Catch fish with Mike Ladle.

Catch Fish with
Mike Ladle

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SEA FISHING

For anyone unfamiliar with the site always check the FRESHWATER, SALTWATER and TACK-TICS pages. The Saltwater page now extends back as a record of over several years of (mostly) sea fishing and may be a useful guide as to when to fish. The Freshwater stuff is also up to date now. I keep adding to both. These pages are effectively my diary and the latest will usually be about fishing in the previous day or two. As you see I also add the odd piece from my friends and correspondents if I've not been doing much. The Tactics pages which are chiefly 'how I do it' plus a bit of science are also updated regularly and (I think) worth a read (the earlier ones are mostly tackle and 'how to do it' stuff).

First trip to Tobago.

Contrary to popular opinion I haven't given up fishing! In fact I went this week but a short spell of fly fishing and spinning at 05:00 showed me that I was wasting my time. Friends who have been giving it a go tell me more or less the same story so I must be patient. Added to this the rivers are still over the banks and there's more to come it seems. Anyway, I am fortunate in having good pals who have been taking their winter holidays and sending me reports. One good friend, Brian Baxter, had a week in Tobago for the first time. I'd tried to give him the low down on where to go and what to do but, of course, your first trip to anywhere is always tricky. Here's what he says:-

Hi Mike, just got back from Tobago a couple of days ago. We were only there for a week and so it was really just a quick reconnaissance visit but it certainly whetted my appetite for more, I canít wait to get back. We loved the Island and I enjoyed every minute of the fishing, although the conditions were not great and fish landed were few and far between.

I had devoured the fishing advice on MyTobago.com before going (seems to feature plenty of pics of you and Mr Pitts!) and of course all your back articles in Operation Sea Angler which gave me some good grounding, but thereís no substitute for just getting yourself immersed in the Caribbean - I felt like I learned a lot during the week that should stand me in good stead for the next time. Top tip from my pre-reading seemed to be look out for feeding birds but alas, apart from one episode several hundred metres off Sandy Point one morning, I never saw more than single dives on fish here and there from solitary pelicans and terns.(This is VERY unusual ML)

We stayed at the Magdalena (superb hotel) and had hired a car. Iíd originally booked a soft top Suzuki jeep thing but realised a couple of days before travelling that that might not be such a good idea as I wanted to be able to take the rods everywhere with me, so I changed it to a hard top that we could lock safely wherever we stopped. Almost a schoolboy error there! I took two spinning rods, one light and one heavy, and two fly rods. Again one light (5wt, mainly because I already had it and it broke down nice and small) and one 8/9 wt travel rod which I bought specially. Spinning reels were loaded with 30lb braid, and I took along 20lb and 30lb wire for traces and 40lb mono rubbing leader material (though I have to say I was never very sure which of these to use in any particular situation...)

First day we headed to Pigeon Point to do the tourist thing but it wasnít long before the rods were out of the car and I was wading out into the warm clear water! There was quite a lot of bait around the pier and at one stage four or five tuna were actually under the pier harrying them but although I had a few chucks off the pier, I decided against trying to tempt one of the tuna under my feet on the grounds that they would almost certainly have tied me in knots around the stanchions. I had unrealistically assumed Iíd be able to walk across shoals of huge tarpon and barracuda but apart from the tuna briefly under the pier there was no sign of any other predators from the pier. I then wandered South along the flats throwing out a 6 inch pearl sidewinder sandeel in the crystal clear water... managed to temp a few knocks and follows from what I think were small barracudas but nothing hooked up. The fish seemed pretty savvy Ė once they had hit the lure once they couldnít be tempted to have another go. Right on the point just South of the pier (over the sea grass beds) one other chap was spinning and had a good bone fish on a small silver Toby-type lure, no more than about three inches long. I had nothing that small which in hindsight was a mistake (been on eBay this morning putting that right...).

The locals were telling us that if we were going to go on the glass bottomed boats we should do it soon as a huge swell was predicted to arrive in a couple of days, and in fact when we went up to Castara the next day, some of the fishermen there had roped in the services of a JCB and were hauling their boats out of the water and right up the beach in anticipation of the predicted swell. By the time it hit a couple of days later it wasnít as big as expected but was still pretty big and made a huge difference, even close in to the shore after breaking first on the reefs.

Castara was as beautiful as it looks in the pictures and was a great day out. Again no significant bird activity but I did at one stage early in the day see what looked like fish slashing through the water a few hundred yards out which had me running back to the car for the rods, hoping they might come closer in. Sadly, that was just when the locals started running out one of their long, long seine nets. I think they soon saw the same shoal and waited for a quite a while half way round staring intently ahead before being satisfied with what they saw and completing their run. I joined in the hauling which was great fun but before long my soft office hands were shredded with the rough wet rope and I bypassed the blister stage and went straight to deep skinless holes ... giving me no end of trouble in the salt water (especially fly casting!) for the rest of the week. The net took quite a bit of hauling in and when it eventually was beached there was a fair amount of bait and about fifteen small (2-3 lb) jacks in it which were unceremoniously thrown up the beach to flap their last. The birds then put on quite a show swooping down for the baitfish which didn't survive being dragged back into the sea. The frigate birds were amazing - beautiful and acrobatic, I could watch them all day.

That evening I tried the pond at the back of the hotel with the fly rod (the one with the lilies, the others had only a few inches of water in them) but despite a few tweaks did not manage to hook anything. That's when I realised I had left my sharpening equipment back in Dorset and was kicking myself thinking that a needle sharp hook may have made the difference as the fly I was using was far from sharp. I fished the same pond the next night with the spinning rod and picked up a small but very acrobatic snook, and was later stunned to see huge bow waves working around the outside edges of the pond. I thought from the size it must be a caiman so I followed round not casting at it until when almost out of reach I saw a massive tail splash out of the water and I realised it must be a tarpon ... but Crikey the size... it must have been four or five feet long... I was shaking! Sadly, even though I fished that pond most subsequent evenings, it never made another appearance. Each evening though, just after six oíclock as the light faded fast, for about fifteen minutes some other fish came out and were very active hunting just under the surface... I assumed more tarpon but was wrong... when I eventually got one to take a small delta eel on the fly rod, it turned out to be what I think was a Tilapia, very pretty fish in back with a protruding mouth and beautiful fins. That was on the last night which was a shame as Iím sure I could have tempted more on a smaller fly and they would have been great sport on the 5wt.... That same evening I also saw a huge snook porpoise out of the water half way across the pond, easily double figures.

Most mornings I tried in the sea before breakfast. Not on the beach in front of the hotel thinking the onshore wind would prevent casting far enough to reach fish in the shallow waters (though since I came back I have read another of your pieces describing catching jacks there... aarrgghhh!!) but round by the airport at Sandy point. First morning the seas were quite calm but I had no luck from the car parking spot on the steep bend, all the way down past the oil pipes to the rocks right round the point. I lost a couple of lures on snags along the way so I switched to a surface popper and right round the corner, probably the extreme South West corner of the whole island, I saw the birds working about three hundred yards offshore. Fishing the popper there gave me the most exciting fishing moment of the trip when on about the third cast, perhaps forty or fifty yards out, pretty much at full casting distance, the popper got hammered on the surface by something big and long and silver. Iím guessing tarpon or barracuda (though it all happened in an instant) and said long silver fish immediately set off for the horizon like a train, reel screaming like a banshee. After about five seconds I though I had to do something to stop it getting over the edge of the reef so I started gingerly tightening the drag and as quickly as it came, it was gone. Disappointing but still a massive buzz, and Iím itching for more of it!

No other takes that morning on poppers, Sandraís, plugs or dexter wedges, and even though I went there a few more mornings the sea conditions were much heavier and the water rough and murky and no more bites like that one. I did have one knock on the popper but it was a small fish and it didn't hook itself. So no more fish from the sea until the second to last day when, again at Pigeon Point, I excused myself from the sunbeds to have a walk round the back of the point, Buccoo side, as I wanted to have a walk right along to the mangroves there to check it out. The water was pretty murky but it did look fishy.

As I walked back I chatted to an English chap who spent a lot of time on the island and was setting up about two hundred yards from the start of the mangroves, one rod with bait and one rod with a lure. He said the fishing was pretty thin and that there wasn't nearly as much bait close in as usual though he did often get barracuda's from that spot. He told me of a couple of places that might be worth fishing Ė one was a lake actually on Pigeon Point which apparently some bloke to be found near the Pigeon Point entrance could take you out on a rickety little boat. This lake was supposedly alive with hungry tarpon that could be great sport on any kind of white fly... didn't manage to verify that but itís tucked away for a future visit... and he also told me about a mangrove boardwalk back at the Magdalena which runs through the mangroves at Petit Trou lagoon, and at a couple of points actually extends a little way out into the water and provides fishing access. He said friends of his had seen a lot of tarpon in there recently and had managed to catch a few. Full of enthusiasm, I headed down there and although there were no tarpon visible I did manage to catch a snapper (mutton?) which completely engulfed the six inch pearl sandeel on about the third cast. I tried the other jetty there and managed to tempt a small barracuda out from under the jetty on a couple of occasions but it didn't get on the hook and soon wised up. I did try there again at first light the next (last day) morning but nothing doing.

So overall, not a lot of fish but a huge amount of pleasure and a huge appetite to get back out there and continue where I left off, hopefully in better conditions as I want to repeat that experience of the screaming reel, and this time to land some of those fabulous fish!

Cheers, Brian

Well, I think Brian did OK for a first attempt. The big fish that he lost was probably a tarpon. Anyway, it made me quite envious.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you!' get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com

Baitfish.

These are the little devils you want to see.  The space in the shoal probably signals the presence of a predator.

Seining.

Most local beaches have one or two seines which are used by the locals.

Snook.

No monster but good fun on spinning or fly gear.

Snapper.

Care needed to avoid those teeth.

- and again.

What a fine fish!