Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.


Right place wrong time!

23 March 2009

Sea angling seems to be governed by sod’s law. You know the scenario the buzz is along the beach that the fish are feeding but you can’t hit the good times because of work or family commitments. Then you finally make it… just as the cod are clearing off, or the tide is ebbing and the bass seem to be switching off or a hooley of a gale is beginning to whistle around the headland and the mullet have decided to leave for a better place.

Apart from the psychological depression caused by the above events the poor results of fishing trips in which your plans have gone awry indicate how important it is to be in the right place at the right time. Usually the timing of trips will be fixed to coincide with weekends or holidays but once the day has been set the choice of venue should be given a lot of thought.

Firstly, to allow for unpredictable variation in wind and weather conditions - several alternative venues should be in your mind, each facing in a different direction to cover the possibilities of onshore and offshore blows. Living near the coast, as I do, makes it much easier to chop and change, so that frequently the decision of where to fish is deferred until we actually arrive on the cliff top. If you live inland testing the water isn’t easy, so you must get the preparatory work right.

As I have hinted already, it is generally only by building up a sound set of personal records or by being given reliable first hand information that consistent fishing is guaranteed (well almost guaranteed!). Magazine reports are of limited value because they are invariably generalisations based on the pattern in previous years. However, zoologists, oceanographers and especially ecologists are continually striving to understand the patterns, which govern the lives of fish, and although their results are published in obscure journals and written in language that seems designed to cause confusion they often contain valuable details that help to make our sport a bit more predictable.

Transport yourself to the beach. You have made the first cast and your rods are propped up on their rests, one at 120 yards and the other closer in at 60 or 70. The distant bait is black lug on a big hook and the nearer tackle consists of two droppers baited with small mackerel strips. Almost immediately there is a flurry of bites on the close range baits and over a fifteen-minute period of hectic activity you land four whiting and a small silver eel. Things then go dead for more than an hour before three more whiting are landed in quick succession.

Night falls and roughly an hour after dark the lug-baited rod knocks a couple of times before jerking sharply over. You pick it up to find that a good fish has hooked itself against the resistance of the grip lead. After an exciting tussle a 7lb cod flaps its way on to the wet shingle and you carry it up the beach to safety. A further three hours fishing produces only a couple of pouting, so you go home.

Why were all the bites concentrated in to a few short periods of the long session? Why were all the whiting caught in daylight and the cod after dark? Was it just the shoals of fish happened to pass by on only three occasions or was it that they were there all the time but only felt hungry at certain states of the tide? Were the fish moving in and out with the tide or were they swimming along the beach? If you knew the answers to these questions it would make it a lot easier to intercept the fish by moving your pitch or casting various distances to fit in with their movements. Otherwise it's just 'chuck and chance it'.

Perhaps, if you'd had a bit more information, you could have fished only for a couple of hours and caught the same number of fish before retiring to the pub or, better still, shifting to another beach which fishes on a different state of tide or time of day.

Believe it or not technology can place the necessary knowledge within your grasp. Techniques for the study of fish are always being improved and one of the most recent innovations (no longer very recent - it's a while since I wrote this) is the use of sonic and/or radio tags to tell us about the movements and migrations of out quarry. Of course, as you might imagine, messing about with fish could easily make them shy or put them off their grub so you have to be careful about interpreting results. Take just one example. Canadian scientists Clark and Green worked on cod carrying tiny sonic tags tracked either by hydrophones fixed on the sea bed or by detectors carried on boats. Cod tracked in summer (June to September) were active and feeding almost entirely at night in shallower inshore waters, in hours of daylight they moved off in to deeper (colder) water and rested.

From mid-September through to the New Year the fish moved permanently into the shallower water (less than 60ft) and the behaviour changed dramatically. They were now active in the daytime only, mostly over very restricted areas of sand bottom even though most of the surrounding seabed consisted of rocks. In the dark they retired to the rocks to rest. It seems that individual fish may have had their own preferred refuges or lairs among the rocks where they dozed away the night.

The seasonal switch in behaviour between summer and autumn coincided with a change in the temperature distribution of the sea. In summer there was a sharp boundary or thermocline between the warm surface water and the cool of the deeps. The autumn storms caused mixing of the layers so that the temperature was more or less the same at all depths.

Of course these were cod off the coast of Canada but cod are cod and it is likely that the general principles apply wherever these fish swim. There will always be a chance of catching fish by doing the “wrong” thing but by selecting your times, places and conditions you are likely to find a vast improvement in results. When I used to sit in the dark in our little dinghy at Swanage waiting for the tide to turn and for the fish to "come on the feed" (sometimes they did somethimes they didn't) what wouldn't I have given for a few hydrophones and a couple of tagged 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

One predictable fish.

Not all fish need high tech tracking.  On my stretch of coast surface feeding thick lips will turn up on the top of the springs and you can see them feeding.'