Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle

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I'm often asked about the 'best time to fish' and of course it all depends what you're after and the prevailing conditions. However, here's a piece I wrote years ago that shows it is possible to make some useful (or not so useful) predictions.

Experiments by scientists in Nova Scotia showed that wrasse and bull-heads had full bellies when they were caught close to shore as the ebb tide started to flow. This indicated that they had been actively feeding when the tide was rising.

Now that is interesting as it coincides with the generally held belief that fish tend to feed on a flood tide. Indeed, I have hooked large bass in the white water of a wave as it crashed in to a shallow rock pool as the sea flooded in. And Iím sure many anglers can report similar incidents.

Itís also well-known that flounders follow the incoming tide very closely to catch worms, cockle and sandhoppers trapped in, or uncovered by, the incoming water.

The Canadian scientists mentioned also made another interesting discovery by looking at shores where the rocks were normally covered in heavy growths of knotted wrack. They cut, and removed, large areas of weed so they could see whether feeding fish preferred the weedy or the bare rocks.

The results showed that on average there was one fish on every 10 metre x 10 metre area of rock, weedy or not. Also, more decent fish were below the low water mark than in the intertidal zone (the zone between low and high water). Of 18 types of fish caught, only seven occurred regularly in the intertidal zone - a form of codling (the Atlantic tomcod), a wrasse, flounder, our own familiar coalfish, and three types of bull head.

Another test was to see whether the time of day made any difference to which fish were active. Comparisons were made between (1) Morning rising tides, (2) Afternoon falling tides and (3) Evening rising tides. If I had been asked I would probably have said that the afternoon falling tide was likely to be worst, but in fact there was no statistical difference. However, the evening did produce more fish, on average, and I suspect that a few more results would have confirmed this.

Scuba divers were able to notice the distances moved by each species. Coalfish were by far the most active, and would swim as far as 40 meters in a minute along the shore (far enough to find the next blokeís bait!) Wrasse would take twelve times as long to move the same distance and flounders, perhaps surprisingly, as much as a couple of hours. When disturbed, any of the species could, of course, move much faster and all of them swam in and out with the tide (as apposed to along the shore) at greater speeds. Our conclusion must be that it will pay handsomely to place your bait where fish are funnelled on their inshore movements by reefs or dense weed beds. Also, anything we can do to arrest the progress of passing shoals, however briefly, by using groundbait or visual attractors must be worthwhile.

So much for the fishes of the northern hemisphere. I recently came across a paper by scientists from New Zealand which also threw some light on angling matters. Again, in this case the study was between the tides. As in the Canadian work the idea was to find out just how active fish may be when it comes to foraging over the sea bed. Two large areas of sand flats were chosen and the fish in question were eagle rays, which obviously behave rather like our own stingrays, moving in over the sand warmed by the heat of the sun at low water, to feed on worms and cockles buried in the beach.

Rays are very active feeders, creating visible pits in the sand in their search for prey. No doubt as they feed the rays disturb the sand and attract flatfish and other lesser species to join in the feast. The shallow feeding pits made by the rays rapidly filled in with fresh sand from the surroundings. Worms and cockles quickly recolonised the infilled pits and it was calculated that in the space of about two months the whole beach would have been turned over by the activities of the fish. Similar rates of sand disturbance, by stingrays more like our own, have been observed in North America. Does anyone know whether British stingrays dig pits as they feed?

Finally I return to Europe where scientists looked at another aspect of fish feeding which is rarely considered. How do the prey animals defend themselves and avoid being eaten?

Firstly: the little sand goby which is so common in the shallow water of every sandy beach around our shores. To look at a sand goby you might think that itís only defence was to sit there and look like a worm cast, but no! In fact sand gobies, which are common prey of whiting, cod, flatties and the like, are versatile little creatures.

By using a model tern which plunged towards gobies in a shallow tank it was shown that the gobies burrowed quickly in to the sediment, no doubt making full use of their camouflage. Of course this strategy would be of little use in avoiding the keen senses and strong digging capabilities of hungry codling. In fact, when threatened by a cod the gobies did not burrow but clustered together in shoal. Individual gobies would leave the shoal to inspect the approaching cod before returning to the relative safety of their school mates.

Conclusions

Some fish do follow the tide in.

Wrasse are most likely to be caught on the flood tide.

Rising evening tides will, on average, probably be more productive than others (though it pays to know your species).

If you stay in the same spot another shoal of coalfish may soon wander along.

If you are out for stingrays look out for feeding pits at low water.

Cod are good at finding static food items.

Solitary fish are vulnerable to predators.

Of course these are just a few examples of how to apply knowledge to catching fish. The range of information that can be used to improve your catches is almost unlimited - that's what makes fishing so interesting. Next time you're going fishing don't just chuck and chance it with the 'latest rig' or change the fly or lure because you fancy a different colour - give it a bit of thought - it will pay off in fish caught.

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

INFORMATION SPOT

When shall I fish?

Wrasse.

This one took a plug as the tide was flooding.  Of course you can catch them at any state of the tide but if you want the BEST chance then it pays to be choosy.

Another.

When it's calm, clear and sunny, it may be possible to catch lots of wrasse on a suitable tide.

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