The start of spring heralds the return of the live bait, a time which I as a skipper very much look forward to. Taking my customers out to the inshore shallow reef systems and targeting hard fighting species such as Pollack and bass on light tackle is nothing short of awesome.
Simply clear the bottom with a lively bait fish, hold on and wait for the rod to load up and the reel to start screaming!
As the months move on the baits and their effectiveness seem to dwindle. Much of the fish we are targeting move off the launce and on to other food sources. The effect we see here through the summer is that we have to switch to a more lure based approach. Don’t get me wrong, a live pilchard or scad still brings in the catches, especially the bass, but for the pollack, ling, and cod a switch over to soft plastics is the way to go.
This summer, so far has been no different. The fish coming up have been stuffed with ‘glass eels’ very small transparent sandeel-like bait fish, and with pilchards. Drift fishing with live baits has resulted in some nice fish but has been nowhere near as effective as the trusty Sidewinder lures.
June and July should see large shoals of Pollack cod bass and ling all over our inshore reefs, the fresh run stock are a regular target for us and the mainstay of our day trips. This year we had a great run with large numbers of fine pollack to early double figures but all too quickly these moved on.
Thankfully, with a bit of effort we located several patches of fish holding up on several mid channel wrecks. Due to the distances involved on these trips we choose to target the fish with lures only and not stop for live baits.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all a case of drop the lure over the side and the fish will jump on the hooks though. I read with interest many blogs and write ups about how shore based bass anglers change their lure size, lure colour, speed of retrieve, angles, additional rod action all to entice a fish strike.
Out here on the wrecks and reefs it is no different but it surprises me how many people still approach the fishing with a metronome consistency in their retrieve. Adding that little something extra to your approach can, and will, make all the difference.
Thinking of the bass anglers and writers, a look at how we go about maximising our time on the drifts is a good idea. Lures will catch as many anglers as they do fish, walk into any tackle shop and you’ll see hundreds of colours, sizes and brands, all with their own claims to catch more and bigger fish. On their day they will all catch and personal experience with each brand or shape will no doubt be the biggest player in the choice of what goes in to your box.
For me, step one in your plan to catch will be to see what your skipper and fellow anglers have been using lately. Is there a particular brand, shape, size, colour that seems to be bringing home the bacon? As with any fishing there will be exceptions that remind us we don’t know it all, I’ll demonstrate that later with what we affectionately call the “Gabriella wiggle.”
I’ll not harp on about a particular brand as I’m sure we all have our favourite, favourites that are based on tried and tested routine that has worked for each and every one of us. Our approach on the charters is to start with different size and colour lures for each of the anglers. As one lure shows a greater catch rate usually most will change over to it. But don’t stop there.
Give a lure three or four drifts with a varied retrieval rate and if nothing is happening select another, then another… By working together with other anglers on the boat you can quickly get dialled in to what the fish are wanting by way of lure and retrieve.
Vary your retrieval rate, try some fast winds, some slow, very often it is the change in pace that delivers the strike. Vary the height of the retrieve also, in slower runs of tide we often find the fish far higher than we normally would. An angler from the great 70’s period of wreck fishing told me recently his then skipper would tell high to hum “black and decker, black and decker, cordless drill” over and over in his head for 30 turns of the handle as this was ‘the’ way to catch a pollack.
So many times I’ve been frustrated as a skipper to see the fish on the sounder screen but no hook-ups. A steady stream of different lures going in but still no joy. Then the question, “how high are we winding?” with the ubiquitous response of “30 turns” comes back.
On the next drift let’s try a few more, see if that works. Obviously different reels have different retrieval rates but that simple change of height can sometimes make all the difference. Another great thing to try is a delayed start. Many drifts will start way out on the sand ahead of the wreck or reef you are fishing. Once the lead hits the bottom count a few seconds to allow the lure to hit the sand, so many times at the start of the drift this has proven a killer method.
Have a look at some of the fish coming up, early in the season you may notice redness on the fins or damage that looks like they are stocked trout. If you see this the fish have been rubbing on the sand to remove lice, this is when you’ll find they smash the lure on that delayed retrieve method. If you see cuttlefish ink draining out of caught fish or red band fish in their stomachs this is also a great indictor that the fish are feeding off the wreck itself.
The lures themselves can need careful thought too. In slow runs of tide or slower retrieve, a lure with a thin tail wrist or made of softer material will impart more movement than a heavier built one. This is definitely something to think about when offshore fishing. You want the lure to attract the predator to your hook. The heavier built lures will need more effort from you to get them to swim properly. Some lures, such as the Sidewinder Rattleback, have a decorative fin added to them.
The dorsal fin on this particular lure doesn’t seem to affect its swim action but can result in poorly hooked fish. Our approach to these is to remove the fin with a pair of scissors, it makes the already very good lure even better. These little tweaks can make your lure stand out from the crowd and improve your catch rate, something you clearly want having invested time and money in your trip.
Beyond the lures themselves we like to keep things as simple as possible. The method I was brought up with was the flying collar from a French boom. This was fine but tangles were constant and the number of knots involved in the rig left lots of potential weak points that were simply unnecessary. Our go to rig now for lure fishing over the wrecks and reefs involves only a combination swivel, lead, clip, line and lure. We found that more often than not the lead, if lost, was lost during the fight or when breaking the lure out of the bottom so we now just clip the lead to the swivel with no weak link. This has the added bonus of one less thing for the trace to tangle with.
From the right angle part of the combination swivel runs 12-20 feet of clear 30lb fluorocarbon to the chosen lure. Fluro is a bit stiffer than regular mono and the added effect of the reduced visibility in the water adds to our confidence in using it. The length of the trace is dependent on the movement of the tide, more flow allows for longer trace. Using these swivels instead of the booms not only results in fewer knots (and therefore weak points) but also less material in the water, creating less ‘noise’ as up to 10 anglers work their gear over the mark.
As stocks get smaller we find ourselves tweaking our approaches to try and give us that little edge and increase our catches, and so on to the “Gabriella wiggle.” This came from a trip in the early summer where I had the pleasure of the ex-England boat team captain out to test some gear and get some fillets in stock. We have moved on from the “black and decker” metronome approach and encouraged his friends to impart some changes to the retrieve to entice a strike, only to see Gabriella waving the rod around in a figure of eight motion much akin to Harry Potter and his magic wand.
After a fair bit of encouragement, and hooking up a few fish myself to show them how to approach the fishing she was having none of it, the wand waving was going to stay. All I could do was smile and hope that what was in the ice bin was going to be enough as the wand waving spread like wild fire through the anglers. No way was any self-respecting fish ever going to be caught whilst this was going on… But to my amazement drift after drift this wiggle was a winner! So the evolution of lure fishing continues…