Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


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THINK LIKE A FISH Part 3 Fish Behaviour and the Angler.

Recently I was contacted by Simon Parker who lives just along the coast from me, at Christchurch. Apparently Simon has started lure fishing for bass this year without much success. The problem is if you don't catch, it's hard to tell why. Let's face it is rare to know what is going on out there. If you have been sitting on the beach, biteless, for six hours in the pouring rain, without even a vestige of a nibble, it is difficult to decide whether it is because a) All the fish are somewhere else. b) You are fishing for the wrong species c) There are plenty of fish about but they are not feeding. d) It is the wrong time of day e) It is the wrong state of tide and so on and so on. I have often experienced this type of thing myself and I would have given anything to know the answers to these questions.

Of course it is quite likely that someone, somewhere does know the answers. Its odds-on that at least part of the story is understood by a researcher beavering away in a distant laboratory. Sadly the information we need is often buried in the pages of some obscure journal and written in complicated language. "Blinded with science!" is a well-known phrase. Scientists are noted for using long words and for being terrified to commit themselves on any subject at all. Like politicians the words "yes" and "no" seem to have no place in their vocabularies. Much of this is only too true. Why?

Well, the reason that boffins use long words is because they are trying to say exactly what they mean. For example, if you read (as I did some time ago) that - "there is a significant positive relationship between depth and species richness" it simply means that "in shallow water there are less sorts of fish." If you are an angler fishing from the beach and if you are able to unscramble the jargon, this is a very useful fishing fact.

In the same scientific paper I read that - "diel differences in abundance are principally due to inshore migration of several species of gadoids at dusk and movement offshore at dawn," which is boffin speak for "Cod, whiting, pollack, coalfish and poor cod come close inshore after dark." Again a valuable bit of angling info. The two quotes were taken from a fascinating study by Dr Gibson and several other scientists working at the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Scotland. These examples made me think that some of their findings were probably worth a more detailed "translation".

The idea of the study was to find out just how fish moved about over a sandy beach in Scotland with changes in the tide and the time of day - just what every shore angler desperately needs to know. At various times through the day fish were caught in trawls or seines, identified, counted and measured. By catching the fish in nets the scientists avoided the angler's main problem of whether or not their quarry was feeding. Of course lots of complicated statistics were used to check whether the results really meant anything but we only need to know the outcome.

Although thirty-three species of fish were caught altogether (yes THIRTY-THREE!) only nine were important - plaice, dab, grey gurnard, whiting, cod, poor cod, herring, sandeel and sand goby. Even in these days of overfishing, only the most ardent match angler is likely to be interested in sandeels or gobies and even the biggest poor cod or herring is better as bait than as sport, so this leaves us to five real fish to be considered. Having said this I should stress that the vast majority of fish caught were young ones of up to one-year-old. So there's our first bit of information! Surprise surprise! You are much more likely to catch small fish (or to catch nothing) unless your method is designed to avoid them (e.g. big hooks and big baits). Of course, if you are using light tackle and 'scratching' to win a hard fought match this could be just what the doctor ordered.

Most species occurred on the beach both in daylight and at night but haddock were only present in the dark. Cod and whiting were also much commoner at night. These fish migrate inshore at dusk or afterwards. Larger cod and gurnard were caught mostly in shallower water after dark. In fact, in shallow depths of up to four metres there were generally many more fish and much bigger weights of fish present at night. However, once the water reached five metres in depth (a pretty long cast from most gently sloping sandy beaches or time to launch the rowing dinghy) there were just as many species present day or night.

With regard to the tides, nearly all species were a lot thinner-on-the-ground two hours after high water (early ebb) and fish were commonest two hours after low water (early flood).

Netting was only carried out between June and August and obviously, over such a period of time, the numbers of each species caught changed from time to time. Lets just look at a few figures to give an idea of how many fish might be out there swimming around your baits. Consider a patch 10m x 10m, the sort of area you could easily search with a couple of chucks and the sort of range within which a fish might be expected to detect your bait by smell or sight. The total number of fish on such an area ranged from a low of 15 to a high of 78. Once again most of these were fish too small to catch on normal gear but some of them might have fallen to light tackle tactics.

Anyway, there you have it. Instead of flogging away on a sandy strand, for fruitless hours in the afternoon and going home fishless. You might be much better advised to plan your cod or whiting session to cover the early hours of the flood tide after dark. If you must fish at other times then a bit of casting practice is probably in order. If you don't mind catching small fish then scale down the hooks and baits appropriately and you will get many more bites. Of course, all this evidence can go out of the window if the sea has been stirred up by a storm and the larger specimens rush in to gobble up anything disturbed by the swell. Even if you want to catch the bigger fish it is probably wise to fish where the small ones, which they feed on, are most common. You may already be aware of some of these facts and of course the details may vary with the time of year or from one beach to another, but it certainly made me think a bit more about my next trip.

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.

A shallow sandy beach.

Relatively few species of fish live in the shallows.

Deep and dangerous.

More species are likely to be present in water over 5m deep.

Chesil Bank.

Some beaches slope steeply into deeper water.

A lure caught whiting.

Even tiny whiting are fierce predators and will often be close inshore.

A small 'rock codling'.

Cod are most likely to feed close in after dark and on the early flood tide.