It is still entirely possible to catch sea fish using nothing more elaborate than a stout handline, wrapped around a wooden winder when not in use. Lots of people still do just that. But this article is really about the sport of angling, and angling—a word which undoubtedly comes from the angle formed by rod and line—really does mean fishing with a rod, and, preferably, a reel.
You don’t actually have to buy a dizzy assortment of brand-new gear of the latest type. If your circumstances forbid extravagance, be sure that you can have a great deal of fun, and catch a lot of fish, with just one rod, one reel, one line, and a small assortment of hooks and traces and weights. Of course you can. I don’t want to mislead you and I don’t receive a penny commission from any manufacturer of fishing tackle. Alas. So although I am certainly going to give you some guidance about the best tackle for various forms of sea fishing, and although it is undoubtedly true that the appropriate tackle both enhances your chances of success and greatly increases your pleasure, you really must not worry if you have to manage with the minimum. You can still enjoy yourself.
Sea angling divides itself, not very neatly but quite understandably, into various branches; and for every branch of sea angling there is what you might call the optimum gear—the tackle best calculated to give you maximum sport and maximum joy. No one rod and reel is ideal for all branches: when you realise what the tackle has to do, and why, then you will understand why a certain sort of outfit suits one branch of sea fishing better than another—and why just one outfit will be ideal for only one branch and a compromise in all the others. So— (I) Beach Casting
Beach casting or shore casting means that you are standing more or less at the water’s edge and casting your bait or lure out into the sea. Now certain things follow from this, as sure as night follows day. One is that the fish you seek don’t usually come right up on to dry land in search of food—often they stay well out, just beyond the breakers. So it follows that you may have to cast your bait out quite a distance, perhaps as much as 100 yards or even more. Now you cannot possibly do that using a stiff short rod. To make a job of it, you need a longish rod with plenty of spring.
Secondly, when you have got your bait out into the breakers or even just beyond them, it is going to take a terrific bashing from the water and from the sea bed. Even on a calm day, the action of surf is constant and powerful. The to-and-fro of the tide is relentless. You will appreciate that to hold the bottom your bait must be accompanied by a fairly hefty weight—a lump of lead which may weigh anything from two ounces to eight ounces or even more.
So it will be obvious to you that your beach casting outfit must be capable of throwing a fairly substantial weight a great distance. Therefore it must be not only springy, but strong: not only resilient, but powerful. These factors only come together in a rod that has been designed for the express purpose. It won’t be a short rod. A short rod may be strong, or springy, but it can hardly be both. A longish rod, then, with plenty of spring and plenty of backbone.
This has all been quite well known for a longish time, but only recently has a really scientific intelligence been brought to bear on the details of design of such a rod. Not so very long ago the accepted beach casting rod was a pretty massive implement of ten feet long or a good deal more, tapered throughout fairly evenly. Since the tip has to be strong enough to bear the strain of hurling out up to a half-pound of lead, it follows that the butt, in a conventionally tapered rod, is pretty massive. Such a rod, when made of built-cane or greenheart, weighs rather a lot. That is a polite understatement: it weighs a darn sight too much. In fibreglass, it weighs much less but is still a fairly formidable tool and not quite so effective as it might be .
But there came upon the scene, not so long ago, the truly scientific intelligence in the shape of a friend of mine named Leslie Moncrieff. Mr Moncrieff is a member of a small band of wizards, who foregather in a sort of coven in Hertfordshire, where they have cooked up many profoundly brilliant ideas which have changed the face of fishing. Other members of the brotherhood are the great Richard Walker, leading angler of this or any century, a Cambridge graduate and practising engineer by profession, whose approach to fishing has been more radical, and more fruitful, than that of any man breathing. There is my old pal Fred Taylor, the only man I know still capable of providing hedgehog pie for supper. And there is the resourceful Fred Buller. What a team that is! All these chaps, and others of the brotherhood, have made signal contributions to the art and sport of angling: I am proud to be their friend. But it is Leslie Moncrieff, leading spirit in the Moncrieff Rod Development Company, who has turned his attention to the salt water, and he who has effected a single-handed revolution in beach casting.
This huge strong man first came into fame, or notoriety, at the famous cod ground of Dungeness, where his prowess
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I. Conventional through-action beach caster.
In hurling a lure far out into the ‘Dustbin’, where cod congregate at that point where sand meets shingle, first irritated and then awed his fellow anglers, who were consistently falling short. Leslie did not owe his startling success entirely to his physique, formidable though that is. Using his brains, he had divined the secret of the reverse-taper or ‘spring butt’ casting rod which makes it easy.
Nowadays, many if not most manufacturers of fishing tackle market their versions of the spring-butt beach or shore rod: it was one of those inventions, or discoveries, impossible to patent and difficult to keep dark, which was bound to spread like wildfire dirough the trade. In its perfection, the notion may be seen embodied in the Hardy rod known as the Longbow. Hardy’s have been a leading name—some would say the leading name—in fishing tackle for generations, but previously they tended to concentrate on game fishing, fly and spinning rods and so on. Now, with the MoncriefF-designed Longbow (and other rods, of which more later, at the appropriate points) they have come strongly into the sea fishing scene. I don’t honestly know a better beach casting rod than the Longbow; if I did I would tell you.
The taper from the tip of the rod reaches a maximum thickness around the reel seat, and thereafter a reverse taper sets in, so that the rod is actually thinner at the bottom of the butt than at the hand. It is Leslie’s contention (and nowadays few will dispute it) that the spring-butt action thus built in helps greatly to overcome the tendency to ‘snatch’, which be-devils all beginners who try to cast a lure a long way. The whole action of this style of rod is smooth and sweeping; the acceleration of the lure is sweet and jerk-free, the reel spool begins to revolve without snatch, builds up to maximum speed as the lure flies out over the water, and is sweetly braked to a stop
THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE as it enters the water. Over-runs, and the dreadful tangle known as a bird’s nest, are things of the past. Or very nearly: some people can make a mess of anything mechanical. But the combination of a spring-butt rod and the appropriate reel, weight and line really do make long-distance casting something like child’s play.
There are many other rods, by other makers, which will give you very fine performance; and all of them cost less. Hardy’s, being Hardy’s, bless ‘em, charge the top price for the top article. And there is nothing quite like it, just as there is nothing quite like a Rolls-Royce. Or the price of a Rolls-Royce. The Moncrieff-Hardy Longbow rod has one feature not found in its competitors. It comes in three distinct strengths. There is a rod 11 ft. 3 in. long which will cast a total weight of 2 to 4 ounces. There is a rod 11 ft. 9 in. long which casts 4 to 6 ounces. And there is a rod 12 ft. 3 in. long which casts 6 to 8 ounces. Since they cost, at the time of writing, £25 and more apiece, the man who owns all three is a pretty good fisherman, as a stockbroker.
Needless to say you don’t have to break your bank manager’s heart (though why not? it’s a good idea). Personally I settled for the 11 ft. 3 in. rod with its useful 2-4 oz. Weight range, because most of my beach fishing is for bass, and a comparatively light weight is usually (not always) adequate. As you will see when we get on to fishing for specific kinds of fish. This suits me perfectly; I’m a fairly fanatical light-tackle enthusiast; but a great many people would find a rod that handled the 4-6 oz. Range of weights more generally useful, and the dedicated cod fisher, faced with fierce winter surf and the consequent need to use great weights to keep his bait in the right area, would certainly choose the 6-8 oz. Rod.
Fortunately for the relatively impecunious 99 per cent of us, other manufacturers have a bit of compassion, or what passes for compassion in the trade, and offer a general-purpose spring-butt beach caster at a slightly more tolerable price. I don’t want to point the finger, but you won’t go far wrong with such a rod as the Milbro Surfmaster, at a little over £15. This is a 12 ft. 6 in. rod in glass, said to throw any weight from 2 oz. To 8 oz. Without rupturing its gut. It will, too: though some perfectionists will always hold that one rod will only really be at its best with one narrow range of weights, say within a couple of ounces. But this is a fine sturdy rod which really works.
Milbro is a firm which has clung to the old while bowing to the new: though they meet the demand for the crafty taper in this Surfmaster, they still carry on with the celebrated Marine and Beachmaster models, which are more conventional—a through or as they put it thru action, which a lot of anglers still prefer, though I am not among them . Then there are vastly less expensive rods, perfectly adequate too, such as the Milbro Surfer (at about £11 just now) and you can certainly catch a lot of fish and have a lot of joy with such a rod. In fact, as a real good ‘budget’ rod which will start you off on a wildly exciting and deeply satisfying life on the beach, I would recommend the Milbro Marine with any amount of confidence. But there are many others to choose from, thank goodness: it’s a buyer’s market. You get the spring-butt principle in the Modern Arms Dungeness rod, and in the Martin James delightfully named Springheel. A good strong rod which will cast 8 oz. And stand a lot of hard wear is the Auger Sea Sturge. Sealey’s make a fine range of reasonably priced rods bearing the name of that outstanding sea angler, Hugh Stoker.
The ideal reel to match a proper beach casting rod is, I have little hesitation in affirming, the multiplier. There are alternatives, but the multiplier is the reel which the rod 5=~~ d> >- >> 2. Reverse-taper or spring-butt beach caster.
Maker had in mind, and although for some obscure reason the very word frightens some people off, a few trial casts with a friend’s outfit will surely convince the Doubting Thomas, that this reel is the goods .
What is a multiplier? As the name suggests, it is a reel which produces several rotations of the spool for one rotation of the winding handle. It is geared-up. Whereas the simple old centre-pin reel gives you one turn of the spool for one turn of the handle, the multiplier usually gives you about three. But the intention is not a speedier wind-in: the intention is subtler. The point with a multiplier is that the actual spool, on which the line is wound, is of very small diameter, and veiy light in weight. When this light spool is thrown free (by the touch of a lever) it is capable of rotating very fast and easily. Even with a light casting weight, it will turn at speed. With the gentlest of swings, you can get your light lure moving out nicely, sweetly. Whereas, a big centre-pin reel takes a deal of mastering—the inertia of that big spool is formidable. There is practically no inertia to overcome in the multiplier’s light, small-diameter spool—the very minimum. So little, in fact, that various cunning braking systems have to be built in, including the centrifugal automatic brake, which sounds a lot nastier than it is, in order to prevent the spool from out-running the speed at which the lure is travelling through the air, and thereby turning the line in under itself and causing one of those bird’s-nests.
But casting out is one thing, reeling in is another. Since the spool is of so small a diameter, it follows that one turn of it does not put back very much line: hence the multiplying gear, which gives you a quite reasonable though not excessively fast winding-in or retrieving speed.
The multiplier was a British invention, but, like many another, was greeted by our countrymen with nearly unanimous lack of enthusiasm; with the result that it was 3- Multiplying reel on crank-handled rod.
Taken up by dastardly foreigners who saw its potential, developed it to a high pitch, and now believe they created it. Latterly the odd sound British manufacturer has begun to make very decent multiplying reels: you won’t go far wrong, or indeed at all wrong, with such a reel as the Intrepid Sea Streak, which is modestly priced, and ideally foolproof for the beginner. But it is still sad but true that most of the best come from abroad: topping the bill, perhaps, the beautiful Ambassadeur 6000 from Sweden, as good a reel as the Volvo is a car, and absolutely OK if you fish quite light—up to the 2-4 oz. Weight range, I’d say. The Pfieuger (pronounced Flooger) Sea King is right at the top, a lovely handful of machinery. Like the Flooger, the Penn is an American multiplier. The Penn Squidder is their piece de resistance; the angler’s resistance may also be quite a piece when he learns its price. The Penn Surfmaster is as good as most of us want, or even need. A perfect outfit consists of the Ambassadeur 6000 for light work, the Penn Squidder for heavy work. ‘Heavy’ and ‘light’ are words which may need explaining somewhat. You are doing heavy work if you fish such strong or rough water that you need half a pound of lead to hold your bait in approximately the right place. You are fishing light if you can get away with a couple of ounces. The fact that in the first place you may catch fish weighing a pound, and in the second place fish weighing twenty pounds, is practically irrelevant. It isn’t the weight of the fish that determines the gear you use: it is the weight of the lead.
Some people never will cotton on to the multiplier, though it is the sweetest instrument a man can play on, bar the liquorice stick and possibly the bassoon. Well, there are get-outs. Prime among the get-outs comes the fixed-spool reel . This diabolical invention, which, like the aeroplane, should never have been allowed, is the lazy man’s answer to prayer. Since many of us are profoundly lazy, let’s have a look at it.
It was invented by the ingenious Illingworth, in the ‘twenties, for the express and criminal purpose of casting a spinning lure of negligible weight (or even a worm) where a fly would have done just as well.
There is something divinely simple that marks this out as one of these great flashes of inspiration that come to peccable man every decade or so.
In essence, the fixed-spool reel is a reel in which the spool, on which the line is wound, is placed with its axis in line with the rod, instead of at right angles to the axis of the rod. Thus, if you were looking down the rod from the tip, you would see the lip of the spool broadside-on. When a retaining ‘bale arm’ is moved out of the way, there is nothing to stop the line from tumbling over the lip of the spool. Try it with a reel of cotton and you will see how it works. Perhaps it was watching a reel of cotton misbehaving that gave Illingworth the idea. Anyway, that’s the basic principle.
Of course the fixed-spool reel of today is a vastly more sophisticated implement than a cotton reel. With it, you can cast featherwieght lures a very long way, without the slightest effort. This is of course extremely nattering. Then when your lure hits the water, one half turn of the handle puts the bale arm back in position, and as you go on turning the handle, the line is laid more or less neatly in coils on the spool.
Most fixed-spool reels incorporate a slipping clutch, which you can adjust so that it slips just before the pull on the line equals the breaking strain of the line. Theoretically, this means that you cannot be broken by the biggest fish, even with the most tenuous line. Theory is all very well, but you can break your own heart before you break the line, as well: standing there all night ‘playing’ a fish that deserves a quicker and cleaner fate.
However, grave as are the metaphysical objections to the fixed-spool reel, it is so easy and flattering to use, it makes the meanest of us feel a master, in a very short order. I confess that I have caught hundreds of fish on a fixed-spool reel. But ideally it should be reserved, in my view, for the casting of extremely light baits and spinners, too light to draw line off any other sort of reel. It has this place, and I must confess an honoured place, in the all-round angler’s armoury. I should not personally fancy using it in sea fishing, except in certain special circumstances, but every man to his taste.
It certainly makes it dead easy to stand up there at the water’s edge and within ten minutes have your lure flying out over the ocean—even though you have never before in all your life handled a fishing rod. It is the beginner’s reel par excellence. I have to admit this. Why should I stand in your way, if you want the maximum ease of operation ? Go ahead and enjoy yourself with a fixed-spool reel. It will make you feel a master. True, you will never get the distance which a good man with a multiplier gets; you won’t enjoy playing your fish so much, for with all that right-angle bend of the line on to the spool, and that slipping clutch business, you will never feel the fish so intensely and accurately and personally as the other man will. But if this is the device which encourages you to start casting, so be it.
One thing in favour of the fixed-spool reel is that you don’t need a specially designed casting rod to go with it. Almost any old rod will do. The spring of the rod, its graduated action, its suppleness and balance—these are all important factors when you are using other sorts of reel in which the spool revolves. But you can tie a fixed-spool reel to a broomstick and cast, after a fashion. It is the inherent action built into the reel itself which gets the lure . going out. True, a nice springy rod always helps, is always far nicer to handle: but, as I say, you can manage with rods which would not begin to give you satisfaction if you were using a multiplier or other sorts of moving-spool reels. The traditional centre-pin reel is still used on the beach, but few are the practitioners who can get the best out of it. It takes a good man, and a lot of practice, to master it. When I say master it, I mean get a good casting distance without dreadful bird’s-nests. The inertia of the large spool being so high, considerable force is needed in the swing—and considerable weight on the end of the line. But a simple old-fashioned centre-pin reel in good hands is a wonderful implement still. It has the divine simplicity of really basic machinery, like a vintage Leica,
Rolleicord, or Model T Ford. A free-running Ariel freshwater reel, such as used to be de rigeur for the salmon spinner, makes a good light sea reel—provided it is well looked after, cleaned every time, properly oiled. (I must say I wouldn’t risk my old pal on the beach.) A rather more sophisticated centre-pin reel such as Hardy’s Super Silex works well, too, but again it is a bit of a sin to expose such a reel to the corrosive effects of the seaside. Better by far to buy a reel made for the job, such as the sturdy Seajecta.
An audacious get-out, for people who like the effortlessness of casting with a fixed-spool reel, but detest the mushy slushy lack of ‘feel’ when winding in or playing a fish, is the centre-pin reel that is so arranged that you can reverse the spool to make the cast, and restore it to its normal axis for winding-in. I think the first of these was the Jecta Orlando Supreme, which I think was devised, and certainly was manufactured, by another ingenious friend of mine named Gurney Grice. What I have done to deserve such friends?
Gurney saw as in a vision how to make the best of both worlds—something we all dearly like to do. Pressing a small spring, you whip the spool off the Orlando and pop it on a projection which sticks out underneath (what engineering language!) in the same axis as the rod. You make your effortless cast, take the spool off the lug and stick it back in its proper place, and wind in. Simple! Theoretically you ruin your line in short order by building in wicked twist, if you don’t remember to turn both sides of the spool to the front, on alternate casts . . .
A cunning method of overcoming difficulties is the Alvey 550 Sidccast reel. Instead of removing the spool and sticking it on that second axle, like the Orlando, you merely twist the reel through 45 degrees to make your ‘fixed-spool’ cast, and twist it back to start fishing.
Again, these ingenious reels may be used (though not to the best advantage) on virtually any old rod that is stout enough to stand the strain of casting whatever weight it is you have to cast.
You will undoubtedly suit yourself. And why not? And I shall undoubtedly go on proclaiming, in and out of season, irrespective of who’s listening, that the ideal outfit for beach casting is a fairly long, specially designed, spring-butt rod, armed with a multiplying reel and the finest gauge line that conditions will allow.
I say fairly long, because I fancy that the craze for distance has resulted in some rods being longer than the average angler can really use to full advantage. We aren’t all monsters (physically speaking, I hasten to say) like Leslie Moncrieff. Though actually his own rods are a moderate length, at 11 ft. 3 in. up.
Having fitted up your rod, fixed the reel in its seat securely, and threaded the line through the rod rings, not missing any more than you can help, you then tie on the terminal tackle. This, which you will find described later on, when we actually get down to fishing, consists roughly of your weight, swivel or swivels, hook, and bait. (Don’t worry about the details now: it all comes in its place.)
Now wind in until you have merely a few feet of line hanging from the rod tip—four feet is plenty, three will do. Stand with the feet a comfortable distance apart, at about right angles to the sea, with your left foot extended in the direction which your cast is to take. The left hand grips the butt at its lowest point, the right hand grips the reel seating, with the right thumb on the spool of the reel . Turn the body away from the sea and rest the weight on the ground behind you. When you are ready, with the thumb firmly on the spool, bring the body round strongly. Left hand pulls in on the butt, right hand pushes out. This puts a big bend in the rod. At the moment when the rod is about to straighten, in the direction of your cast, release the thumb pressure—but keep the thumb just kissing the spool while the weight flies out over the water. The thumb comes down firmly again as the weight hits the water.
There are of course many subtle variations on this basic cast. Some anglers lay back farther; some turn the body through a greater arc, some through a lesser. Some intrepid performers don’t rest the weight on the ground but hang it from the rod tip, swinging it round in an aerial circle rather like an Olympic hammer thrower getting up speed. You will soon find which style suits you best. Whichever it is, it is the style for you.
The man from whom you buy your multiplier will explain, better than printed words can do, how you adjust the tension to suit the weight, so that the spool is just sufficiently free to make a good cast, neither holding you back nor egging you on to disaster. It’s very simple.
I don’t think I should leave this subject of beach casting rods and gear without mentioning the Abu Atlantic Zoom rods, which are conceived on a theory entirely at variance with the accepted canons of modern thought. The Swedish firm of Abu contend that the spring-butt is quite wrong: that casting power springs essentially from a stiff butt, and that the power stored into the butt by the angler’s muscles, should then flow out through a resilient middle section and a sensitive tip. This is quite contrary to the reverse-taper thinking. Abu go further, and claim that by new construction methods progressive compound tapers can be built in which enable the rod to handle a remarkable range of weights. If you ask the rod to do little work, it does it efficiently, using only a fraction of its inbuilt power. If you ask it to do a lot of work, a lot more of the rod comes into play to cope with it. Thus die Abu Atlantic 484 Beachcaster is actually claimed to be equally at home casting a weight of two ounces or a weight of nine ounces.
Such versatility is pretty amazing. I personally enjoy the lazy swing of a really good spring-butt rod, but it is perfectly true that the snappier Atiantic Zoom rod really does flick a bait out in great style and with fantastically little effort. The much shorter handle and lower reel seating will also appeal to many who find their reach not quite wide enough for the usual wide spacing of handgrips. There’s no point in making yourself uncomfortable: quite the reverse. This is play, not work.
Though I love the lazier spring of the reverse-taper rod and have become quite at home with it, the more I see of the Atlantic Zoom in action the more I admire it and see its point. There is one other point, too: the spring butt rod is not so happy playing a heavy fish in strong water as is the stiff-butted Abu Zoom. This is a design which translates your energy—what you put into it—very precisely in terms of effective fish-quelling, as well as casting. It is up to every man to suit himself.
I said a little earlier that the Swedish Ambassadeur was as good as a reel as the Volvo was a car. I’m happy to say that when it comes to fixed-spool reels, die French Michell is as good a reel as the Renault is a car. It is pre-eminent among fixed-spool reels, in all sizes, and rightly so: it has earned its reputation. However, just as a British firm make, in the Intrepid, the easiest of all multipliers for a complete novice to master at one go, so the same firm in the Intrepid Surfcast come to the rescue of the patriot who doesn’t want to spend more than he must. It is a very reliable reel at a modest price.
(2) Pier and Jetty
Pier and jetty are not identical, of course, but they share one cardinal characteristic in common. From harbour wall, jetty or seaside pier, you are likely to be dangling your lure and lead vertically down into the water—and hauling it vertically up. The architecture itself, pier or jetty, gives you your access to fairly deep water: you walk out over it. Thus, no casting problems arise, as they arise on the beach. You are not seeking distance—you’ve already got it. All you need to do (simplifying a bit) is to lower your stuff into the water, wait, and haul your fish up. (Yes, that’s simplifying a bit.)
It follows that your tackle will be very substantially different from a beach caster’s little load. No need for that superb casting rod—overhead casting is actually prohibited on a great many piers, and quite rightly, too. The danger to passers-by from enthusiastic casting could be quite considerable. But if your rod doesn’t need the quite complex (and costly) characteristics of a casting rod, it does need something else—simple strength. According to the power of the tide that sweeps under the pier, you may need to use anything from a couple of ounces to half a pound of lead to keep your bait down on the sea bed.
It will be obvious that a slender, supple rod is out of place here. What you want is something burly, tough, masterful, with about as much give and play as a boat-hook. And that is more or less what you get in a pier rod. Well, perhaps I exaggerate: in fact I know I do. Some of the nicer pier rods do have an appreciable bit of life in them: but some are horrors. However, the ones that do have what you can honestly call a lively action, such as the Milbro Monarch, really can be used, quite well if not ideally, for other forms of fishing such as rock fishing and even beach casting. This is a tremendous factor for the man who can only afford one rod but who wants to get around a bit and vary his practice, as he assuredly should, if he is to get the most out of his hobby.
The pier rod is usually from about eight feet to ten feet in length. There are still some good built-cane jobs, but glass is winning all along the line. Hollow fibre glass makes the most responsive rods, but in these shorter lengths there is a lot to be said for the solid glass rod, which is cheaper. The Sealey White Wonder is a perfectly typical example of the most popular sort. I should add that some enterprising manufacturers have thought of the agreeable proposition of making a combination rod which will double for two branches of the sport. Such a one is the Auger Sea Switch, which breaks down into a 9 ft. pier rod or a 6 ft. 6 in. boat rod. Some makers, also, have heard of the cult of the drop net, and produce rods to match. This makes a lot of sense and might, in a way, introduce a touch of revolution into pier fishing, making it much more attractive to chaps like me who don’t much fancy using boat hooks to catch little dabs.
The drop net, as you can imagine, is a bucket of net (its shape is really unimportant) held open at the top by an iron frame, and suspended by rope which is tied to a metal bridle . Having hooked your fish, all that way down in the sea, you lower the drop net—or, better by far, get a mate or curious onlooker to lower it for you—if you fancy the look of him—and when the net is sunk a bit, play your fish over it, and haul away. By this crafty method you are enabled to use a rod considerably lighter than the pole that is needed to lift a fish, dead weight, up many feet vertically. True, you still have to have a rod that will throw out the amount of weight needed to ‘hold bottom’ in the water swirling around the piers. But you can always throw it out by hand—it is always a mistake to fish too far out from the piers, anyway, since that is where fish congregate to get at the food hidden in the growth on the piers—and other, better fish, come to get at them. With tiiis in mind, the firm of Martin James market their lightweight Exeter-de-Luxe, an 8 ft. rod which will handle a casting weight of 2-3 oz.
The pier fisher’s reel need be no more than a simple, rugged centre-pin job, the most old-fashioned reel in the world, such as the East Coast fishermen swore by, over the generations. A big star-back reel of walnut, now outmoded, is still just about perfect for the job. The Seajecta is the modern version in metal. This is really all that is needed —a gentle swing outwards to get your weight over the rail, and let it go down. But anglers won’t be convinced that they might just as well fish under their feet—might better fish under their feet. So they go on making prodigious efforts at casting, with rods unsuited for distance casting. Good luck! I like to see chaps enjoying themselves. The multiplier, again, is quite in order on the pier. I see fixed-spool reels in use, all over the place, but there was never a less congenial use for them.
(3) Rock Fishing
Rock fishing is perfectly fascinating, lonely, arduous, sometimes a little dangerous, productive, exhausting, and highly educative. If you live long enough to assimilate what you learn.
The rock fisher catches several species but his principal quarry is bass, as they come nosing in with the tide. The rock fisher’s sport most nearly approximates—though it still isn’t all that near—to the freshwater fisher’s. He is on dry land, or land that is approximately dry, and he is more flicking than casting his lure into relatively deep, or deepish, water, very near to hand. He is not using heavy weights, he is not holding his lure on the bottom in a great surge of surf, he is not venturing down vertically into immensely deep water like a boat fisher. What follows from all this? Why, it surely follows that the rock fisher’s tackle comes as near as anything in sea fishing to the tackle used by the game fisherman inland.
There is just about nothing I enjoy more than rock fishing, in the heavenly indented littoral of the West. I am getting a bit rheumaticky for it now, more’s the pity, but the West coast still calls strongly, the broken and embayed wild coast of Wales and the West Country (not to mention Holy Oireland) where you can range all day over tide-wet slippery rocks, dashed with foam, fishing for the gallant-hearted bass (among other fish). And until recently every hour of my rock fishing had been done with one of two rods—either a ten-foot sea trout fly rod, or a ten-foot salmon spinning rod. Every hour and every minute of it. Of course I don’t say that you have to follow this example. By no means. But a light, single-handed rod that reaches out a bit, certainly not less than 9 ft. long, preferably 10 ft., eleven or twelve if you feel up to it—light, supple, strong and springy, a sport fisher’s rod: that’s the ticket.
One great day I rose before dawn in my little cottage under the Downs. I’ll just tell you this tale while it’s in my mind—put in my mind by this recollection of rock fishing with that game rod. We can spare a minute from being down-to-earth and serious, can’t we? Right. I rose at the first tinkle of the alarm clock—odd how one who is a notably reluctant riser in the normal way can be out of bed, moving well, albeit like a sleep-walker, almost before the alarm clock starts to ring, when there’s fishing afoot. I padded down to the cosy kitchen and brewed tea and fried bacon, fed the cats, packed away sturdy bacon sandwiches and a flask or two, and was on the road before sunrise. What a day that was to be.
I wasn’t exactly doing it for a gamble, I was doing it for a story, being a journalist then as now. Much the same thing!
I headed West with the sun coming up behind me, the willing sun of May; I headed for the land of trout and sea trout and bass. And by the time the sun rose again I I had accomplished the following:
In the morning I fished for rainbow trout in a newl) opened municipal reservoir near Yeovil, and landed three over two pounds, all on a Teal-and-Red.
In the afternoon I fished for brown trout in the great lake of Chew Magna, and got one over two pounds, on a tiny nymph.
I drove on West, and in the evening, no, really in the first dark of the night, fishing a friend’s water on the Torridge in Devonshire, I fished a team of Black Spider and Butcher for sea trout, wading in a fast stickle; and landed a fish that also just touched two pounds.
After appropriate conviviality at my friend’s house, and the scant minimum of rest, as the sun rose again I fished for bass in the salt water of the estuary with a silver fly-spoon and landed one, exactly two pounds.
Four locations, widely spaced; four species, akin in their gameness; four lures, all different; four species landed, all just on or over the two-pound mark.
And every single cast made with that old sea trout rod. For it was the only rod I carried, though I had four reels and lines in my bag.
Pardon, your honour, I digress. The terrible gift of digression came upon me and I could not withstand it. It will happen again.
What is life if we cannot digress? The act of fishing is a continual or almost continual concentration—that is why it clears the mind so wonderfully of all the canting dross and knavery and junk of our daily worrying lives. But when we are talking about fishing, which is a different thing from doing it, why, then we may digress, it is our dignity and entitlement.
As I say, it may happen again.
But to get back to our slippery station on the wrack-wreathed rocks, the foam-spattered and spume-blown and weed-infested and tide-resisting rocks . . . All you need is a longish rod with plenty of give but also plenty of character, to let your lure slip out into the water almost at your feet. You may be float fishing, you may be lowering your weighted bait almost vertically, and silently, into the comparative depths, you may even be drifting it a little in the pull of the water, you may be jigging a lure up and down, which is marvellously effective on its day, or you may actually be spinning: but one thing you will not be doing, and that is hurling your lure out some prodigious distance. No, indeed. So you may leave that fixed-spool reel at home. Just as distance casting is self-defeating from jetty and pier, so it is self-defeating from the rocks. The prime reason why you are on the rocks is because the fish you seek come venturing right in to the rocks in search of their prey. If you cast well out, you are missing them. You just want something that will hold your lure out over the side of the rock, and gently lower it down. And the best reel you can use for the job is a simple old centre-pin. (4) Boat Fishing
Men who stay ashore have no option but to wait for the fish to come to them. Sometimes, like the beach casting fellowship, they reach out into the sea, stretching out as far as they can to make contact. The big difference with boat fishing is that you go out to where the fish are. You seek them in the deeps, yea, verily, in the deep asphyxiating waters. Mind you don’t join them.
Now one thing stands out solidly and that is that the man in a boat on the ocean has no need to cast. He has already arrived (or he hopes he has) over the shoals of fish. Ha! Yes. So all he has to do—and this holds true whatever method of angling he follows, whatever species he pursues—all he has to do is lower his lure into the water. He may let it go down almost vertically to or towards the bottom, he may let it stream out with the tide, float fishing or drift-lining. But unless he is actually spinning or fly fishing—they are the sole exceptions, and baby ain’t they just exceptional? —he has no need to make a cast. Ergo, or as the multilingual would say, therefore, he stands in no need of a casting rod. Or reel. All he needs is a short rod capable of dealing with the weights he has to use and the fish he hopes to catch.
A short rod, brethren, because boat fishing, which is dangerous in every possible way, is especially dangerous when chaps start flailing away with their long rods. There are other reasons besides this excellent civilised reason, but it is reason enough. All you need, really, is a hand-line —you can fish very effectively from a boat with a hand line. However, you won’t be angling. But a rod of five, six, seven feet long, as cheap as you like—a solid glass rod will serve splendidly—is all you really and truly need.
But of course there are boat rods and boat rods (wouldn’t there just be?). Again, it is the work to be done that determines the power and weight of the rod. If you are fishing for massive great skate or tope or shark, you certainly need a doughty tool. But if you are just fishing for mackerel, you need nothing at all stronger than a nice trout spinning rod.
Again, there is a distinction that has nothing to do with the quarry you seek. Are you fishing a lure on the bottom of the sea, in a heavy tide rip ? In that case you may actually need several pounds of lead to ‘hold bottom’ (and sometimes even several pounds won’t do the job). Very often, you’ll need as much as a pound of lead; quite normally, half a pound. These are severe weights for a rod to take, weighed as dead weight (the rod never feels the weight of a fish as dead weight—or shouldn’t). So often you need a stocky, chunky rod, even though the fish you seek may be quite smallish. But again, you may be float fishing, or drift-lining—streaming the lure away in the current of the tide, fishing it quite near the surface. In that case you need little or no weight, and a light supple rod will serve you quite well. Or of course you may be actually spinning, in which case your spinning rod is your boat rod.
Hardy’s accommodate you, again, on a lavish or Rolls-Royce scale of convenience. The Moncrieff Sidewinder rod which they market, and which is doubtless the best outfit you can buy, cunningly consists of one butt joint with three top joints of varying strengths, thus giving you a comprehensive outfit for the price of a comprehensive outfit. . .
Other makers may well follow this crafty idea. But in the meantime, while a-waiting (for Ernie or Littlewoods or the coming of heaven on earth) you may have to make do with one inexpensive boat rod. In that case you should treat yourself to a nice six or at most seven foot glass rod, hollow or solid but preferably hollow if you can raise the wind, and capable of handling a ‘casting’ weight of about twelve ounces. Such rods, more or less, are the Milbro Mermaid, the Abu Pacific, the very economical Sportex 3206, the Martin James Conger, or the Modern Arms Dover. And there are others: Rudge make good cheap rods. All fine rods, all reasonably priced (though the Abu, a very fine rod, is rather dearer than some) and all wholly at your service. The Sealey ‘Hugh Stoker’ which also gives you a choice of tips that fit one butt joint is excellent.
Don’t take your fixed-spool reel aboard, if you can help it. You want a solid old-fashioned centre-pin, for preference, or, if you like, a rugged multiplier with lots of line capacity. (5) Spinning
You know what spinning is? Spinning means this: you cast out a lure which spins, or merely flutters and throbs and flaps around in the water; and having cast it out you proceed to reel it back in. While it is in the water it is behaving like a living organism—usually a small fish, and oftener than not, an injured small fish. It is your hope, and occasionally your belief, that the spectacle of this small party trying desperately to escape will arouse the unfriendly attention of some merciless predatory fish, preferably large. If such a predator makes a grab at your lure, he discovers, too late, that it is furnished with a hook, if not hooks. That is the essence of what is loosely called spinning. As I said, some so-called spinners don’t spin at all, but they all make some sort of irregular movement in the water. Sometimes you mount a dead small fish, a prawn or sandeel, on a spinning flight equipped with vanes that make it spin in the water, and cast it out in the same way. Most times you use an artificial. Anyway, you are spinning.
Now a spinning rod is quite specialised and you cannot really go spinning without one. You cannot cast a light lure (and most spinning lures are very light) with a powerful stiff poker of a rod. You cannot really cast a spinning lure with anything but a spinning rod. Like a fly rod, it is a specialist tool which has built into it the necessary characteristics. With a spinning rod and the appropriate reel you will assuredly find it so easy, and so enjoyable, to flick your light lure out, over considerable distances, tiiat you may come to rate spinning extremely high in the long catalogue of angling’s joys. I do so myself.
Spinning is something quite new to most sea fishers, though it has been standard practice for the game fisher and pike fisher on inland waters for a very long time. But now that fibreglass and its allies have made it more practicable, sea spinning is catching on, and I don’t wonder, I don’t wonder at all, for at one stroke it sets you free of the mess of natural baits (which aren’t always there when you want them) and it is altogether an enterprising, artistic and productive method, the most spirited and sporting way of taking fish worth taking. Certainly you may use your freshwater spinning gear for sea spinning, if you like. But do remember to wash both rod and reel thoroughly in fresh water when you get home, and then wipe them over with the proverbial oily rag. If you don’t, they won’t last five minutes, as the saying goes. They really won’t. Salt water is very corrosive. So be careful. Especially of the reel.
But any spinning outfit is right for spinning, and if you own one already you can make do with it, provided you really and truly look after it and lubricate it.
Spinning rods made specially for sea spinning are very nice tools in the hand. Almost invariably the rod is made of fibreglass, of course. The reel fittings and rod rings are (or are supposed to be) pretty well resistant to corrosion. (Not that that stops me washing mine in fresh water after every outing—nothing like being sure.) For mackerel, and their brethren the garfish, which have green bones but still eat well, a trout size fixed-spool outfit is perfect. For the sturdier pollack and bass, a pike or salmon size outfit is the thing. You can buy this outfit very economically.
I happen to own and use one of the loveliest spinning outfits made for the job, the Milbro Mariner, which is a 9 ft. 6 in. two-piece, double-handed rod of modest weight and magnificent performance, and with it I use the Ambassadeur 6000 multiplier. This is the sort of rod which gives you a fine feeling of command—in almost any circumstances, you can really reach out and get your lure where you want it. But there are many fine outfits to choose from —a rod like the ‘Hugh Stoker’ bass rod together with a decent fixed-spool reel will give you good command and line control.
For estuarial work, for rock fishing where a spinner is used, for harbour fishing, I like the longer rod, over eight feet and up to ten. But for many spinning situations and especially for boat work, a much shorter rod is quite handy, and will do all that is asked of it. In fact the nice little cranked rods, or perhaps I should say crank-handled rods, though barely five feet long, are really very seductive and beguiling tools for use in a boat.
A very nice reel to use with a crank-handled short rod is the closed-face reel, which is becoming more and more popular. You will see one illustrated. These closed-face reels are actually a variant of the fixed-spool reel, in fact they are fixed-spool reels, but all the fairly complex and vulnerable bale-arm mechanism is shrouded out of sight, in fact dispensed with, and as you will see from the drawing, the line issues out of a nice little hole in the middle of the front dome, without any bale arm flying around. This is perhaps the easiest reel in the world to learn to cast with —it does all the work.
You make your back swing holding a trigger down, and when the lure comes forward and you are ready to release it you simply take the thumb pressure off the trigger and out she flies. When it hits the water you simply start reeling in. It is all nice and compact and apparently guarded against the weather, though in fact you still need to look after it and clean and oil it when you get home. But this is an agreeable and attractive job, especially for people who hate machinery and want everything simple.
You can also use a small multiplier—in fact the cranked rod was actually invented, or developed, in the first place, for use with a multiplier. It is a singular form of the truly single-handed rod, and heaven to use if you happen to like it. I once picked one up highly secondhand hand, from a junk shop, which appeared to be made of solid spring steel, in a hexagonal section. Many the good bass that fell to it. Cranked short rods are made in steel tube, built cane, solid glass and hollow glass. By their very brevity they assist the aim—they are aiming rods par excellence, and when using one you really do feel it is an extension of your arm (which it is) and it has some affinities with dart throwing and with archery. However, its aiming accuracy, which is unsurpassed, is countered by its relative inefficiency as a tool with which to play a big fish, once hooked. It provides the minimum of leverage and lift, and is the nearest thing to handlining. Each to his taste. It is a great little weapon in the boat fisher’s armoury, for sure.
This has been a rather formidably long section on tackle. But you should know what’s what, what is available and how it helps. I repeat that you can fish perfectly happily, and reasonably effectively, with whatever rod you happen to own, and whatever reel, too. But having one rod only will naturally cut down the range and scope of your activities.
When making up your mind what to buy, you should be guided by the facilities available to you. Are you going to do most if not all your fishing from a pier? From the beach? From a boat? From the rocks? Are you one who will spend his fishing time along an estuary? This is the important thing to know. If the great majority of your fishing hours will be spent in any one of these activities, then you can select the appropriate outfit and manage happily all your days with it. Don’t you worry. You don’t have to have a whacking great armoury of gear, lovely though it is to see ranged around the walls. But if you travel a lot, and adventure this mode and that of sea fishing, you do need something of a choice of rods and reels.
As I have said before, if you are already a freshwater angler you may already own an outfit which will serve you at sea—though it will almost certainly take a terrible beating from the corrosive effects of salt air and water. Unless you treat it like the Crown Jewels. But a good pike rod will stand you in good stead, so will a salmon spinning rod; even a trout rod will come in handy for mackerel fishing; even a roach road will serve for mullet fishing.
One rod I haven’t yet mentioned which is really wonderful for some aspects of sea angling is that excellent modern phenomenon, the carp rod. Our old friend Dick Walker practically invented this tool—the stepped-taper Richard Walker Mark IV carp rod set new standards, opened new vistas. Now rods based on that famous model, and made in fibreglass as well as cane, are quite commonplace: most of them being 10 ft. long and coming in two pieces. Such a rod is simply grand for a great many sorts of sea fishing, as you will see when you read on. It will even spin a lightish lure, up to an ounce or an ounce and a half, very adequately. It is ideal for float fishing and for drift lining and I’ve even used it for beach fishing. Of course it’s not the job at all for hurling heavy weights, for boat or pier fishing. But it is simply perfect for rock fishing, perfect. This is the ideal versatility weapon for the sea angler who (like me) loves fishing light—really sporting, enjoyable fishing full of feel and responsiveness. There are things it won’t do, but there are more things it will do. It is a lovely instrument.
Of lines, I will just say this. Monofilament nylon is now the most popular line by a mile, and rightly so. It is cheap, supple, strong and not very visible in the water.
It has quite superseded the old flax and cotton braided lines. But it does deteriorate, and since it is so cheap, it pays to break off the seaward end and replace it with new, quite regularly and always after a particularly severe battle, either with the surf or with a heavy fish. Please burn it, don’t just throw it away. Abandoned monofilament can cause terrible suffering to birds, who are often condemned to a lingering death by starvation when they get themselves tangled up in abandoned lengths of line.
I will indicate appropriate breaking strengths in the sections on various sorts of fish and fishing. Many sea anglers seem to use line that is heavier than they need. They lose a lot of sport and fun by this. Remember, it isn’t the fish, it’s the surf, the rocks, the pebbles, the weed —the sheer weight and welter of water and detritus, that does the damage. If you’re bottom fishing, you simply have to put up with it, using heavy weights and line. But if you’re surface fishing, or more or less surface fishing —float fishing, drift lining, spinning, fishing the feathers or the ‘fly’—then use a strength of line that is truly appropriate to the quarry. You’ll have far more fun, more genuine sport. When fishing for mackerel with the fly or light spinner, I sometimes use a line of 2 lb. Breaking strain. Why not? Mackerel won’t break it, in the open water in which one pursues them.
There is another sort of modern line which instead of being one single extruded filament—monofilament—is of braided or woven filaments. Naturally enough, it is known as braided line—some anglers simply refer to it as braid, for their sins. I personally am very fond of braided terylene line—it is pre-shrunk, and supple, and lies down on the reel spool perfectly, whereas some monofilament lines, in the stronger gauges, tend to be a bit springy, and to ride up on the spool. I prefer braided terylene on a multiplier. It is far more expensive, though.
Pretty new is an American development which has a very bright future—a braided line made of polyester fibres, smooth and strong. It casts very nicely. It has the further advantage of being free from the stretch of monofilament. New monofilament stretches a lot—which militates against hooking your fish. If your bait is a long way away when the fish takes it, you have to heave pretty hard and reel in too, to overcome the stretch and set the hooks. Many good fish are lost this way. (And a complementary factor is that when you have had a few too many ding-dong battles with big fish—or big snags, for that matter—you will assuredly have pulled all the stretch out of your monofilament, but by the same token you will also have pulled the elasticity out of it, and some of the strength. It pays to replace a monofilament line after a few real heavy outings.) Now the new American woven or braided polyester fibre line overcomes all these difficulties.
Many anglers tie a ‘collar’ of much stronger line next to the hook, to take the shock of casting—beach casting especially.
It’s not a bit of good pontificating about hooks, leads and swivels, except simply to say this: buy the best. It’s the cheapest part of the tackle, anyway, and penny-foolish is a real bad policy here. Hooks come in all shapes and sizes and you need a fair variety of sizes. Keep the points sharp with a slip of emery. Keep them oily.
Swivels are supposed to keep the twist out of lines, not to put them in—some thin-wire, cheap swivels are worse than useless, they are merely the convenient spot where corrosion starts to do its fell work, unseen by you. Buy good, stout swivels and keep them lubricated.
Weights are a matter of necessity—hateful necessity. You need just enough to keep your bait where the fish will find it—none when drift-lining in calm water, or very little; little enough beneath your float; any weight from an ounce to a pound when fishing on the bottom. Weights are sold in all shapes and sizes, like hooks, but a good sort is that which has wire grapnels sprouting out of the lead—holds the bottom well. (You only need this when fishing stormy surf.) However, we go into the question of the appropriate weight in some detail when discussing various fish and methods.
A note on clothing. There are no fixed fashions among fishermen, thank goodness, but drab-coloured stuff makes sense if you are going to get within sight of your quarry —as you sometimes do in rock fishing, and often in estuary fishing. Highly cheerful colours sometimes break out on the pier and in the boat, and of course they do no harm and probably cheer up the party.
You need to keep warm, and dry. It can be absolutely perishing on the beach and in the boat—far colder than you thought when you left home, inland. A real good strong windcheater top jacket is quite essential, more than half the time. With appropriate sweaters beneath. On the beach, if not in the boat, you sometimes need waterproof trousers, and you certainly need waterproof footgear —Wellington boots, even waders. The old sou’wester doesn’t come that shape by accident—centuries of usage and hard practical lore have gone into it. It remains unbeatable. However, if it isn’t actually pouring down, a bobbly woollen cap is snug and comforting and makes you feel mildy nautical, if not piratical. I fancy one of those peaky caps that make you look like a Nazi soldier down on his luck—you know the sort, ski-ing caps they used to be called: porters at Waterloo wear them now. They give fine protection, especially with side flaps that can be turned down to protect the ears and neck. An old towel worn round the neck is the best thing for keeping rain out. Gannex, though stiff as plywood, keeps out rain and wind wonderfully well and stands up to any amount of hammering. Those popular fine-textured lightweight anoraks are no bloody good at all: you want something really hard-wearing, sea fishing is murder on everything.
Don’t think this is an ancient worn-out grandpa quavering. You just don’t know how cold and wet you can get until you’ve passed a wintry day at or on the sea, in the wrong clothing. Be prepared.
While on the subject of comfort—what you eat and drink is entirely your business, but be sure you don’t go short. The appetite you work up during a day’s sea fishing has virtually no relation to your normal workaday appetite. Hot drinks are especially welcome. I personally enjoy having a fire going, on the sort of outing that permits of it —and especially if I’m with a mate who can give a hand. But if you’re not making it a cook-out, at any rate take a thermos full of soup and another full of your favourite tipple. Booze is most agreeable, of course, but a bit of a delusion. You only feel warmer for a little while. The booze sends the blood coursing through the outer vessels; there, shortly afterwards, it catches cold. But heaven forfend that I should separate a man from the comfort of his flask.