Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 15 Close encounters.

My good friend Alan Vaughan is a very different character to me. Our approaches to sea angling have about as much in common as chalk and cheese (although, over the years we seem to have converged) but one thing is certain we both go fishing to catch decent fish. Neither of us is interested in gimmicks, gadgets or complicated paraphernalia and before any idea is accepted it must prove itself in the hard world of the seashore.

In view of this I feel that our joint opinion on what must be "the most difficult cast in the book" is worth putting down in print. The fact is that it is well nigh impossible to fish with confidence at very close range if you have been brain washed in to thinking that the only good cast is a long one.

Obviously for some species and in some circumstances, like catching cod, rays or whiting from shallow, sandy beaches, long casting greatly increases the chance of success but for many fish it can be more effective to cast short. Bass, wrasse, mullet, flounder, conger and pollack are among the desirable species that can be taken from a half-a-metre of water, close to terra firma, especially after dark.

How close is close? Well, from ranges of under thirty yards and in water no deeper than three or four feet we have caught conger to 15kg, bass well over 5kg, mullet and wrasse of 3kg and flounders to almost 2kg and we are talking about many fish not just the odd fluky catch.

A graphic illustration of the point was brought home to us on a joint shore fishing trip some years ago. We had swapped and discussed ideas about fishing for a couple of years but rarely have we had the chance to fish together. Each of us has total confidence in the methods that are familiar to us but like many other anglers, we find it more difficult to persist with baits or methods, which are untried.

Because of this natural reluctance to change tactics each of us takes special pride when the other catches a fish using one of our "pet" strategies. On the first occasion that we had a joint fishing session we had three bass each on floating plugs, plus a bonus mullet caught on a Mepps Mino.

On the trip in question we got together with Dave Cooling for a second "fish in". On this occasion Alan was determined to give me a demonstration and turned up with a bucket of frozen welsh peelers. It was a typical October evening and by the time we began fishing it was very dark. We were casting our baits into a small sheltered bay and it was not long before Alan reeled in a fair-sized edible crab.

After about three quarters of an hour with no further action Alan became restless there was not enough current, he thought, to make it a good bass spot. After a hastily convened discussion I said I knew of a place more to his liking but it meant a trek of about three hundred metres over rugged, rocky terrain in the deep gloom.

We hurried along (as fast as was possible) to the new spot and began to fish by casting parallel to a rocky ledge where the tidal flow speeded up quite a bit. Alan lobed his bait 25 metres out into the murk. My bait was much closer in, perhaps only ten or twelve metres from the beach. Dave's bait was somewhere between the two. It was now approaching high water - about the best time along that stretch of coast.

Something like a quarter of an hour after the first cast I announced that I had a bite, more like a "bonk", really. Almost immediately the fish picked up the bait, a well-elasticised crab, and ran steadily out to sea.

I allowed it to take two or three yards of line, engaged the bale-arm and struck with great force into a bass. "It's only a small one", I shouted but Alan, too experienced to be easily hoodwinked by such comments, believed only the alarming bend in the carbon, carp rod.

After a tense struggle in which the fish did a good deal of unseen splashing out in the murk, it slid easily onto the ledge and Dave lifted it from the water. We unhooked the bass and the spring balance registered a pleasing eight-and-a-quarter-pounds.

Soon after recasting Alan had a terrific bite that he struck at but only made brief contact with another powerful fish. By now I was using a piece of mackerel on the 4/0 hook, which attracted another fish but, like Alan, I only made a short lived contact.

The following morning's session produced only a couple of tiny bass, one each, and neither of them more than half-a-kilo or so, both were returned alive. Alan's took a legered crab 20 metres out and my Rapala accounted for the other at about the same range.

The most interesting aspects of our joint venture, and the main point of this piece, were only to emerge later. On the following evening we were in contact again when I phoned Alan to announce that I, or rather my sons, Richard and Daniel, had repeated the success of the weekend. Richard's bass was 3kg and Daniel's was just under 4 both taken on large fillets of mackerel. This confirmed the potential of both the method and the venue.

The most significant fact of all emerged a few days later during the neap tides. Dave and I went down to the ledge again, this time in daylight and at low water. Using identical tackle I cast out onto the bare rocks to see where fish had been feeding. The distance between my stance and the bait was about six metres which probably means that Alan's bait had been at about twelve or fifteen metres. Altogether that was four bites and three decent fish at six metres and a single bite at slightly longer range.

Of course, one swallow does not make a summer, nor do three bass prove a point, but the implications of our story should be obvious. The most desirable inshore fish of southern Britain can be caught almost under your feet and in quite large sizes. Alan and I have said it before but it is worth repeating you don't have to cast far to catch fish - if the time, tide and place are well chosen. There are other significant advantages to close-range fishing. Since little lead is required a light rod can be used and consequently bite detection is easy and fish of all sizes give good sport.

It may be worth mentioning that we really do appreciate the potential benefits of long casting. Nevertheless, next time your bait has lain untouched on the distant sea bed for an hour or two it might be worth considering a short cast to success.

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.

Close encounters.

A time for a close encounter.

All sorts of fish come really close in in the hours of darkness.

Waiting for another bite.

Always hold the rod, even if you're sitting down.

Standing where the bass took the bait.

At high water the cast was just beyond the boulders.

One for the album.

Alan unhooks a good bass taken, on bait, at short range.