Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

"Small flies or large?."

I've just recieved an email about fly fishing which made me think I ought to write a piece for the website. The email came from Rupert - a keen saltwater fly angler and went like this ---

Hi Mike –

There’s a thread running in the UKSWFF web site at the moment about tactics for bigger bass – there’s a bit of a debate on the large fly versus small fly approach.

Any thoughts on the issue you could share with us if you have the time –



I thought that the topic might have more general interest than simply for the fly angler so here is what I think :-

The 'big baits for big fish' controversy is probably as old as fishing itself. There can be no doubt that, in some cases at least, the size of bait makes a difference. For example - for several years my friends and I fished the local River for pike using devons, Mepps, Tobys, plugs etc. We were fishing a salmon stretch and the owner restricted us (don't ask why) to using lures less than about three inches long. We used to catch lots of pike but, despite many hours of effort, the largest one we caught was about eight pounds. After a few years ownership of the fishing changed and we were allowed to use bigger lures and baits - immediately we began to catch bigger pike with one fish in four being double figures. Of course this is not the whole story and over the years we have landed some very big pike on small lures BUT on the whole, THERE IS NO DOUBT, that if you want big pike you use large lures.

Why should there be this selectivity? In truth it boils down to return for effort. Most wild creatures, including fish, live on a knife edge when it comes to making ends meet, starvation is often just around the corner. If a fish catches its prey more or less one at a time then it is much more profitable to catch a big one than a small one. Fish such as mullet, basking sharks and manta ray, generally feed on small creatures/particles which they swallow en masse (In this case notice the size of the predator is irrelevant) . Piscivorous predators such as bass, cod, pike, perch and so on, given an equal chance of capture, will normally take a bigger prey item than a small one.

Of course there are a number of other things that tip the balance. It may be much riskier to catch the big prey fish. For example it may fight back, it may be strong enough to escape or it may involve entering the territory of a large and dangerous predator. On the other hand small prey (usually) are much more abundant than large prey so it may pay to specialise in catching fifty tiddlers rather than waiting for a bigger fish to come along (match anglers know this only too well) . In this case the size of the predator is important because a big bass is capable of catching and swallowing much bigger prey than a schoolie.

Where does this leave our fly man trying to catch a bass?. Let's take an example. The sea is calm, it is high water of a big spring tide and the surface of the sea is coated with a layer of seaweed fly maggots. A big shoal of mullet is mopping up the maggots and amongst them are the boils of bass grabbing mouths full of the tiny wriggling larvae. You can fish with a maggot fly (or float gear) using a size twelve hook baited with maggot and no doubt you will catch a number of mullet and/or bass. If you switch to a two inch streamer fly you will no longer catch mullet (unless you accidentally foul-hook one) but the bass may forgo their tiny prey to try and grab the streamer. You could pick up the spinning rod and put on a plug or a popper five inches long and try that. The number of bites may decrease (or stop altogether) but a five or six pound bass could be your reward. The truth is if the fish are totally preoccupied with small items such as maggots, Idotea or tiny fry they may ignore your large lure altogether and you may land the five pounder on a small fly but the little ones are likely to get to the fly first and are much more abundant so that's more often what you'll get. The fish probably have a 'search image' for the small prey and just do not 'see' the larger one (it's happened to me on many occasions). If, however, the prey are a bit thinner on the ground and the bass are simply looking for a meal then they are much more likely to take the big lure than a small fly.

At the end of the day it is usually worth trying to 'match the hatch' by using a lure resembling the flavour (=size and shape) of the moment. If you really want to catch a big bass then a big livebait or deadbait will most often do the trick. A decent sized plug, shad, eel or spoon is probably second best and a smallish fly or a little bait or spinner is certainly going to attract the small stuff. However, bear in mind that if the fish are preoccupied or if you are fortunate enough to have a shoal of fry feeding ten pounders in front of you (those are the days!) your one inch Clouser Minnow may be just what the doctor ordered.

So, as you might expect, it all depends!. Anyone who says "This or that is the best!" doesn't understand enough about catching fish.

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


Small flies or large?

Small bait needed.

Bass feeding on maggots may be preoccupied with the small items but some could be tempted to grab a larger portion.

Decent pike.

If you want to catch these then a big bait will be more likely to succeed.

Even small fish will take big lures.

This must be about as much as a schoolie could hope to swallow.