Catch fish with Mike Ladle.

Catch Fish with
Mike Ladle

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29 May 2005

Reading the shoreline.

If you peruse almost any sea angling book you will come across some comment like - "Have a good look along the beach at low water and make a note of features". The idea, of course, is that this will show you the best places to fish after the tide comes in. Now I don't dispute that this is sound advice and I often do it myself when I'm going to an unknown stretch of coastline but there is MUCH more to 'reading' the shoreline than this. The truth is that,just like a book, you won't get much out of it if you have never been taught to read.

I'm always looking for clues to help me catch fish. In fact, one of the main fascinations of fishing is trying to suss out where and when you will be most likely to succeed. When you get it right - it's magic! A couple of times this week I've been out with new acquaintances trying to pass on a bit of information about where, when and how to fish. In fact the story begins early in the week. I went down with my pals Aidy and Rudy (sounds like the brokers men from a pantomime) to try for an evening bass or mullet. There had been fairly severe storms during the week and we expected to find lots of weed. We were hardly prepared for what we found - there were mountains of kelp and wrack piled along the shoreline. We stood on piles two metres thick as we were spinning. It was amazing! As it turned ot there was nothing doing but the black headed gulls were feeding actively along the edge of the kelp middens. The weed was, of course, fresh so there were no maggots in it yet but the gulls were finding something to eat. I spent quite a long time with the binoculars watching the birds feeding but (a) I could not see the tiny items they were pecking up and (b) There were NO FISH. On other occasions there would have been lots of bass and/or mullet guzzling away but NOT THIS TIME. Clearly we were reading but not understanding.

Later in the week I went down on my own. The tides were decreasing towards neaps so I decided to fish at dawn. My first choice was a ledge where I could fly fish into eight feet of water. Futile! There was still a big swell from the storm and the only bites I had were from tiny pollack. I tried a shallow diving 'Maria' plug which looked wonderful but only produced one small bass. Still - better than nothing. The following morning I went to a shallow gully that produces at all states of tide. When I arrived at the shore it was almost low water and another chap, who I know well, had beaten me to it. He'd already had a good bite but it was not quite the prime 'taking time' yet. There was lots of loose weed in the edge and on the bottom but it was quite calm and so there was about two feet of clear water above the weed. I tied on the same, shallow diving 'Maria' plug to avoid the weed and began to fish. It was only minutes before I had the first knock - definitely a fish! Then they came thick and fast. Quite a lot of bites I did not hook because of the big lure but I was reluctant to 'downsize' just to catch small fish. I spent quite a bit of time taking pictures and unhooking/releasing fish but in the end I managed four - the best was almost four pounds and put up a good battle. A result!

Later on the same day I went down to the same area with two e-friends who were fishing there for the first time. The wind had got up and it was much rougher than at dawn. The weed was stirred up making spinning almost impossible. We had a dabble in a few other spots but again it was the wrong time of day and it was tricky fishing. I guess that we might have had fish by using bait and fishing on the bottom but the idea was simply a recce. Frankly, the conditions were poor and had we not made an arrangement to fish - I would not have bothered. It's vital to read the shore under all sorts of conditions.

I'll leave this comment from the 24th May for the early risers who want to hear a bit more about mayflies - BBC Radio 4 Sunday 26 June 06.35am

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 -


In theory this should be fantastic by the next spring tides but it will depend on the intervening weather.

Where are the fish?.

Black headed gulls pecking away in the margin but not a ripple of a mullet or bass.


The shallow diving plug casts well and seems to have a very good 'fishy' action.  Note the trendy violet stripe painted on with nail varnish.

A closer look at another small fish.

I was impressed with this plug so I'll give it a good go in the next few weeks.

A better bass.

One of four taken on the 'Maria'.  If I'd not bothered with pictures I would probably have caught three times as many.