Freshwater Fishing Beginner Series
by Eugene Kruger

Part One: Know The Game

Becoming a successful fisherman, or angler, means that you must know how fishes live, and understand something of the place they live in. Thisplace is the fish “habitat”.A fish habitat is water. Fishes are perfectly adapted to live in water, and extract life-giving oxygen by passing water across the gills, the lacy red-coloured organs situated under the gillcase that are able to absorb oxygen into the fishes body.  Fish cannot breathe air, so a fish must not be kept out of water for too long as it will suffocate to death. The only exception is the catfish which has a special organ in its head that can extract oxygen from air. Most fish are omnivorous, namely they are vegetarian (they eat plant material) and also carnivorous (they eat meat). Certain species, such as carp and mudfish for example, are more vegetarian than others, namely they will prefer plant material to eat.Other fish such as yellowfish, catfish and bass are more carnivorous, namely they prefer meat such as smaller fish, crabs, worms and insects. Different species of fish also have different methods of feeding, according to their position in Nature’s foodchain.The lowliest organisms, called plankton, occur in their millions. They are the food of bigger creatures. In the bottom mud are the larvae of insects and other small creatures such as shrimps and mussels. Small, immature fish eat these creatures and in turn are eaten by larger fish. At the top of this foodchain are the biggest fish. Outside the water are other creatures that eat fish, such as otters and crocodiles, as well as birds such as comorants, kingfishers and the fish eagle. Right at the top of the foodchain is Man, who is clever enough to devise ways and means of catching fish.Man catches fish for food, but also for sport. People who catch fish mainly for food are generally termed “fishermen”, while those who like to catch fish for sport and recreation are generally called “anglers”.While anglers do keep part of their catch to eat, because fish is a healthy and good tasting food, an intelligent angler will always only keep what is needed. The rest of the catch is put back, unharmed, into the water to provide sport for another day.All anglers treat fish with care. Take a photo of your catch to show your friends and family, and then place it carefully back into the water.

FISH BEHAVIOUR

Different fish have different feeding patterns and so live at different places in the water.At the bottom of the water we find the grazers, such as carp, that root on the bottom searching for food. In the mid-water depths we find the browsers such as kurper and certain species of yellowfish that cruise through the water looking for anything to feed on.Higher up in the water we find the predators, namely fish that actively prey on smaller fish, insects and so on, such as yellowfish and bass. The catfish is a generally a bottom feeder but is also a fierce predator.At different times of the year all fish will change their feeding habits according to where they can find food. That is why the carp, for example, which is generally regarded as a bottom feeder, will sometimes be seen cruising just below the surface sucking in mouthfuls of tiny creatures called daphnia.Or catfish gathering in shoals to herd tiny fish into bays where they are easily caught and eaten.The availability of food is a key factor in finding fish. Look into the water and you will see that the deeper the water the less sunlight there is. Sunlight is necessary for the growth of weeds and other plants in the water. Plants are necessary for a healthy fish habitat because they do three things: they supply a continuous supply of oxygen into the water, provide a home for the many thousands of tiny creatures that are food to all species of fish, and also provide fish with a breeding and hiding place.To become a successful angler, always study the water in which you are going to fish. How deep is it? Where is the vegetation? Where should the fish be, and why? A good plan is to carry a notebook on every fishing outing. In it you note the date, weather condition (sunny, cloudy, windy, cold, hot and so on), where you caught the fish and with what bait. This will provide a valuable reference for future outings.

A FISH'S LIFECYCLE

Fish have a lifecycle that starts when the female fish lays eggs (termed spawning) either attached to vegetation in the water or in beds scraped out on the bottom by the male.Fish start breeding during spring and early summer when the water temperature starts to rise. As fish are cold-blooded animals, the water temperature is needed to warm the eggs sufficiently to hatch into fry, the name given to juvenile fish.   As they get bigger they are called fingerlings, with the final stage being mature fish.The fry at first gather together for protection and only start off on their own when they pass from the fingerling stage into mature fish.Only a small percentage of fry and fingerlings reach the mature stage as very many are eaten by fish, birds and animals. The fish's skin consists of row upon row of scales. They overlap each other and keep out water and disease. Fish are also covered with a layer of slime for extra protection.It is very important when handling a fish not to damage this slime layer. So when you handle a fish, keep your hands wet or use a wet towel.Fish are identified by the shape of the body, its colour, the position of the fins and the number of scales along its body. Fish grow throughout their lives, with fish living in unpolluted water where there is sufficient oxygen, food and space reaching big sizes.The position of the eyes and shape of the mouth generally indicate what the feeding habit of the fish is.Those fish that feed on the bottom have mouths that curve downward or the top jaws overlap the bottom one. Surface feeders have a longer bottom jaw, while fish that grub around for their food have no visible teeth but have large, fleshy lips so as to suck the food into their mouths.Predators, namely the fish that feed on other fish, have teeth with which to hold their prey. A fine example of this is the awesome teeth of the tigerfish.