Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

"Baits - live and artificial!".

This week I had three fascinating (I think) emails. Two, following my recent web pages on the subject, dealt with livebaiting and the third concerned artificial baits which I wrote about a few weeks back. I’ve edited these a bit, in deference to the wishes of my correspondents but in essence, here they are.


I have been livebaiting for a number of years (45+ if you count those childhood holidays in Salcombe spent catching bass on a spinning rod, centrepin reel and live sand eels with small spiral weights to get the bait down to the fish) but my local tidal conditions normally dictate anchoring the bait (usually small pouting or whiting - mackerel work much better but we can rarely get them) (interesting ML) reasonably firmly to the bottom; thus I tend to use a simple running leger setup with the bait lip-hooked on a 5/0 or 6/0 hook. A "customer" in the vicinity normally evokes a panic response from the bait which is clearly detectable at the rod tip (Happens with pike all the time ML). At this stage it is vital to be prepared to give line with minimal resistance or the bait is frequently dropped (I’ve had this experience many times when using other baits ML)- for some reason the bass seem to be very cagey about these baits and sometimes surprisingly delicate - you would think they should grab them and run!

As to hooks; I usually use J's but I have tried circles both lip-hooked and bridle-rigged. The J's have a good hook-up rate provided you allow the fish time to swallow the bait and generally they are made with finer wire which is easier to sharpen.

I am however experimenting with a pennel rig involving a J through the lip and a small treble just nicked into the flank behind the dorsal fin as for some unknown reason (sod's law) this year I've been plagued with bass mouthing/killing the baits without swallowing them. To date, success has been poor, for some reason bites seemed to have dried up! I will test it again next year when conditions are better (Bass hungrier?).

Most of my "serious" bass fishing is done in deeper water (30'-50') and these tactics will consistently catch decent fish while other baits (and owing to the difficulty acquiring livebaits we've tried them all) catch nothing! Redgills, spinners etc. catch bass but of a much smaller average size. If I've managed to learn anything over 40 odd years of fishing is that a) big bass eat fish and preferably live ones at that! b) Sand eels catch bass but big bass prefer bigger mouthfuls (Again fits in with my pike fishing experience ML).

A second letter on the subject of livebaits went as follows

Hi Mike

I fish the same areas as you, but from a boat usually - and I have to admit to being in entire agreement with you on hooks. For years I have simply used a 6/0 exactly the same as your friend Nigel. The biggest problem was deep hooking, far too frequent , and almost impossible to judge when to strike, varied daily !! Started using circles - Varivas I think, and haven't looked back’ I use smaller , 3/0 and 4/0 , finding no problem .

Both hook styles suffer from the point doubling back into head, thus masking point (This can be a nuisance ML), but the circles suffer fewer incidents . Also fully in agreement on other bits on the line - my rig is 2lb t.c. carp rod , baitrunner 14lb Fireline and a rod length of 20lb nylon leader .

The big interest for me is the leader - and it makes a huge difference - have used 20lb Drennan Sealine ( blue in colour ) and find it excellent - but have started on fluorocarbon and what a difference. Always preferred it for plugging, but didn't bother when baiting - this year has proved it for me. Beware though - as have suffered a lot of angst! Brand is vital - some are too brittle for the rough and tumble of rock and weed. Current favourite is a Veal’s one - in some Japanese writing - not a clue. X-line is the next - and possibly winner, but I avoid Berkley Vanish as I had too many lost fish (I’ve never trusted fluorocarbon but perhaps I’ve not tried the right sort ML).

On deep hooking - one thing I would say is that I never leave fish to run for long - I suspect it’s different in VERY shallow water as they belt off with their prize - a deep hooked fish on a 6/0 is saveable if big - small fish no hope as no room to maneuver - but a deep hook with a circle seems to stitch their throat up - I just try and be careful and avoid it. (It’s not happened to me yet ML)

The most important thing is striking - lost a lot of takes before I learnt to be calm and just let everything tighten then lift rod slowly.

The third letter dealt with a different topic – artificial baits and since facts are hard to come by. I thought it was of great interest.

Dear Mike,

Last weekend I could not get a bite on lure or fly, so this weekend just past I resorted to ragworms for the first time this year. I decided I should conduct a crude trial with artificial bait, so when I went to the tackle shop on Friday afternoon, I bought a dozen ragworms and a pack of Berkley Gulp sandworms (10cm) which are clearly meant to be ragworms.

On Saturday morning I went down to my boat in the local estuary and set about my experiment. Two rods were identically rigged with a small 10 g weight and running ledger, 3 foot trace and 1/0 hook. I cast the two lines a few yards off the boat and had the baits resting within 3 yards of each other. Nothing for the first 15 minutes then as the first of the flood tide picked up I had my first bite on the live ragworm – a very small bass but first blood to the real thing. Over the next 90 minutes I had 6 more small fish on the live worm, but not a sniff on the artificial bait. Just to be sure I put a real worm on the ‘artificial’ rig and had a bite instantly…. Whilst the test was a bit crude, it was conclusive enough for me to rule out using artificial bait for the forseeable future. The claim on the packet – ‘outfishes live bait’ seems hard to believe.

I would stress that the fish caught were very small and not worth the effort real bait or otherwise. I am still hoping to get a few more fish on the lure, but at the moment the easterly wind seems to have upset things a bit. Anyway, I know you have questioned the effectiveness of artificial bait in the past and thought you may be interested in my findings.

I don't know about anyone else but all three letters taught me something. Let's face it - you can read half a dozen angling books and not get sound information like this. Anyway, my sincere thanks to all three correspondents.

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


Too small!

Sprats are good baits but will be snaffled by small fish.

Too slow!

Pollack may be a bit sluggish and not give off enough 'good vibrations.'

Just right!

Mackerel appear to be prime baits for big bass.