'The Proof of the Pudding'


As is usual in books about fishing, we have presented quite a few accounts of angling trips without really trying to indicate whether the fishing described was poor, average or exceptionally good, even though we have included descriptions of the many hours put in for little or no returns. Because of these problems it was felt that a simple record of a few of our angling years might be of interest to others.

How does one judge the quality of fishing? An addict of wreck fishing may consider a `good trip' to be one on which he catches hundreds of pounds of fish. To achieve such highspots he will, no doubt, spend considerable sums of money on travel, charters and tackle. He is prepared to put in many hours steaming to and from marks for a brief hour or two of hectic sport. The wreck angler also has to contend with cancellations caused by adverse weather discomfort caused by seasickness and, no doubt at times, even he will meet with less than 100 per cent success.

In complete contrast, the freshwater match fisherman is well satisfied with lesser catches of much smaller, more or less inedible fish. The occasional match-winning catch of perhaps 10-pounds will be a highlight. Again, he may drive many miles for his fishing, buy expensive tackle and buy or breed large quantities of bait and groundbait. He, also, must tolerate the vagaries of the weather in the form of storms and floods.

The pleasures of angling manifest themselves in these and many other guises. Beach matches in our area are often won with a few pounds of fish and there is frequently a high proportion of blanks. In fly fishing for reservoir trout, it is well known that a small proportion of anglers account for most of the catches. The specimen hunter is renowned for the persistence with which he or she will endeavour to catch large fish of a particular species. The salmon fisherman may even spend a season with little to show for it, in anticipation of one day making a bag of several fish or even catching the elusive 40-pounder.

Who would be foolish enough to say that any one of these forms of angling (in most of which we have at times indulged) is `better' than another? There are as many reasons for enjoying a day's fishing as there are anglers, so the following analysis must be taken for what it is, a simplified description of our efforts to evolve methods which suit us and our area.

So how should one judge results? The weight of fish caught is not much use because the different species vary so much in size. The expenditure of money and time, and the problems of discomfort and inconvenience are common to all forms of angling in some degree. What we want is some sort of measure of success in terms of catch and effort because, however beautiful the scenery, the ultimate satisfaction is that of a good bag of fish. Because this analysis includes quite a few different anglers the measure of effort used is the man hour. For example, a party of ten fishing for one hour on a wreck charter or one man spinning for ten hours from the beach would each represent ten man hours. Success is judged in two ways, firstly the total number of fish caught, which is an indication of the amount of 'action' in an hour and secondly the numbers of good fish caught. For present purposes `good' fish are defined in our own terms, because, as we have seen, everyone has his (or her) own criterion according to their aims.

The example used covers four successive years for which we kept detailed records of every trip. Information on time of day, state of tide, weather and so on have already been covered in other chapters. The years dealt with are those during which we divided our time between dinghy fishing, beach casting and spinning/fly fishing from the shore. The results have been looked at in these three categories. A list of the baits used gives some idea of the scope and variety of tactics applied to each.

Dinghy fishing A 10-foot rowing dinghy within about one mile of the shore in Swanage Bay. Usually the methods used were simple one-hook running leger or paternoster tackles.

Beach casting Shores of mud, sand, gravel and rock from Bournemouth to Abbotsbury were fished using methods similar to the above. The baits used for bottom fishing from dinghy and shore were - lugworm, ragworm, mussel, slipper limpet, squid, cuttlefish, soft/peeler crab, sandeel, pouting, mullet, bass, gobies, freshwater eels, lampreys, sand smelts, pollack, herring, mackerel, sprat, kipper, dace, smoked salmon and pork crackling.

Float fishing Quill and balsa floats, both fixed and sliding. The latter were small, streamlined home-made floats, stopped by a small bead and a spade-end stopknot of sewing thread (shifting a nylon stopknot burns and kinks the line.) A small cork makes a handy fixed float if it is slit with a razor blade and pushed onto the line. Baits fished under a float were - lugworm, ragworm, squid, soft/peeler crab, sand eel, pouting, freshwater eel, lamprey, sand smelt, sprat, prawn, shrimp, maggot, bread.

Spinning. Spinning from both dinghy and shore covered a wide range of lures which were either trolled, cast and retrieved or jigged as appropriate. Lures used were - Pirks from 2-ounce to 3.5-ounces, Tobys, rubber eels of many types, bar spoons (Mepps and Mepps Mino), bar spoons with balsa wood bodies were constructed and used to fish over shallow weedy ground. Plugs with fixed or adjustable lips, single and two jointed, ranging from 1.5- to 12-inches in length, wooden and plastic Devon minnows. freshwater eels, dace, strips of many fish species and sand eels.

Fly fishing Fly fishing with trout fly rods from the rocks. Flies and lures used were - mackerel feathers, tube flies, streamer flies, wet trout and salmon flies, dry flies, polystyrene flies, rubber squids and blowfly maggots.

Most of these baits are the same as those used by other anglers. A few may seem rather unusual; dace, lampreys and freshwater eels were easily obtainable substitutes for small sea fish such as sand smelts and sandeels. Wooden Devons used for bottom-fishing were simply lowered on paternoster tackle and allowed to work in the current. The natural fish were moderately successful baits for bass. The plugs and Devon minnows caught cod, pollack and pouting when used from the dinghy.

The following are what we regard as 'good fish'

Bass over 4 lbs
Black Bream over 2 lbs
Blonde Ray over 10 lbs
Cod over 10 lbs
Conger over 10 lbs
Flounder over 1 lbs
Mullet (Thick-Lipped) over 2 lbs
Plaice over 1 lbs
Pollack over 4 lbs
Pouting over 2 lbs
Sole over 1 lbs
Small-Eyed Ray over 9 lbs
Thornback Ray over 10 lbs

Over the four years considered, the number of man-hours fished in each year varied as follows: 740, 482, 520 and 408.

Taking first of all the results of conventional beach fishing a simple table can be used to express the results:

Year Man Hours
Man Hours
(Per Fish)
Man Hours
(Per Good Fish)
1 389 1.5 49
2 182 3.2 45
3 213 1.0 30
4 91 2.7 13
Average 219 2.1 34

TABLE 6 Conventional beach and float fishing.

These beach casting, bait fishing methods, produced a fish roughly every two man-hours. This figure is an underestimate because many of the small fish caught were not recorded in detail. It is interesting to notice that the time spent in catching a `good' fish decreased markedly over the four years even though the number of hours fished varied. Thus in the first year we put in 49 hours for each good fish and in the last only 13 hours. The improvement was due to our more critical approach to where and when we fished.

A similar analysis can be presented for spinning/fly fishing methods over the same four year period.

Year Man Hours
Man Hours
(Per Fish)
Man Hours
(Per Good Fish)
1 168 2.5 4.4
2 168 2.6 7.3
3 212 1.6 4.0
4 223 2.8 8.3
Average 193 2.4 6.0

TABLE 7 Spinning and fly fishing from the beach.

The first notable feature of these results is the way in which the number of man-hours increased over the four years from less than half those of conventional methods in year 1 to over twice the number in year 4. There was little variation in the number of man-hours per fish and these averaged out at a slightly higher value than the corresponding beach casting figures. The most striking difference how-ever lies in the number of hours per `good' fish, which average only six as opposed to thirty-four. The absence of any consistent improvement in the effort needed to catch a `good' fish is probably due to continually changing methods and the fact that an increasing proportion of time spent in fly fishing and the difficulty of equating a good mullet caught on fly with a good bass caught by spinning.

Before we get carried away with these results it is worth remembering that, normally, all our spinning and fly fishing is done between the months of April and November. If comparisons are restricted to these months it still took three times as long to catch a good fish by bottom fishing as by spinning/fly fishing.

In general, the returns for sea fishing effort in January, February and March (other than flounder fishing) never lived up to our hopes and, in consequence, we have over the years gradually come to devote January and February to the pursuit of pike, grayling, roach and dace which are abundant in our local rivers. March is now spent fishing for salmon which, although they are by no means abundant at that time of year, are satisfactorily large. Since angling for salmon requires an almost mindless dedication, it makes a relaxing change before sport in the sea begins to pick up again. Had we lived further north or east no doubt the cod would have received our attention in the winter months.

Dinghy fishing is now summarised in a similar manner.

Year Man Hours
Man Hours
(Per Fish)
Man Hours
(Per Good Fish)
1 183 0.5 4.1
2 132 0.9 4.3
3 95 0.6 4.3
4 94 0.8 4.2
Average 126 0.7 4.2

TABLE 8 Bottom fishing from a small rowing dinghy.

The results are better than those of either type of beach fishing whether we consider all fish or just `good' fish. In fact, since many of the small fish caught for bait were not recorded the `action' was often considerably more hectic than is suggested by the figures. Also we have excluded mackerel from consideration because a single evening's feathering could distort things considerably.Our best year's fishing ever included fifty-six `good' bass and over sixty `good' mullet. The largest bass weighed 12.5 lbs and the largest mullet 6.25 lbs. Our best fish of other species from the beach are: conger 40 lbs, flounder 3.5 lbs, pollack 12.5 lbs and sole 2.5 lbs.

From the dinghy we have caught black bream 3.5 lbs, blonde ray 16 lbs, cod 24 lbs, conger 46 lbs, small-eyed ray 14 lbs and a thornback ray of 17 lbs. Other `good' fish caught were a blonde ray of 24 lbs, tope of 40 lbs and a turbot of 20 lbs. We are always keen to try out new techniques or to adapt old ones if these will help us to catch more or better fish. There is never any lack of ideas but few of these succeed on the first attempt. If a promising method should fail we reason out why, change it accordingly, and try again. The ideas and methods discussed in this book should be adapted to suit local conditions wherever or however you may fish.

The preferred food of each fish species may vary a good deal according to time and place. The reader will also have noticed that the preferred food of a species and the baits which are used successfully are not always the same thing. The curious preferences of cod for various tastes, the way in which wrasse which rarely eat fish, may be caught on fish-like plugs and the alacrity with which crustacean-feeding pouting and poor cod will take worm baits are just a few examples. Why should this be? Possible explanations include:

a. The bait used maybe acceptable but not normally available to the fish.
b. Tethered baits are easily caught by the fish whereas the genuine free-living, article, maybe able to escape.
c. Lures may resemble injured fish. Everyone must have noticed how even placid aquarium fish will attack a crippled member of their community.
d. It is probable that many more fish would be caught if more attention was paid to fish diets and bait presentation.

In conclusion, in case the reader has not yet realised the full depth of our dedication to angling, in addition to sea fishing we spend annually about 100-200 man hours fishing for salmon (10-20 man-hours per fish) and trout. Also about 200 man-hours are devoted to coarse fishing. Last winter however, the coarse fishing was reduced to a minimum because we spent most of our spare time in preparing this book. we could not, by any stretch of imagination, be regarded as fair weather fishermen (sometimes it is quite the reverse). We have tried to fish Poole Harbour (the Arne Peninsula) for flounders, on a day so cold that 2-ounce leads would not penetrate the surface layer of ice. We have, foolishly, fished from the steep and jagged rocks of Worbarrow Tout in a force eight with huge seas breaking above our heads. Harry, on one occasion, fished a Chesil Beach Christmas Match in which, because of the extreme cold, he was eventually left in sole charge of six rods as his five companions gradually retreated to the warmth and solace of the nearby pub; nothing was caught.

The non-angler will often comment to the effect that fishing is boring, sedentary or an old man's pastime. We can only suggest that such individuals should try spinning or fly fishing from the beach. This may involve a two/or three-mile hike to the sea and hours of continuous walking and casting at a rate of approximately one cast every minute. This means that in three hours spinning the lure will have covered over four miles of water. Finally, there is the inevitable uphill drag back to the car.

Fishing is a time consuming hobby. According to the National Angling Survey, carried out by the Natural Environment Research Council in 1970, the average sea angler puts in about 180 hours of fishing per year. Most of this time is spent in search of cod, bass and flat fish although bass, it appears, are caught less often than they are sought. The Survey suggests that sea angling is the fastest-growing branch of the sport. At the time of the survey there were 1,280,000 sea anglers, over half of whom normally fished inshore or from beaches. We dedicate this book to all our fellow sea anglers and, in particular, to those who have bought it.