The Loach remained elusive but then don't want it easy now do we.

"Daddy there MUST be fish in that small weir" "otherwise it cannot be called a weir"

And to be fair Sam was correct in his assumption, I cast his quiver rod with a single SSG link ledger to the tail end of the swim and 10 minutes when by without a nibble, but then all hell breaks loose and the tip is bouncing around like a good'un with the rod trying to leave the rest.

Sam strikes in to the fish and a fish is taking line, I grabbed it quick to get it under control and had to tighten the clutch up but after I got the fish under control I gave it back to Sam to continue on with the fight. And a good job of it he did too.

There was only one fish it could be....

Yeap a brownie, not a huge one, but for a tiny brook in Bards country, not a bad little catch. Now with Sam getting cold because of the cold wind, we decided to call it a day. We both love these little streams, ok not F1 carp to bend the rod, but come on, sitting on a seat box fishing a dirty manmade hole in the ground, or fishing for the unknown in a small brook like this, we know what we prefer.

We'll be back for those Loach, I'm sure of it....


  1. Hi Mick, is this a tributary of the Alne.

    1. In Sam's Words "We need to keep this place a secret Daddy, it's a water with bullheads, BULLheads"

  2. Great stuff Mick, I like Ruffe beautiful colours and despised by most. I also had a Border Terrier named 'Ruffe' too. I only caught two last year. At present I'm cutting the blocks for a book of 'unloved fish'. Good job that we love 'em. Regards, John - Two Terriers

    1. Well some of us do, we're a dying breed John !!!!


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