Tackle and Tactics
A little more salt?.
Imagine having gills instead of lungs; imagine being able to walk about on the sea bed and sit down a couple of yards from your baited hook just watching what happened? If you were very patient it might be possible to see the codling, flounders or dabs as they hunted their prey. No doubt you would be surprised when most of the fish passed by your tackle with out so much as a sidelong glance. Even the humble lesser-spotted dogfish would often turn up there snouts at your cunningly presented offering.
Occasionally a fish less choosy or hungrier than the rest might approach your tackle and, if it were really keen, it would grab at the bait and try to rush off with its prize. Feeling the solid resistance of the six-ounce grip lead the potential customer would then have several options; it might decide that the bait was not sufficiently attractive to justify the effort, spit out your offering and move on or, if the bait was a soft one like worm or mussel, it could rip it off the hook and depart well pleased with its capture.
A particularly greedy specimen would possibly hook itself by pulling against the weight (either at the first attempt or, if the bait was both tough and tasty, at the second, third or fourth bite). If your pal, still standing on the beach, was on his toes he might pick up the rod and, hopefully, reel in your hard won prize. Of course, it might be possible for you to do something similar to the above if you had a set of scuba gear, but it would need a great deal of time and effort to see anything worth while.
However, by using modern underwater video equipment it is now possible to record, for many hours, the behaviour of fish and their responses to baited lines. Some time back I described how video techniques have shown that cod are attracted to baited hooks chiefly by the presence of other feeding or hooked fish, but I suppose that what most anglers would really like to know is “which is the best bait?”
Scottish fisheries scientists Johnston and Hawkins used an underwater television camera to test the effectiveness of some different line fishing baits. Of course, it would have been fascinating if the baits used had been lug, rag, peeler crab, mussel and squid but, in practice, they were standard set lining baits mussel, squid, mackerel and salted herring. Nevertheless the results are fascinating.
Firstly the camera was run with the line unbaited to see just how many fish wandered by in the absence of any attractant. The line was then baited with one of the experimental baits and the observation was repeated. The change in numbers of fish seen gave an idea of how attractive the various fish found each bait. To allow for loss of baits during the trial all results were adjusted to a half-hour period.
For both cod and coalfish, mussel was BY FAR the most attractive of the baits. In the case of cod, mussel was about as attractive as either squid or mackerel . Coalfish were attracted 20 times more often to mussel than to mackerel and both squid and salt herring came a poor second to the humble shellfish, which was four times more attractive than either.
As might be expected dogfish did not think much of the mussel baits which, together with salted herring scored zero as attractants; mackerel was by far the best for LSD’s being ten times as good as squid. The thing to note is that no single bait was best for all three species. Perhaps even more significant was the experiment in which baits were mixed, not as cocktails but on alternate hooks. This showed that mussel, combined with either squid or mackerel, was most attractive to cod and, even more surprising, the mussel/squid combinations was 24 times as good as the next best combination (squid/salt herring)… even for dogfish.
Of course, the fact that fish were attracted to lines carrying a particular bait did not mean that they always attacked the baits and still less that they hooked themselves and were landed. Dogfish never attacked hooks baited with mussel and surprisingly perhaps, coalfish were not very keen to have a go at mussel baits. Cod, on the other hand. Were equally enthusiastic about grabbing mussel and squid, slightly less keen to take mackerel and definitely dubious when it came to the poor old salted herring.
On the long lines used in the experiments there is, of course, nothing that can be done to hook a fish. Just as on a baited hook, which has been cast 150 yards from the shore or well up tide of the boat and is anchored to the seabed with a hefty wired lead, the fish must hook themselves. Even with mussel baits only about one cod in twelve that attacked the baits was hooked and brought to the surface.
As might be expected a much greater proportion of greedy dogfish were landed. All in all a lesson in the inefficiency of waiting for fish to impale themselves on your hooks as opposed to feeling and striking bites.
In another set of experiments a couple of artificially made baits were compared with mussel and mackerel, the idea being to produce a standard, long lining bait which could be used with an automatic baiting machine. The “synthetic” baits were made of a jelly laced with mussel or mackerel extracts.
In this case dabs and dogfish were the main victims. As you might expect the dogfish still preferred neat mackerel but, amazingly, the newfangled baits attracted twice as many dabs as the naturals and induced roughly the same number of bites (attacks). Again the failings of the standard fish hook when fished with a static line were revealed. While four fifths of biting dogfish were hooked less than one fifth of the dabs impaled themselves. Well over half of both species were lost on the retrieve! It would have been good to see what difference the use of circle hooks might have made.
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A lttle more salt?.
Squid is tough, attractive (to many fish) and stays on the hook well.