Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.


Walk in to almost any fishing tackle shop and you are likely to see lots of little bottles for sale, each containing a different concentrated essence. These liquids range from the sort of things cooks use to flavour cakes and custards to amino acids which would look more at home in a medical research laboratory. The idea of flavours and essences for anointing baits is not a new one. Anglers, particularly unsuccessful ones, have always been ready to believe that the man who constantly catches fish must be using a secret bait additive.

Richard Walker summed up the situation by declaring that he could have made a fortune by selling small bottles of distilled water for ‘boosting’ bread baits! There are several good examples of the “tangled web” complex in angling. The fly fisherman carries a suitcase full of creations, many of them almost indistinguishable but each supposedly with special fish catching properties. They are all aimed at tempting a single species which is notable for its catholic tastes and voracious appetite. The coarse angler equips himself with enough floats to make a respectable bonfire each intended to deal with some subtlety of conditions, then there’s the magic bait fanatic who has an essence to match every species and occasion.

All of these fads have one thing in common an almost complete lack of evidence that they will put more or better fish on the bank, boat or shore. Let’s take a cold, hard look at the possible value of chemical additives in sea angling. There are several aspects to consider if we are to make any sense of the multitude of substances available from the sea shore, larder, chemists or tackle trade. Essentially, fish must recognise that lump of gunge on the sea bed as food, in the absence of movement or visible shape/colour signals, the only indication may be the smell (in the widest sense) of the food. Generally, instinct and/or learning will have taught the fish that a particular smell (chemical) means that it’s good to eat. Equally, the wrong smell may say “nasty, keep away”.

Some smells may go one better than this and actually stimulate the fish to eat - the equivalent of making its mouth water. Thirdly there may be chemicals which draw fish to food from some distance away. The ideal groundbait or rubby-dubby smell will have all three effects and may, therefore, need to contain at least three substances. The most effective chemicals will be those produced by the natural foods of each fish species but, in some cases, it may be possible to condition or train fish to associate a particular scent with the presence of a certain, introduced food item (feed or groundbait). Teaching fish to respond to introduced food material is usually a slow process needing lots of patience and it will rarely be as worth while in the open sea, where fish are always on the move, as in ponds or lakes where fish will often encounter introduced bait.

Since the object of conditioning is to create a link in the fish’s mind between scent and food, the nature of the flavour may not matter too much. The shirvey used to attract and hold mullet shoals, could usefully incorporate a characteristic scent if it is regularly employed along the same stretch of coast. So what sort of chemicals are likely to be good feeding stimulants? Research by Dr Carr has shown that the most effective chemicals extracted from animal tissues have very small molecules (molecular weight less than 1000), they are non volatile (do not evaporate easily and thus are not likely to be ‘smelly’) and they contain nitrogen, so sugars and fatty acids are not going to be much use.

The sort of compounds which will probably stimulate feeding in carnivorous fish are betaine, amino acids of various kinds and inosine. There are differences between different species of fish. Dover sole are turned on by betaine, glycine and alanine; the plaice by taurine, proline, glycine, alanine, and the cod by arginine and alanine.

Usually pure amino acids have less effect than a mixture containing the correct combinations and concentrations. So how can we be sure of using the perfect recipe to induce bites from the bloated bass or the couldn’t care less codling? Remember that too much of one or too little of another may not simply be ineffective but could actually repel your quarry. The answer is, of course, quite simple. Good, fresh bait consisting of whatever the fish are accustomed to finding naturally, in your locality, at the time of fishing.

Some fish, such as black bream and grey mullet, feed to a large extent on plant rather than animal material. Plants give off different combinations of chemical signals to animals and, as a result, fish searching for seaweeds or plant detritus will be on the look at for various amino acids in different combinations. Glutamic and aspartic acids serine and lysine may be the ‘dinner gong’ for herbivores! Even between carnivores there may be big differences. Take, for example, the simple experiment of dangling a fish bait and a crab bait, in wrasse territory. The two chunks of ‘meat’ will each exude amino acids as fast as they can leak out of the tissues, yet the crustacean combination will induce a thousand times more bites from the wrasse.

We are still a long way from understanding the chemical senses of fish, certainly no one has yet produced a magic bait and it must be obvious, from what I have said, that it is likely that each species may need its own special formula. If you decide to try bait or groundbait additives for sea fish, and I would be the last to say “don’t” there are a few simple guidelines to follow;- Concentrate on one species; persuade a few pals to help by comparing results; always fish an untreated bait, on identical tackle, beside a treated bait and finally, don’t leap to premature conclusions and tell every one about your new wonder potion until its been fully tested. In general - they won't work!

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