Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 27 What's going on down there?.

"Pout and rockling continue to dominate -." "- poor returns, a few rockling and pout showing -" "- pout provided the action -" "- good sport with pouting and poor cod -".

Comments such as these often loom large in the angling columns of my local papers. This is particularly the case in late winter and early spring but even at other, more productive, seasons the humble pouting is a major element of catches along the south coast. Whether, like me, you are simply catching one or two bass/cod/conger baits or, like many others, trying to scratch for a place in a match the pout is often number one fish.

Now I have caught my share of pouting, both from the shore and from boats. Many a time I have been thrilled to feel the first rattling tugs of Trisopterus luscus on the end of my line. There can be few Dorset sea anglers who have not sat and watched the immobile rod tip and prayed for the onset of dusk and the almost inevitable invasion of the pouting hordes. This little member of the cod family is one of the few species which is sufficiently abundant and bites often enough for us to form an impression of what's going on down below.

It soon becomes very obvious, to anyone who casts a worm from the beach or dangles a small bait below a boat, that the pouting is "active" mainly at night. It is also evident that the bites tend to come in bursts. Periods of frantic fishing are interspersed with lulls. This raises a question. What are the pouting doing when they are not savaging our baits?

Of course this is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question in ALL FISHING. Have the fish gone? If so, where have they gone? Have they just stopped feeding? Or what? Now if you read the angling magazines you will find plenty of experts with strong opinions. They will often state in no uncertain terms that the fish "lie in the lee of sand banks waiting for their prey to be swept by," "move off as the tide turns," or "stop feeding when the wind is in the east," etc. etc. At best such impressions are based on a wealth of experience and at worst they are simply hearsay. Hardly ever has anyone tried to relate pulls on the line to KNOWN, PROVED FISH BEHAVIOUR.

You might be thinking "So What! Why should we care whether the fish have (a) shifted or (b) stopped eating?" Well, clearly it makes a big difference to what you should do. If your chosen species is still down there but has actually stopped eating you could change tactics and try for something else. If, on the other hand, your target fish has simply moved seventy metres to the right you should be walking, rowing, motoring or casting to the new spot.

Let's return to the pouting as our example. Scientists have actually observed and logged the changing activities of these fish with shifts in time and tide. Artificial reefs plonked down in the middle of sandy, seabed deserts act as pouting refuges (presumably natural reefs and wrecks act in exactly the same way). Thousands of the little fish may congregate over such a small rocky oasis. In the hours of daylight the pout will hang round the rocks. The harder the tide is running THE CLOSER TO THE REEF THEY WILL BE. Towards high or low water, as the flow eases off, the fish will MOVE A BIT FURTHER AFIELD. In addition, the pout seek shelter from the flow BEHIND THE ROCK PILES. Particularly when there is a run of tide the fish will be RIGHT IN THE LEE OF THE HUMMOCK. At dusk, in response to falling light levels, THE FISH SUDDENLY DISPERSE to forage over the surrounding area.

These few simple facts provide the angler with a great deal of valuable information. If you want to catch pouting the significance of the observations is clear. If, on the other hand, you wish to hook a big predator such as a bass - you, and your baits or lures, could do worse than to follow the pouting (the bass almost certainly will). Of course the pout is only one species and if you are to succeed regularly you will need to find out about many others. I regard pouting as food for bass, pollack and conger. Through the work of marine scientists we now KNOW a bit more about the pout's activities.

Similarly we KNOW that in June young sand eels, as they are swept up and over the "bow wave" of a seabed reef, are preyed upon by bass. We KNOW that seaweed fly maggots, as they float on the surface during high water spring tides, are eaten by mullet and bass. We KNOW that in the Autumn great masses of Idotea (slaters) attract bass of all sizes into weedy coves and we KNOW that big bass can be territorial over intertidal rocks, swimming in as soon as the water is deep enough to cover their backs, driving away rivals from their chosen area and leaving the instant that the tide begins to ebb. We KNOW that thin lipped mullet swim upstream in spring and autumn to feed on river bed diatom blooms.

Of course (thankfully) there is still a great deal to be learned about how to catch sea fish and much of our approach must continue to be by trial and error. We don't know, for example, why bass will often reject a juicy bait laying in their path: why thick lipped mullet usually (but not always) ignore the baited spoon while their thin lipped cousins are easily 'suckered': or why wrasse will readily take a 'fish-like' plug but hardly ever touch a piece of fish bait. It can be amusing and thought provoking to speculate on the reasons for such oddities. However, there can be no doubt that a lot of satisfaction (and success) is to be gained by separating the hard facts from the hearsay and speculation.

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.

What's going on down there?.

A rough day for spinning.

It's easy to see what its like up here but what's going on down below?.

Coelopa maggots.

Prime fish food but only if you get the right combination of time and place.

A scad taken on a luminous 'Mepps'.

Fast tides, dark nights and street lamps are the right combination for big catches of these sporting little fish.

A twaite shad from the Monnow.

The twaite is another fish with very specific habits - know the fish or catch nothing!