Any young angler who has lost a bite among snaggy underwater weeds may well wonder why experienced fishermen plant weed-beds rather than rooting them up.
Pondweed and willow moss are other submergent species living in still or running water.
Water crowfoot, milfoil and curly pondweed may have some leaves which float, and the others may have flower spikes which show above the surface, but they are all submergent varieties. Hornwort and greater bladderwort are among the submergent plants confined to still waters because they have no proper roots with which to anchor themselves to the bottom. They have finely divided leaves and are excellent oxygenators and ideal spawning places.
Plants with floating leaves do not provide as much oxygen, since most of it is given off directly into the atmosphere from the upper surface.
Anglers either view weedbeds with disdain and plan ways to destroy them, or picture huge fish lurking there and immediately devise ways of catching them. The first type of angler will probably remain fishless, while the second will make a good catch.
Shelter, food and oxygen
Fishing in, or close to weeds is likely to give better results than fishing open water. Success depends partly on the particular water, but if it is read well, the chosen swim will be close to vegetation, for that is where the fish are. Fish cannot thrive without weedbeds, which provide vital oxygen, cover and spawning sites, and both shelter and food for the invertebrate life on which fish depend for regular nourishment.
Three main groups of water plants are of interest to the angler – the submergents, the emergents, and those which have surface floating leaves. Submergent plants are probably responsible for the greater part of the oxygen dissolved in the water. They provide large quantities of fish food – small creatures which hide among the stems and leaves, cropping the algae which form on them – and are spawning sites for many coarse species. Having a more delicate form than the other water plants, these submergent plants give better conditions for the development of fish eggs, and allow a more even distribution of eggs over the weedbed.
Stonewort, a submergent plant with finely divided leaves, is confined to still and sluggish waters. Growing low, it oxygenates the water at greater depths than other plants as it is able to give off oxygen in low light. Water crowfoot, water milfoil, starwort, Canadian pondweed, curly of the leaves. But they do afford cover and breeding facilities for snails, water beetles, fish leeches and some water-bred flies, most of which lay their eggs on the undersides of the leaves. The larvae live on the coating of algae found there.
Emergent plants fall into two categories – erect and marginal plants. The former include bullrushes, reedmace, sedges and flag iris, which colonize moist marginal land and often spread into the water itself, sometimes extensively. Besides providing cover for the angler, most of these plants are feeding grounds for fish, and breeding grounds when there are no submergent weeds.
Marginal plants grow at the edge of the water and spread outwards, although not far. Of the many species of these small, flowering plants, the more important are common watercress, brooklime, water-mint, water speedwell, and water forget-me-not. They offer cover, food and breeding sites for many forms of fish food – especially freshwater shrimps, various species of snail, water bugs and insect larvae. Being small, however, they cannot screen the angler, and can only provide cover for fish fry, which rely on them for survival.
Most angling waters – still or running, natural or man-made – have some form of plant life. The species of water plant present, with the different food organisms they support, form underwater habitats and determine the size and number of fish.
Sucking spawn in the dark In small, weedy ponds, broad-leaved pondweed holds pride of place, its canopy of leaves concealing shoals of crucian carp, which can often be heard sucking snail spawn off the underside of the leaves. In the shallows there is frequently a sparse bed or two of water milfoil, where crucian carp spawn. There is not much light beneath the pondweed if it is thick, especially when the leaves lie one above the other several inches deep. In such situations, the water is poorly oxygenated, so only the fish that can tolerate low oxygen levels, such as tench and crucian carp, will thrive. Where Canadian pondweed is prolific, fish are unlikely to be present because the weed totally excludes light, and the water, except at the surface, is without dissolved oxygen.
Weedbeds in larger stillwaters are sure indicators of the presence of fish. Lily beds provide cover for pike, which lie quiet until a meal swims past, while rushes and sedges attract tench because of the many small snails that cling to their stems. Broad-leaveji pondweed
usually grows in shallower water than lilies, and both can grow through 8ft of water. In even shallower water, you find the amphibious bistort, but its leaves are rank, seldom supporting life, except in the absence of other surface-floating plants.
In shallow areas of lakes, submergent plants give good spawning facilities and rich feeding for fish brave enough to venture near the shore by day, but as soon as light fails and the disturbance of clumsy anglers has ceased, then fish will enter the weedbeds.
Of all the submergent plants, water crowfoot holds the most food, except when bottom-feeding fish stir up the lake-bed and a fine layer of mud settles over the plants so that fish food cannot survive. In such cases the weedbed will not attract feeding fish.
Starwort and milfoil
In rivers, most submergent plants, including crowfoot and celery, are found in the swift clear shallows, while starwort and milfoil grow in silty regions out of the main current. As the food supply is plentiful, these are ideal haunts for small chub and dace, with young pike and eels sometimes found between the streamers of crowfoot.
In the quieter stretches, where mud has settled in quantity, bream, roach, tench and pike haunt the water lilies and broad-leaved pond-weed beds. If the water is clear, there may also be good sized perch, drifting in and out of the weedbeds in search of dragonfly larvae and small fish.
Slow flowing rivers, where there are no submerged plants, usually have luxuriant marginal growths. Perch hide among the stems of rushes or sedges, waiting to pounce, and pike are fond of lying in wait close by stands of the emergent marginal plants.
Generally, canals are sparse in weeds, except on the shallow ledges along the margins. Here, there are usually marginal plants, and, where cattle drink, broad-leaved pond-weed. They are the obvious places to fish as they house most insects on which fish feed. The weeds also make good breeding areas. You find the predatory perch and pike lying in wait for smaller perch and roach, which feed on insects and water bugs. If there are snails present there will possibly be tench.
Disused canal arms, if not too shallow, are good fishing spots as their weed beds use all the nutrients from the bottom mud, thus restricting the growth of algae. The water is usually gin-clear, so fish which hunt by sight have a perfect habitat – pike, perch, and even the odd chub. If bream and tench stay there, they usually grow big and are difficult to catch.