Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


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THINK LIKE A FISH Part 4 Forget daytime fishing!

The June sun was now well above the horizon and, as we walked back along the shore, two other anglers approached from the cliff-top field where we had parked the car. We halted briefly to exchange greetings and they admired the two fine bass, which Dave and I were carrying (This was some time ago - I rarely keep fish these days). The fish were the best of a catch we had made at daybreak and, like the ones that we had returned to the sea, were caught on spun lures. Our pre-breakfast return was because the fish had "gone off" as the sun rose above the horizon.

A week or two earlier I had spent the afternoon and evening of a bright sunny day with my son Richard, fishing from the steep rocky ledges of Seacombe. We floated ragworm to take a few small pollack and wrasse, plus a single plump mackerel, which absorbed Richard's bait on the retrieve. All in all it had been nothing to shout about, apart from a couple of plucks from mini-pollack to Redgills, Tobys or plugs. As the sun settled over the cliff-top we decided to warm our selves up by spinning. It was a revelation! One pollack after another rocketed after the lures. Some were large by our usual rock-fishing standards, and we landed at least two well in excess of four pounds. All were returned to the water but it was a treat to watch their muscular, bronze-olive shapes crashing, one after another, into the lures as the daylight faded from the sky.

Pollack, bass, scad, mackerel, coalfish, garfish and sea trout all feed, and bite with exceptional ferocity, in periods of changing light conditions. Why should this be? One of the leading authorities on this subject, Dr Edmund Hobson, has frequently considered the question and it seems that "pollack light" is definitely a matter of scientific fact. The reason why it pays to get out of bed before dawn, or to hang-on after your mates pack up their tackle in the evening, are many and varied but once they are pointed out the benefits are clear.

Nearly all predatory sea fish depend on vision to direct their final attack on the sandeel, sprat, sand-smelt or juvenile relative that takes their fancy. Because visibility in the sea is often poor (ask any diver!) location of food, at distance, may depend chiefly on tastes, odours or vibrations transmitted or carried by the water. However, in the final act of engulfing each victim it is the sense of sight, which matters most. This dependence on visible light gives us the first clue. Since light is so useful to hunting predatory fish why don't they all feed in the middle of the day?

Well for a start, the prey fish don't just sit about waiting to be eaten. If the attacking fish can see them they are equally capable of seeing their aggressors. In the hours of daylight little fish will stray further and further from the weeds and rocks which provide their haven of refuge. The biggest specimens will wander further afield because their superior speed allows them to regain cover quicker than their smaller relatives. As evening approaches and the light begins to fail all forage fish retreat towards the nearest place of safety.

When the water is clear, and under sea visibility is good, many small fish form schools in order to protect themselves. The reasons why its safer to be a member of a school are many: early warning of danger by many pairs of eyes: to confuse the attacker by giving a much wider choice of victims, and the ability to hide within a mass of similar fish, for example.

The appearance of a school of sandeels illuminated by strong light clearly demonstrates yet another advantage. The predator is confronted by thousands of brilliantly flashing points of light, each one winking on and off as the prey fish twist and turn - a bedazzling experience for any sight-hunting animal. The weaving in-and-out of little fish combined with subtle effects of disruptive colour patterns all add to the general confusing effect.

Hobson mentions that some predatory fish may have developed special tactics to over come the problems of catching schooling fish in broad daylight. The swords of marlin, garfish and swordfish and the long tail of the thresher shark may be just such gadgets. No doubt there are other ways round the problem that we have not yet recognised.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that many predators accept the inevitable difficulties and simply do not feed in the middle of bright sunny days when the water is crystal clear. Sometimes they will, of course, be lucky and come upon an unfortunate little fish which has strayed too far from its refuge but, more often, it pays them to save their energy and the wise angler should do the same.

At the other end of the scale are the hours of darkness. It is obvious that under these conditions fish must depend on being able to sense vibrations or chemical secretions of their prey and rather few of them are equipped to do this well enough to catch fast swimming, elusive prey.

Only the, rather brief, periods of dusk and dawn remain for predators to gain the upper hand. As the night shift of small foragers changes over to the daytime feeders the bass, pollack, cod, coalfish and sea trout take their chance. What sort of things could give them the "edge" over their food? Large eyes collect every photon of light enable them to pick out the most vulnerable specimens - those which have become separated from their fellows or which behave in an unusual fashion. In the tropics, where night falls suddenly, feeding periods will be very short: perhaps as little as twenty minutes. Here in Britain, it will often be rather longer but even so it is clearly very critical to be there-and-fishing when the fish have their feast.

Perhaps the most important aspect of dawn and dusk underwater is the low angle presented by sunlight falling on the water surface. This means that only a little light penetrates the depths to illuminate the camouflage-and-confuse-systems of small forage fish. In contrast there is still plenty of background (sky) light to silhouette the outlines of prey to predators attacking from below. Bass and pollack are, of course, well aware of the advantage this gives them and consequently direct there attacks accordingly.

Anyone who reads angling books and articles in magazines must be familiar with the adage " wait until the day trippers have left the beaches before venturing out"-------- But holiday makers or-no it will always be the early (or late) angler that catches the fish.

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.

Spinning at Worbarrow Bay.

The fish may only start to bite as the sun falls to the horizon.

Silvery sandeels and an imitation.

The brilliant shining camouflage of fish like these may confuse predators in brightly lit conditions.

A thinlipped mullet.

Mullet are fine particle feeders and (because their food is not going to swim away) can feed throughout the hours of daylight.

A big pollack caught from the shore at dusk.

These predatory fish have huge eyes to capture every ray of light when they are hunting in the gloom.