Catch Fish with
25 May 2004
It is amazing how there is always something new (and useful) to learn about fish. Despite my forty years of fishing the Dorset coast I went down the other morning and came across something totally unexpected. To begin at the beginning - on the previous evening I had been for my first annual look at a stretch which normally produces maggot feeding bass and/or mullet on the high spring tides. It was during the recent hot spell and to my dismay I found all the weed piles were beginning to dry out. Not only that but they were high enough on the shore to be out of reach of the incoming tide. I walked as far as possible looking for some more suitable weed and eventually found what I wanted at the extreme end of the bay.
There were no fish about when I arrived so I kicked a bit of maggoty weed into the sea and waited. As I was waiting my pals Stewart and Brian turned up, armed with spinning rods. There was no sign of fish until about half an hour before high water. Just where I had put the weed in a few swirls showed the presence of bass and/or mullet. Before long the fish were feeding quite well and Brian had a tiny bass on his plug. I tied a little Delta eel onto my fly line and began to cast. Most of the fish seemed to be mullet (uninterested in the lure) and it was some time before I hooked my first fish. The bass, only a little larger than Brian's, fought well on the fly gear making several runs before I was able to beach it. Just after high water the fish left and soon after so did we.
On the following morning I had arranged to meet Marc Cowley for a spot of bassing. I arrived on the shore at about four-fifteen - a bit late - but there was no sign of Marc. It was dead low water so I decided to walk along and look for signs of fish. About ten minutes from the car park I noticed a few swirls in a small weedy bay. The water was only about thirty centimetres deep and the bottom was covered with stinking, rotten weed fragments so more in hope than in expectation I tied on a recently purchased 'glass minnow' and crept on my knees to the water's edge.
I worked out a short line and made a cast. The fly was very lightweight so by raising the rod as soon as it hit the water I was able to keep it above the weed. The water was glassy calm so I expected any fish in the vicinity to 'take to the hills' as soon as I cast. However, there was no sign of disturbance - either there was nothing there or I was lucky. On my third cast the line tightened and I found myself attached to a hard fighting fish. As it tore about in the shallow water fish (mostly mullet) erupted everywhere. It was a five minute scrap before I landed my bass and as long again before it was unhooked and photographed.
I moved along a few metres and sat down on a boulder to allow things to settle down. As I sat I noticed a little silvery fish swimming erratically by my booted feet. Close inspection showed that gritty sand at the water's edge was scattered with dead and dying sandeels. The fish ranged from 4-8 centimetres in length. I can only think that they had been buried in the sand and were starved of oxygen by the mass of rotting weed in the sea, or perhaps more likely poisoned by hydrogen sulphide (plenty of that to judge from the smell!). Now despite having fished in this spot many times I have never seen this mass mortality before. The little bay always accumulates stinking weed so the conditions must frequently recur. This time of year is when the bass feed heavily on small sandeels so if the fish don't come in to mop up the wounded I'm a monkey's uncle. I'll be back!
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