Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

'What Lies Beneath' fish behaviour observed.

A recent email from Mark Sheppard asked me for info. about a piece from my website relating to video observations on sea fish. Mark said he'd read it and then couldn't find it again on the site. As a consequence I looked myself and I couldn't find it either. Anyway here it is again. If it's a repeat I apologise. I've reread the original paper and tried to make things a bit clearer than the first time I wrote about it.

Imagine having gills instead of lungs; imagine being able to walk about on the sea bed and sit down a couple of yards from your baited hook just watching what happened? If you were very patient it might be possible to see the codling, flounders or dabs as they hunted their prey. No doubt you would be surprised when most of the fish passed by your tackle with out so much as a sidelong glance. Even the humble lesser-spotted dogfish would often turn up there snouts at your cunningly presented offering. This not just my imagination at work it is a is a fact.

Occasionally a fish less choosy or hungrier than the rest might approach your tackle and, if it were really keen, it would grab at the bait and try to rush off with its prize. Feeling the solid resistance of the six-ounce grip lead the potential customer would then have several options; it might decide that the bait was not sufficiently attractive to justify the effort, spit out your offering and move on or, if the bait was a soft one like worm or mussel, it could rip it off the hook and depart well pleased with its capture.

A particularly greedy specimen would possibly hook itself by pulling against the weight (either at the first attempt or, if the bait was both tough and tasty, at the second, third or fourth bite). If your pal, still standing on the beach, was on his toes he might pick up the rod and, hopefully, reel in your hard won prize. Of course, it might be possible for you to make observations similar to the above if you had a set of SCUBA gear, but it would need a great deal of time and effort to see anything worth while.

However, by using modern underwater video equipment it is now possible to record, for many hours, the behaviour of fish and their responses to baited lines. Some time back I described how video techniques have shown that cod are attracted to baited hooks chiefly by the presence of other feeding or hooked fish, but I suppose that what most anglers would really like to know is “which is the best bait?”

Scottish fisheries scientists Johnston and Hawkins used an underwater television camera to test the effectiveness of some different line fishing baits. Of course, it would have been fascinating if the baits used had been lug, rag, peeler crab, mussel and squid but, in practice, they were standard set lining baits mussel, squid, mackerel and salted herring. Nevertheless the results are fascinating.

The line had only two hooks so it was more or less like a two hook paternoster. Firstly the camera was run with the line unbaited to see just how many fish wandered by in the absence of any attractant. Both hooks were then baited with one of the experimental baits and the observation was repeated. The change in numbers of fish seen gave an idea of how attractive the various fish found each bait. To allow for loss of baits during the trial all results were adjusted to a half-hour period.

For cod and coalfish mussel attracted the most fish to the vicinity of the baited hooks. In the case of cod - mackerel and squid baits were also attractive but salt herring was a poor fourth. For coalfish - squid and salt herring were MUCH less attractive than mussel but mackerel was (surprisingly) the least attractive for these predators.

As might be expected dogfish did not think much of the mussel baits which, together with salted herring scored zero as attractants. Mackerel bait was by far the best for LSD’s being ten times as good as squid. The thing to note is that no single bait was best for all three species.

Of course, as I suggested above, the fact that fish were attracted to lines carrying a particular bait did not mean that they always attacked the baits and still less that they hooked themselves and were landed. Dogfish never attacked hooks baited with mussel and surprisingly perhaps, coalfish were not very keen to have a go at mussel baits (even though they were massively attracted to their vicinity). Cod, on the other hand, were equally enthusiastic about grabbing mussel or squid, slightly less keen to take mackerel and definitely dubious when it came to the poor old salted herring.

On the lines used in the experiments there is, of course, nothing that can be done to hook a fish. Just as is the case with a baited hook, which has been cast 150 yards from the shore or well up tide of the boat and is anchored to the seabed with a hefty wired lead, the fish must hook themselves. Even with mussel baits only about one cod in twelve that attacked the baits was hooked and brought to the surface. Any improvement in hook design (such as the use of snelled circle hooks) must be of great value for the distance casting beach angler.

As might be expected a much greater proportion of greedy dogfish were landed. All in all a lesson in the inefficiency of waiting for fish to impale themselves on your hooks as opposed to feeling and striking bites.

In another set of experiments a couple of artificially made baits were compared with mussel and mackerel, the idea being to produce a standard, long lining bait which could be used with an automatic baiting machine. The “synthetic” baits were made of a jelly laced with mussel or mackerel extracts.

In this case dabs and dogfish were the main victims. As you might expect the dogfish still preferred neat mackerel but, amazingly, the newfangled baits attracted twice as many dabs as the naturals and induced roughly the same number of bites (attacks). Again the failings of the standard fish hook when fished with a static line were revealed. While four fifths of biting dogfish were hooked less than one fifth of the attacking dabs impaled themselves. Well over half of both species were lost on the retrieve! Again it would have been good to see what difference the use of circle hooks might have made.

I've always been sceptical of cocktail baits. My attitude was that it was just a way to hedge your bets if you didn't know what bait was best. However, in view of the fact that the most attractive baits were not always the ones the fish preferred to take there is probably something in it. When the two hooks were baited with two different baits the results were sometimes surprising. For cod and coalfish it was probably what we would expect from the single bait results but for dogfish, despite mackerel being the single most attractive bait the combination of mussel and squid was outstanding. It makes you think!

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


Mullet fishing.

Rig for testing baits.

All fish approaching or attacking baits were recorded.

Cod attraction.

Mussel attracted most cod.

Coalfish attraction.

Mussel attracted many more coalfish.

Dogfish attraction.

Dogfish found mackerel bait the most attractive.

Attacks by cod.

Once they'd found the bait cod preferred to have a go at squid or mussel.

Attacks by coalfish.

Squid and salted herring were the coalfish's favourites.

Attacks by dogfish.

Dogfish strongly preferred salted herring bait.

Cod cocktails.

Mussel and mackerel was most attractive.

Coalfish cocktails.

Mussel/squid combination by far the best.

Dogfish cocktails.

Mussel and squid outstanding.