29 Oct 2010

Bait Fishing Tips to Catch More Bigger Fish

I have been guiding overseas and in the tropics for many seasons and it still amazes me what people are prepared to put on a hook.
Fishing with bait is the most popular method of salt water fishing. But buying a block of frozen fish deemed not fit for human consumption is not going to optimise your chances of success.
The days of sticking on any old lump of bait and tossing it over the side are long past. Every now and again you might strike it big, but don’t count on it, effort and preparation is all important.
Don’t get me wrong, fish do get caught on frozen baits, especially purpose caught baitfish such as pilchards and squid, but much of the fish frozen for bait is by-catch, as tough as old boots, and is probably nearly as edible. Many people will use tougher baits because they are tough they stay on the hook longer. It stops the baits stealers.
If you are being plagued and your baits are being nibbled off before a decent fish can get hold then try bigger bait. And walk your bigger bait back down tide , below and further away from the boat , especially when fishing in shallow water , big fish don’t get to be big fish by being stupid and they will stay back from the disturbance of the boat , so drop the bait back down tide and seek out the bigger fish.
There is a simple rule for bait-fishing - the better the quality of your bait, the better the quality of the fish you are likely to catch.
Catch it there.
Bait caught on the fishing ground tends to be the baitfish your prey is chasing, and this makes your bait just that much more attractive than imported bait. Freshly killed bait still retains the oils, blood, and other attractions to your prey.
Any of the normal shoaling baitfish which can be caught at the fishing site will work and used freshly killed will be very seductive. If the size is suitable the bait can be used whole – or if too big, cut up. If cutting up these baits remember to cut across the fish at an angle from head to tail to expose as much of the flesh as possible.
If you are chasing big Snapper or Conger try a ‘butterflied’ bait. From the tail, cut up each side of the backbone, to just behind the head, then cut out the backbone behind the head. This leaves two fillets still attached to the head. Hook the bait between the eyes and fire it out. If the bait is still alive when you turn it into a butterfly, so much the better.
Fillets of freshly caught fish such as yabouy and bonefish make very attractive baits. When freshly caught the flesh is still firm, and will stay on a hook much better than when it has been frozen. Try cutting the flesh into strips, rather than cubes, this will give the bait some added movement in the water.
When using a freshly killed yabouy, take off a fillet, skin it, cut the bait into strips, and rig it with a two-hook rig, wrapping the line between the hooks around the bait strip. This bait-rig has accounted for many large snapper.
The gills of freshly caught bigger baits such as trevally, Spanish mackerel, are top baits. Push the hook through the pea-sized knurl at the top of the gills and send it down. Do not fish gills for much longer than ten minutes without a bite or hook-up, the blood will have leeched out, taking with it the reason for fish to bite.
Catch it close.
Try and keep the bait alive if you can, from the point of capture to the fishing ground. Fresh killed bait will still be attractive even if it does not match what your prey is feeding on. If you cannot keep the bait alive make sure it is kept as cool as possible maybe in a bag on the ice you are taking out to keep your catch in tip-top condition.
It is imperative to keep caught bait either alive or as cold as possible. Keeping dead baits in a container of water is a bad practice. This will actually speed up the process of raising the fish’s temperature, and turn the flesh into mush.
You can use any of the bait rigging techniques outlined above for baits caught on the way to the spot.
Ok, if you must.
Choose frozen bait using much the same judgement factors you would use if you were planning to eat the fish yourself.
Fish that has been well cared for up to and including being frozen will look better in the pack. The fish will still be bright. Any bait that looks lifeless in the pack will probably appear so under the water as well. It is essential that frozen bait should retain the oils and juices that make it attractive to our prey. Bait that looks flat in the pack has probably been left too long before freezing and it is likely that oils and juices have dissipated.
It is for this reason that you should never totally defrost frozen baits.
As bait defrosts, much of the oil and juices leak out. Look at all the oils and blood that is left in the bag at the end of the day and you will see what I mean. Keep most of the bait you have taken out for the trip as cold as possible and only take enough out to cover the next 10 minutes. Many frozen baits such as mackerel and pilchards turn into slush when defrosted and we all know how difficult it is to rig slush on a hook, and how easy it is for the pickers to rip it off. The best condition for frozen bait is a texture something like the packaging foam, firm but not solid.
It is likely that fish have very little means of detecting hot or cold, in terms of food, so bait that is still partly frozen is no problem.
I can only think of one bait that is probably best used after freezing, and that is tuna. Fresh caught tuna is very soft and it is difficult to keep it on a hook. But in saying that, tuna that is allowed to totally defrost becomes next to useless. Try and keep all baits out of the sun whilst baiting up.

What to Look For in the Bait Freezer
When you look at bait in the retailer’s freezer – and don’t buy bait till you get a look at it – look for the following key points before selecting bait:
  • Make sure there is no evidence of oil or blood in the bag or box. This is a sure sign that the bait has either been defrosted or frozen too slowly, and the oils and juices have leeched out.
  • Check that the bait has not been crushed. This can indicate either that the bait has been badly handled, or that the bait has been allowed to defrost. Crushed bait has flesh that is bruised and soft often too soft to stay on a hook. Oils and juices have been forced out of crushed bait.
  • Look for evidence of freezer burn. This may show up as bruising on the skin, or discolouration of the skin. This may indicate the bait has been poorly treated when freezing, or that the bait has been in the freezer for too long. Again, freezer-burned bait will be low on oils and juices.
To be successful in catching more or bigger fish
means starting at the fish’s end of the process:

  • The first thing that must exist is that there are fish to catch where you are fishing.
  • Having found fish, the next important factor is to set up a berley (ground-bait) trail that will attract and hold fish near where you bait is going to be.
  • That is where the bait comes into play – the better the bait, the better the fish that will be caught.
Everything else that follows up the fishing system hook, line, rod, reel, and angler is of no use unless the first three factors are in place. Bait selection and presentation is too often disregarded in the haste to get fishing.
- Richard Sheard, World Sport Fishing

Richard Sheard has spent his life hunting big fish in more than 40 countries. He started fishing at the age of six, progressed to competitive fishing, and then founded World Sport Fishing. Few are as qualified to talk about the techniques, sport and allure of big game fishing as Richard. He currently lives in the UK and spends a good part of each year abroad, fishing and shooting.

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Opening Day on the Rivers… French style!

The fishing season starts with a bang here in our village, I provided the whimper later in the day for reasons that will become clear to the reader after the following few paragraphs.
In Champagnac-La-Riviere there is a local angling club who have what has to be the best idea for the opening of the 1st category rivers and lakes. Essentially this involves starting fishing at sunrise on the 12th March, which incidentally this year gave a high of –2 degrees at that hour, one hours fishing then off to the bar.
Now I enjoy the odd few glasses of the local grapejuice, but not normally at this hour. However with fingers like Captain Scotts and a nose akin to Rudolph, I was grateful for the glass of white wine with cassis waiting at the bar for me. Warm handshakes all round and a quick check on catches (mostly blanks, myself included) and a second glass is “obligatoire”, quickly followed by a third. The warming effect of this beverage, it has to be said, is excellent. It also has the added advantage of allowing the part of the brain which is responsible for talking in a foreign language to function more easily, although not necessarily correctly.
A table for twelve had been laid in the bar, the last supper sprang immediately to mind.
All of the food in our local bar is cooked on site, no radiation roasts here. Our first course was the most delicious French onion soup with garlic bread and although the red wine was served in glasses, it is also applied liberally to the soup too. I do not usually eat a lot for breakfast, or drink alcohol, so kept telling myself it was lunchtime as a huge steak and equally large bowl of chips arrived on the table. Custom dictates that you must drink red wine with the main course. Quelle surprise!! It is now a little after ten o’clock in the morning and my liver is expecting overtime pay. Cheese and salad followed the main course, and yes………a glass of red wine or two, just to accompany the cheese really. Trying to eat, drink and speak french with my lips partially numb and an inane smile on my face was a challenge.
Normally, I was told, we would fish again for an hour or so before returning to the bar for aperitifs, however as the outside temperature was still a balmy zero degrees the breakfast ran into lunchtime. Un Pastis ou un café? I took the sensible option. “Un grand café noir, s’il vous plait, merci.’ I said with a whimper before strolling home for a good long lie down.
- Tony Scott, Fly Fishing in France

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A Fishy Story!

Together with two good friends, Paul and Jess, I decided to go and fish La Mordorée, an old quarry now totally transformed into a magnificent stillwater trout fishery in the heart of the Charente, just 30 mins drive from us.
I had fished this reservoir in the summer to no avail. It can be just too hot for the fish to bother playing. Talking to the owner he told me that it fishes best in autumn and spring.
So……we headed off bright and early one November morning. The colours of the surrounding trees are majestic at this time of year and it was a rather comfortable 18 degrees, hazy sun and little wind upon our arrival.
There was a good deal of surface activity visible. Just what we needed – a bout of dry fly fishing. Tackling up was undertaken with gusto as rise after rise was seen upon the water. Funny how a rise looks like a little target isn’t it?
I had been asked to give a quick refresher on casting techniques to Paul and Jess, so we headed to the waters edge. Edge is the word, the quarry is over 15 metres deep and our bank shelved steeply for about 2 metres and then dropped off into the blue.
I was teaching a change of direction technique to Paul and Jess when a beautiful 6lb+ rainbow rose to my right hand side. As I had cast to my left, this gave a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate a change of direction cast. With a deft waft of the rod and an increasing amount of adrenalin starting to run through my system, I cast to the fish.
Normally shaking hands do not produce good casts, however this time the fly, a grey wulff, landed just in the trout’s window of vision. Slurp!! And it was gone. The fly line started to disappear steadily into the depths as I let out more and more with minimal resistance for the fish. (Now, here’s a lesson to us all……….it pays to remember that 1.5lb tippet tapered leaders are superb for river fishing, but perhaps a slightly stronger breaking strain would have been preferable for a fish such as this fellow.) You’ve guessed it………”ping” and everything went slack, jaws and all.
As the group excitement died down we discussed the why’s, wherefore’s and if only’s as anglers do. Words not worthy of print were spoken in profusion, as anglers do.
This one definitely “Got away”
We fished for an hour or so up until lunchtime, enjoying many rises, takes, and subsequent losses and saw some truly tremendous fish cruising below the surface.
La Mordorée has a good head of rainbows, browns, blues and golden trout and there are black bass too. Mental note: Must catch a black bass!
The French lunch has to be observed. So we settled down at the picnic table for a traditional lunch of pate, bread, cheese and of course a small beer. Not forgetting a “pain au chocolat” for afters.
Recharged we fished on into the afternoon. The wind had gotten up a little so the surface disguised our lines and leaders admirably, whilst allowing our flies to bob around happily in the wavelets.
Paul hooked into a prowling rainbow only for the fish to decide that perhaps taking this fly was a mistake, so he spat it back at Paul, who proceeded to entertain us with a temper tantrum usually not seen after the age of around two years old. Or maybe it was more of a tribal war dance, its difficult to say when you are doubled up laughing. Onwards and upwards…………
Jess hooked into a rather nice golden trout just as he was in the process of paying the owner for our fishing. It looks impressive, but Jess was relieved of the trout and his euros, both got away.
Me…I missed a good few takes, “lack of practice” was the excuse chosen from my book of “Explanations for an empty creel”, however I finally banked a plump dinner plate sized rainbow, so my wife Sue would be delighted, if not a little surprised.
We finished the day by watching the sun begin to set over the reservoir and sipping a beer. A great day indeed.
With my thanks to Paul and Jess.
- Tony Scott, Fly Fishing in France

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Catch and Release or Catch and Cook?

We have lived here in the Limousin now for over six years and have noticed some interesting differences between French and British anglers, and their approaches to fishing.
The following observations are to be taken light-heartedly, with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek. No offence is meant to any angling brethren from either side of the channel.
The most glaring difference is the French attitude of “I catch, therefore I eat” as opposed to most British anglers who prefer to fish more for sport. Of course there are exceptions to this, but on the whole most fish caught in UK waters are returned to fight another day. This has a lot to do with the French palette, which knows no bounds when it comes to eating our scaly friends. Pike, Perch, Zander, and Carp which seldom grace British plates, are found throughout France on menus and in supermarkets. Although I am a keen angler I do not eat many fish. That could have something to do with the fact that I can’t catch them ready battered or bread crumbed.
The French two-hour lunch also features in their piscatorial pursuits. During our various sorties to fishy places, picnic tables were often found close to the riverbanks. Thinking that this was a great idea to place ones equipment etc, I was wrong. The midday bell rings and the French will take an hour or so to sit down and eat. I have to say, the wine, baguette and cheese platter sure beats a crushed, warm sandwich that is hurriedly pulled out of a fishing bag and eaten with one hand whilst fishing with the other.
Having run a fishing tackle shop in UK, I am familiar with the “All the gear, but no idea” syndrome with some British anglers. The French approach here in rural Limousin couldn’t be further from the obsession with owning every conceivable piece of fishing paraphernalia. No such tackle snobbery here. The French rod and reel are designed to be thrown in the back of white Citroen vans (more about these vans later) and whipped out, baited up with a worm, poked through some gaps in the undergrowth and placed in the path of some unsuspecting fish. It’s a fact that the fish that you hope to catch do not know how much you have paid for your tackle. The French understand this and use it to maximum effect. They would not want their tackle budget to impinge upon their food and wine budget. As in so many of things rural and French, there is a wonderful simplicity in this approach to catching your lunch.
When was the last time you saw maggots, worms and other baits available for sale in your local UK supermarket……hmmmmm never, I thought as much. Not so here as most supermarkets happily stock such delicacies alongside the fish counter, albeit in fridges. I can’t see Sainsburys offering the same service or the British public accepting it for that matter. You have to hand it to the French sometimes.
Back to the white Citroen vans aforementioned. Here is a little tip for us British fishermen. If you see such a van parked in a haphazard fashion close to some water on a quiet country lane, chances are there is usually a French angler not too far away who has found a productive stretch of water. We’ve noticed that the ubiquitous white vans are used by hunters and anglers alike.
You do need a Carte de Pêche to fish in France. This will cost you around 73,00 euros per year, although day permits are now available all year for just 10,00 euros per day. These are only valid in the department in which they are purchased. Fortnightly holiday permits are also available between June and September. You can buy all these permits from tackle shops, bars, and supermarkets. In our village, it is the boulangerie who supply them. The good thing here in France, unlike UK, the various fishing clubs do not own the best stretches of water. Anyone has the right to fish pretty well wherever they like, unless the land is private. A superb site for all information relating to fishing in France can be found here www.unpf.fr.
It is rare to see banks lined with angers here, or over packed fisheries. This is a positive pleasure. It enables the roaming angler to do just that. The Limousin is known as the land of 1000 lakes. Combined with hundreds of waters ranging from small fast moving brooks to the River Vienne, which meanders gently through the region, there is no shortage of water or fish. As for catching them….. I leave that to the reader.
Most villages have their own fishing club and set up competitions during the year. It has to be said, if our local club is anything to go by, there will usually be an all day bar and food. Just last week at our yearly competition I was offered a glass of wine at the unearthly hour of 8.00 a.m. Refusing politely, I got the same puzzled looks from our club members as I do when I tell them that having caught a fish I usually put it back.
You may be pleased to know that although there are many differences between French and British anglers, the innate ability of all fishermen to exaggerate the size of their catch using the open hands gesture is an international trait, although here it can be hard to differentiate between the Gallic Shrug and “It was this big”.
On a serious note, when it comes to fishing for trout, the French equivalent of the environment agency are trying to advocate the “ No Kill” policy. Strangely this is written in English. Currently there is a fishing ban for all salmon and sea trout in the rivers in most of South Western France. This kind of legislation helps the fish stocks, the environment and equally important there will be fish for future generations to catch.
I wish all anglers tight lines and singing reels!!!
- Tony Scott, Fly Fishing in France

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