Striking at the fish as they take the bait is the fun part of fishing although there is much that is fanciful about the tactic of striking, especially when sea angling. In the case of the biggest species like cod, smoothhound, ray and bass they will usually take the bait on the move and these results in a strong bite pulling the rod down, off the rest or producing a slack line. The latter can be particularly difficult to hook because feeling resistance often results in the fish dropping the bait. The general technique is to reel up the slack and wait for the fish to pull again. In many cases a strong cod bite will pull the rod tip over and threaten the rod’s security and you will have no choice but to strike. In all other situations it’s wise to allow a bite time to develop, more on that later.
Little in fishing beats the enjoyment of striking at a bending rod tip and feeling the fish lunge away hooked, too many it’s what fishing is all about with those initial moments after the strike the most pleasing in angling. The action of striking is though not always that simple because not all bites are heart stopping rod pullers and bites come in a large variety of rod tip and line movements. To strike we lift the rod to tighten the line and pull the hook into the flesh around the fish’s mouth. Sounds simple, but the timing of the strike is the major decision of the tactic. The questions are, is the baited hook inside the mouth of the fish, is the fish moving away with the bait, is the bite lots of tiddlers pecking at the bait, is the bite a fish, could it be crabs, shrimps, strong tide or weed on the line? Obviously lots of unknown factors have always made striking something of a gamble!
Personally I reckon striking is over very rated – If the rod is threatened you strike and that’s the only rule of the tactic. On all other occasions it is a wait and see policy that pays the best dividend and often its horses for courses depending upon lots of small factors. The type and size of the bait you are using makes a difference to the decision to strike, the species you are fishing for, the venue, the weather, and the bite itself!
An important contribution to the fish hooking rate is the balance of hook size to the bait used, many novices seem to think that the hook must be buried out of the sight of the fish in the bait when in fact this masks the hook point making it less likely to hook the fish. A careful balance of hook size and bait as well as a positive bait presentation technique ensures that the hook is not masked or impaired and this includes the bait being unable to slip around the bend of the hook during casting.
For large baits nothing really beats the Pennell hook system. This involves two hooks in a big bait which positions a hook at each end of the bait. The two hooks are also be used to support the bait firmly in the position that gives the hooks a maximum chance of hooking the fish.
In the case of the shore angler the distance between the hook and the rod tip and the amount of stretch in monofilament line also has a major effect on the likely strike success rate. A 100 yard length of monofilament has yards of stretch and the transfer of a large percentage of the power of the strike to the hook is lost in the line, that apart a bite might in fact signal that the fish is already hooked! It very important to view each bite on its merits with regard to the hook/bait being used and the distance fished and its only in time that the experienced angler will develop a knowledgeable picture of what is happening at the business end of the tackle, .
Setting up your tackle to allow bites to show positively is the first thing that the novice angler needs to learn and lots of beginners are fooled into thinking they have bites which are no more than tidal, wave or wind movement. Obviously the sea is moving all the time and the combination of strong tide, swell and wind will move the rod tip and it takes some experience to learn what is a fish attacking the bait and what is not. The first step is to set your rod up so that the line is tight and any pull on the line will maximise on the rod tip. Into this equation you will have to factor in the rods stability so don’t go overboard on bite detection if it puts your rod at risk. Tripod rod rest are constructed so that any pressure on the rod is cushioned by the two front legs so face those two front legs directly towards where the most pressure on the rod, line and rest is coming from for maximum stability. This includes wind, tide and likely bites. Placing the rod on the rest parallel to the sea is popular to exaggerate bites, but it can place the rod at risk and is a tactic used only when it’s calm and for small fish bite spotting. Watch where your line enters the sea, because wave movement will by increased if the line is draping in the surf or breakers. Raise the rod tip so that the line is above any surf movement. You can do this with the rod rest cups which can be moved up the rest to the position required.
Other than bites that place the rod in danger, bites should all be considered on their individual merits. If you are using large bait for a big fish then the smallest nibbles need to be ignored and in most cases you are waiting for a rod pulling bend. Using multi small baits timing is often more important than striking because you can catch more than one fish a cast. Hooked fish attract others to the bait and setting up a feeding frenzy situation is often the key to successfully sea angling with three hook baits as proved by the match anglers.
How to determine whether bites are caused by the tide, the wind or bait stealing crabs comes with experience, but look for rhythmic bites as being most likely weed, swell, tide or wind on your line bow. Crabs tend to flick the line and the rapid loss of your bait on the retrieve will add a vital clue.
Using two rods on the same rest is one way to determine bites because the rods will behave differently if one has a bite and if the rhythmic movement of the tide wind is altered on one rod it will be easier to notice.
The smallest nibbley bite should always be allowed more time to develop -when you think the hook has been taken, strike. Remember, If you strike too early you risk missing the fish altogether. Strike too late and you will often find the fish is already hooked or the hook bare. Very important to this situation is your requirements in terms of fish welfare or conservation – Striking early will be more likely result in the fish missed or lip hooked and therefore it can be returned unharmed. Strike late and the hook may be too deep to remove and it’s a fact that the nature of most of the sea fish we catch is to swallow the bait quickly so even a rapid strike is not always fool proof as a catch and release tactic. Because of this deep hooked fish are always a problem to de-hook and a disgorger is a handy aid once you get the hang of its use.
Perhaps the most difficult bite to hook is the slack liner and there are various ways to deal with this bite. Firstly tighten up the line, carefully so as not to move the hook, and then wait for a positive forward movement, if it is another slack line you can repeat or strike. Other tactics include taking up all the slack quickly by reeling and moving backwards as your strike. Nothing is guaranteed and success rates vary.
VITAL BITE TACTICS
Striking is an enjoyable part of angling, striking at every bite can though be foolish as well as frustrating and I assure you will have a bad effect on results. Patience in letting bites develop will catch you lots more fish. Remember fish are intent on eating your bait, snatching it away from them is more likely to spook them!
Strikes should be positive, mono line stretches and at 100 yards a full blooded tug may only just move the hook. When fishing for the bigger species with large baits at long range strike and reel at the same time! Beware that once the fish realises its hooked it may fight back and could bust your line and having your reel drag/clutch pre set or ready to release in case it’s a big fish!
The movement on the rod tip from the attention of different species attacking the bait varies greatly. More positive bites are given by the bigger species, small taps and nibbles are most often from tiddlers. Some species are hard to hook because they pick and peck at the edges and tails of the bait so they should be given more time. These are: whiting, dogfish, flatfish, mullet, bream, ling and eels. More positive biters are: tope, bass, ray, cod and smoothhound.
All species are easier to hook in strong tide, the momentum of the tide is pushing the fish back on to the hooks, as with a moving lure and when they take the bait they are far more likely to be hooked. In strong tide the hook bait is held still by the grip lead with a grip lead a vital piece of bite hooking equipment for the long range shore angler.
STRIKE A BITE TIPS
Sharp hooks are an important aspect of the successful strike although a blunt hook point will catch fish that have swallowed the hook. However, a sharp hook will often lodge in the fish before it is swallowed, a POINT to remember if catch and release is important to you. The sharpest hooks are the chemically etched variety.
Not sure you have had a bite in strong tide? Release some line and watch the rod tip as the line tightens, a hooked fish often gives its presence away.
Braid line’s lack of stretch makes it the perfect answer to improve bite definition and detection, its great from the boat or for medium range shore fishing, but remember mono’s stretch is its safety valve. You need to use a soft rod or a mono leader to avoid busting light hook snoods or pulling the hook out of the fish when using braid line.
At night an easy way to help spot bites is to paint your rod tip white or add a few turns of reflective tape. You can also add a Starlite to your rod tip, secure it with elastic bait cotton.
Does anything beat feeling a fish pull the rod tip down hard and the resulting strike see the rod bent double? I doubt it, but missing bites is a fact of life and something all anglers have to live with so don’t take striking too seriously, your success rate will improve with experience.