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sandeel swimming match the hatch cover

Match the Hatch

I personally like to dedicate a good amount of time to collecting local bait for the fish that are around and to freeze down for later in the year when the sources can be scarce. To be out in the fresh air foraging along the seashore gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. It’s technically free if we don’t include fuel, parking charges etc. But more importantly, I believe fresh local bait is hard to beat. For predators to awaken or move into an area they need a reason and obviously that reason has to be food, breeding, and giving birth. In fly fishing, they refer to this as to ‘match the hatch’, but you rarely see the same thought process applied in sea angling.

By no means do I claim to be in any way an expert but I do like to keep an eye out both on the shore and under water. Most people will roughly know what bait to use for a certain species in a specific area during a certain time of the year. I like to take it that step further and observe the predator’s food habits of seasonal baits.

With the first of Dorset’s large male shore crab molt well and truly over and the water temperatures now rising, it was time for the sand eel to make an appearance. I’d seen them in the shallower areas where I targeted them with a throw net but the tidal run in these areas makes it difficult to dive, only giving a very short period of slack water. So I waited to the point where the water temp would be comfortable to dive in for an hour or so. Then more importantly there should be large shoals of them to observe and hopefully catch a last light glimpse of some predators.

A close eye was kept on the tides, weather and water visibility until everything aligned and coincided with last light. The mark I chose wasn’t the easiest to get to with full dive kit but it should be worth it, plus there was another spot a short swim away that I wanted to check out for a fishing session.  Camera, video light and torches were charged, and green water filter and macro lens attached. The dive was planned to coincide with a tidal change of direction to save a little energy in the water as it is a several hundred metre swim along the coast line. Just having had a service on my cylinder and regulators, I was good to go – what could possibly go wrong.

The dive didn’t disappoint. As soon as we got in to snorkel over to the dive site there were sand eels everywhere. These ones were generally quite small but it was encouraging to see because I’d expect a better quality at the dive site. Once at the mark, the amount of life was unreal and just as I’d hoped it would be. I guessed the reason to be because they bed in the sand once the sun goes down. Hopefully I would prove this once dark. During the daylight, pollack and wrasse could be seen in decent numbers but nothing was preying on the sand eel which strikes me as unusual? Its been heavily documented that sand eel hide/sleep in the sand at night where they should be fairly safe. So if nothing was preying on them during the day it could explain the large numbers. If you were fishing here and intending to match the hatch, you’d be foolish to be without some fresh sand eel.

As last light came, the first predators arrived. Not as many as I expected but we didn’t stay until it became pitch black so we probably missed the best of it. The sand eel had disappeared and I wanted to see if I could video any of them whilst disturbing the sand. My little experiment far exceeded my expectations (I spend a lot of time trawling Youtube and Vimeo looking for things like this). So far, this is a first for me, seeing them shoot out of the sand even without touching it. I wonder if the same happens when predators move along the seabed? It didn’t appear so when the spotted ray was moving along, so maybe it had something to do with the 5000 lumens dive light I was using? Then I used my hand to move the sand and it certainly woke many more. This was spectacular to see the amount coming out. I should have tried this when the shoal of bass were there. It could have created a large feeding frenzy. Now if I could just figure out a way to catch some for bait whilst we are down there….

Having achieved what we were after made the walk back slightly easier and gave us lots to talk about. Especially when a 25 minute walk down turns into a 45 minute walk back due to fatigue and all uphill. During the dive the camera did freeze, leaving me slightly anxious if the rest had recorded or if I had captured anything at all. No major problem if it hadn’t – it would be the perfect reason to head back there sooner rather than later.

Over the next couple of months we should start to see the molt of the spider crabs, which I hope to capture on video again. Looking at the past couple of years they seem to molt first in the Solent then on to Dorset. It would certainly help to explain the large number of smooth hounds that way, besides it being an area the females choose to give birth.

On a last note, why does Pacific Saury (Bluey) happen to be such a great bait when it is not a native species to the UK waters….Perhaps ‘match the hatch’ doesn’t always apply!