The munching huchen

The munching huchen

At one time the huchen was quite simply a huge fish — in size and numbers. It lived in abundance along almost the entire length of the River Danube and grew to over 1.5m (5ft) long. But decades of pollution and river development have devastated the huchen’s home waters.

Salmon clan

The huchen — a member of the salmon family—has a scaleless head, spineless fins and a large adipose fin. It resembles the char most closely — its scales are small like the char’s (up to 190 in the lateral line).

Its back is green and its silvery or reddish sides are spattered with numerous black spots. Young huchen have ‘thumbprint’ parr marks on their flanks. The fish also has teeth in the front of the roof of its mouth but not down the mid line of the palate.

These details, technical as they may be, distinguish it from other salmonids.

Although the huchen was found throughout the Danube, it is quite particular about its habitat. It was commonest in the upstream regions of tributaries where the current was moderate and the river bed broken up.

In the headwater rivers of Bavaria, Austria and Czechoslovakia, where the huchen now occurs (thanks partly to active rearing programs), it lives in fast-flowing water below weirs, cascades and waterfalls. It also shelters under the shade of trees and behind boulders and curves in the river bank. In addition huchen survive, and grow well, in still waters – provided these waters are large and not too enriched.

Large numbers of young huchen are raised and released in an attempt to maintain stocks and occasionally to re-introduce the fish to areas it once inhabited.

The science of’rearing huchen is now well-developed. Most of the pressure that produced this development has come from angling organizations. The fish is also now grown under controlled conditions and is marketed as a food fish.

It is a simply fabulous angling species. The average weight of fish caught by anglers in Slovakia at the present time varies between 6 lb 9oz and 17 lb 9oz (3-8kg). There were numerous reports of fish of 55-66 lb (25-30kg) being caught in the 1970s – while earlier records list huchen of 1.7m (5½ ft) long with estimated weights of up to 145 lb (66kg).

These huge huchen would have to have been fairly old (perhaps 40 years) to have reached a length of 1.5m (5ft). The fish grows quite rapidly. In the first eight or nine years of life it adds about 10cm (4in) to its length each year.

Huchen glutton

Although growth like this does depend on abundant supplies of food, the actual content doesn’t seem to matter much to the munching huchen – it eats anything.

Young huchen live in small rivers, feeding on fish larvae, insect pupae and crustaceans, but the most important type of food is fish, particularly minnows. Within a year they move into larger rivers and as they grow their diet becomes increasingly composed of fish – mostly members of the carp family such as roach, dace and nase – but they also take trout.

Frogs, small mammals and occasionally water birds are also on the menu. Of course, with fish the size of huchen there are very few aquatic animals it can’t manage. he bull rout and pogge are widely distributed around Britain’s coastline and share one very similar characteristic — both have painfully sharp spines. The other thing they have in common is a multiplicity of alternative names. The bull rout is also known as the short-spined sea scorpion and the father lasher while the pogge is sometimes referred to as the hooknose or the armed bullhead.