Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 8 Try a Fly!

Sea angling methods and baits are not bound together in any fixed formula. Fish strip, for instance, makes a much better small fish imitator than most artificial flies - trout anglers please take note. For anyone with an urge to try for sea fish which favour shallow water over snaggy ground, fly tackle may be the answer.

So when should the serious sea angler consider breaking with tradition by fishing with fly tackle? Firstly there are the obvious examples of fish taking ants, the maggots of sea-weed flies, midge pupae or adult midges from the surface of the sea. You might think fish only feed in this way once in a blue moon. You are wrong! I have known literally hundreds of occasions when a floating line and a 'dry fly' gave opportunities for a worthwhile bag of fish. The only reason that there are not more chances to fish in this way is that the sea is almost devoid of insects.

Only around the margins (along the shore), where there are swarms of ants or hover flies falling on to the water, or in brackish lagoons or estuaries, where midges live in the layer of silt, is there a big enough concentration of 'natural surface-feed' to get the fish going. Beneath the surface-film its a different story. Here we have the plankton, more varied than the fly life in any chalk-stream, scudding, twitching and swimming about. A billion opportunities for the sea angler to exercise his casting arm and land fish big enough and racy enough to match any rainbow trout!

Plankton is the staple food of many sea fish. Most of these animals are small - so small that they could only be presented on coarse-fishing or fly-fishing equipment. You might think that no decent fish would bother to feed on such tiny creatures but, after all, the biggest animals that have ever lived exist on a diet of planktonic shrimps.

Plankton falls in to two groups the 'permanent plankton', consisting of copepods, arrow worms, jelly-fish, sea-gooseberries, swimming snails and shrimp-like crustacea and the 'temporary plankton', made up of eggs, young fish and bottom living animals. It's in spring and summer that the crab larvae and little transparent fish swell the numbers of juicy morsels that attract and feed the predators. Most fish with silver-mirror scales (mackerel, herring, garfish, scad, trout, sand smelt, bass, sandeel, shad, pilchard) feed heavily on near surface plankton at times.

In addition to plankton, there are any amount of shrimps, prawns, slaters, hoppers, squids, cuttlefish and small fish, which cry out for imitation in the form of a fly.

The warmer part of the year, when there are plenty of small fish and other morsels to eat, will be the time to dust off your fly tackle. However, since there are few flies designed to imitate 'sea food' it can be a bit of a puzzle just how to decorate a hook. Although game fishing books and magazines seem to be centred around how to tie or when to fish a particular pattern, and literally thousands of named flies must exist, it would be a pity if sea angling ever came to revolve around the relative merits of some fancy creation of tinsel, fur and feather. Nevertheless, there is plenty of scope for tying specific imitations of sea life.

Many of the creatures which artificial flies must copy in saltwater are either silver, transparent or tinted translucent and more or less streamlined. Natural imitators will be strips of fish, fish-skin or squid. Decent artificials may be made from polythene and tinsel with the addition of hair or feather, if appropriate, to improve the semblance of life. A look at the stomach contents of your quarry will dictate the best shape, size and colour of fly to use.

To put some flesh on the bones of what I have said, let me recall an actual example of fly-fishing in the sea. It was a blazing-hot, August day in the middle of a long spell of good weather. The series of tides had just passed the biggest springs and, because of the hot weather, the weed cast up along the shoreline was dried to a crisp. In the absence of rotting weed, the mullet had forsaken the shallow margin of the sea for pastures new. I crunched along the pebbles of Chapman's Pool with three, made up, rods clutched, rather uncomfortably, in my right hand, scanning the water for any sign of a fish.

The sea was flat calm, and as I walked tiny patches of ripples, pushed up by the fry of mullet and sand-smelts, moved ahead of me. Every 50 or so yards I carefully laid down the fly rod and the coarse rod and spent five or ten minutes spinning. After about three fruitless hours I was beginning to wish that I had left the surplus rods in the car. In the past however 'sod's law' had operated unfailingly to the effect that any rod left behind was sure to be the one that I needed!

The shadow of the great cliffs crept seaward as the sun moved west and I turned back towards the foot of the cliff path. As I trudged along my eyes were still on the sea, more in hope than expectation. A splash 20 yards out caused me to turn my head and, as I did so a second small fish broke the surface.

Out went the plug for the umpteenth time, but still to no avail. I changed the lure for a small silver Toby and, when this produced nothing, for a number '0' Mepps spoon. Fish were showing quite regularly now, plopping and ringing on the calm surface. Apart from one small pollack, which leapt clear of the water, there was no clue to the culprits.

I struck in response to a tiny pull and an eight-inch pollack skittered across the surface out gunned by the tackle. I swung the little fish to hand, unhooked it and returned it to the sea. A further ten minutes of enthusiastic spinning produced nothing. Driven by frustration I decided to scale down still further in the hope of attracting one or two more mini-pollack. A size 8 'Polystickle-type' fly was attached to the cast on the fly rod and I quickly worked out ten metres of fly line. A slow lift of the rod caused the fly to push up a tiny bow wave, just like the ones produced by mullet fry, and the Polystickle had scarcely begun to move when there was a swirl and a tug. The fish was firmly hooked and a lively fight concluded with a three-and-a-half pound bass flapping on the beach.

Before darkness fell I landed two smaller bass, three little pollack and a mackerel; all of which gave creditable performances on the 'trout' tackle (far better battles than most trout!). Of course the fish were on the small side but I have landed bass up to 4kg and mullet of 3.5kg on similar tackle and, at times, a 'wet fly' was the most effective method that I was able to employ. It is becoming increasingly common to see an angler with a fly rod on the seashore. Some of my friends, Steve Binke, Nigel Hayward, Geoff Hancock and Will Shaw are all skilled fly men and have already caught some startlingly big sea fish on flies. When there seems to be a need for a small, lightweight bait fished close in and near the surface - don't be shy! Give it a try!

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.

Try a Fly!

The real thing.

Small fish swimming over a shallow reef can easily be imitated by artificial flies.

Sea Scorpion.

The biggest Muddler Minnow in the world would be needed to imitate this bit of bass food.

Fly caught pollack and coalfish.

A fly made of mylar was the downfall of these little fish (caught as bait for bass and conger).

A thicklip caught on fly.

This mullet took a small Delta eel.  Not usually the sort of fly for mullet.

Keith Starks with a fly caught mullet.

This one was feeding on floating maggots and took a 'maggot fly'.

Steve Pitts casting a fly from the shore.

Bass, mullet and the occasional pollack or sand smelt are taken from this type of beach.

A fly caught 4kg bass.

Sorry about the poor picture. This fish took a Mylar tube.