Well another week passes with fishing news being put into perspective by more important events. Dominating my thoughts has been the sad passing of Sir Tom – what a great man – and his amazing spirit has driven me on to doing more than ever towards helping our fantastic country recover from this awful disease. My evenings have been spent shopping for the elderly who are still shielding and my weekend was spent helping launch the vaccination centre at Colchester FC. Over the course of Friday and Saturday we processed around 2,000 people in most need of the vaccine and I have to say the spirit of the NHS staff, volunteers and most importantly the recipients of the vaccine was so positive. Can’t wait to be back there next weekend. With around 12 million vaccinations now behind us and the daily briefing showing more good news, maybe the coming weeks will see gradual releases from lock down and these include our beloved sport. Until then, we just need to do as we are told.
On a positive note, more good news in from my inshore trawler friends. Improved catches of Thornback, big Pout, Cod and Sole after a quiet spell show the fish are in action again. I love keeping close to the inshore guys as they always give me early notice of what is in the water, and unlike the offshore big boat guys, sustainable fishing is front of their minds. I have the greatest respect for the inshore fishing boat community and thank them here again for their most generous support towards our efforts in support of the John Wilson Fishing Academy. The volumes of fish they land are small they will not impact our rod caught results despite what some say, and watching them at work gives me so many clues as to where the fish are – deep or shallow waters and so forth.
So if they are catching, then how come the shore reports from us anglers are still not that great. My blog this week might just help correct this imbalance so here goes
Firstly, the rain has pushed a lot of fresh water into the rivers. If you recall in my blog focusing on Istanbul the local angers understood the importance of the fact that salt water is more dense than fresh water, so for species with a low tolerance to fresh water you have to go deep .
Now, typically I fish in shallow waters on the flood tide up to high water. But this will not work at the moment. As the flood tide moves over the mudflats it simply pushes in the very top layer of the incoming water (predominantly fresh water) resulting in very low-salt water covering the usual fishing mudflat hot-spots. The incoming tide’s denser, more salty water sinks and remains in the deeper channels and yes, this is where the fish are right now. So happy days for the boat anglers and super long-casting beach folks. And a long walk out to the low water marks for those wishing to fish the deeper trenches accessible at the bottom of the ebb tide. Right now I am fishing either side of low-water into deep water marks and then heading home – quite the opposite to my normal patterns and will continue to do so until the fresh water volumes decrease.
So what has this got to do with Pulley verses up and over rigs I hear you ask? Both rigs have merits and form a core part of my go-to terminal tackle options. But these rigs have very different characteristics and critically deliver results in the right circumstance and, equally, don’t when it is not their day. let me explain more;
The first thing to consider is water turbidity. In simple terms when the water is clear, fish feed by sight and when cloudy, they feed by smell/taste. So when the water is clear you need your baits to move around, ideally away from the seabed, and when the water is cloudy you need the bait to hug the seabed and to release a narrow scent trail being taken along by the tide. To reflect what naturally gets eaten in these circumstances this means most commonly fishing with squid and fish in clear waters above bottom, and worm, mollusc and crab anchored to the floor in cloudy waters. With me so far?
So getting these baits to present with most effect can be controlled to a high degree by the choice of either pulley or up and over rigs. Let’s compare the key features of these rigs:
The Pulley Rig:
This rig is fundamentally an off the seabed rig. As tension is taken up on the main line after casting, the pulley pivot is raised from the seabed and so is the bait. This gives great movement and is a winner with predatory fish including flounder, thornback as well as the obvious suspects such as bass and who can’t say no to a moving object. The critical disadvantage with a pulley rig right now is that in shallower waters on a flood tide this rig is placing the bait away from the seabed hugging saltier water and up into the lower salt content water, exactly where the fish don’t want to go.
The final disadvantage of a pulley, which is true in any conditions, is that the pulley mechanism halves the bite movement on the mainline. Basic physics in play here is that as a fish bites on the bait, half the energy is projected up the line to the rod and half is projected down to the weight – ask any physics GSCE level teenager for confirmation here. Therefore the rod has to be a very sensitive when targeting smaller fish.
In regard to bait preservation, when using a pulley rig, the flow of water elevates the bait away from crabs improving bait deterioration but because of the movement, it more rapidly and widely disperses and loses any smell. So the baits of retrieval might still look great, but bear in mind they still need changing as any taste attractiveness will have been lost quite quickly.
I mention these key points as there have been many posts this week talking about untouched baits, so I suspect they are being cast into the layer of fresh water above bottom where the fish are not wishing to enter due to lower relative salinity.
Finally, for a pulley rig to work there has to be a firm hold on the bottom and weight should not roll, so most anglers will revert to breakaway grippers. In weedy conditions this adds to the challenge of bringing ashore tons of the green stuff so personally I am gravitating more than ever to using an ounce heavier pyramid or square sided casting weights which collect a tiny fraction of weed in comparison.
The Up and Over Rig:
This is designed to be a seabed hugging rig. Because of the direct connection of the snood to the main rig line all of the bite energy feeds straight up to the rod tip. This is why a bite on an up and over makes you jump out of your seat and makes you look a bit silly when you finally land a 4-oz pin whiting! These rigs work best when specifically trying to keep the bait attached to the seabed so a heavy, big combo bait is ideal for this set up.
This is the rig I go to when there is a lot of fresh water in the estuaries as I want my bait to sit in the deepest, most salty layer of water possible. Especially so when smaller tides do not possess the energy to mix the water layers up. This is the rig I am using right now. Because the bait is bottom hugging crab predation is most rapid, so I check the baits every 10-minutes or so.
When using up and over rigs, I like to have a small element of weight movement on an ebb tide, to just pull the bait across the tide from the cast into the bottom of the cuts I am targeting and the snood flows perfectly almost as an up-tide presentation, so I use cylindrical weights (as mentioned in this past blog) to allow the weight and bait to find its own perfect position. This is not so on the flood tide when fishing cuts, as the rolling weight will take the bait away from the cut as the tide moves in across the mudflats, so I go for heavier pyramid or breakaway weights here and tide shorter distance casting for better accuracy.
Finally, the length of snood depends on how much bait movement I wanted the clarity of water. Simply, the clearer the water is I lengthen the snood slightly more just to bring any visual hunting into play – especially useful if Plaice are in season. In very cloudy water I go for a short snood, maybe 2-3 feet with the smelliest baits I can muster.
The Pulley Dropper Rig:
This rig for me is fundamentally flawed when beach fishing, but I mention it here as it gets a lot of promotion on some of the facebook groups.
The mechanics in the design, in my mind, just don’t merit using it. The reason I say this is that most of the time when beach fishing we are either up-tide or cross-tide casting. Consequently there is going to be a degree on bow in our main line. Fundamentally, your weight is uptide of your rig. If you imagine the curve of this bow at the final terminal tackle end, what it means is that the dropper snood does not actually drop at all, but sits up in the bow just as it does with a pulley rig. Obviously, on retrieval the dropper appears to have slid down to the stopper but I am sure that if you asked a diver to look at your rig when in use it would be a different story completely. (This is why when using sliders from the beach I cast down-tide with short casts, or they don’t slide…simple.)
So to conclude; the fish are for sure in the estuaries both in quantity and size, just ask the guys who earn a living from them. If we are not catching fish then it can only be because we are doing something wrong and need to change our plan.
I suggest here that we can improve our results by changing tactics and this starts with a deep understanding of water flows, fish feeding behaviours and the mechanics of our terminal tackle. A bit of brain power spent on preparing for the session, I promise you, will pay massive dividends.
That said, fishing doesn’t really matter that much at the moment. RIP Sir Tom. Legend.