Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 6 Matching the lure to the fish.

What is the best bass lure? Perhaps this is the question that I have been asked most frequently since I began writing about sea angling. The question is, of course, an impossible one to answer. I am sure that many people must think that I am trying to dodge the issue when I tell them that it "all-depends" but honestly it does. The best advice I can give is to describe the way in which I would select an artificial for any form of sea angling.

First and foremost consider the species of the fish you want to catch. How big do they grow? What do they eat? More precisely, what are they likely to be feeding on at the times and places which you intend to fish? What sort of characteristics of the prey do the predators recognise and, consequently, what features should you be trying to copy?

It is well known that many species of fish become fixed on particular food items. For example in a recent session the bass were preoccupied with floating seaweed fly maggots and would not look at anything else. Preoccupation is probably a way of increasing the efficiency of feeding. By ignoring items of the wrong size and shape the predator is able to concentrate its attention on the (most abundant) readily available prey. Abundant prey animals (particularly fish) are often all of roughly the same size because they were all born at the same time.

An example of preoccupation that I encountered a few years back was a true lesson in just how fussy bass can be. I went with a couple of pals to fish the dawn tide from a flat rocky ledge on the Dorset coast. When we arrived the tide was out and just starting to make. As I waded into the weedy margin there were one or two heavy sploshes among the kelp fronds, which were just breaking the surface.

It was soon obvious there were bass of all sizes feeding right in the kelp beds and as I stood by the swirling brown fronds a couple of 5 to 6lb fish shot away from my feet, disturbed by even my slow movements. It was obvious what the fish were because at frequent intervals there would be a flash-expansion of tiny sandeels and, as the little bait-fish sprayed from the calm surface of the clear water, there would be a swirl and a glimpse of a prickly dorsal fin and a humped grey back as the bass lunged upwards.

I cast the five-and-a-half inch Rebel plug, that was already on my line, into the middle of the groups of feeding fish but it was clearly not what they wanted. I waded back to the dry rocks where I had left my bag, safe from the incoming tide. The Rebel was removed and a tiny, jointed, silver Rapala clipped in its place. I stuffed an assortment of spoons, plugs and rubber eels into my jacket pocket before hurrying back to the water. There were, if possible, even more bass than at first but neither I nor my companions had a trace of a take.

I waded a little further out into the kelp and the ground swell crept up inside my waterproof over trousers and filled my waders with icy water (nowadays I would have been wearing chesties and this would not have happened). The numbing cold made lure changing tricky but one lure followed another. A tiny silver Toby produced a bite and a 0.5kg 'butter bellied' ballan Wrasse, before I lost the lure, wedged permanently in a tough kelp stem. It would be nice to say that after an hour of frantic lure changing we found the answer and caught a massive bag of huge bass on a mother-of-pearl, tandem, latex Red Gill but in fact we never had a bite.

The moral of this little anecdote (apart from the sobering effect on our egos) is, firstly, that NO lure, however realistic it may be, is ever as good as a real fish and secondly, even if the lure WAS a perfect imitation it is quite likely that, at times, there is so much natural food about there would be only a one in a million chance of it being taken.

In the latter case it is often better to make the lure look different from the available food. Generally it is best to try and match the food first before resorting to the contrast approach. If a bass (or any other predator) is to respond quickly enough to catch fast moving prey it must recognise it instantly and at the same time avoid gulping down too many bits of floating weed and rubbish. The basic recognition factor of a food item can be regarded as the length: depth ratio (basically whether it is long and thin or short and fat). For example-a long, thin fish, like a pipefish may have a ratio of about 30:1 and a chubby corkwing wrasse, with its fins erect only about 2:1. Clearly a Red Gill or an Eddystone type of lure is a reasonable representation of the former and a broad spoon, Big S or Fat Rap is a fair copy of the latter.

Many anglers are desperate to know what colour or pattern of lure is best. This attitude is reinforced by lure manufacturers who believe that by bringing out the latest sky-blue-pink version of their standard plug they can sell a few more. Of course, from their point of view, giving a lure a coat of paint is the cheapest way of 'redesigning it'. Personally I have never believed that colour was the be-all-and-end-all of lure fishing. In fact I have often overstated the case and said that colour does not matter at all.

It is certainly true that bass will, at times, take lures of almost any colour if these behave like food. Food items (fish, prawns etc.) are generally (and sensibly) camouflaged by either, counter shading with a dark back and light (pale) belly to compensate for the effect of light falling on them from above or by having silver, reflective sides to hide them in open water. This is perfect concealment, provided the fish does not twist, turn or otherwise move erratically. It is, of course, just such flashes that behave like a dinner gong to the alert predator.

The third common type of concealment is the adoption of drab patterns, usually of green or brown shades, to blend with backgrounds of rock or weeds. This method is used by pipefishes, rocklings, blennies, bullheads, gobies and wrasses. Bass eat all of these fish so, in short, it would seem that shiny silver or combat jacket green/brown would be the best basic lure colours but there are one or two other aspects to take into account.

First, extra conspicuous or contrasting colours may make lures show up or behave as a sort of super attractor but beware because, just as in wasps, bees, ladybirds, coral snakes and a host of other animals, bright colour may actually warn off or deter predators. For example, poisonous weever fish are marked by yellowish stripes and have a jet-black warning fin. Similarly cleaner fish, such as some wrasse, are coloured in sucha manner as to 'say' "Don't eat me, I'm useful!" So bright colours or strong patterns (well defined spots or stripes) could be saying "this animal is distasteful or dangerous."

If a big contrast is believed to be effective then black or white are the obvious ones to go for (e.g. the black and white lures which are so effective in trout fishing). In very bright or clear conditions it may pay to use a totally black or possibly red lure.

It goes without saying that whatever lure is used it must move like a fish/squid/crustacean, preferably one in some confusion. This action can be achieved either by rod and reel control (e.g. jigging your feathers and muppets up and down). Even a lead bomb or torpedo can be given enough action to attract predators, as most salmon anglers must know. More often the action is 'built-in' to the lure to give it a fish-like wiggle or vibration. This is achieved either by the curvature of the lure in simple wobbling spoons, pirks and bar spoons or by a plane or blade set at an angle to the body of the 'bait' in plugs and some soft rubber eels.

In the absence of lead or controllers on the line the depth at which lures fish is controlled either by the letting them sink (if they are heavier than water) or by the influence of a diving vane. I try to avoid the added complication of up-trace weights. Plugs, which have diving vanes, can be sinkers or floaters. The latter tend to have the best action because they are made of lighter materials whereas heavier lures, or those with acutely angled vanes, move less vigorously.

You may think that you are no wiser when you began to read this article but in my own part of Dorset much of the shallow consists of shallow water liberally sprinkled with rugged boulders and tangling wrack or kelp. Many years ago by considering the conditions my pals and I developed the use of long, slim, floating plug baits as an effective solution to one of our own particular problems of catching bass.

The justification for our approach came to me one evening in a phone call from my pal Harry. He had met an angler spinning from the shore and the chap had said that since adopting our lure-fishing approach his fishing had been transformed even to the extent of his first 10lb bass. There is no point in rushing off to apply our methods to your own area without thought, for it is a certain road to disappointment. Consider the fish and the conditions in which they occur on your local coastline and then decide on the appropriate approach. If you do not succeed at first think again and change accordingly. Believe me success, when it comes, is much more satisfying than the biggest fish caught by "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.

Matching the lure to the fish.

Camouflage colouration.

This small ballan wrasse, caught on a plug last week, would be a good meal for a big bass.  Notice how its colour pattern blends into the weedy rocks.

Black and silver - a good all-round colour pattern.

Many open water baitfish have silver sides that glint when the fish turns.

Preoccupation! (Not me, the fish.)

Thicklipped mullet like this are often preoccupied with particular small items of food.  This one was caught on an imitation maggot when feeding on the larvae of seaweed flies.

Another fish in combat camouflage.

This rockling is a good guide when it comes to the shape and colour of your plugs for bass.