Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

"Fighting fish."

The pebbles clicked and rattled beneath our rubber-booted feet as we crossed the ridge of the great gravel stone beach. Our breathe condensed in to white ‘smoke’ in the chill air as we set up the rusty ‘monopods’ and lobbed generous chunks of squid in to the rolling, grey, winter sea. It was a good evening and the bites came hard and fast. We were kept busy with a succession of codling and big whiting; the tip of the beach caster knocking smartly to the pull of a hungry fish and, if the strike was firm and effective, two, three, four or five pounds of muscular fish would be pumped swiftly ashore. The clutch on one or other of our reels would occasionally yield a foot or two of line on the strike and, on one occasion, the best cod of the day dragged off three or four metres of 15lb line against heavy pressure, as the fish was swept out by the strong undertow.

Contrast the above description of one of my better beach-casting sessions with the following account taken from the book “Operation Sea Angler”. “The rod of one angler bent double and the ratchet screamed as 30 yards of line were torn off in a few seconds. He stumbled over the hummocks of decaying wrack and the breaking waves surged up his bare legs as, rod held high, he followed the course of the hooked fish along the beach. Fragments of weed flew in all directions as the fish again sped out to sea. In the ensuing battle angler and fish alternately gained control, but gradually, under the relentless pressure of 6lb line, the fish began to tire. Five minutes later a 4lb mullet was drawn over the rim of the large net”.

Both accounts are, as near as I can describe, accurate. Both trips produced the sort of enjoyment and satisfaction that only sea anglers experience. The fish were about the same size, the sea conditions were similar, but clearly the battles which we had with the hooked fish were very different. Cod and grey mullet differ a good deal in their appearance and build, but both have to hunt and live in strong currents, heaving seas and rugged terrain, so their swimming capabilities are probably not very different. The main contrasts between the sessions relate to the tackle used. In both cases the gear would be regarded by most anglers as appropriate to the situation. The codling were taken on 15lb line armed with 4/0 hooks and anchored by a couple of ounces of lead, while the mullet was beaten on a 6lb cast, fly line and size 12 hook.

I have no doubt that if the fish and tackles were reversed the tussle’s would not have been very different and that the codling would have been just as awkward to land as the thicklip mullet. Where ever you fish in lake, river or sea and whether your quarry is shark, plaice, skate or silver eel the same principals apply. Given plenty of open, snag-free water and a hook length or trace which will withstand the chomping of toothy jaws, the line used simply needs to be strong enough to turn a fish before it empties your reel. Don't get the wrong idea, I'm not a ‘light tackle crank’. In fact, anyone who knows me would confirm that if anything the reverse is true.

Perhaps a few words about my angling background will help to fill in the picture. When I was a youngster living in Leeds I coarse fished using traditional fine lines and float tackle, struggling to catch anything at all. Then, when I was 13 “I saw the light”. My guru was the late Richard Walker who revealed all in the pages of his book “Still water Angling”

Not for me the 2lb line and no 16 hook for carp; even the good old roach was sought with number 6 or 8 hooks baited with small golf balls of bread. The key theme of Walker’s book, you see, was the use of suitable tackle to match the fish and the conditions. I was an instant convert!

Since those early days I have indulged in most forms of angling. I still have blank sessions and I still lose fish for a number of reasons. When my line goes slack I still feel that dreadful sense of loss. Only when the loss is caused by my own stupidity do I become annoyed. I cannot remember losing a fish because the line was too light (although sometimes in the tropics it was not long enough and I could have set the clutch tighter). Usually the fish escape because I fail to anticipate a potential hazard and am unable to react quickly enough when an emergency arises.

For example, one fish to escape because of my slow thinking (years ago) was a 9lb bass. I had played the fish for some time in a heavy sea on a 8lb Nylon (that shows how long ago it was), a carp rod and fixed-spool reel. It was well beaten and wallowing a yard or two out from the ledge on which I stood. I should have taken a pace or two seaward and used the extra depth of water to slide the fish on to the smooth rock. In fact, I decided to stay where I was and bring the fish over the edge on a big wave. To cut a long story short, I mistimed my lift, the wave receded, the bass head-butted the vertical rock face and the line parted. I have lost one other bass since (a considerably larger fish) but in this case it simply came unstuck after about five-minutes play. As far as I could tell I had done nothing wrong. Both fish were taken on spinning rods and light plugs.If I was to bait fish on the bottom over the same rugged terrain it would be sensible to double or treble the line strength to catch exactly the same fish.

Given plenty of open water in which to play a fish, is there any rule which could relate line strength to fish size? A fish with a body mass of one kg (a couple of pounds) would have to accelerate at about ten metres per second per second(roughly the acceleration due to gravity) to break a 1kg line. Most fish probably accelerate much slower than this, except when they shoot away from a standing start, when you try to stop them quickly on a fast run, or when the head moves sharply in a head shake. These are the danger periods for the angler.

Similarly, the acceleration of the rod tip in a sharp strike can break a line if the rod is stiff; if the clutch has been incorrectly set, and if the fish is too big or otherwise presents enough water resistance to stop it moving.

So just how fast do fish swim? There has been very little work on this subject (there might be more now - I must look up the recent work) and most of the existing information concerns large, high-speed merchants like tuna or salmon. In 1941 scientists timed a 60lb tuna by means of a bicycle speedo attached to a reel. Just over 20 years later a similar technique involved a magnetic tape recording device and an oscilloscope for analysing results.

The Japanese used ultrasonic pulsed sonar, again to measure the swimming speeds of various types of tuna. Video films have also been taken of fish swimming in large tanks. Despite all these gadgets and devices we still know very little about how fast fish swim. Tuna, probably among the speediest species, seem to range from about one metre per second (about 2 mph) to 25 metres a second, well over 50mph. In the 1980's observations showed that a big tuna of 80cm in length generally swam at about three metres per second, and smaller specimens of 50cm swam at only two metres per second. These speeds do not differ much from those attained by a briskly walking angler.

Since it is unlikely that even these speedsters could accelerate much faster than you or I, and the mass of most fish which we catch is less than that of a man, there is no problem about checking your tackle or technique. Simply get your fishing pal to rush around the garden hanging on to the end of your usual gear minus the hook while you 'play' him! A sharp jerk of the arm will simulate a fierce head shake. There’s nothing like a good dose of simulation to give a bit of confidence, as any airline pilot will tell you. I often start teaching youngsters to fish by letting them play at being a fish on various sets of gear. They are instructed to “try and break the line by getting hold of the end and pulling or running away”. Even on my dace tackle (provided they don't leave the football pitch) none has ever succeeded!

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


In the beginning.

Built for speed.

This bar jack, caught by Rich in Dominica, has a sickle shaped tail, a narrow tail wrist strengthened by bony scutes and a streamlined shape.  All the attributes of a speedster.


Another fast moving fish.  Houndfish tend to dissipate their speed by jumping and thrashing about.  In combination with the beak and sharp teeth this results in many escaping.


The chunky body and thick tail wrist suggest that pike are not sustained fast swimmers but - can they accelerate!.


typical 'fishy' shaped body but still quick enough to catch a lure and with a compromise between speed and stamina.