Learn How To Fish On Snaggy Marks

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Do you shy away from fishing among rocks or over snaggy ground? You do? Then that’s a shame because by moving out of your comfort zone you will catch more fish. First you must learn how to fish these marks...

The Great Escape

Losing tackle to snags is one of the particularly frustrating aspects of shore angling and it is a major reason why many anglers do not even contemplate fishing the more productive marks.

The word ‘snags’ sends a shiver down the spines of many sea anglers so they steer well clear of any sea bed that is not perfectly flat and snag free. Most flat sea beds are also preferred by the commercial fishermen, especially the trawlers, and in many regions species that like living on an open sea bed have been wiped out by trawlermen. On the rougher ground the fish are protected to an extent and it’s a fact that the rock species, like cod, wrasse and pollack, are almost always the most plentiful and the biggest fish around.

Know the types of sea bed

One of the first things you must realise is that there are rocks and then there are rocks. Some of the most horrendous-looking sea beds are nowhere near as bad as they look in terms of tackle snagging. Mind you, some also look easy and are not!

Viewing some venues at low tide can reveal specific places that will allow you to fish with better odds of retrieving your tackle, but on many others the layout of the foreshore can make a huge difference.

For instance, fishing high up from a cliff, pier or even a promenade can make fishing over a rough or mixed ground sea bed far easier because of the steeper angle of the line when it is retrieved. Similarly the depth of the water makes a difference with the shallow mixed ground sometimes more difficult to fish over than deepwater rough ground.

Before you dismiss a rough ground venue, check it out at low tide and look at the high tide line for the places that offer the best chance of getting your tackle back.

The range of different sea beds pose a problem for the angler and each bottom type may require a different terminal rig or tactics. The mix of sea beds is usually labelled as rough, mixed or clear ground, while some can be a combination of all.

TECHNIQUES FOR MAKING A GETAWAY

Always consider moving higher up the beach or pulling from a different angle

When your rig gets stuck, a steady pull of the line can often tell you whether the snag is going to be terminal.

Once line stretch has been taken up, the hook comes under strain and you get some idea about how badly stuck it is. Beware of pulling violently against any snag because this may break your rod.

A few gentle tugs upwards may pull your gear free – if not, try to get as high above the snag as you can by moving to the top of the beach.

A few careful pulls with the rod tip may free the snag immediately. If not then a change of line angle is worth trying. Move along the beach and try again. Failing that, let the line go slack and then try a few more gentle pulls. If you are still firmly hooked then a straight pull for a break is required, but do everything slowly.

Tighten the line, point the rod at the snag, take the strain off the reel spool by wrapping the line around the rod butt and step back gradually – this often releases the snag, if not the line will snap.

Dealing with tackle-hungry features

Rocks and kelp

Keep tackle strong, simple and economic here because some tackle loss is inevitable. Have your spare rigs ready, especially reserves of sinkers, both plain and wired.

Hooks in sizes 2/0 and 3/0 Uptide or Viking patterns are very popular because they are soft and springy and can be pulled free from snags. Avoid really big rigid hook patterns, like the O’Shaughnessy, unless you are targeting conger eels. Moving just a few yards can make a retrieve easier so be aware of gaps between rocks and potential snags.

Mussel beds

These shellfish can sometimes close on the line, causing breaks, and there are lots of sharp edges from broken shells as well, so keep your line as high as you can.

On many mussel beds it is the edges where they meet the sand where the best fishing is found, so be sure you know the layout before you cast. Check out the mark over low water.

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Chalk or peat ledges

Knowing where the ledges, gaps, gullies and joints are located is a big advantage because with accurate casting you can pinpoint hot spots where gullies meet or open out. Again, check out the area over low tide. A lead lift (right) can help on venues where you need instant lift in the shallows to avoid a snag.

Small boulders and weed

Some of the worst angling venues are where there is shallow water and a mix of boulders creating lots of potential snagging spots.

In extreme cases anglers have employed weak link systems so that the loss of the lead weight means tackle, and hopefully fish, are retrieved. However, a weak link system is often only as good as the angler who is using it.

Sandbanks

Pulling tackle back over sand or mud banks can cause it to dig in or cut into the bank, so the initial turns of the reel handle are often crucial. Razorfish shells are also a risk to mono line.

Old groynes

Be careful where you cast around groynes because the tide can push your line over or among them. Some groynes have stabilisers or a bucket post at the end, so beware of these snags.

Mud

Shallow water and deep mud can allow a heavy lead, say 6oz plus, to sink deep into the sea bed where it becomes stuck. Avoid streamlined bombs, while wires also help prevent the lead weight going too deep in the mud.

A good tactic is to stop the cast just as your rig hits the water so that it lands in a splash rather than a high-speed nosedive, which will drive it into the mud.

Tackle snags

Perhaps the worst type of sea bed to fish over is one with lost tackle and line snags. Fixed grip leads with soft wires help here because they hold bottom quickly and will bend out of line snags.

Avoid breakout leads because the wire system can trap lost lines. Do not cast too far uptide, and use a heavier lead weight to reduce the movement of the tackle in the tide.

Are you retrieving correctly?

Why rigs get snagged is not always down to the type of sea bed or the angler's choice of tackle. It is more likely to do with a very poor retrieval technique.

Reeling in slowly and dragging your hooks and lead weight through snags is a major cause of hook ups. The simple fact is that water actually gives a lead weight some buoyancy so a fast retrieve will invariably lift your gear clear of snags. It is those initial few turns of the reel handle that lift the gear off the bottom where the risk is the greatest, so this is not a time to dawdle.

Add to this the fact that the reel will invariably contain far less line after casting out, so a turn of the spool will retrieve less line, and you can see the root of the problem. This being the case, a full reel with a high gear ratio and a rapid retrieve are all required to avoid snags.

Occasionally the rig may snag up as it drops to the sea bed or, as often happens, the tide sweeps it into an obstacle, but there is no reason to lose a rig every cast if you employ the correct tackle and retrieve technique.

The strength of your tackle has a great effect on snagging and escaping snags, but it is usually a compromise.

Lighter line is accepted as more suitable for long-range casting, but it is weak when snagged compared a heavier breaking strain. Heavier line will not cast so far, so you need to choose the breaking strain that best suits the type of sea bed and range required.

Top Tip

LIFT AND REEL FAST IN ONE MOVEMENT. DON'T STOP TO FEEL FOR A FISH, KEEP REELING

Fishing with the correct reel

Obviously no one reel is suited to all line breaking strains or varying loads.

Thick line requires a larger spool, while in general small reels will cope with clear sea beds, and larger, stronger models are needed for rough ground.

You cannot use a small casting reel for fishing rough ground because it will not hold enough line and is not fast enough to get the lead weight and your rig's hooks up off the bottom quickly enough.

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Top Tip

Fewer hook cast further and allow the sinker to rise above a swag on the way in.

Rig choices for fishing rough ground.

Fewer hooks on a rig mean less chance of the tackle snagging

How many anglers read the angling press or take notice of what terminal rig design is all about, or even check the tackle shops for the available ready-made rigs? Similarly, how many follow a few simple rules and match their rigs to venues, species and baits?

Judging by the terrible rig examples we find lost on the low tide mark or among rocks, it seems most use really poor rigs. Even worse, these anglers blame the venue for the loss of these inadequate rigs.

Everyone knows that fewer hooks on a rig mean less chance of the rig snagging, or do they? Some anglers may also realise that smaller hooks are far less likely to snag and are easier to bend out of snags, although I doubt it, judging by the number of size 6/0 hooks I find.

The fact is that most sea anglers, especially novices, think they are fishing for big game. Modern hooks are extremely sharp and strong and I challenge any shore angler to prove why he needs a bigger hook than a size 3/0. Big hooks are only needed when fishing huge baits, such as a mackerel flapper, whole squid or a spider crab for tope and conger eels, when a size 6/0 is definitely required.

By far the best rig for snaggy ground is the pulley, which carries one hook bait either on a single hook or two hooks, Pennell-style. This rig comes in a couple of different design options, the straight pulley and the drop-down pulley (shown in issue 452).

Both work on the same principle – a rapid retrieve lifts the lead weight up in front of the bait or hooked fish and clear of the rocks and snags. Remember, I said ‘rapid retrieve’ because the rig design alone will not prevent you snagging. Your retrieve technique is more important. In fact, a good technique will get most of the conventional one-hook rig designs back from any rough ground.

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21 tips to make you a better beach angler

Effective fishing is all about knowing what you are doing. Here our beach coach John Holden pulls 21 great fishing tips out of the bag that could make you a happier and more efficient beach fisherman…

Where to set up

On an average beach, set up camp above the high water line so that you do not need to move again throughout the tide cycle. Surf beaches and other flat marks must be fished by staying on the move, so keep your gear as light and compact as possible.

Casting from a clean, flat spot near the water’s edge obviously makes the best use of your casting range. The mistake is to insist on being down by the water when casting is easier if you stand further away - often the best bet on a steep shingle bank.

Anchoring tackle

The power of tidal currents usually comes as a nasty surprise when you first start beach fishing. It is essential to learn how to anchor the baited rig. Your neighbours on the beach won’t take kindly to tackle sweeping through their patch every cast.

Fixed or swivelling wires?

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Fixed wire sinkers provide excellent anchorage with the advantage of being able to dig in again should the tackle move by accident or because you decide to shift the rig a few yards. The disadvantage is that they make retrieving much more difficult.

Swivelling wires hold steady until you want to wind in, when a firm pull triggers the wires to rotate out of the way. Retrieving is then easy and there is less chance of snagging along the way.

Swivel-wired sinkers are the way to go. Keep the breakout pressure high until you get used to the system. If you cannot produce the necessary tension by adjusting the wires alone, wrap a rubber band around them.

Walk uptide

Casting straight out is wrong when the tide is running hard because the wires never have a chance to grip the sea bed. The secret of success is to walk uptide before casting. Under normal circumstances, 25 yards is plenty.

Vicious spring tide currents need double that, and even then it pays to slant the cast yet further uptide.

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Aerodynamics

Clipping down the baited hook before letting fly makes sense even with simple rigs. Casting is easier, baits arrive on the sea bed in a much better condition and there is a distance bonus.

The best place for a clippeddown single bait is close behind the sinker. Nothing beats Breakaway’s Impact Shield system, which not only holds and protects, but also releases the bait at the end of the cast.

Choose the freestanding Impact Shield or the similar device built into the tail of a Breakaway lead. Excellent bait protection, easy to use and reliable.

Let out extra line

Slack line allows the grip leads to sink and the wires breathing space to dig themselves securely into the sea bed. Leave the reel out of gear while you walk back to your rod rest.

There is little risk of releasing too much extra line - 25 yards might not be enough on big tides.

Slack line bites

With this set-up, a rod usually flips upwards and the line falls slack when a biting fish grabs the bait and rips the anchor wires out of the sea bed.

Wind in quickly with the rod tip low until you feel resistance. Then lift the tip high and continue to wind.

The golden rule is never allow the line to fall slack again.

You might not know what’s on the end until the rig emerges from the sea - big cod and puny flatties often give the same dramatic bite. As do weeds and plastic bags.

Choosing rigs

Keep is simple - one hook, the best quality components all tied together with safe knots. Learn your craft on a basic fixed-link trace and then graduate to the more advanced tackle. I think that complex rigs catch more anglers than fish, but that is another story.

Tighten down

Rest the rod, then flip the reel into gear. The line tightens across the tide, with the baits anchored straight out or a little uptide. Fast currents create enough pressure to bend the rod tip right over.

On a more gentle tide, wind down until the rod flexes at the tip. This keeps the line under control and enhances a rod’s response to bites. At the other extreme, if the tackle fails to anchor firmly, wind in and try again before the bait drifts too far downtide. Changing to a heavier sinker might help.

Practising with rigs and grips

Round off a practice session by casting a wired sinker and baited rig. If the tide is running, practise the anchoring technique as well.

Adding a rig changes the feel of a cast. A baited tackle’s flight is slow and clumsy compared to a plain sinker alone. In the case of a multiplier reel, it might be necessary to alter the tuning slightly to compensate.

Regardless of reel, it is well worth getting used to all this before you go fishing. A pike angler’s polyball or a worm-like strip of plastic foam makes excellent bait substitutes for practice sessions. Include an Impact Shield or similar clipdown in your set-up so that you become familiar with the system.

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Off the ground with grip wires

You might think that launching a wired sinker from the ground would lead to all sorts of problems. Dirty beaches and exaggerated off-ground styles that drag the sinker can defeat clean lift-off, but the compact cast with an inside sinker lay-out is almost bulletproof. Other than not dumping the lead weight into a heap of weeds or among rocks, no special precautions are necessary.

Preserve your tackle

Dampness, salt and lack of airflow are a lethal cocktail that ruins tackle in a matter of hours. Much better to carry rods unwrapped and reels and other gear loose in your bait bucket. It also prevents messing up your tackle bags and boxes with sand and saltwater.

Getting unstuck

Snagged tackle is an occupational hazard. Wind down tight with the rod tip low, wrap the line around a piece of stick, then turn your back and walk slowly away from the sea until the tackle tears free or the line breaks.

On rare occasions, the sinker flies from the sea like a stone from a catapult, hence the wisdom of not facing the water as you pull.

It is worth modifying the technique on muddy ground. Wind down, then lift the rod tip and hold maximum safe tension long enough for the sinker wires or hooks to cut their way out of the mud in cheese-wire fashion. If the tackle does pop free, wind in at top speed so that you don’t get stuck again.

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Weed on the line

Muck on the line destroys good casting. Every scrap must be removed each time you wind in. The worst culprit is the brown grass-like weed that infests the shoreline in autumn and winter. The quick cure for a mass of weed on the leader knot is to cut it off and re-tie.

Rod care

Wash off the salt and grit. Leave the rod to dry, then check it over. Most at risk are the tip ring and the joint. Tip rings are vulnerable to wear and accidentally damage. A light tap on the shingle can be enough to crack ring inserts or pop them out of the frame.

The tip rings of most of my rods have been changed to all-metal Diamite patterns. Spare tip rings and hot melt glue are always in my tackle box.

Sticky or binding joints are a nuisance, but the danger is that sand and grit will literally grind away the mating surfaces. Whether spigot, push-in or push-over, the joints must be clean and lightly waxed.

Repairs and spares

Experience will show you what spare parts, if any, are worth carrying. Modern tackle is generally reliable, so little should be necessary apart from the obvious items such as extra brake blocks. Insulating tape, pliers and a screwdriver are indispensable.

Where to fish

Although this series focuses on the mechanics of fishing, it is worth mentioning a few reasons why beginners fail to catch fish, although they have mastered the basic techniques.

The common mistake is fishing where there are no fish and the reason is that newcomers often prefer to keep to the sidelines. Fish the popular beaches, not the deserted spots. Provided that he is not a pest who cannot control his tackle or pushes into a space that has been left clear for good reason, beach fishing is a game where everyone is welcome.

Reel care

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Fixed-spools need a wash and dry followed by an inspection of bale arm, drag screw and the space behind the spool which often sucks in muck. Routinely, that is enough to keep good reels running.

Stripping down and re-lubrication should not be needed more than once a year. Cheap reels rot whatever you do. Treat them as disposable, for that is what they are.

Rinse multipliers under the tap and wipe them dry before taking out the spool and checking the innards. Re-oil lightly. Check the brake blocks. Back off the drag to prevent the washers and pads from binding.

When to fish

Fish arrive in the surf when they want to, not at an angler’s convenience. Seasons, weather and tides must all be taken into account. Find out the best times - and be there even if it means a midnight drive followed by a wet, icy session.

Join a club

Going it alone is a struggle, though for many anglers it is a challenge they enjoy. Even so, the shortcut to better sport is to fish with and learn from other anglers. Team up with people who really know what they are doing. The better the anglers you go with, the quicker you will become an expert.

Bait

Bait must be fresh, appropriate and generous. Few anglers are in a position to collect their own and the only worthwhile alternative is to find a top quality supplier, pay the price and stick with him. Good bait might seem expensive - actually, it is expensive - but it is still cheap compared to tackle, travelling, time and effort.

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The best way to fish a sea wall or pier

You have all seen them. They stand on the pier or sea wall and cast for the horizon. Daft really, says Alan Yates, when the fish are feeding close to the wall. Here’s how to do it

THERE’S A BIG secret to fishing successfully down the wall of a pier, jetty or rock face and I am giving it away here for free.

Think about casting from the beach. Nearly all anglers cast to the maximum, but we all know that fish can be found at distances ranging from a few yards to a couple of hundred yards.

So why do 99 per cent of all off-the-wall anglers cast to maximum range when the fish are at their feet? There is nothing I enjoy more than plopping a bait alongside a wall.

Piers are an attraction to fish as well as a natural barrier, a feature they swim along, up and around. Piers funnel fish, especially in summer when various species make the most of the food and habitat.

Piers are full of features and, just like the sea bed, offer fish numerous holding and hiding places. The wall has corners, holes, ridges, overhangs, weed fringes, obstructions and floodlights. Piers may differ and all species may not be common in all regions, but wherever you fish from a pier the wall is worth targeting.

There is always a hot spot, such as a corner where the tide congregates rubbish, inside the end where the tide slacks in an eddy, the slack behind a jutting wall or pile, underneath the café or where tide meets pier.

Knowledge of the species gives the angler an insight into the pecking order up the pier wall. Each species exploits a particular food source or part of the wall and, if you fish pier walls long enough, you’ll soon realise the different depths that various species can be caught at and how these fluctuate within the tide, season, daylight and darkness.

It’s uncanny how some species feed in depth ranges that are so precise and how knowledge of these facts can be used the exploit each type of fish.

The tackle

I prefer long soft rods for down-the-wall fishing, although heavier tackle is needed for bass and conger eels. A compromise rod may be required in strong tide and you can use a beachcaster, although it does tend to dampen the fun of fishing for smaller species.

The latest long continental quiver-tip rods are ideal, while a heavy freshwater feeder rod is the choice of some. For pollack, scad and garfish you can use braid line, which gives a more direct connection to the fish and bites, as well as combating strong tide, but this does require a soft rod.

Another essential is some form of wall or railing that can act as a rod-rest, so tackle can be suspended alongside the wall. Most anglers construct a rod-rest and there are a number of ways to do this, including a bungee elastic hooked to your reel and tackle box. You could use of the new Rail Monkey to protect your rods when it is propped against a railing. Remember to release your reel drag to avoid the rod being pulled in.

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Many pier walls can be snaggy because of the seaweed growth sprouting from the wall. Long rods and a wall rod-rest help keep the tackle clear of this and allow you to fish baits under weed and ledges, rather than in it.

The rig

THERE are several rigs that are perfect for pier wall hanging. The wire boom rig is a favourite because it is practical and presents baits suspended and tangle free.

An alternative is a long mono paternoster (twoup, one-down) for timid species in strong tide. It’s a favourite of anglers who fish with long light rods from stilted piers.

Spread the booms or hook snoods over 12ft to maximise the depth covered by baits (longer rods allow longer rigs).

Light snood lines (10lb) can be used to maximise tidal movement on the baits. Mullet and garfish will avoid heavy monofilament line in clear water, others may not be fussy, but if you do go light chose a tough fluorocarbon line.

Species are found at different depths so you can bait each hook differently. For instance, bread or fish strip on the top for garfish or mullet, a head-hooked white ragworm or bunch of maddies on the middle for scad or pollack and a large ragworm on the bottom for a bass.

Hook sizes range between size 6 for garfish and mullet and size 2 for pollack. Use a tough hook at the bottom because that’s the one that can pick up a bonus big fish. Conger and bass hooks start at size 3/0.

Baits in your bucket

DOWN the wall baits include small king ragworms, harbour ragworms (maddies), white ragworms, fish strip, either garfish or mackerel, sandeels, live prawns/shrimps, bread, maggots, sweetcorn etc.

For the biggest species have peeler crabs, mackerel head, flapper or fillet or a small live pout, whiting and smelt to hand.

Head-hook a ragworm so they swim and wriggle attractively. Small strips or slivers of fish cut to resemble a sandeel work best, hook them once. Bread can catch a surprising number of the species, especially if the fishing spot is pre-baited.

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Tactics

MOVEMENT is an effective trick to encourage any fish swimming close to a wall to attack the bait.

The obvious method is to raise and lower the rig occasionally. It’s a good idea to use a marked line; a coloured leader works, so that you know where you are. You can also tie on a stop knot on the line in Power Gum to mark your depth. If you get a bite you can then return to the hit zone.

Another method is to use a lighter lead that will travel and lift in the tide. Drop the rig to the bottom and allow it to lift in the tide to a depth the weight will hold. Altering the weight of the lead can allow you to search out areas of a wall or along/under pier piles.

Species like pollack, mackerel, garfish and scad will attack a moving bait and it often pays to keep the bait on the move rather than leaving it to fish statically.

Freelining a bait with a swan or SSG shot is a tactic that works well in light tide from many piers, especially for coalfish, mackerel, scad and garfish. A small strip of fish from the silver underbelly or a sandeel section is the bait.

Float fishing alongside the pier wall is a fun alternative. You will need to use a sliding float rig with a Power Gum stop knot on the line above the float so that the depth you are fishing can be adjusted easily. Remember the tide will always be moving and it will take your bait away from the feeding zone unless you regularly deepen or shallow up.

Groundbait is a worthwhile tactic. Use a mixture of boiled fish, bread, bran, sweetcorn, freshwater pellets and tinned pilchards, which can all be mashed up and introduced periodically to attract the fish. Alternatively put it in a fine mesh bread bag suspended alongside the wall.

SPECIES DEPTH GUAGE

Garfish: Surface feeders rarely found below 12ft. Bait is fish strip, garfish or mackerel.

Mackerel: Feed at various depths according to their prey. Baits include fish strip, worms and most lures.

Mullet: Thick-lips do feed on the bottom in shallow estuaries, but around piers they feed mainly on the surface or just out of sight, depending upon water clarity. Baits are bread, fish flesh without the skin, maggots, paste and sometimes harbour rag.

Pollack: Eight spool turns up from most walled piers is the daylight target area, but at night they take baits on the top. Baits are a head-hooked ragworm, bunches of wriggly harbour or white rag.

Coalfish: Feed at all depths, but often found within 12ft of the surface. Bait is peeler crabs, ragworms and fish strip. Use beads on rigs.

Scad: Feed just off the bottom in daylight, but on the surface in darkness, especially under lights. Bait is fish strip, head-hooked king or white rag with the latter good in clear water.

Wrasse: Mostly found around the low tide weed fringe where they take up residence. Baits are peeler crabs for big wrasse and worms for small.

Bream: Mainly bottom feeders, but also follow the pier wall up and can be caught very shallow on occasions. Baits are crab, squid, fish strip.

Bass: Found mainly on the bottom, but do feed within 12ft of the surface and on the surface when chasing food, especially under pier lights at night. Baits include rag, small live fish, crabs and large mackerel baits.

Pouting: Mostly caught on the bottom, but do rise several feet on occasions. Most baits catch pouting.

Conger: A bottom predator that will come very close to the surface on occasions. Baits are large fresh mackerel flapper, head or fillet, squid or small pollack and pouting.

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How to float fish from the rocks

WHEN YOU REALLY want to learn something, talk to people in the know. I don't mean those who have giant egos, but anglers who don't court publicity and don’t make a fuss. Cornishman Dave Dunstan is an angler from the no-fuss mould, who fishes the stunning peninsular riddled with masses of hidden rock, estuary and beach marks where the county's top anglers ply their trade.

Dave runs Premier Floats with wife Sandra and chances are that the floats you have bought recently have been made in Redruth.

They only sell to the wholesale trade, but with 22 kinds of floats and thousands upon thousands made each year, there's a good chance you have watched one of his floats bobbing about in the briny. Dave has been fishing for nearly 45 years, almost all his life, and the business of fishing has been in his blood for sometime as well. He ran the County Angler shop in Camborne for 16 years, so what does he think is the golden rule of running a fishing tackle shop?

"Decent bait," he said, "that's what I felt would draw people to the shop. We were known for the best bait around and I am sure this helped us succeed."

To hear stories of the vast amount of time he spent sorting and preparing bait for his customers is amazing.

"We felt bait was so important to our business we had a cold room to keep it in perfect condition," said Dave. "Good bait that lasts well keeps people coming back and they also spend on tackle.

Good word of mouth spreads very fast in fishing," he added.

Eventually Dave and Sandra sold the shop and bought a float making business. I wanted to know more about hanging a bait under a float, so it made sense to team up with him.

A float for every job

 

A selection of Dave Dunstan's own garfish floats, which sell under the Premier Floats brand

 

DAVE has used a float to catch mackerel, garfish, pollack and wrasse, so what better than a day out with him somewhere way down west, in fact almost off the map.

People who are naturals do things so smoothly and quickly that it can be hard for the apprentice to follow. I had to ask Dave to slow down at times and show me step by step what he was doing.

"The first thing I do is get a rough depth of the water, but I don't get too hung up on it as it can never be as accurate as coarse fishing," he said.

"I then cut a length of leader the depth I want to fish, the bead stopping against that knot preventing the float riding up. Many anglers use beads and purpose-tied stop knots to prevent the float riding up the main reel line but this works for me."

When it gets down to technicalities, Dave is a stickler for getting it right. Showing me his rig, he explained: "If the baited hook can get above the float during the cast it will tangle around the leader and won't fish properly.

"It's vital to stop the float above the hooklength swivel. I do this by pushing a length of doubled leader line through a lower stop bead so the distance between the bottom of the float and swivel is longer than your hooklength."

For garfish Dave will fish up to 10 feet deep with a size 1 or 1/0 hook, often with a light 1oz or 2oz float. When targeting mackerel he may set the bait deeper, around mid-water, with perhaps a 3oz float. Favourite bait is a small sandeel.

Dave does make a specialist gar float that is self-weighted, with a three-way swivel at the top for specifically offering baits near to the surface, but it is not cost effective to make it in any great quantity. Great looking bit of kit though.

Big 4oz floats come out for pollack and wrasse fishing because Dave prefers the heavier weight to get the bait down fast and keep it near the bottom.

Larger size 3/0 or 4/0 hooks are used for both species, with a bigger sandeel favoured for pollack and either a crab or ragworm getting the thumbs up for the often-obliging ballans.


Getting serious about float fishing

"The most important thing is to choose the right type of float for the job," advised Dave. "For example, a heavier float can help in breezy conditions. "I like some movement to the sea, it helps the bait move around and makes it look lively. Always look for tide to work the gear properly.

"Really concentrate hard for big wrasse, they hit and run and can snag you up in no time. Night fishing with a float can be really good for big pollack; put a Starlight on top of the float and strike when you can't see it," he added.

 

 

Fishing is full of surprises

A steady succession of small mackerel and garfish came to a shallow-fished bait. Hot sunshine, no other people for miles around, a bit of chop on the sea, a few fish coming in; it was a perfect day.

Dave switched tactics to deeper-fished baits and found a few small pollack and wrasse. It seemed to me that float fishing wasn't a sedentary sport; Dave was constantly on the move to new spots, changing depth and switching baits And then the small float rocketed under and disappeared in a flash. A small sandeel fished ten feet under the surface has been nailed hard and Dave set the hook with a sweep of the rod and a quick few turns on the reel handle.

The fish worked hard to get free, it even took line and repeatedly darted around and crash-dived for the bottom. Both of us waited eagerly to see what surely must be a 6lb-plus pollack.

We both peered over the edge of the rocks as the fish charged for the base of the cliffs. Then, suddenly, a big triggerfish hit the surface.

This fully illustrated the excitement of fishing, the fact that none of us quite know what we might catch next.

This was a big trigger and Dave managed to steer it into a rock pool ready for its moment of fame in front of my camera. Dave weighed the fish and it scaled nearly 4lb, then it was returned.

It was only afterwards that Dave told me that the triggerfish would have smashed the Cornish record. Respect to the man, far too many anglers kill specimen fish in an attempt at a bit of glory or a bit of silverware.

The most important thing to Dave is enjoying his sport and watching one of his own floats shoot down under the surface of an inviting Cornish sea.

 

DAVE DUNSTAN'S FLOAT RIG


A beginner's guide to uptide fishing

To fish effectively with boatcasting tackle you have to be aware of the uptiding rules, which are based on water depth and speed of the tide. Expert uptider, Dave Lewis explains the principles

 

UPTIDING is easy, isn’t it? You tie a spiked lead to the end of the line, attach a trace and sling it in the water. You could try it, but I doubt you will catch much because this method is more complicated than that.

You have forgotten to take into account the strength of the tide, which will change throughout the day, the depth of water, and the type of sea bed you are fishing. Forget these factors and you are going to have a very dull day’s fishing.

Before you launch a lead you have to understand casting distances and angles. An angler fishing on a private boat with just a few rods on the deck will have far more space to fish than a member of a party on a charter boat.

Conditions determine the casting angle and distance, but if you are fishing aboard a crowded boat you are forced to cast where there is space, rather than the ideal place. The solution is to avoid full boats, but when this is impossible there are a few tricks that may boost your chances.

As a rule, the stronger the tide and the greater the depth of water, the tighter to the anchor warp and the further from the boat you have to cast, remembering you can uptide in up to about 100ft of water, though in any appreciable run of tide 70ft is probably the maximum.

Faced with a combination of depth and tide, the only option is to cast uptide, which gives time for the wired sinker to hit bottom and dig in fairly close to the boat. This might sound as if you are defeating the objective of casting outside of the scare area, which is minimised as depth and flow increase. Casting tight to the anchor rope means the tide will create a bow of line that forms in a near vertical plane, which is more efficient at holding bottom than a horizontal bow, which happens when you cast across the tide.

In this situation the tide is far more likely to prematurely trip the lead because of water pressure pushing on a great combined line surface area. You want the line to cut through the tide, not act like a giant anchor.

 

 

Fishing aboard a busy charter boat means you rarely have the luxury of being able to cast where tide conditions dictate and you run the risk of getting crossed lines if you release a large bow of line with so many other lines down in the water.

Under these circumstances I have found it best to increase the lead size to 8oz or even 10oz. Heavier leads hit the bottom quicker, and given their obvious holding power need a much smaller bow of line to hold them firmly on the sea bed.

I uptide in the Bristol Channel, which experiences very strong tides, yet I never use more than 6oz to hold bottom, because I can cast where I want and release as much line as necessary to hold.

When fishing in strong tides it is best to use a fixed grip lead, rather than a breakout because weights with swinging wires often break free prematurely and drag, then getting snagged or tangled in another line or swinging in mid-water.

As the run of tide starts to decrease towards either high or low water slack, you can progressively increase the angle you cast in relation to the anchor warp, so that at slack tide you are casting roughly 90 degrees to the anchor warp.

Then as the next tide starts to gather strength, you can progressively reduce the angle you cast. If you are fishing aboard a full charter boat then limited space dictates that some anglers must fish the stern positions, where they will not be able to effectively cast uptide. In this case they have the option of either downtiding or sticking with uptiding, casting across the tide and allowing a very large loop of line to form to ensure the lead grips. One advantage of the position is that nobody is going to cast across your line.

NO TIME FOR IDLE HANDS

With a bait out and anchored on the sea bed there’s not much else you can do... apart from baiting up a second or even a third hook length!

For the most part uptiding is a selfhooking or snaring technique and this is why it is so successful, but I often see many anglers failing to catch any fish because they fail to correctly ‘set’ the hook.

Note, I said ‘set-the-hook’, I did not say strike. You do not strike when uptiding. Think about it, you have a huge bow of slack line between the rod tip and the terminal rig, which in effect is a huge elastic band or spring.

Regardless of how hard you try and strike in the accepted way, you are not going to move the hook an inch, let alone set it firmly into a fish’s mouth.

Uptide bites come in two forms; delicate nodding rod tips, or classic uptide break-outs when the fish pulls the spiked lead out of the sea bed and the tensioned rod tip flicks back parallel. In either cases do not strike.

If your rod tip is nodding, pick up the rod and swiftly retrieve the bow of slack line. If the lead still has not broken out you will feel the pressure on the rod steadily increase and here many inexperienced anglers wrongly believe that this is due to the weight of the fish.

Keep winding, and eventually the pressure will break the lead free. At this stage it is all too easy to think you have now lost a fish, and often I see anglers stop winding and starting to curse their luck.

The correct procedure is to continue winding and if the fish still has the bait in its mouth, which is likely, you will feel the weight of the fish come onto the rod: keep winding!

Wind until the line gets really tight, all the time trying to establish a straight line of contact between the rod tip and the fish. Only when this has been achieved should you allow the rod tip to be wound down and then firmly set the hook by smoothly lifting the rod to the vertical, and then keeping it there. Now you should feel the satisfying weight of the fish thumping on the rod tip.

If the fish has broken the lead out immediately establish a straight line of contact between rod tip and fish.

Wind furiously until you feel the weight of the fish, which now may be well downtide of the boat, then wind the rod tip down and firmly lift into the fish to set the hook.

With the fish firmly hooked and banging away on your rod tip, you can relax and enjoy the fight. Forget any thoughts of aggressively pumping the fish towards the surface, the correct way to beat a fish on an uptider is to keep the rod tip as close to the vertical as possible allowing the rod action, reel clutch and elasticity of the line to absorb any powerful runs of the fish.

Slowly, steadily, wind your fish towards the boat, trying to keep even pressure on the fish at all times. Too much or lack of pressure can result in the hook getting ripped out of lightly hooked fish, bending the hook out of big fish or poorly tied knots snapping.

 

Always carry a few heavy-duty elastic bands, which can be used to adapt a breakout into a fixed lead. All you do is tightly wrap the bands around the swinging wires to lock them in place.


Beginner's guide to cod fishing from the shore and beach

Make no mistake - fishing for cod is one of the most difficult branches of shore angling to attempt.

It's mostly because in recent years cod have been scarce. The species is rarely found really close to the shore, and almost invariably a decent cast is required to reach feeding fish.

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There is a saying that all the cod caught are hooked by a third of anglers fishing, and this is because casting is such an important element of cod fishing. A basic standard of casting ability and some local knowledge is essential, so cod are not the starting point for the novice sea angler.

So, if you are a total beginner, before you turn your attention to catching cod it is advisable to learn the basic shore angling skills first. Priorities to focus on include obtaining suitable tackle, learning to cast and understanding your local venues.

Joining an angling club and fishing in events is an effective way of learning basic shore angling skills.

During winter the weather conditions add to the difficulty of casting far enough to reach the fish and keeping a bait out there, so your choice of venue becomes of major importance. Dashing off to the hottest cod beach is pointless if your casting skill and range does not allow you to pass the breakers. So you will first have to consider venues where distance is less of a priority. Rock marks and piers are the best choice, because they offer easier access to deep water and the fish. If you don't consider piers or rocks, then get some casting lessons.

The next problem to overcome is imagination. Lots of sea anglers allow themselves to be carried away by the excitement of it all. Rumours are part and parcel of the winter cod season, and a large number of anglers are totally screwed by their imagination. You will get better results if you can resist the temptation to believe everything you hear and just stick to facts and logic.

Staying realistic may not be easy...

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It is important to choose a venue that suits your casting ability.

FACTS – GOOD AND BAD

1. A strong onshore wind (gale) can exaggerate the difficulties of catching fish from the shore, so be realistic about your abilities when you arrive at a venue. Will you be able to fish effectively? If not, move to a venue where you can. Are conditions as bad as they appear? Get out of the car and watch the sea for a few minutes before abandoning a venue.

2. A cod is not a cod until it grows to around 6lb. Prior to that it is called a codling or a Tommy cod, although in many regions all codling are called cod. Cod caught by shore anglers are usually codling, often less than 3lb.

3. Cod are a shoal species, but as individual fish grow, the number in the shoal decreases. Once a codling reaches 3lb, it is big enough to be trapped by the commercial gill net mesh and that's when a dramatic decrease in numbers occurs.

4. As a cod grows bigger, its food intake increases and it switches to a fish diet and moves offshore. When there are lots of cod, an overspill of the bigger fish reaches the shoreline.

5. Size of fish is often exaggerated by anglers.

6. Lucky anglers are very often those who have made the most effort for success. That may seem like bad news to some, but now for the good news. In lots of regions of the UK codling are being caught in numbers from known venues. These are the places to fish, so do some research and be prepared to travel or walk to a productive spot.

7. Best time to target the fish is at night because, like most fish, cod venture closer to the shore in darkness because they feel more secure, as do the small fish that they eat. In daylight the sun penetrates the sea and this deters fish from entering the shallows. Fishing at night increases your chances of catching a cod, I would say, by 100 per cent, depending upon region and venue. That apart, you are also likely to catch more whiting and other species because they, too, prefer darkness to daylight for travelling inshore. If you are limited to fishing in daylight, look for venues with rough and coloured water because this encourages fish inshore.

8. The best time to fish for codling on most venues is obviously when they are present, but the state of the tide affects this. A majority of venues produce codling during the strongest spring high tides, because fish and fish food activity are at their greatest. However, the strongest spring high and low tides can make some venues difficult to fish, and these are best tackled during the less powerful neap tides. The fish use the flood and ebb tides to travel to and from a supply of food. Slack water periods are rarely very productive, but again there are exceptions. This is why local knowledge as to where and when cod are present is so important. It can be learned, and is consistent.

9. The weather plays its part and, in general, an onshore wind and a coloured sea will be most productive in daylight. A calm, clear sea with an offshore wind is best at night.

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Fishing at night is usually more productive for cod.

TACKLE AND BAIT

Thanks to the Far East, our fishing tackle is no longer expensive, and, although quality is totally controlled by price, the most basic tackle will enable you to fish, allbeit at a starter level.

You can purchase a rod and reel for as little as £50, but this will offer limited casting range and durability. Spending £150 on a better quality outfit is a better option if you are serious about taking up shore angling. The cost does not end there, because all the other tackle will cost as much, if not more, than your rod and reel.

Basic shore tackle, suitable for cod and other species, includes a beachcaster 12ft to 15ft in length, rated to cast between 5oz and 8oz. A wide range of rod lengths and casting ratings are available, and most novice buyers will benefit from advice from a dealer or an experienced angler.

Two types of reel are used for shore fishing – the fixed-spool and the multiplier. The former is the easier of the two for the beginner to operate because its spool does not spin, so there is less risk of an overrun and line tangles.

Tackle for fishing from a clean shore (no rocks) involves the use of line of 12-18lb breaking strain (0.33mm-0.38mm diameter) and a lead weight of 5-6oz (150-175g), so your reel needs to be of a suitable size and capacity to make it capable of maximum distance casts with this combination. Heavier line (25-30lb) and a larger capacity reel is required for rough ground. Line as light as 15lb breaking strain will not cast a 5oz-plus lead weight safely, so a short (two-rod) length of stronger line called a shockleader (60lb/0.70mm) is essential to take the strain of casting.

Other required items include a seat/tackle box to sit on and store your spare gear in the dry, as well as warm waterproof clothing and a tripod to position your rod. The latter can be invaluable to position the rod tip high above the waves and prevent wind and swell hitting the line or gathering weed. You will require a headlamp if fishing after dark.

Various accessories are needed, such as terminal tackle, a knife, scissors, bait cotton, spare line, hooks, links and swivels. Terminal gear includes a selection of rigs in a rig wallet, plus lead weights, both breakout and fixed wired, to combat strong tide and wind.

Rigs can be complicated, but the simplest is the one-hook monofilament paternoster, and most tackle dealers will have these in a range of hook sizes.

The novice can buy ready-made rigs and then copy them.

Hooks between size 1 and 6/0 are the most suitable for shore cod fishing, depending on the size of the bait and the fish targeted. Long-shank Aberdeen hooks in size 1 to 3/0 are suitable for baiting with lugworms, and the larger patterns for whole squid or crab baits. In general one large bait is often preferred for cod, and a Pennell rig is favourite. The Pennell has two hooks on a single hooklength, with a hook placed at each end of the bait.

Best baits are lugworms, squid and peeler crabs, although other baits catch codling in some regions but are not so effective countrywide. ‘A large bait for a big fish’ holds true for cod because it helps prevent small nuisance fish taking your offering.

It is not unusual to catch a big fish on a small bait aimed at whiting and dabs.

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Beginners to cod fishing from the beach or shore will do well using a straightforward Pennell rig,

just like the one pictured above. Using a Breakaway Imp will help streamline the rig

and bait and therefore help you cast much further.

6 TOP COD TACTICS

1 Being in the right place at the right time is how to catch cod. You can fish for marathon periods to be sure you are fishing when the cod arrive, or you can target venues at the peak weather, tides and times. It is not an exact science, but it is more productive than fishing without any regard to tides and weather.

2 Obtaining a supply of lugworms in winter is not easy, especially when the cod are around, because demand is greater, daylight shorter and the weather bad, making worms scarce. Dealer loyalty will help you obtain a regular supply of fresh lugworms. Failing that, you can keep a supply of frozen baits, such as calamari squid, peeler crabs, shellfish, black lug and farmed prawns – they're not so good as fresh lugworm, but they will get you fishing.

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Top baits for cod include lugworms...

and good old, reliable peeler crabs.

3 With casting range critical, balanced tackle is essential in terms of the mainline diameter, the casting weight, bait size and terminal tackle streamlining. Large hookbaits will cut down on casting distance. Rigs incorporating a bait clip device will cast further than those without, simply because a bait flapping around will slow the lead weight's speed. Pinned close behind the lead weight, a bait is less of a hindrance and will cast further.

Heavier lead weights of 6oz and 7oz can improve your casting into a head wind, sink quicker and hold the bottom far more effectively.

4 Once cast, a bait leaks scent and juices into the water and, hopefully, fish will home in on the scent trail. The size of your bait and the timing of each cast is important in terms of maximising the bait's potential. Retrieving too soon or leaving your bait out too long, so it becomes washed out or eaten by crabs, effectively reduces the likelihood of a catch. Renew your bait completely every cast, because recasting a washed-out bait is the most common mistake of the novice cod angler.

5 Using two rods increases the odds of a catch. You can also fish at two different ranges with different baits. Other options to make your session more active include using a second rod armed with either a livebait rig for a big fish or multi-hook rig for smaller species. Remember, fishing just for a big cod with a big bait can be very slow on occasions.

6 Cod bites are usually positive, and sometimes you have very little alternative to striking as your rod is pulled off the rod-rest. However, slack line bites are notoriously difficult to hook. In all cases, taking your time when confronted with a bite will improve your chances of hooking a fish.

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Most cod caught by shore anglers will weigh less than 3lb.

COD FISHING BASICS

You do not require a licence to fish for sea fish from the shore. You can fish from almost any shore venues, but exceptions include MoD firing ranges, HM Customs-controlled areas and docks. There are few private beaches.

There are no laws governing tackle, so you can use as many rods as you wish and as many hooks. Most anglers prefer two rods and a maximum of three hooks per rod, but cod fishing is often done with one bait held by two hooks, called a Pennell rig.

UK law determines the size of the fish you can remove from the sea, with legal minimum sizes for lots of species set by DEFRA and the local sea fisheries committees. The minimum size at which you can remove and kill a cod from the sea is 35cm. This is not just for competition anglers. Measured from nose to tail, fish under this size must be returned. Keeping undersized fish is against UK law and carries a considerable fine.

What is a realistic target for the cod angler? Much depends upon where you live and fish, but a double-figure cod from the shore is a prize indeed.

It is a fact that the odd large fish that is dying is often caught from the shore. Called a ‘slink’ among other local names diseased and emaciated cod are not suitable for eating, so check your fish over before taking it for the table.

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For more sea fishing tactics to help improve your sea fishing click here  

Does lure colour matter when sea fishing in deep water?

Boat angler Neil Evans faces the age-old dilemma of choosing the right colour lure for sea fishing in deep water. He's a little sceptical, worrying that bright hues catch more anglers than fish. The angler from Bedlinog, Merthyr Tydfil, teams up with Dave Lewis to see if we can prove a point and find out whether the colour of your sea fishing lures actually matters...

 

The colour of lures was a hot topic way back in the 1970s when I started wreck fishing. Some crews argued that when fishing in over 150 feet of water it didn't matter what the colour was because everything looked virtually the same - black.

Others held the view that the choice of colour was critical to success, regardless of depth, and unless you rigged up with the day's hot lure you would probably lag behind in the catch stakes.

So does the choice of lure colour make any difference when fishing deep water, and if so, which are the best colours to have in the tackle box? Searching for the answer is the angling equivalent of finding the Holy Grail and it seems a lot of mystery surrounds that myth.

At best all you can do is grab a mixed selection of lures, go fishing and find out what lures produce the fish. That is precisely what Neil Evans and I did aboard Andrew Alsop's White Waters, operating out of Milford Haven.

We seemed to have drawn a lucky card the day Neil and I joined up because the conditions for wrecking were absolutely perfect with virtually flat seas and an ideal tide to ensure a decent chance of fish.

The wreck Andrew had in mind sat in 220ft of water around 34 miles off St Anne's Head at the mouth of The Haven, and with a steady 16 knot cruising speed we were in position for our first drift a little over two hours after setting off.

These days most wreck anglers target pollack using either shads or jellyworms, though the wide range of artificial sandeels will still take their fair share of fish.

In recent years I have become a firm believer in shads and not just because they are such a deadly lure for pollack, but also because they are more likely to attract all sorts of fish, like bass, cod and coalfish, which also lurk around wrecks.

Neil and I fished with identical dark green shads, which were extremely natural-looking and lifelike, with my choice based on no other reason than they were the first I found in my tackle bag.
I am of the opinion that while the colour of a lure can be absolutely critical in relatively shallow water, once the depth drops beyond 150ft or so colour is virtually irrelevant.

On any day's wreck fishing one or two anglers will always catch the majority of the fish and the others will always be quick to point out that the reason for their success is down to the colour lure they are using. That's the point at which they start switching to the same colour, be it bubble-gum pink or hot orange. You don't need a degree in marine biology to fathom out that as more and more anglers use one specific colour lure, then the majority of fish brought to the boat will have been caught on the same colour lure.

I reckon the more successful anglers use a slightly different technique, often no more than a very subtle change in speed of retrieve compared to everyone else aboard.

It might also be the length of their hooklength is longer or shorter,  perhaps the way they have rigged their lure on the hook or even the fact they are using a thinner diameter braid mainline that on the day is offering a slightly better presentation.

Sometimes it is even simpler - the anglers are fishing on the side of the boat that offers better presentation or the fish are shoaled up tight and the same people hit fish time after time.
From the very first drift we were into plenty of pollack. At first they were samples to 6lb, but as the ebbing tide kicked in and started to gather momentum so the size of the fish increased.
Individual specimens over 10lb started to come aboard every other drift and at least two specimens weighing over 15lb were among our final bag of 100-plus pollack.

Remember this was mid-July 2005, so imagine what the fishing could be like in the winter?

 

 

 

WHAT COLOURS WORK BEST?

 

  

I bet you all want to know what colour attracted the most fish? As things turned out it was Neil and I who had the most fish with Neil declaring: "This is the best day's boat fishing I have ever had."
He was still working with the original green shad I had given him at the start of the session and I hadn't the heart to ask him to change his lucky lure.

During our boat trip I had tried at least six different colour lures and they were all equally as effective as the other, while the rest of the party had fished lures from every colour in the rainbow.
While I concede our results prove nothing, we can say with some confidence that some days the choice of colour makes no difference. The wreck held a good head of hungry fish so even technique wasn't that critical, but I remain convinced that on less productive days the fine line between success and failure rests more on getting your technique right, rather than simply choosing the right colour lure.

 

"When there are lots of feeding fish on a wreck, individual fish can't afford to be choosy," said skipper Andrew, as we steamed back towards the distant Welsh coastline.

"On days like these, you'll catch fish on pretty much any shape or colour lure. On other days other colour lures do appear to be more effective with black and orange being the must-have colours in an angler's tackle box."

The moral to this tale is that you should have a wide selection of lures in your bag with a few black and orange ones handy... just in case.

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q What course of action should I take when snagged from a drifting boat?

Dave Lewis says: I have found that when fishing on the drift the best course of action, when your terminal rig becomes snagged, is to lock the spool with your thumb to prevent the clutch slipping and point the rod directly down the line. This allows the pressure on the line to steadily build until something gives; hopefully somewhere near the terminal rig.
Some skippers take a few wraps of line around a piece of wood then pull for a break, though I dislike this technique as often I have seen the line break at the surface, obviously resulting in the loss of a lot of line when fishing deep water. That said if your line is getting pulled under the boat this might be necessary to avoid a broken rod. Avoid wrapping the line around your hands, especially if using braid, as you can easily inflict deep and nasty cuts as a result of the line cutting through to the bone.

Has braided line any advantage over mono when trolling or float fishing?

Dave Lewis says: The non-stretch qualities of braid are excellent when trolling, as they help ensure the hook gets correctly set on the strike. The same principle would be true when float fishing. That said when trolling in the UK, which usually means seeking bass or pollack, or float fishing for mullet, garfish or wrasse, I use mono lines that are adequate for these species.

 

 


Common causes of lost fish while sea fishing from a boat

We have all experienced that sickening feeling when the tugging of a fish stops and the line falls slack as it swims away. I have seen quite a few of these gut-wrenching moments aboard Sundance this summer, unfortunately a lot of them were easily avoidable, says skipper Roger Bayzand...

 

Chafing

CHECK lines and traces for chafe, especially when fishing around wrecks and rocks. Always have a look at the trace after catching a fish. If it is abraded, change it or cut a bit off and re-tie the hook. The time to say ‘that will do’ is when the big one bites.

 

Butt Paditis

THIS is a really bad disease that can be caught by wearers of butt pads. I wish I had a quid for the number of fish that butt pads have lost.

The symptoms are the angler feels a bite, strikes, then immediately looks down and starts jiggling his rod around trying to locate the butt in his pad. Meanwhile, the rod tip is waving all over the place, the line has gone slack and he looks ever so surprised when he eventually starts winding to find the fish has gone.

The Cure: Wind at least twenty turns to get plenty of tension on the line and a firm hook set before attempting to use a butt pad.

 

Drag setting

 

 

The number one culprit for lost fish is the overtight drag

Some people seem to have no concept as to how a drag or clutch should be set.

An ‘angler’ who bought some of our 50lb Superbraid phoned me once to complain that it kept snapping. I told him that was strange as we haven’t had any problems with it. “What sort of drag setting are you using,” I asked. “What drag” he replied.

Really there is no excuse for breaking a mainline unless it is chaffed on something sharp, like rocks or a wreck. I set all my drags at 25% of the line’s stated breaking strain, or less. If you do this often enough, you will no longer need to use a spring balance to check the setting. I just make sure that I can pull some line off the reel fairly easily, when the drag is set in strike. You can always add some pressure by thumbing down on the spool during a fight.

Lever drags are the easiest to set up, but I see a lot of anglers playing around with the pre-set knob when the lever is in strike position. If you need to increase or decrease drag during a fight, use the lever.

To set up the drag on a leverdrag reel, pull the lever all the way back into free spool. Turn the pre-set knob to increase or decrease the pressure, then push the lever up to strike and check the drag tension at that point. Repeat the process until it is adjusted correctly.

Star drags need regular checking as they can stick, especially if the reel hasn’t been used for some time. You don't want to find that out as a fish takes off. With the reel in gear, give the line a pull and adjust the drag by turning the ‘star’ which is situated under the handle.

 

Heavy pumping

LIFTING a rod to gain line is normal, but don't just drop the rod and then start winding. This just gives the fish a load of slack line often enough to shake the hook. Keep some tension on and keep winding as you lower the rod.

 

 

Blunt hooks

DON'T bother trying to re-sharpen chemically-sharpened hooks, you will never be able to replicate the point. Check them regularly and replace when they lose their edge. Check other hooks, especially some O'Shaughnessy's, when you get them out of the packet.

Amazingly, some are quite blunt and need honing with a fine stone.

 

American Snap swivels

THE only possible use for these is to hang a lead on them, as long as you are not going to cast it. NEVER use them to attach your trace, a decent fish will open them up as many anglers have found to their cost.

 

 

Knotty problems

That curly pigtail at the end of a line is a sure sign that the knot has slipped. Sea Angler regularly publishes ‘How to’ articles on tying knots so there’s no excuse for tying a slippery hitch. Although I favour the Uni or Turl knots, the good old Tucked Half Blood did well in a recent test. It is so easy you should be able to tie it blindfolded. The real secret is the tuck, an untucked bloodknot can slip.

 

1 Put four twists in the tag end

2 Put the tag end through the loop next to hook

3 Put the tag end through the loop just formed

4 Moisten, pull up tight and trim


Top tips for sea fishing against groynes

Groynes are natural fish-holding and feeding areas. They can be very productive, says Alan Yates, but they also pose some very special challenges to sea anglers

 

Sea defences are the hot topic among all coastal communities and are often on the agenda at angling club meetings.

Sea anglers stand and shake their heads as Environment Agency contractors move in with barges carrying many thousands of tons of rock to shore up our coastline.

While this is vital protection work for people living adjacent to the coast, the coastal engineering can often wreck long-established fishing grounds and then present a whole new raft of angling challenges.

Groynes come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from primitive rows of wooden stakes to elaborate wooden and metal structures and, more recently, huge boulders or pre-cast concrete shapes called accropodes, dumped from an enormous barge.

Sea anglers have lost sections of shoreline simply because where coastal erosion is severe engineers did not factor in angling access, only the protection of life and property.

Consequently there are lots of boulder-strewn, no-go angling regions, and nowhere is immune to the effects of these boulders and beach infills.

On the positive side there are many new angling vantage points, and in some cases the new sea defences have improved venues. So it is not all doom and gloom because groynes are a shoreline feature that actually improve the fishing, not ruin it.

 

Fish downtide of any obstacles   How to avoid snagging your rig

Fishing close to a groyne poses a few basic problems and the most obvious is keeping your tackle away from it.

To get the best from a groyne you need to fish on the downtide side – fish uptide and your gear is likely to get pushed against the structure by the tide. When a fish is hooked in the tide, the fish will dislodge the rig that will then be pushed downtide, away from the obstruction.

A wired grip lead is key to successful fishing at groynes because it will allow you to anchor your baited rig close to the groyne end where the fish will be feeding or passing through. Casting accuracy is essential because you need to fish tight to the groyne but not keep casting over it, which will result in tackle losses.

 

 

Wooden or metal variations   Check for obstacles at low water

These groynes come in many shapes, lengths and designs ranging from the boarded groyne to the zigzag planked, or even those angled across the shore to stop shingle shifting in the tide.

If you arrive on a strange venue at high tide and fish near a wooden or metal groyne, be aware that it could have a box or basket on its end or legs that stretch out from each side of the obstacle.

If you can cast further than the end of the groyne you must cast uptide over it, letting the tide put a bow in your line so that it avoids the groyne. This is the most productive method of fishing groynes.

On some venues the battered remains of old groynes are a threat to tackle – one good reason for checking out the beach at low water before you fish.

 

Look for a hotspot   Locate the important feeding routes

Some groynes are more productive than others – a long wooden structure among short ones is always a favourite for action and it is not hard to understand why. Not only may it trap food in the tide, but the fish also get used to swimming around it.

Fish travel their feeding route regularly in the tide and, like animals on land, have set trails – and these includes swim paths that extend out past the longest groyne.
This can also produce dead spots where there are few fish, so fishing among groynes can on occasions be slow if you fish in the wrong place.

 

 

Rock structures   The reason they create bass hot spots

Modern boulder groynes may be difficult and dangerous to walk on in some cases, but because the water runs through them they generate a habitat for various species, as well as producing an oxygenated, surfy swell.

Many such structures have become bass hot spots because of this. Always beware of the rocks when they are wet, because they can be treacherous and the green weed on the section covered by the sea is highly dangerous.

 

Why you should fish near groynes Make the funnel effect work for you

The biggest advantage of fishing at the end of a groyne is that most species swim around the obstacle to get past it.

Whether they are travelling with the tide or against it, this will funnel them around the end and you should target it as the hot spot.

Wave action also produces a gulley or bank at the end of most groynes and this is a natural place for food to collect, especially during or after an onshore gale.

A series of groynes tend to fish best when they are covered with water over high tide when a strong flow is running.

The turbulence of the tide oxygenates the water, disturbing marine life and attracting fish to the area, very similar to a wreck on the sea bed.

 

 

TOP GROYNE TIPS

■ Beware of walking over green slime-covered rocks. You could slip and end up trapped between the rocks or accropodes.
■ If the rocks are slippery and you are keen to fish the mark, scatter sand over them to get a better foothold.
■ If you lose any tackle on a groyne, wait until low water. Some sea anglers even wait until a low spring tide and then go out on a tackle hunt.
■ The end of many beach groynes marks the line where shingle changes to sand or the gutter, and this can prove the best place to fish.
■ A rod tripod will help keep the line higher and away from the groyne when casting uptide over and past a groyne end. Fit rubber caps to make the tripod stable.
■ Small wooden groynes in shallow estuary regions are the ideal place to search for peeler crabs that bury themselves in the sand and mud at the groyne’s base. Search on the warmest, sheltered sides of the groyne.
■ Ever thought of hanging a mesh bag filled with groundbait from the end of a groyne before the tide comes in?


How to fish at night

As daylight fades fish move close to the shore to feed, knowing they can hide in the shadows from marauding predators. Fishing under the cover of darkness an angler can boost his chances of having a great night out...simply because the fish are in casting range

NIGHTFALL BRINGS ITS problems. The black blanket that creeps over a desolate or remote beach can be eerie and at times you can feel isolated while the beach itself can be a dangerous place to the unwary.

Anglers tend to band together and the most productive night venues are fairly crowded, especially at weekends so if you are nervous of the night there are plenty of places you can fish in company and this includes well-lit promenades and piers.

But if you are fearless then the night offers a multitude of fishing opportunities to get your hook bait close to the bigger fish, although fishing with a pal is generally considered more safe and sensible especially if you are adventurous and fish the more remote and dangerous marks.

Angling after dark has its hot periods and on most venues the best times to fish are between 8pm and 3am with high water before midnight.

For a few early-rising species like soles, bass and rays the hours before dawn can be deadly, but in general two hours either side of midnight is the time to expect cod, whiting, pouting, dogfish, bass, conger eels and many others.

A few species do not generally feed in the dark and they include wrasse, plaice, mullet and mackerel, although there are exceptions.

Calm, clear nights are generally more productive than when the sea is rough and coloured because the fish often feed much closer to shore in daylight in such conditions.

In calm, gin-clear water fish are more active in darkness, while a full moon can be a deterrent to fish coming inshore on some shallow venues.

There are few hard and fast night fishing rules, although clearly tide times are often a crucial factor and these vary between venues.

Best nights to fish are early winter when it is cold and frosty and the beach crunches underfoot. Invariably whiting are climbing the rod tip and the key species, like cod, are on the cards.

 

PICK THE RIGHT SPOT

THE first job when picking a fishing mark is to check it out in daylight. Visit during low tide to determine the layout of the sea bed.

This way you can avoid snags, check out casting distances to prominent features like rocks, sandbars and gullies or the beach lip and, most importantly, check access and safety of the mark.

Turning up on a strange venue in darkness is fraught with dangers, especially on long low water venues, rock marks and cliffs. Make sure you are aware of your exit and that the place you are going to fish isn't threatened by things like rogue waves and swell.

Most night anglers prefer to fish venues with a short distance between high and low water tidemarks. This allows you to set up a base and do away with the need to continually move with the tide.

Where you actually set up base camp can greatly affect your fishing so pick your spot with care. Take into account the tidal direction and strength. Remember the flood and ebb will run in opposite directions, so stay down tide of groynes where your tackle may get swept into if you are uptide.

Your base camp needs to be back from the high tide mark. Check out the beach ridges or the position of the flotsam on the last tideline and take into account the tides and weather. Neap tides drop back while springs push up the beach, while a building wind may push the sea in further at high tide.

Base camp should be centred around a shelter or even a basic umbrella. It keeps gear and bait dry, is somewhere to retreat to and it becomes the centre of your angling world.

Position your camp just back from the beach ridge allowing room for your rods to sit on a rod-rest to the front or side. Add a fuel lantern and you have an oasis of comfort that can make even the coldest dampest nights enjoyable to fish.

Most beach anglers rely on a headlamp while moving about outside the base camp area, while an increasing number use electric base lamps as well. Dual halogen, LED headlamps offer a light spread and a beam combined with the latest lightweight Nicad batteries.

 

 

GET THE LAYOUT RIGHT

A COMPACT and well-organised base from which to fish, especially on the beach, prevents gear being lost and allows vital tackle to be placed near at hand when required.

Take special care with bait, which is susceptible to the weather; rain and a chilling wind will kill worms. Your bait also needs to be organised away from clumsy feet. Don't lay your complete supply out to face the elements, just unwrap what is required for a few casts.

Similarly having spare terminal rigs at hand is essential. They can be pre-baited to save fishing time between casts, known as double-patting, and should be positioned safely out of the way. Most of the rod-rests have rig bars and rig clips and these are ideal for this.

Spare reels are essential in case of an overrun, tangle or line loss due to snags. Nothing is worse than having to untangle or reload a reel on the beach; fishing time lost always coincides with the time the fish start biting.

If you use a fuel-powered lantern then it will benefit from being raised off the ground. If you are not superstitious an unturned bucket does the job, but an adjustable light pole is better because the higher you place the lamp the bigger its pool of light.

To the back of the shelter goes spare clothing where it will remain dry, along with food and drinks that should always be close to hand.

There are lots of small items you can easily lose in the dark. Essential items like bait cotton always go walk about, so it is a good idea to have a spare supply. Keeping it in a tube helps and soon you will be able to buy a bright day-glo orange bait cotton container, which shouldn't get lost.

Similarly knife, scissors, baiting needles and line clippers are easy to bury in the beach. An empty ice cream container makes a handy ready-to-use bits bin.

 

Making yourself comfortable on the beach at night is the first step towards a successful fishing session

 

HOW TO SOLVE ALL THOSE ANNOYING NIGHT-FISHING PROBLEMS

● Petrol lamps burst into flames or won’t light: This problem can be solved completely by burning a dangerous, smelly fuel lantern in the bin and getting one that works.

Alternatively buy an electric headlamp and or base light. Modern LEDs have increased the light output and drastically lowered the drain on batteries and this kind of lighting is now the most economic and least messy.

Best of the fuel lanterns are the oldstyle paraffin fuelled brass Tilley lamp. Coleman petrol lamps are popular but they need maintaining, especially once they are a couple of years old.

● Can't cast in the dark: Lots of novice anglers find it difficult to cast during darkness because they cannot tell when their lead weight has hit the sea. The answer is to switch to a fixedspool reel, which doesn't overrun.

Another alternative is to load your multiplier reel with less line and tighten up the magnetic/brake spool control.

Remember the fish are feeding closer to the shore so you do not have to hit the horizon anyway.

Practise and start with a well-lit venue before fishing in total darkness.

● Can't spot bites: A Starlite whipped on the rod tip with bait elastic is ideal for bite spotting. Alternatively paint your rod tip white; Tippex typewriter correction fluid is ideal or wrap a tapered strip of reflective tape around the tip. Problem solved.

Beware of placing your rod tip too high because continually looking up will give you a stiff neck. Place the tip at eye level where it is more comfortable to see. A double rod-rest with a spare rod also helps spot variations in tip movement and is handy tip when it's windy.

● I get cold and fall asleep: Preparation is the key to lasting the all night course and a good sleep the night before helps. Beer, beach fires and sleep will leave you cold and miserable at dawn.

Wear lots of thin layers of clothing, plus waterproof salopettes and jacket, to keep warm and don't forget a hat. Food and hot drinks are essential for long sessions. A spare jumper or fleece to wear at dawn, when it is coldest, is a good idea.

● Can't put up a brolly or shelter on the prom: For umbrellas the solution is one of the freshwater brolly attachments, like Octoplus, which fits a Breakaway seat backrest.

You can try strapping the brolly to your box with a luggage strap and pile stones on the edge. For shelters you can use beach stones or water in a couple of buckets or plastic bags, but remember to dispose of them properly when you leave. Cable ties, luggage straps and rope all help keep shelters stable close to fences, railings and groynes.


How to quickly unhook a sea fish

Fish survival is critical and the first thing you have to learn is to get a hook out quickly and cleanly. Alan Yates, a man who has released a million fish, tells you how to do it in a blink of an eye.
 

WATCH AN EXPERIENCED sea angler remove a hook from a fish and it's all over in a split second. For many novices and even some experienced anglers it can be a traumatic and difficult task, especially if the fish is hooked deeply.

The welfare of the fish is our first consideration but because the majority of fish are small, many less than 1lb, and the standard hooks fairly large at around size 2 to 2/0, there is a chance that the fish’s relatively small mouth can be damaged unless we are careful.

If you are fishing for the pot, and lots of sea anglers still do, then damaging the fish isn't an issue because it has already been dispatched. However, if you want to return most of the smaller fish you catch, removing deeply embedded hooks is a skill you have got to master. Preventing fish taking hooks deeply is not an option. You can use bigger hooks, although when they contact a fish they may do more damage. The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the species we catch eat first, swallow second.

Striking early can help, but it is not a consistent solution and often the range we fish at and the tackle used only registers a bite when a fish, in all probability, is already hooked. So you can't get round the fact you have got to remove hooks efficiently.

Unhooking quickly is mostly about angles, you simply need to manoeuvre the hook so that you are pulling against the barb only. Anglers have major problems because they pull against the hook bend.

Practice will make you efficient and if you struggle get an experienced angler to show you the methods.

Disgorgers, de-hooking pliers, longnosed pliers and artery forceps can all be used to make the task easier and less harmful to the fish, but again there is a technique and skill to the process. A disgorger is not a short cut to easy unhooking if you don't know how to use it!

 

Artery forceps can be used to remove hooks

 

CHOOSING HOOKS

LONG-shanked hooks are easier to remove than short-shank ones. Short shanks may present a bait better, but long-shanks are the easiest to remove simply because there is more of the shank to grab so you can twist, angle, bend or push to get it free.

Soft-wire hooks are another commonly used option, although these can straighten when pulled and a sharp barb can cut the fish internally. Micro barbed or even barbless hooks are another option, although barbless are not commonly available and are unpopular because fish can get off.

The large amount of stretch in mono line fished at long range can allow a barbless hook to fall out. However, fishing with barbless hooks is practical at short range and for conservation only sea fishing.

A compromise is to use a crushed barb. Simply squash the barb with a pair of pliers; this way you retain a fish holding bump at the hook point rather than a sharp barb.

Another alternative is to use far smaller hooks. Coarse anglers catch giant fish on tiny hooks and it is possible to do this at sea, providing your tackle is balanced and your catch does not have to be lifted.

Sea match anglers are increasingly adopting hooks down to size 10 because of the increase in catch and release events and these are far easier to remove without damaging the fish. Small hooks are also easier to remove with a freshwater-type disgorger.

 

DISGORGER CHOICES

LOTS of sea anglers use their finger as a disgorger. Here you simply push your finger into the bend of the hook, push the hook and remove. Great for toothless fish, but not so easy with species like whiting, which have dozens of tiny razor-like teeth.

One of the best disgorgers around is made by Gemini. It is absolutely magic for dogfish, whiting and others with small teeth that can make a mess of your fingers.

Using your right-hand, simply slide the eye of the disgorger on to the line and push it down to the hook bend. Pull the hook snood line really tight with the left hand in the opposite direction and shake the fish and it should fall off the hook.

For boat fishing or bigger fish like congers, cod and ling, use a larger T-bar disgorger, which works on the same principle as the Gemini. A freshwater disgorger, like the largest Slamo model, is good for removing smaller hooks from flatfish and eels.

 

CARE OF THE CATCH

RETURNING fish after the hook has been removed is simply a matter of slipping them back in the water gently and as quickly as you can.

There is a range of potential problems, such as a long drop to the water when fishing from piers and cliffs, while some species are more delicate than others and the size of the fish makes a big difference to its potential survival.

You can use a drop net or bucket; some simply drop the fish head first from as low a point to the water they can. Placing a small fish in a bucket of water allowing it time to recover before returning it can also improve the survival rate.

Careless handling of fish is a major cause of casualties. Many delicate species, like pollack, pout and cod, lose scales and slime and are prone to being dropped when they wriggle.

A wet cloth is generally recommended for handling fish, although many anglers consider it better not to handle small fish at all if possible. Some species can be held by the mouth, which causes less damage to their flanks.

Hanging them from the hook snood is a better alternative than gripping the body. Dogfish, smoothhounds and rays are tougher and can be handled causing them less harm, but you might be in danger from rough skin and thorns.

There are several ways to preserve fish for the pot, especially when they are caught early in a session on a hot day. Gutting the fish prevents the flesh going soft quickly, as does keeping fish separate from one another. Lay them in a covered cool box, bag or fish box. Don't cram them in a plastic bag and then leave them in the sun.

 

Useful minimum sizes

Bass - 41 cm
Bream - 25cm
Cod - 35cm
Dab - 23cm
Dogfi sh - 41cm
Flounder - 25cm
Garfi sh - 38cm
Mackerel - 30cm
Mullet - 33cm

Plaice - 28cm
Pout - 20cm
Rays - 41cm (measure
across wings)
Sole - 25cm
Scad - 25cm
Whiting - 27cm
Wrasse - 23cm
Unclassifi ed - 18cm


When to strike when beach fishing

STRIKE! Striking lets the sea angler get totally engrossed in the capture of a fish. Like squeezing the trigger of a gun, it's the crucial moment of the hunt. Here we reveal how, why and when you should sweep the rod round to set the trap

 

Striking is seen as an important part of angling. If you miss the moment that the fish takes the bait you may not hook it.

However, striking is a bit of a myth because lots of fish hook themselves. We all like to think driving the hook home is crucial to success, but does it really make that much difference to catch rates?

Some fish will rarely be hooked if you don't strike at the precise moment they take the bait. These are usually species found in clear water or that are super sensitive to hook, line and sinker.

Coarse fish are a classic example, having learnt to avoid hooks because they have been caught and returned before. At sea this problem isn't so acute, but there are a number of more sensitive species and the grey mullet is one that will rarely hook itself.

Many other sea fish will hook themselves eventually, if you don't strike, simply because they are intent on eating the bait and are oblivious of the fishing tackle.

The way a fish feeds, what it eats, its mouth structure and its mobility often determine how easy it is to hook. For example, speedy tropical midwater predators are less easy to hook than the bottom grubbers, such as the flatfish. For some species, like flatfish, once the hook has entered the mouth it cannot escape, while others with large hard bony mouths are difficult to hook because the point cannot find a place to penetrate.

More lethargic species with time to circle the bait, actually bite it, take it down and effectively hook themselves. A deliberate strike makes little difference to the catch rate, although it does help prevent deep hooking.

Overall, in UK waters a less enthusiastic approach to striking will result in more fish being hooked with the decision to strike depending on what the angler wants from his sport.

Decide what you are fishing for, the type of bait being used and conservation issues. If the rod is lurching seawards and is in danger of being lost then a strike is essential. If the rod tip is nodding continuously it is likely the fish is already hooked anyway.

A strike can vary from a full-blooded sweep of the rod to just tightening the line. Line stretch at distance reduces the amount of movement at the hook with some anglers even running backwards to pick up the line quicker.

Reeling as you strike can prove more effective but beware of striking too hard, especially at short range when it may test tackle and knots.

COD: A relatively slow, bottom grubber with a large mouth. Swallows the hook when left to eat a deadbait on the sea bed. Powerful rod-pulling bites, usually after the fish has hooked itself. Slack liners from codling can be difficult to hook and the answer is patience. Take up the line and strike when the fish pulls the rod tip down.

WHITING: Hard to hook on occasions, easy on others. They attack in numbers with rod-pulling bites that are easily missed, especially in slack tide. More are hooked in strong tide because the fish have to swim to eat the bait. Once engulfed they relax and the tide drives them back onto the hook. Short snoods and neat bait presentation improves the hooking rate.

BASS: A fast-feeding predator that rarely swallows the hook because the bites are so positive. Be near your rod when it takes off. A bony mouth, so a large, sharp hook is essential.

FLATFISH: Often flatfish peck and nibble at the bait, but once they engulf the bait they are hooked because their mouth is far smaller closed than when open. There is no way to prevent flatties swallowing the hook, with hook removal often fatal, even with soft-wire hooks.

For the conservation minded, tiny hooks (size 8 and less) can be removed more easily with less damage than large ones (size 1+).

SMOOTHHOUNDS AND TOPE: Positive bites give you every opportunity to pull the trigger on this species, which is why they are so popular and fun to catch. The tope is one of the only UK sea species for which circle hooks are really suitable. There is a definite technique for striking with circle hooks and it involves a steady tightening of the line and not a full-blooded strike.

RAYS: Invariably flop on the bait causing the rod tip to tremble. Later the fish moves off, having taken the bait, and pulls down the tip, slackening the line or sometimes pulling the rod over. Rays are often foul hooked outside of the mouth by a premature strike.

BLACK BREAM: Difficult to hook because of their bait pecking and small mouths. Use light tackle and line, plus small hooks. Bait small and carefully, then be patient.

GREY MULLET: Shy away from large hooks and thick line. Bites are often positive, but need to be struck because the fish will expel hook and bait if they feel resistance. Only the thin-lipped mullet is suicidal like many other sea fish. Never strike by sight when fishing for thick-lipped mullet. When you see a fish take the bait, always wait until the float disappears or the tip goes round.

DOGFISH: Difficult to hook. Catch rates can be improved by using a frozen sandeel on a size 1 Aberdeen. Patience is essential, but don't move the rod or bait once a bite is spotted.

CONGER EELS: Some reckon a conger should be given time to take the bait. This may allow it to swallow the hook, so striking early is best.

 

STRIKING TIPS

● Holding your rod and gripping the line between the fi ngers allows yoy to feel the tugs from the small species and it's a fun way to fi sh. Experiment with striking and you will fi nd that, in a majority of cases, catch rates are greatly improved by letting the fi sh bite for a few seconds before hitting it. When using multi-hook rigs to catch fi sh for the pot, letting the fi sh hook themselves is far superior to striking every rod tip rattle.

● If you are going to strike, ensure that the reel is not in free line or on the ratchet and that you have a fi rm footing. More than one angler has struck at a screaming ratchet and fallen on his backside.

● Patience is a virtue and more fi sh will be landed if you take your time and do not rush at the strike. Let the fi sh take the bait and strike early if you intend to release it.

● Braid line and its lack of stretch allows for more positive bite detection and striking. However, your rod needs to be softer to compensate when a powerful fi sh is hooked.

● Bait size and presentation are very important in relation to when you strike. Use a single lugworm on a size 2 hook and you can strike fairly quickly, but with a double squid on a 6/0 Pennell rig you may need to give the fi sh longer to get into the bait. Ensure that baits do not mask a bait. There is no need to hide your hook in the bait.

● A problem for many sea anglers is that they allow the meal to ‘grow’ too big by adding fresh helpings to a washed out bait. Baiting fresh and paying attention to presentation every cast will result in an improved strike and catch rate.

● If in doubt, wait a few seconds before you strike.


Learn how the tide works and catch more sea fish

The ebb and flow of the tide has a profound influence on how fish feed and move, whether from the shore, inshore or in deeper waters offshore. An angler who makes the effort to understand this cycle will consistently catch more than the one who trusts to pot luck, says Russ Symons

The everlasting puzzle presented by the ebb and flow of the tide is one that anglers can spend a lifetime trying to unravel. We all understand that fish are here today and gone tomorrow, so very often that philosophical shrug of the shoulders is as far as it goes.

But when you become an old fart like me and can look back over a few decades, the realisation that there are areas that only fish on the first few hours of the flood tide, or an hour or two after the top of the tide, becomes very evident.

It is one of those things that long-term record-keeping would have made much clearer. In this day and age of computers, spreadsheets and databases, analysis of those records could prove quite revealing if spread over a decade or two.

 

UNDERSTANDING THOSE SPRINGS AND NEAPS

SPRING tides are not a reference to the season, but are the largest tides. Neap tides are the smaller ones, taken over the two-week cycle.

It is safe to say that if you fished the top of a spring tide one weekend at midday, then it would be roughly the same two weeks later, plus 40-50 minutes or so.

The Moon has the effect of causing the spring and neap tides. When the gravitational pull of the Moon is added to that of the Sun we get the bigger tides, the spring tides. When the Moon and the Sun are at right angles to one another, their gravitational pulls roughly balance each

other out and we get smaller neap tides. Between these two extremes, if you look in a tide book, you can see the tides growing toward the peak of the spring tides and then declining the other side of the spring back down to those smaller neap tides.

About halfway to the top of springs you will see that there is a small jump in the amount by which the tide increases or decreases. These tides are known as ‘jump’ tides and are nearly always the first ones to be booked in many charter skippers' diaries, because this jump seems to be a trigger moment that causes an increase in fish activity. Many years of observing these jump tides suggest to me that they apply equally well to shore fishing...they
certainly do for bass fishing.

 

TIDAL PREDICTIONS

TIMES of high water and low water can be found in many places these days, such as the Internet, local papers, libraries and – not least – in the little booklets published in most coastal areas. In my view, these are the most useful of all. Costing a pound or so, these tide books are usually water stained and dog-eared by the end of the season, but they will have earned their keep.

If you have made a good catch, mark its location, and the state of the tide, in the margins of the tide book. Try the same place again when the conditions repeat themselves in a couple of weeks’ time. Fish are often creatures of habit, so you could well find them again in a fortnight’s time, or even on the same tide next year or the year after.

Surprisingly, this is often so over deepwater wrecks as well. In this case it is important to time your arrival at a particular wreck or bit of reef so that the fish are perhaps downtide of the wreck, away from the tackle-grabbing remnants of rigging and masts. Such pre-planning can mean the difference between a frustrating day of losing tackle every drift, or a bumper day with lots of fish.

If you are on a charter boat, watch which way the skipper usually drifts his boat. I always like to start a drift with the bow pointing north on the flood and south on the ebb. That way the drift stays consistent and the track on the plotter repeats within a few yards. If your skipper does something similar, look at your tide table and work out which side of the boat is the better for you, so that you are not fishing under the boat for the best part of the day.

Slack water is that time between when the incoming tide, the flood, stops flooding and the outgoing tide, the ebb, starts making its way back to low water. There is another slack water at low water before the tide starts flooding again.

On spring tides, slack water might last for 10 minutes, but on a small neap tide it might go on for a couple of hours, depending where you are. These periods of slack water are when boats often go to anchor to try for a conger, or a shore angler puts on a spinner as the shoals of mackerel become evident, driving the britt or sandeels to the surface. Often, the fishing goes a little quiet and it is the time to drink that can of cold Guinness and put on the nosebag.

It is said that time and tide wait for no man, so use your time wisely, study your tide table, mark it up when you are catching and don't throw it away at the end of the season. ●


Sea fish size limit chart

Sea anglers who take their catches home for the table must be aware of the legalities of removing fish from the sea - they have to adhere to specific laws whereby fish under a certain size cannot be taken.

We, at Sea Angler magazine, follow the guidelines set out by the National Federation of Sea Anglers. Although not law per se their document and recommendations are far more sporting than those set out by governing bodies.

Take bass as an example. The law allows very small bass to be killed and taken, while the recommendations laid down by the NFSA state that the bass must be larger before it is taken.

So, to ensure you definitely follow the laws of this country, and also ensure you are more sporting when it comes to taking fish from the beach or boat, why not print out and follow the size guideline chart below...

 

SPECIE

MAFF (cm)

BOAT (cm)

SHORE (cm)

Bass

36

41

41

Bream

23

24

24

Brill

30

35

35

Bull Huss

58

58

Coalfish (Saith)

35

35

35

Cod

35

35

35

Conger Eel

28

120

91

Dab

23

20

20

LS Dogfish

46

38

Flounder

27

25

25

Garfish

38

38

Tub Gurnard

28

28

Haddock

30

35

30

Hake

27

30

30

John Dory

33

25

Ling

63

72

72

Mackerel

30

30

30

Megrim

20

25

25

Mullet

15

33

33

Plaice

27

28

28

Pollack

30

30

30

Pouting

25

18

Poor Cod

18

18

Rockling

18

18

Silver Eel

38

38

Spurdog

58

58

All Skates and Rays

41

41

Smoothhound

51

51

Sole

24

25

25

Scad

25

25

Trigger Fish

30

30

Turbot

30

41

35

Whiting

27

27

27

Witch

28

28

28

Ballan Wrasse

23

23

Unclassified

20

20

 

 

 

 

kg

kg

Halibut

10

3

Monkfish

7

7

Sharks

23

18

Tope

8

9

 

 

Britain's most dangerous fish

If you're new to sea fishing, it is useful to know the hidden dangers that can be found among British sea fish.

There are a large number of fish species that can cause serious damage to a human.

Any injury from a fish has the potential for blood poisoning. Some fish spines include an anti-coagulant that stops blood clotting or contains bacteria.

In the main it pays to be careful when handling any fish you catch and if you are unsure of a species take particular care.

Some anglers wear garden or filleting-type gloves for protection (pictured below).

 

Here is a guide on what to watch out for.

 

WEAVER: The lesser weaver is commonly found on beaches in summer. It resembles a small pouting or whiting at first glance. The greater weaver is a rarer deepwater species. Both have poisonous spines on the gill covers and dorsal fin. The venom can cause serious pain and has been fatal; the very young and old are most at risk. If you are stung, you should bathe in the hottest water you can stand to kill the poison. The wound will swell. Seek medical advice.

DOGFISH and SMOOTHHOUND: Beware the skin, which is like sandpaper and can take off your skin in an instant if handled carelessly. Grab a dogfish by the head and tail in one hand to remove hook. Dogfish also have sharp teeth, so use a disgorger. Smoothhounds have hard bony plates, but no teeth.

SPURDOG & TOPE: The spurdog has sharp bony spurs on the leading edges of its dorsal fins and because it squirms when held these can inflict a nasty wound. Handle with care. The tope is a mini shark complete with razor-sharp teeth. Wear gloves when handling the bigger fish and use a T-bar type disgorger to remove hooks. Never put your fingers near the mouth.

SHARK: The very sharp teeth and the rough skin are a threat to hands, legs and fingers. Treat with great care.

STING RAY: The spine halfway up the tail of this ray carries venom and has proved fatal. Take care because the ray lashes its tail around when hooked. If stung seek medical advice.

OTHER RAYS: Many have sharp prickles and spines on the back, underside and tail, so handle with care. Lots of anglers pick up this species by the nose or the tail, but there are also lots of small spines in these areas that can take off the skin of your fingers so always use gloves or a cloth. No teeth, but crushing plates, so your fingers could be in danger from a large specimen.

FLATFISH: All flatfish have a sharp spine at the top of their stomach close to their gills.

WRASSE, BREAM & SCAD: Various small spines.

WHITING: Small, razor-sharp teeth. The damage may go unnoticed until worm juice enters the wounds.

BASS: While the bass has a spiked dorsal fin, beware of the razor-sharp gill edges. Handle with care. Pick up a small school bass by the mouth.

CONGER EEL: It is not aggressive, but will clamp its jaws shut on fingers so remove the hooks with a disgorger.

TRIGGER FISH: There is a sharp spine on dorsal fin. It has very sharp teeth. An aggressive species that will bite you finger if given the opportunity.


How to fish a pier

The best pier fishing of the year starts when summer slips into September and October. As warm-water fish overlap with the incoming cold-water species it means boom times ahead, so Alan Yates offers advice to novices and pier regulars on tactics, tackle and baits...

 

PIERS ARE OBVIOUS magnets to sea anglers because they give easy and instant access to deep water, with no need to cast far and lots more fish on offer than from the beach.

This has made piers increasingly popular and crowded, especially for beginners. But as autumn looms the holiday feathering hoards leave many piers to proper sea anglers. So, with a seasonal Indian Summer weather window giving mild and settled conditions, it is time to make hay. Don't miss it.

There are two types of pier - the walled and stilted. Both provide a complex habitat and food chain or larder for a mix of sea species. Piers are like a man-made mini reefs offering shelter, weed growth and food attracting marine animals and fish. It's a complete standalone marine environment in what would be, in some cases, a flat featureless sea bed.

This means that fishing from the pier requires a mix of angling knowledge and skills. It's the most complex branch of sea angling, which is why many novices drawn to the attractions of the pier struggle to cope.

Biggest challenge for many is strong tide; walled piers in particular oppose or actually try the block the tidal fl ow, which increases in strength where it meets the wall.

Stilted piers allow the current to fl ow under them, so tide is not so strong, but there is the ever-present danger of tackle snagging and tangling on the leggy structures.

Both types of pier have fish-holding areas, such as alongside the wall or piles, on the sea bed around, in or under the pier or near the surface under weed and cross beams.

A range of tackle and tactics are needed to counter these conditions, while understanding where the various species might be feeding, lurking or shoaling is crucial to the techniques adopted. This is further complicated by the fact that species are seasonal.

 

 

Use tackle that is effective

PIER fishing doesn't require specialist tackle with a 12 or 13ft beach casting rod capable of launching 4-6oz of lead weight suitable for most fishing challenges.

Specialist lighter rods may be required where overhead casting is banned, for boom hanging, or casting a float on the surface. In these situations light mono or braid line may be preferred, but in general a beachcaster and reel balanced with 15lb mono and a 60lb shockleader will get you started.

Terminal tackle essentials are wired grip leads for combating the tide with fixed wire styles in the 5-8oz range essential for many walled piers where the tide's strength is magnified by the wall.

Rigs used for beach fishing are suitable, although shortening them will make casting easier from a pier deck and ensures the baits are close to the sea bed. The angle of your line to the water can lift baits off the bottom. A favourite rig is the one-up, one-down mono paternoster. This is fully explained on page 57. Float rigs and traces using booms for fishing alongside the wall are particularly effective for some species.

Other tackle essentials are a secure way of clamping your rod to the pier railings or wall and having a landing net or drop net handy for landing big fish.

 

When and where to fish

THE attraction of pier fishing is the fact there's always water to put bait in, although fish are most active at certain states of the tide. Most piers fish best during the flood or ebb tide run, while some produce their best results during a spring tide series and others during a neap tide sequence.

Identifying suitable tides is part of gathering local knowledge and, when this coincides with dusk or dawn, catches are likely to peak. The end of the pier attracts lots of novices because it offers the deepest water, which everyone thinks holds the most fish. More productive is consideration of the recent results from the pier and any fish-holding features. Lots of walled piers produce back eddies, which collects food and the fish know this.

Many piers have holes or weed fringes where species take up residence or shelter, while fallen debris cancreate shelter. Food and discarded bait is also a big attraction.

Most reliable way to find the hot spots is to ask, although in many cases the crowd of anglers give the spot away.

 

 

Baits and tactics

CLEAR water is essential for catching mid-water species, such as mackerel, mullet, garfish, scad, pollack and others.

Boom rigs worked alongside the wall with a head-hooked ragworm left to wriggle attractively lures fish, as does a thin slice of a mackerel’s silver underbelly, which can look like a wriggling sandeel in the tide.

A special pier rod-rest to hold the rod out from railings or wall works well; the latest sea quivertip rods and braid line are the most efficient tackle for this method.

A favourite way of fishing on stilted piers is to allow the bait to drift back under the pier between the piles. Getting the amount of lead right so that movement is under control is important. Long snoods that place baits away from the mainline and lead are best.

Coloured water and surf attracts many of the bottom-feeding species, such as bass, soles, pout, dabs, dogfish and codling. Here a bait like lugworms, squid, fish or crab fished hard on the sea bed works best, while cocktails are especially effective from piers.

 

Lugworms will catch bottom-feeding species

 

Pier stems come into their own in a rough sea with the fish often more active near surf than the pier end, which offers more action when it is calm or dark.

Casting is important, often more in terms of accuracy and combating tide with a grip lead than sheer distance. Learn to cast slightly uptide to compensate for tidal flow as the lead sinks and use a weight that sinks quickly and holds bottom efficiently.

There is little need for complicated clippeddown terminal rigs, while short wire booms can be used to lay baits hard on the sea bed.

If using small hooks go for a strong pattern and if fish have to be lifted use strong hook snoods and extend the length of the shockleader so it can be used to lift the fish up to the pier deck or top of the wall.

A float can be used to target mackerel, garfish and wrasse. Try either a fixed float on a spinning rod or a float set-up slid down the mainline while your main rig is on the bottom.

A mixed sea bed can pose a problem with tackle snagging, although being above the snag does help escape it. Lost tackle is a major snag problem so don’t use a breakout lead that can easily become trapped in lost leaders. Instead use soft fixed wires bent in a U-shape, which will allow them to spring out and escape most of the snags.

 

Suspending a bread bag close to the water's surface will attract both mullet and garfish to your bait.

 

BE A FRIENDLY AND THOUGHTFUL PIER ANGLER

● If you are a pier novice watch how the regulars fish; many are only too willing to offer you some advice and encouragement.

● Fishing spots are claimed on a first-come first-served basis, so don't muscle in on others or reserve places for mates arriving later.

● Don’t take up more than your share of room with your gear. Keep all your kit tidy and out of the way of pedestrians, who may not understand what you are doing.

● Casting is a major danger and it's important to use common sense. Piers are not the place for a full pendulum or dangerous power casting styles. Ensure that the tackle you use is safe and includes a shockleader, even if you are using an overhead cast and a 4oz sinker. Look before you cast and remember non- anglers are not always aware of the dangers.

● Casting tangles are best sorted before they happen, so keep an eye on your gear where it enters the water. If lines cross, sort them out before the problem gets worse.

● Respect the pier. Don't cut bait on seats, damage equipment or abuse the furniture. Don’t urinate on the pier.

 

Now, to find a rig perfect for pier fishing, click here!


Basic Beachcasting Tactics

At the very heart of shore angling success is the ability to cast a bait out past the raging surf, and keep it there. For many, casting is a major stumbling block, so a later chapter will deal with the styles and techniques needed to attain greater distances. For now, let’s assume your casting skills are average – by that I mean you can cast a bait 100 yards with some regularity. Standard tackle for clear beachcasting is 12lb to 20lb lines and 6oz leads.

Most of the fish species found around our shores are caught by casting a baited terminal rig and sinker (or lead) as far out into the deeper water as possible, or with accuracy to features like sand banks, gulleys and rocky outcrops. Specialised tackle and techniques are required for clean, mixed and rough ground, but in the main casting distance is achieved by having balanced tackle. This means a compatible rod and reel and a terminal rig that gets the bait out with the minimum resistance from the wind and tide.

When fishing over clean ground (sand, shingle or mud) it is generally the longest casts that bring the best results. Some species that swim close to the breakers, like bass, flounder and sole, can be caught with an accurate short cast, but in the main it is distance that matters, especially when the wind and tide conspire to make casting and keeping your gear in position as difficult as possible. The angler who learns to cast long always has the option of fishing short when conditions dictate.

Casting over medium or rough ground requires a strong outfit. Lines between 18lb and 30lb breaking strain are preferred, teamed with large-capacity reels to cope with the heavy line and strong rods needed to cast heavy leads, or drag tackle and fish from snags.

Results will depend on several factors, but predominantly the chosen venue and the time of year it is fished. There are no captive fish in the sea, so the seasons and the weather can present you with either a fish-packed venue or a fishless desert.

Because we cannot see under the surface of the sea, and have active imaginations, we will often fish when conditions are against us. Far better to seek out local knowledge – this can improve results enormously and is the biggest single advantage the sea angler can gain.

 

 

 

Try to find out about any venue before you fish there. Local clubs, tackle shops and newspaper angling reports are an excellent source of information. You should be able to find out about high and low tide times and strength (height), the best baits and times to fish, the type of sea bed, the best wind direction, and the effects the weather has on the fishing. You’ll learn about what species to expect, and benefit from local knowledge – for example, if you intend fishing from a pier, is there is a landing net available?

It’s best to check out a new venue over low water. The exposed sea bed will reveal the deepest and clearest ground to fish. Look for features, which can be obvious (a rocky outcrop or weedy reef) or more subtle (a change of depth in the sand). From a rocky or cliff mark, look for access to the sea, a safe place to land fish and, vitally important, your exit point on a flood tide. If you are fishing a remote venue, especially at night, never go alone. When fishing a completely new venue, try mentally mapping out the sea in front of you in a grid system (left). This is especially effective over rough ground. Check out each grid for snags and likely fish-holding spots. Don't just cast at random, and don't cast back to the same spot if you lose tackle – only if you get a bite.

 

Top Tips

•To remove weed from the line without having to put the rod down and stop reeling, hit the side of your rod with your palm sharply several times. This will clear the obstruction and allow you to carry on retrieving.

•A stable aluminium tripod with a sliding butt cup is a positive aid to keeping your rod safe in a rough, weedy sea because it can be used to raise your rod tip high above the surf, thus preventing weed and swell from pulling the lead free, or the rod over. Avoid small tip rings when fishing a weedy sea because these will jam with a weeded leader knot.

• If you arrive at a new venue at high water it's a good idea to cast a plain lead where you are intending to fish and then retrieve it slowly. This can reveal any contours, ridges and rocks.

•Take care when reeling in large clumps of weed, and do not put the strain directly on the reel. Lift the rod, pulling the weed in, and then reel as you lower the rod to take up the slack. This is known as ‘pumping’ and is an easy way to retrieve heavy weights. An alternative is to walk backwards and then reel in as you move forwards.

• Line diameter has a big effect on your casting range and the control of tackle in wind and tide. A low-diameter line will oppose tide and wind less than a heavier one. A line diameter between 0.30mm (12lb) and 0.38mm (18lb) is reckoned to be the most effective for clean beach fishing at long range. If choosing braid, use a line of the same breaking strain as you would mono. This is a far finer diameter (0.06mm), and explains why braid casts particularly well when used on a fixed-spool reel.

 


Basic Sea Fishing Tactics

The marine environment is wild and untamed. Unlike coarse fisheries which are often tailored to comfortable and successful angling, the sea sees Mother Nature totally in control. Large expanses of sea are far more affected by the weather than rivers and lakes, and the sea angler has to overcome not only the natural caution of the fish species he pursues, but the hostile environment they live in. No matter where you fish in the sea, the wind, tide, season, water depth and type of sea bed will all affect the likelihood of catching. Sea angling is one big learning curve, because no single standard technique is guaranteed to work at all venues or at any time of year. Here we look at the basic tactics used on many of the different types of venues and conditions.

 

The most successful sea anglers will be able to adapt to local conditions and fish with an ever-open mind. Fish like a robot and you may catch a few, but stay alert, be aware and you will learn something new about fishing on every trip and improve as you go along – remembering it all is the hard bit!

 

The tide

One of the variables that has a major influence on sea angling success or failure is the tide. The seas around the world are influenced by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon, and this produces a surge of water around the globe as the planets rotate. Water depth and speed is altered constantly by this tidal surge. Two high tides (flood) and two low tides (ebb) occur in every 24 hours, and these advance in time as the Earth spins and the position of the sun and moon changes. Because this is a consistent movement, tide times and heights can be predicted accurately and tide tables are made available years in advance. The shape of the land mass also has an influence on tide times and water depths because the sea is funnelled and directed around headlands and through narrow straits at many points around the coast.

The marine habitat and the behaviour of fish is greatly affected by tidal strength and water depth. In general, the more tidal movement there is, the more fish movement there will be. Peak tides on the ebb or flood produce the best results on most venues, but there are exceptions. The shorter tides are called neaps, and they occur when the gravitational pull is at its weakest. The strongest, spring, tides occur when the combined gravitational pull of the sun and moon is at its maximum – the name ‘spring’ has nothing to do with the season.

The highest, strongest spring tides are universally recognised as being the best for shore fishing – but they are also the fiercest. Fishing can be quite difficult at such times.

The fish use the tide to travel to a food source, coming in on the flood and going back out on the ebb. The weather combines with the tide to produce food. For example, a strong onshore gale and heavy seas will dislodge and kill a lot of marine life. Fish instinctively know what conditions produce the most food, and will home in on it.

It is an easy matter to find out the precise times of high and low water, and the strength and height of each tide. Anglers who keep records will soon find that certain venues fish best under a quite precise set of conditions. Tide tables, available from most tackle shops, provide the basic information, and it is then up to the angler to interpret them from past experience.

Knowing the tide height and times are essential to the angler who digs his own bait, because spring high tides see the sea retreating the furthest, often exposing virgin sea bed which is a goldmine to the bait-digger.

 

Beating the tide

By far the biggest problem for the shore-based sea angler is keeping the tackle still on the sea bed in a strong tide. The more line in the water, the greater the pressure on the lead, and so wired grip leads are used to combat the strongest tidal movement. Breakout wires snap open when tackle is retrieved, making their recovery easier, but in extreme tidal conditions fixed grip wires are essential. There are other factors that come into play in holding your rig and baits in place on the sea bed, and certainly line diameter has a great effect. The larger the diameter of the line, the more it opposes the tide and the more it is likely to be dragged into a bow downtide. Lower diameter lines offering less resistance are most efficient with 0.35mm (15lb breaking strain) line, the standard for combating strong tide.

Casting slightly uptide to allow for the movement of the tide is acceptable, but take care not cast over another angler’s line. Heavy leads sink the quickest, and are worth considering in deep water and strong tide.

Anglers can use the tide to move their rigs and bait in a positive way – floatfishing or freelining a bait are productive methods for some species, although many bottom feeding fish will not take a moving bait. Plain leads can be used in the same way as a float, to trot a bait downtide or allow it to move into a slack or eddy where food may also collect.

 

Tips to beat the tide

• Adding rig tubing to the ends of grip wires assists grip in sand. Short wires grip better in mud, while long wires are easier to ‘spring’ out.
• The wires on breakout leads are adjustable, and can be loosened or squeezed tighter so that they grip and hold better – check and reset every cast.
• Once a lead is dislodged, especially when the breakout wires have come unclipped, tackle will be swept downtide. Retrieve, and reset the grip wires, or replace the lead with a more efficient size or pattern.