Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


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THINK LIKE A FISH Part 2 The Taking Time.

As I suggested in the last piece timing is, without doubt, the key factor to our angling success, yet very few of us take this important factor in to account. So keen are we to wet a line that we often arrive on the beach when the fish just aren't feeding.

Let me give you an example from my own fishing trips to underline the lesson. It proves that, like anyone else, I can be bitten by the bug and forget the basic rules of good sea angling. Dave and I had planned to be fishing by 6 o'clock, our arrival being governed by the time we could get away from work, the time it would take to consume our tea and the amount of traffic on the roads.

As it turned out we could have worked late, eaten a four-course meal and walked to the beach. For three and a half hours we saw and caught nothing! Our baited hooks lay untouched on the seabed and our lures wriggled their enticing way through mile after mile of apparently empty salt water. Even the most enthusiastic sea angler needs a little reinforcement in the form of bites or sight of his quarry to keep him alert, so you can understand our flagging concentration after such a long period of inaction.

The sun had just dipped below the horizon as, for the umpteenth time, I retrieved my tiny balsa plug between the scattered boulders and gently swaying tufts of bladder wrack. The progress of the plug was easily visible from the moment when it 'planed' beneath the calm surface until it was lifted from the waters edge. I opened the bale arm of the reel and flicked the lure 15 or 20 meters, straight out to sea. After two or three turns of the handle I switched on to auto-retrieve and glanced along the beach to where my pal Dave was tending his free-lined sandeel.

As though the turn of my head was a signal I felt the handle of the rod knock my hand. 'Was it a fish', I asked myself? My eyes searched the water for the black shape of the plug beneath the water surface. It took a couple of seconds to locate the movement and, as I did so, I noticed a 'fish' shape sliding along just behind it. Surely here was the culprit.

The flicker and the following shadow merged and, as they came together, the rod whanged over in to its fighting curve and my reel clutched buzzed wildly. I turned to shout for Dave's assistance but he was already bounding along the shore, net in hand. At first the fish had the upper hand but, like most bass, it was prepared to battle it out in open water. So, after a couple of minutes, the continual pressure on the line began to tell.

By now Dave was knee-deep in the clear water with waiting net well submerged. He watched intently as I worked the bass towards him. Every scale of the silver-grey flank was visible as the tired fish came closer. It slid over the rim of the net into the safety of the mesh 8.5lb of pure fighting beauty. The occasions when the changing light of dusk produced fish are too numerous to recall but hard scientific evidence of the importance of this 'taking time' is difficult to come by.

Dr E.S. Hobson of the fisheries laboratory in California studied predators feeding on pacific sandeel, a close relative of our own sandeels. He observed the eels while diving, at dusk, in a cove which had a mixed bottom of rocks, shingle and sand. The night-time refuge for the 'eels was a single patch of coarse, gritty sand. In the hours of daylight the sandeels foraged for food in the strong currents at the mouth of the cove, but about 30 minutes before sunset the little fish gathered in tight schools just above the seabed over their favourite patch of sand.

Every so often the schools swam within a metre of the bottom and at these times little groups of fish would detach and dive, at speed, into the sandy refuge. The most interesting thing from the angler's point of view is that predators would also gather over the same spot at the same time.

Four species of predatory fish lived in the cove - rock sole, flounder, bullhead and eelpout, all of which swum beneath the sandeel shoal and only attacked burrowing eels. The sole and flounder attacked by driving their protusible jaws in to the sand that was kicked up by the burrowing eels. The bullhead and eelpout struck only at sandeels which, having burrowed in an unsuitable spot, were emerging before swimming elsewhere.

The emerging eels made a fatal mistake of resting for an instant with their head poking out, just before finally darting away. It was just as they cleared the sand that they were grabbed and eaten. The scientist suggested that these attacks may be even more common at dawn.

Vulnerability of small fish to large predators during the change of light probably continues for much longer in our temperate latitudes than in the tropics because night falls most quickly near the equator. This means that the 'taking period' can be as much as a couple of hours in British waters.

So, what can be learned from simple studies carried out on the other side of the world? The first thing to note is that the predatory fish were local in their distribution. They gathered over one little patch of sand in a large cove so it would be VITAL to fish in the right spot. Active feeding on sandeels only took place for a short time which started as the sun dropped low in the sky. Each type of fish was looking for a particular signal that marked out vulnerable prey. The signal could be something as simple as a puff of sand or the pointed snout of an 'eel poking out of the seabed. Each predator's methods of attack were designed to catch prey behaving in a certain way.

Whether your favourite fish is cod, pollack, flounder or turbot, one thing is certain there's little point in chuck-and-chance-it methods.

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


Think like a fish.

Time and Tide.

Dawn in Dorset.

The half light lasts for quite a long time in our latitudes.

Dawn in the tropics.

The taking time may be only a few minutes near the equator.

A shore caught barracuda.

The sun is just beginning to reflect off the sea as the fish comes to hand.

Mark Taylor with a lure caught bass.

The fish took as the light changed.

A plug caught ballan wrasse.

Wrasse begin to take baits and lures as the sun rises and will feed throughout the hours of daylight.