Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 7 Measuring your success.

Sea anglers, like most other anglers, like to reminisce about the good days when the fish bit freely and the sport was more exciting. Thinking back, it seems that there were always more fish or bigger fish in years gone by. This sort of impression is so consistent that I can't help feeling it must be at least partly psychological.

Like the summers of one's youth when the sun always shone, or indeed the winters when the snow was deep crisp and white, it is probable that the brain conveniently blanks out the more mundane and boring events - including the poor fishing trips. The only way to be sure about the results of fishing in the past is to write it down as and when it happens. I know that some anglers (I suspect not very many) keep meticulous diaries, which are valuable sources of information about when, where and how they catch their fish.

Perhaps the one piece of information that is of greatest value in the long run is the one least recorded. I am referring to the fishing effort.

It would be difficult, of course, to make a note of how hard you fished. This would need a measure of your intensity of concentration, your persistence or the care with which you place each cast or retrieved each lure. There is, none the less, one very useful simple index of effort. That is the man-hour. You must decide for yourself just what you want to know but let me give an example. In the book 'Operation Sea Angler' we compared several years during which our methods of shore fishing changed from conventional beach casting with a range of baits to, somewhat unusual, light spinning and fly-fishing techniques. In fact it was a rarity to see anyone with a fly rod or spinning tackle in the 1970s and, even today, many more sea anglers cast baits from the beach in preference to other tactics.

Even though our 'light tackle' methods were definitely in the 'research and development stage' the results were (to me) quite astounding. The new and untried tactics were almost six times more successful in terms of good fish caught than the tried-and-trusted approach.

Okay, so perhaps I'm a rotten beach fisherman, but the results included catches by a number of different anglers and there was no evidence that we caught fewer or smaller fish than other anglers fishing the same beaches and rock marks with similar methods. Man-hours are simply calculated as the number of hours fished multiplied by the number of people fishing. One person fishing for ten hours would be equivalent to ten people fishing for one hour.

In terms of average facts and figures the average per good fish --- which anyone would be pleased to catch --- using conventional tactics was thirty-four man-hours and for spinning and fly-fishing tactics it took only six man-hours to catch a decent specimen. That was back in the seventies. Years later when I examined the results for 1983/4 it was apparent there had been a further improvement. These, greatly improved, results came about even though we spent (wasted?) quite a lot of time fishing on occasions when there was little hope of a catch. We did this experimental fishing to try and set realistic limits on the season when our methods would be effective.

The effort per good-fish in 83/84 was less than three man-hours in each year and the catches included bass to 5.2kg, mullet to 2.5kg and wrasse to 2.4kg. In the response to the letters I received from bass fishermen regarding the use of floating plugs for the species, I tried to collect information about the applicability of lure fishing methods around Britain. Despite the efforts of B.A.S.S. to 'spread the word ', the response to my little questionnaire was small. Nevertheless the results were interesting. Bass were caught on several different types of lure. These fell into three main categories. In order of the number of fish caught these were: (1) Floating two-jointed plugs of various types, (2) Red gill or Eddystone eels with or without added weight, (3) Toby and similar spoons.

It would be foolish to read too much into the relative merits of these types of lure because their effectiveness undoubtedly depends on a number of factors such as, what the bass are feeding on, the depth of water, the nature of the sea bed, the speed of the tidal currents and so on.

Similarly, although the rate of catch per-man-hour was greatest when using rubber eels, this result depended on only one or two trips and I have personally been involved in a fish-a-cast sessions where over fifty big bass were caught on plugs, from the shore, in three or four man-hours of effort.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the survey was the fact that bass were caught on lures at stations ranging from Dover through Dorset, Devon and Cornwall to south and southwest Wales. A single session in the Blackpool area failed to produce a bite on Mepps-type lures when bass were known to be present (three fish were caught on bait).

Information on the state of the tide proved to be irrelevant because the areas fished were too diverse and the number of trips was too small. The state of the sea did not seem to make much difference with bass being caught in conditions ranging from flat, glassy-calm to almost unfishable rough.

It seems possible that dirty water associated with estuaries may reduce the effectiveness of artificial lures. In the same way, rough sea conditions over soft (sandy or muddy) bottoms could make natural baits the best bet. Rough water over rocky ground is usually quite clear, since there may be little fine material to sweep up into suspension. In these conditions bass will take lures very well.

Even more interesting is the fact that bass will take spun artificials in flat-calm, gin-clear conditions. Under such conditions many anglers regard bait fishing as a waste of time. The result of this exercise is to demonstrate that bass can be caught on artificial lures over a wide variety of seabed conditions along the south and west coasts of England and Wales.

Turbid, dirty water can adversely affect the catches but if the lure can be placed on the bass's nose it may well be induced to take. Obviously if bass are to be caught then it is necessary to fish in places where they are present at least for some of the time. Assuming that all my correspondents were fishing 'bassy' ground and ignoring the one blank area (Blackpool), the worst average was one bass in nine man-hours from the murky waters of the Severn estuary.

The best results were 1.4 man-hours per bass caught for boat fishing off SW Wales and 2.6 man-hours per bass caught for shore fishing in Dorset. I would like to thank all those anglers who contributed ideas and information to my survey. It is certain that with more experience of the methods many of them would do even better than the results outlined above suggest.

Of course we are now more than fifteen years on from the survey and not surprisingly things have changed. I know that bass are now being regularly caught on lures from as far afield as the southwest coast of Scotland and the northeast coast of England. This year, so far, I have had sixty-five sorties to the coast and fished roughly two hours on each trip. Say one hundred and thirty man-hours. My catch up to now has been sixty bass, mullet and wrasse all taken on lures or flies. The difference from years gone by is that many of the bass are now small fish of 0.75kg to 1.5kg in weight: because of this only about twenty of the fish would have been counted. Nevertheless this is still only about six man-hours per decent fish.

Bear in mind that it would be possible to greatly increase the numbers of fish caught by concentrating on school bass or thin-lipped mullet alone but, for me at any rate, this would be a bit tedious. In addition, many of the school bass caught were taken on light (trout) fly gear so they put up a decent show. However, there is no doubt that it would have been even better to catch lots of big fish, whether on the fly or on lures. We must continue our efforts to protect stocks of bass for the future. Sheer numbers of fish is NOT the only criterion of success.

So, to sum up, there are lots of fish to catch over a much longer stretch of coastline than previously but the bigger fish are now much more difficult to find. Nevertheless, if the bass were afforded proper protection from commercial fishing it is possible that we could once again experience catches like those of the past.

I'm always happy to hear from anyone with facts and figures of their own so feel free to drop me an E-MAIL if you would like a chat.

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.

'Traditional' bottom fishing.

Fishing for codling, coalfish, flounders and eels in the estuary of the river Tyne.

Lure fishing.

Spinning for bass on the Dorset coast.

A 'good' fish.

Bass of this stamp were commonplace in the 70s and 80s but now have to be earned.

A lure caught bass.

Fish of this size give amazing sport on relatively light gear.

More lure caught bass.

Twenty years ago fish like this were not exceptional.

A recently caught bass.

Schoolies are often the norm these days and give better sport on fly or spinning gear than on a beachcaster.

A fly caught thicklip.

I caught this fish last year on a shrimp fly.  Mullet have not yet been overfished in the way that bass have.

Wrasse take lures well.

These fish are netted as pot bait and locally, big ones seem to be becoming quite scarce.