Establishing how a particular species is going to be feeding in a given environment should be absolutely paramount. In turn, this knowledge should directly influence where an angler sets up, the rigs they use, the distance they cast, the baits they use and the states of tide they deem optimal. Such attention to detail is what separates good anglers from great ones in my mind. I want to talk about my experiences at a mark in Norway but take from them an approach to fishing that can be applied almost anywhere. The species on this occasion will be plaice but, again, you could switch that out for any other as the focus is very much on feeding habits.
Now, I’m no great angler and words certainly come easier than fish for me. Whilst I seem to have cracked a code for one species on one mark, I know of anglers with an innate ability to tune into many different species’ feeding habits, even on new marks to them, simply by analysing the information available. That’s true watercraft and it’s a journey. Nobody will ever master it in its entirety. Sometimes, even the best anglers’ assessment of a mark proves wrong on a given day. We can all keep improving and if there’s anything I’d encourage new anglers to focus on most, it is understanding why the fish will be in a given spot and how their food will naturally be presented to them.
Lure anglers and fly fishermen are absolutely streets ahead of most bait sea anglers in this field. Matching the hatch is a term rarely used in sea angling and, at most, means if the squid are in, get a squid bait out. Almost never would we see such detailed assessment of how to present and fish that bait as we would see in the lure and fly disciplines.
There’s been somewhat of a leap forward in recent years. The vast array of ‘continental’ style plain leads, all designed with a different method of grip, to hold differently and allow a different rate of movement in varying conditions, have given far more focus to how a bait is presented. A similar surge, in recent times, has been seen in the popularity of dousing baits in various additives, adopting the thinking of ‘the more scent the better’. However, this approach has little place in the theory of presenting a bait in the most natural possible way.
So, back to Norway and those Plaice.
On regular trips to Skarnsundet, where I was visiting two if not three times a year for a good few years, it became apparent that whilst some marks yielded good numbers of smaller plaice, a mark many will know as ‘Stubble Field’ would produce less fish but the stamp was always superb. The majority of my fishing on these trips would be done from the shore but every now and then we’d take a boat out and have a drift for the plaice.
Eventually, on one trip, we decided to have a drift off the Stubble Field instead of the usual grounds off of ‘Stu’s Point’. Not expecting much (but probably a decent fish if we did get one) I was very pleased with a plaice just shy of 5lbs right at the end of the first drift. This fish came just a few rod lengths out from the right hand side of the Stubble Field – ‘under the tree’ for those that know (for the rest, see the images!). It was no surprise how close in the fish was, in around 9ft of water. It was, however, a surprise to get two more in the following two drifts, all in the same spot right at the end of the drift. One fell agonisingly short of the 5lb mark whilst the other went 5lbs 4oz. Not bad for a mark that, up until that point, had only ever produced the odd plaice for me among bags of dab and cod.
Fishing the same spot from the shore the next day, I flicked my baits out right onto the hotspot. I waited. Dab. I waited some more. Dab. Then waited some more. Dab. Where were these red spotted slabs I’d been nailing without fail the previous day? I had no doubt that my baits were within feet of where I had hooked into them all drift after drift. The baits were the same, the state of tide was even the same. So I got to thinking, what was different? The answer was abundantly clear. Movement.
We all fish marks where plaice will readily take a static bait but here there was absolutely no doubt that they preferred something coming to them. The mark itself lies at the end of a current formed by the channeling of water into the fjord through the narrow Straumen channel. It would seem that the plaice liked to sit at the edge of this current, waiting for any morsels to come their way. Fishing from a drifting boat had simulated this situation perfectly, so I questioned how I could replicate the drift of the boat from the shore.
The answer was fairly simple, trotting a float fished a little over depth, allowing a wishbone rig to trail behind a small ball lead just as it would from the boat set up. Knowing the depth well from so many drifts on the boat shortened the time required to get accurately set up, as did knowing where the drift started and ended. A few test casts would help fill any knowledge gaps.
The most challenging aspect was that the drift started further out and cut in, so it did mean a fairly constant retrieval of slack to fish this method. I fished the float at a depth of about 9ft from float to ball lead, with a further three foot of snood trailing. I would deliberately cast to where I knew the bait would not hit bottom but would be brought by the current into the feeding zone within a minute or two. That way, I’d quickly feel when the end gear found the bottom and see it in the action of the float too, whilst also ensuring the current had more of a say in the placement of my bait than I did.
Success followed, and the method proved equally adept at locating the larger dab and even a few nice cod, though given the option, I’d refine a method that avoided those and only picked up the plaice! Wishful thinking unfortunately. The seabed can be carpeted with dab there at times. The cod always seemed to take the bait before it had hit bottom, which told me float fishing at midwater for the cod would be equally viable. Cod, however, are not a species that interest me greatly so I never experimented further on that front.
This technique is now the only way I will consider fishing for plaice on this mark, such is the stark difference in results over a static bait. Even if you’re fishing the venue as a group of three or four anglers, it can still be done if you limit the distance you trot the float over. You’ll just find yourselves fighting over the spot under the tree where the current seems to spill out and deposit the food.
It taught me a wider lesson about understanding how the natural foods will appear to the fish, and the habits these situations develop in them. The plaice here were big, lazy, often preserving energy for spawning or lacking energy from having just spawned. It made every sense for them to prefer to sit and wait for the bait as opposed to go off seeking it themselves. They have little need to actively hunt food when there’s a washing machine constantly throwing spawning rag their way.
The first thing I assess on any mark now is the food supply. I attempt to understand the food’s movements, influences from the tides and currents, availability, and delivery to the fish. Norway has proven an excellent place over the years to experiment with this and I’ve encountered other marks where coalfish and pollack will only entertain a free-lined bait, or the smallest of slowest moving lures.
I’ve even had sessions where anything other than a single worm on a size 1/0 hook will be ignored by double figure cod feeding in the shallows. The most common mistake I see others making is fishing off of structures that naturally attract smaller bait fish and insisting on belting out their best pendulum casts. Many a halibut will be had right under your feet at such venues, nailing offerings made right among the schools of bait fish rather than cast into marine wilderness.
Hopefully anyone due a trip to Skarnsundet in the future will put this technique to the test themselves in the Stubble Field. The diagrams should be enough to explain but I’m always contactable via the Hookpoint page on Facebook to expand on it further, if needs be.