Riverwatch

Another exciting tale from the banks of the River Wissey

The day was awaking but the perch were already on patrol. The last few minutes had seen both light and dark and a bitter wind sped over the fields and bent the bank-side trees. The narrow river wound its way through fields and meadows and rippled along as always. Its level was high with weeks of rain and in places was overflowing. Spent leaves floated on the surface but the seasonal drop was long over as real winter was now but a glance over the shoulder.

Despite the gloom there was an expectancy. What would the new day bring? The warmth of summer had long left the water. It was cold to the hand and in the deeps all activity had slowed down. Certain fish were already in their state of dormancy and buried in the mud. Most others had little urgency with one exception being the shoals of perch who always thrive on all the attributes of winter. With their sergeant stripes and red colouring they look very important and highly handsome. In a straggling line, this particular shoal, made passage in and out of the reed beds. Full of purpose they followed their leader who was the largest fish by far. He was certainly the specimen of specimens and would be the delight of any fisherman but he was only such because of his wile and cunning. He had long realised the ways of his many enemies and for sure he was in his rightful role at the front of this somewhat formidable army!

The wind strengthened and the gusts made crazy patterns across the width of the river. Any peace was no more as waves formed and crashed against the bank. The reed beds bowed over and a nearby tree cracked in protest. Heavy black clouds passed overhead but there was still a bright blue patch which could suggest the weather was still undecided. A party of geese meandered towards the rivers edge and commenced their morning toilet with preening and splashing. Once completed they all sailed away for the rest of the day to do what geese do.

Meanwhile the perch had increased in numbers and thus they progressed towards the concrete road bridge. Here the water was at its deepest but the noise and vibration of the heavy road traffic caused them uncertainty and upset. Accordingly they turned and headed upstream again whereupon the largest fish came to an abrupt stop. His dorsal fin stood erect with spikes standing tall and his followers all waited patiently. A shoal of fishlings had been spotted but alas they were no more than fry and were completely ignorant of their vulnerability. They had no knowledge of the ways of the river and no speed or means of defence. At a given signal (which as humans only guess about) the perch attacked in unison. With great gusto they scattered the small fish and broke the surface with fierce commotion. Individual skirmishes ensued but there was only ever going to be one outcome and very quickly it was over.

The disturbance viewed from above was spectacular and also heralded the weather to break. Mother Nature had finally decided and a grey blanket of heavy rain came travelling at speed down the river. It arrived in seconds and was hard to an extreme. The rain hammered down and made further patterns in the river. The already dim light faded to near darkness and so the miserable conditions were to remain for the rest of the day.

Our friends the perch had regrouped for they were well rehearsed in such ways. Appetites had been satisfied and soon their march would continue. They were aware of the rain but it was of no consequence to them – it had added temporary warmth to the water although the low temperature of nightfall would quickly bring the cold again. Thus a temporary quietness returned to the world of the river Wissey but all must beware! There must never be complacency for the victors themselves are also vulnerable as there are many larger and more fearsome predators about and at any time the predator can become the prey!

By Ivor Hook

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