Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle

Information Page.

Watch the birdie!

My pal Alan in the antipodes suggested that I say a bit about the importance of birds to angling. I expect that you've often seen articles about feeding frenzies. You know the sort of thing - the water's beaten to foam by feeding fish, squawking birds are diving everywhere, rods bending, reels screaming - the whole frantic business. However, bird activity can be a lot more subtle than this sort of thing.

Why should it be worth having an eye for the birds? Well, for a start, our feathered friends are either after the same things as we are - decent fish! Or, perhaps more often, the birds are feeding on the same things as the fish we want to catch. Now birds are a good deal more conspicuous than the fish themselves so they're easier for us to see. Even the ones that feed sub-surface such as shags, cormorants, guillemots and razorbills have to come up for air or to swallow their catch, so they're easy to spot. Others, like gannets, terns and gulls, fly about above the water so they're even easier to see, It's hardly surprising that many fish try to avoid the risky, near surface, waters in the hours of daylight.

The second thing to bear in mind is that birds are MUCH better at spotting fish activity than we are. For a start they usually have a better vantage point - the view's far superior if you are fifty feet up in the air looking straight down. Also, many of them have evolved polarising lenses on their eyes so that they can see through the water surface. After all it's not just a matter of catching a fish for sport it is life and death to a sea bird. Some, like fulmars, can even smell fish. They have sensitive noses that pick up the faintest whiff of oil or effluvia from shoals of fish in the water. If you put out a trail of rubby dubby or fish oil it won't be long before you are joined by a flock of fulmars picking up the fragments from the surface.

Each species of bird has its own preferences so it will pay you to become a bit of an ornithologist. For example, it can be useful to recognise cormorants which like to eat eels, flatfish, wrasse and other bottom livers. In contrast, shags which look rather similar, feed largely on sandeels and sprats (as indeed do guillemots, razorbills and puffins). Different species of terns will hunt for baitfish of different sizes in different depths of water - little terns near the edge, common terns further out and so on. Over the years the harsh croaking notes of sandwich terns have often accompanied one of my bass bonanzas. Gannets, gliding gracefully on their long, white, black-tipped wings, will be on the look out for mackerel and if you see several gannets quartering the waves for sure there are such fish in the vicinity. If the gannets, terns etc. dive in at a shallow angle the target fish are near the surface whereas if they plummet down from a great height the fish are deeper down. Gulls, of various kinds, also give some good clues. Herring gulls and lesser black backs will follow shoals of feeding bass in the hope of picking up small prey driven to the surface. Watch the gulls and you may see which direction the fish are moving in - with luck you could be able to intercept them. Black headed gulls will do the same but they also feed along the shoreline on seaweed fly larvae and pupe - these insects attract the bass and mullet at high water springs. Any gull activity along the water's edge can spell ACTION so NEVER ignore it.

That's probably enough bird life for one page. Just remember, if you get to know the foibles of your local feathered friends it could mean more fish on the end of your line.

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

Black headed gulls.

These maggot feeding birds are a certain guide to the presence of mullet and bass.'

A nice mullet.

This fish, taken on a maggot fly, was pin pointed for me by feeding birds.'

Tern picks up sandeel.

Feeding terns are always likely to mirror the activities of predators such as bass.'

Bass at dawn.

Still a bit dark for the birds to feed so you have to find the fish for yourself.'