I know that is going to sound like a far fetched tale, but I promise it is all true...

I admit that I have a certain rapport with animals, and when you spend enough time outdoors you eventually run across odd situations. I have been licked by a wolf. I've had chickadees eat out of my hand and land on my head, shoulder and hands. I've had squirrels stand on my feet and a ground hog walk over my outstretched legs. In Shenendoah I was once sitting next to a group of deer that I was photographing when something spooked them and they split up, a young doe then followed my around for about an hour, apparently taking me for the lead doe of the moment (no comments from the peanut gallery please!). I've talked a young raccoon into letting me free it's wedged leg from a tree. In Ontario I had a squirrel refuse to leave the inside of my vehicle. On Assateague Island we had a wild horse stick it's head in our tent and check us out. And there was the almost tragic time that I froze on a trail while a porcupine climbed up my pants to above my knee, and then thankfully climbed down again.

But I never thought I held any charm over fish... until two days ago that is.

It was early in the morning and I was doing landscape photography along this tiny stream that has no name. I do mean tiny. There is not a single point that I can't walk over the the stream. I don't mean jump, I mean step over it. Much of the water is 2 inches deep, with some pools of 4-6 inches. Something caught my eye in the water and I noticed two brook trout in a little pool. While the pool was little, the fish were not. They were 9 to 10 inches long, which is respectable for brook trout and more than half the width of the stream in some places. I was amazed, I would not have thought that the stream could hold fish that large. Brook trout are the only native trout in Michigan streams, the brown trout and rainbow trout were all introduced from elsewhere.

The two trout were side by side spawning over the gravel in the little pool. I imagine it sounds odd, but I found that beautiful. I don't know how many fish that size the brook could support, but it can't be many, I would expect larger fish to be distributed sparsely through the stream so that they don't compete too fiercely for food. Somehow these two found each other over how ever far they had to travel. Brook trout had apparently been surviving in this marginal stream for what may have been thousands of years. These are slow growing fish, I have no idea how long it must take them to reach that size on a stream that small. I am just awed and humbled by the tenacity of life.

So I decided to see if I could actually get them in a photograph. I set my gear down and switched lens. By the time I was ready only one of the trout was in the pool. Trout are extremely wary. They are able to sense vibrations and will take cover at the least tremor, because to a trout ground vibration means a predator is on the way. So I moved very slowly. I was already in hip boots. I carefully moved into the water near the trout. Slowly I eased up on the fish. It had moved about a foot to a dark part of the pool. It was underneath a tree root, the root along it's back. I did my best to get a shot, but with the dark bottom and glare on the water it was rough. There was a twig obscuring part of the fish, so I very slowly reached in the water and moved it out of the way. No problem.

Ok, this is were it gets weird... I had done all I could with the fish there and I don't know why I tried this, but I did... I put my hand in the water and slowly ran my fingers along the bottom of the fish. It wasn't really bothered. So... I gently guided it out of the dark bottom to a lighter part of the stream where I could get shots. I know it sounds crazy, I was leading one of the most wary of fish around, practically posing it, but that is exactly what I was doing.

I found the best way to photograph it was to move my head around until I found the spot with the least glare over the fish, then pick up the tripod and move it so that the camera was right in my line of sight, and out of the glare too. It wasn't great work, but I got the following shot...

You can get a hint of the beauty of the brook trout. It has olive sides with red, blue, yellow spots. On it's back are whirly markings. The fins are orange near the body with black and white stripes further out.

At this point I'm thinking that no one is ever going to believe that I actually was able to move the fish around and pose it. So...

I took it out of the water! Here you can see the brilliant yellow spots and red spots with blue circles on the side. Again, not the best shot, but you have to consider the circumstances. The fishes head is blurry because, well it's acting like a fish out of water. I got the shot and then returned it to the water. My fingers were freezing so I put my gloves on and went  back to taking more traditional photos.

I think there were probably two things going on here. Many animals become oblivious to what is going on around them when they are breeding. This is pretty extreme.  I tried to take this in account and not stand where I felt the fish had been spawning. The other thing is that I am suspecting, based on what I saw, that brook trout actually feel more secure when they are touching something. They like to hide under obstacles, like fallen logs or undercuts in the bank. Maybe being touched assures them that they are in as tight of spot that they can get into.

Or there is the other explanation... I'm a fish charmer! :-)

Disclaimer: No fish where killed or harmed in making these images. Honest!

Charles St. Charles

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