Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018
The Carry-On Choice

They Eat What?
I’m not sure where I saw it, but I was a very young boy and it was probably in some hardware or auto parts store. It must have been one or the other, most likely on a Saturday morning because I never tired of accompanying the old man on his weekly pilgrimages.

In vivid, hyper-realistic colors, the outdoor calendar posted behind the counter depicted the scene, frozen in water-splashing, mid-air, heart-stopping detail. Fluttering over a reed bent precariously low to the water was a doomed blackbird and, beneath it, the angry, open maw of a largemouth bass.

Even in my grammar school brain, I knew this would not end well.

THIS SHOT FROM BLUE PLANET II might alarm the non-angling public, but not anyone who has spent a fair amount of time on the water and knows what nature is capable of.  Photo by BBC

I assumed the same was true for the little duckling on the Field & Stream cover. Those razor sharp teeth of the mighty muskellunge looked like a one-way ticket to forever. It was a visceral lesson in natural selection during an era when political correctness meant hiding the Playboy magazines but not those depicting creatures of murderous intent.

While I’m still not sure of the emotional toll to my psyche, it was a revelation about the fish I soon wanted to catch. Anything that could eat a duck or a reasonable facsimile thereof was on my list. I quickly learned from my father’s angling friends just how quickly a big brown trout could suck down a wayward mouse. Or even how an unlucky toy poodle slipped from the deck of a fishing boat in the Bahamas, becoming fish chow without so much as a yip. Unfortunately, I had to fill in the blanks on that story since my father gave his buddies the “cut” sign, fearing a nightmare filled with bloodthirsty barracudas.

Too bad, old man – the die was already, irrevocably cast. As soon as I could afford some decent lures I made sure that Hula Poppers came in a blackbird pattern. I didn’t think to ask for poodle.

So it was with some surprise I learned of the recent fascination over a YouTube clip promoting David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II. In the very first episode of this singularly awe-inspiring BBC series, their camera crews were tipped off to the unusual eating habits of giant trevally in the Seychelles, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean east of Africa. What they discovered was the blue water version of the bass-and-blackbird scenario.

THIS BASS VS blackbird ad is an early example of the anti-aircraft scenarios that exist in the fishing world.

In the waters near one island where hordes of screeching sooty terns congregate, the giant trevally have figured out that dinner can come from the sky. Not only do they gulp down terns foolish enough to land on the water, the trevally actually track and attack surface-skimming birds. The footage is absolutely stunning.

Armed with expensive high-speed cameras, the BBC crew somehow captured the briefest of moments with a clarity and artistry that can only be applauded. Anyone who has spent any time on the water knows that such moments come and go with a rapidity that makes photographing meteors seem ho-hum. Anticipating the fish is one thing. Getting the shot is something else. Obviously, they were successful at both.

What amazed me almost as much as the photography was the reaction, in some quarters, to the fact that fish eat birds. People and the press were aghast. The day after the episode aired in Britain, reviewers were apoplectic. The Daily Mail said it “defied natural order”. The headline in The Telegraph proclaimed that “Blue Planet II’s bird-eating fish horrifies viewers.”

Apparently, the general public, not raised on the carnage I was exposed to in outdoor magazines, finds this eat-and-be-eaten thing very disconcerting. I was far less horrified by the giant trevally than I was by the ignorance. Didn’t any of these people see Jaws? You know, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat?” Have they forgotten that we too are part of the food chain out on that big wide watery place?

Then again, for readers of Western Outdoor News, I am preaching to the choir. We know this stuff. What we sometimes forget is that we don’t always need to match the hatch, so to speak. Fish don’t always adhere to the rules we like to set down for them. Instead of a crawfish, they may snack on a blackbird. Instead of a stonefly, they’ll take a mouse. And instead of all those outdoors magazines, I should have paid more attention to Playboy. Fish I could figure out, girls not so much. 

If you want to check out the giant trevally clip, go to Bird vs. Fish - Blue Planet II on YouTube.

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