Tackle and Tactics
THINK LIKE A FISH Part 1 Time and Tide.
It had been a hot and sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky. My best efforts at catching fish had been unsuccessful. Even the wrasse were lethargic. As the sun sank towards the western cliffs a light offshore breeze sprang up and I decided to give it another half-hour before I packed in. Twenty minutes later, as I fumbled to tie on a new hook, I realised it was almost dark.
Baiting up with a decent sized ragworm I cast for the umpteenth time in to the deep water which lay beyond the edge of my barnacle-encrusted platform, and began to tighten the line so that I could feel the small weight touch down on the seabed. Even before the 12lb nylon line straightened there was a distinct knock on the rod tip and almost without realising it I was in to a fish. The powerful plunge towards the safety of the kelp forest somewhere below labelled my adversary as a pollack, and the steep curve in my carbon carp rod, silhouetted against the darkening sky, suggested it was a good fish.
After a brief battle the fish a pollack of 3lb flashed golden beneath the surface. A couple more dives, less powerful than the first, and it languidly rose to the surface, ready for the net. I steered it in to the folds and lifted it from the water, carefully removing the hook and returning it to the sea. Before I packed it in, six more golden beauties had graced my net. And I was feeling well satisfied with the session as I walked back in the warm night air to the car.
It almost seems obscene to try and dissect such a wonderful event. It happened, and it was one of those unforgettable moments that make fishing such a unique experience. Yet the question must, inevitably, arise; why should it be that all those bites came suddenly, and right at the end of the day?
The answer is not simple, for there are several factors that help to account for it. It is well known that the change of light gives most predators the edge over their prospective prey. It is a fact that as night falls, or as dawn breaks, several species of fish, including sandeels and wrasse, become vulnerable as they start to become active or prepare to rest. Dusk is the time when the "night tidal plankton" appears in the surf, and countless mini sand-hoppers which have spent the hours of daylight concealed beneath the sand emerge to perform their mating dances in the rushing waves at the sea's edge.
All of these patterns of activity seem calculated to enliven the jaded palette of the fussiest cod, whiting, bass or bream following a hard day's search-and-destroy. An even more striking example of when, and where, fish are active was revealed by the Dutch and English scientists Kruuk, Nolet and French (French is English!). By trapping, diving, and keeping fish in aquaria, they were able to establish patterns of fish movement which were related to places, seasons, times of day and tides. The work was carried out in the Shetland Islands so the information is probably best applied to our northerly waters. But since most of the fish are equally abundant further south, the results must be largely relevant along the rest of our coast. The results of the work are particularly interesting because they were carried out over a period of three-and-a-half years and were not related to feeding patterns no bait was used! The only real "anglers fish" involved were pollack and coalfish, but eel pout, rockling and butterfish were also observed.
The first thing for the angler to realise is that each species of fish has its own preferred type of shoreline. Exposed shores, battered by Atlantic waves, and clothed in thong weeds, were the places to seek rockling. All three species the three and five-bearded and the shore rockling favoured this inhospitable habitat. Butterfish were less fussy, and occupied all types of shore. But eelpout, pollack and coalfish were almost often amongst the knotted wrack along sheltered shorelines. The pollack and coalfish showed a distinct preference for steeply sloping areas of rock.
Most species of fish were more active at night than in the day. Dawn and dusk were prime times for action. In fact no rocklings or eelpout were seen during the daytime! Butterfish were on the fin more or less through out the 24hours.
So where were the nocturnal fish when the sun was up? It seems that they spent their time concealed in crevices and under stones. Almost all the fish were much more active at high tide than when the tide was out whatever the time of day. Twice as many fish were trapped by the scientists at high water as at low water.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of all was the seasonal pattern of behaviour. Pollack and coalfish were many times more abundant in the winter months; three-bearded rockling in June, July and August, butterfish from late spring to early autumn; and eel pout almost entirely in August.
Perhaps you consider this type of information to be a bit on the "dry side". No descriptions of sparkling surf or golden sand; no details of the latest fancy rigs with clips, beads and booms fit to grace a Christmas tree; not even any suggestion that a mix of amino acids might make your tired and jaded bait entirely irresistible. But! Wait a minute! How often have you seen the angling experts write that being in the right place at the right time is 90% of the battle? Well here it is the information we need to give us an edge on the fish! No doubt the same kind of info. could be obtained for plaice or flounder, cod or whiting, bass or mackerel. In addition, we must remember that since these smaller species are prey for bigger fish, then we can assume that the predators will be more active when their prey is abundant and on the move.
Conger are past masters at extracting rockling from their lairs, while bass eat lots of long, thin fish like butterfish, eel pout and rockling. Work out when the prey fish are around in numbers, and when they are moving and/or vulnerable, and you're on to a good thing as regards fishing for them, or for the predators feeding on them.
So whether you're in search of a record rockling or simply a good bag of bass or cod consider, before you cast, whether your intended quarry is likely to be inside or outside of the breakwater; wide-awake or fast asleep; or indeed whether you should be fishing somewhere else. And remember, everything you learn about the behaviour of fish whether from articles like this or your own observations is another piece in the jigsaw.
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Think like a fish.
Time and Tide.
Ken Couldrey with a nice smooth hound.
Small coalfish and pollack on the plug.
A nice pollack taken on a rubber eel.
A three bearded rockling.