Tackle and Tactics
I should say that, at this point, that although many of the pictures that illustrate my web pages are taken by me. The dolphin and snook photographs were sent to me by my fishing pal Steve Pitts. Quite a few other excellent pictures that I have used in the past have also been supplied by Steve.
We had spent almost an hour feathering up mackerel from the edge of the tide race and now we were heading swiftly out to sea, on course for our marks. I wandered towards the bow where the skipper was standing; he stared in to the distance and occasionally adjusted the wheel a few degrees, this way or that, to compensate for some minor deviation of the boat. In the wheel house, above his head, a well worn ‘black box’ chuntered away, tracing a smudgy contour across a strip of chart.
“We’re just coming up on the ledges now,” said the old salt. As he spoke the smudgy line behind the little glass window became darker and more sharply defined and began to creep upwards. My fellow anglers crowded in to the little doorway, eyes glued to the chart and thoughts full of anticipation. Suddenly there was a buzz of conversation as a blip appeared above the trace of the rising ground. Quickly a second and third blip appeared, and soon a whole host of the little marks merged into a clear indication of extensive pollack shoals. It looked as though it was going to be a good day.
Thousands of sea anglers must have experienced the excitement of “seeing” fish schools massed above the rocks or wrecks, through the magic of modern technology. I do not need to convince anyone that sea bed structures somehow accumulate great concentrations of fish. But why should this be? In Britain we know little or nothing of the importance of “structures” to our marine fish, but the Japanese and the Americans have been more adventurous in their approach to the matter, and their scientific research has paid off handsomely.
Of course no one these days does anything for nothing least of all the canny Japanese. Over seven years Japan spent two hundred million pounds on constructing artificial fishing grounds, and they plan to cover five per cent of the nation’s continental shelf with artificial “culture” systems. In the United States, since the middle of last century, reefs have been under construction. As early as 1860 there are records of the use of sunken pine logs to support dense barnacle growths to attract the barnacle-feeding sheepshead bream. In the 1940’s one such experiment is said to have resulted in a 25 fold improvement in marine bass catches in the course of a single year.
Many of the early efforts at reef construction were done on a crude rule-of-thumb basis by anglers and, as might be expected, the results were very variable. More recently, however, scientists became involved. It was realised that it is possible to improve on nature and in 1963 Randall (a scientist) wrote of an 11-fold greater weight of fish on his concrete block reef than on a nearby rocky out crop. Both economic and environmental benefits have been shown to stem from these structures and sea anglers are usually the main beneficiaries.
Essentially there are three types of structure which can be used to attract and or to hold fish. Firstly there are those on the sea bed (what most of us would think of as a reef); secondly those at the surface (floating platforms or rafts); and lastly those designed to operate in mid-water. In some cases it is simply a case of more rocks attracting sea weeds which harbour more worms, crabs etc. In turn this brings more fish. But it seems that in the majority of situations the idea is to delay, hold and concentrate fish which would otherwise migrate elsewhere. In other words there are the same number of fish as before but ‘structure’ make it much easier for us to locate them and make big catches.
In British water’s it is safe to assume that reefs could easily be designed, planned and built to enhance fishing for migratory mid-water fish such as mackerel, and garfish, and possibly some of the sharks, and for migratory bottom living fish like bass, cod, pollack, coalfish. Bream and a number of the popular flatfish.
Although artificial reefs quickly develop a covering of algae and encrusting animals, the presence of this potential fish food appears to be a minor element in attracting fish. Most of the important denizens of artificial reefs are large, active, free swimmers; many of them never actually enter the reef and the reasons for their presence are probably complicated. Some of the early observations on fish which gathered round floating bamboo rafts showed that fish shoals stayed with the rafts both day and night except when the weather was rough. Big predatory fish follow such drifting rafts but forage at distances of up to a quarter of a mile away. Apparently fish locate reefs by the sounds or pressure waves created in the sea, even when they are well beyond the range of vision. Plankton feeding fish such as sprats or sandeels are often abundant around reefs, although their food is no thicker on the ground here than else where. Some species of fish may seek the shade of the structures and others(mostly small forms) may shelter from larger predators. The only thing that seems to be certain is that artificial reefs work.
Off the coast of Japan a single, mid-water parasol-type attractor costing about £1500 yielded a catch of 32 tons of mackerel and scad (worth almost £3000) with in one week of it being placed in position. Another similar unit produced over 60 tons of fish in just over a month. In the Pacific Ocean mid-water attractors are very popular with anglers, who fish them both for sport fishes and for bait. In some places they have been deployed in such a way as to provide “trolling alleys” for boat anglers, while simple, light weight, mid-water attractors can be set up near piers, jetties and ledges for the benefit of shore fishermen.
A simple reef of fly-ash (waste) blocks, has been built and tested in Poole bay by Southampton University scientists in collaboration with industry. Although such crude structures are innovations around our shores it is clear that if we are ever to catch up with our neighbours across the oceans of the world a great deal of money and effort will be required.
To coin a phrase “we have the technology”, all that is required is the will and imagination to employ it.
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