Look what you're missing!
Nearly every sea angler in this country must, at some time or another, have used a spinner to catch mackerel from the shore. But how many have gone further and spun for other fish from the rocks or beach? Not many, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because they just don't know what they are missing. The noble bass heads a list of fish that can be taken very easily from the shore on a wide range of artificial lures.
Why bother, many may ask? We pick up plenty of fish using the more normal methods, so what can we gain from spinning? Well, I could answer with a whole list of reasons and advantages but the proof lies in experience, which I hope to encourage anglers to gain.
I could start by explaining why I began spinning from many rock marks near my home at Portland, Dorset. As bait became progressively more difficult and expensive to obtain from shops - and not easy to find yourself without a lot of trouble - I began to think about alternatives. Spinning seemed the logical choice. So, armed with a variety of lures, I set off to Portland Bill to see what I could catch.
It wasn't long before I was hauling out good bags of decent-sized bass - and the pollack seemed almost suicidal. With catches like that, I was convinced that spinning was the answer. Since those early, experimental days, I have learnt a lot about lures, their action, and methods of fishing them - knowledge I hope will benefit many other anglers. Another advantage is the simplicity of the tackle - no heavy bags of tackle, bait and leads for me. Just a small tackle bag with a few leads up to two ounces (I said a ¾ of an ounce), some swivels and a selection of lures.
Simplicity is the whole essence of spinning. It's all so easy that I can't understand why many more sea anglers haven't taken it up. Just look at the results freshwater anglers achieve with a wide range of fish.
I'll deal with rock fishing first, because that is my main love. A fairly light rod about nine feet long and capable of casting leads up to one ounces (I said a ¾ of an ounce), a light reel and 10 lb line is all you need. You'll have plenty of fight on that tackle. The only thing I consider important about the terminal tackle - apart from keeping it simple - is a trace of at least six feet between the lure and lead. Set the end rig like this. "From your lure there is a six-foot trace to a swivel. Then a short link holds the lead, joined to the reel line by another swivel - and that's it." The weight of the lead depends on the conditions, but I rarely go above one ounce from the rocks.
Now, where to find the fish. Don't do what too many would seem obvious, and chuck the lot straight out as far as you can. That'll do you no good at all. Instead, cast along the shore, to your left or right, searching the rocks and white water at the water's edge. The only time to cast out any distance - and I don't mean anything above about 35 yards - is if you see a rock in front of you that looks as if a bass could be holding out there, or to search a gully where the channeled water is pushing up a lot of white water.
A fast retrieve is essential. Remember, you are imitating white bait, or lightning-fast sandeels forced to the surface by the tide - so retrieve the lure very quickly. If you see a fish chasing your lure, don't slow down - speed up, or the bass will turn away at the suspicious action. A fish fleeing for its life doesn't slow down with a hungry bass on its tail.
Remember to keep the lure close to the surface. I never fish any more than 18 inches deep. Lower down is where the big fish are - and no sandeel would dare venture in their territory. When a fair-sized bass takes, he'll usually hook himself, so just tighten up on him. Don't try to bully him in or he'll go straight off, snapping you or fouling you on the neighboring rocks. In fact, big bass are very accommodating and head out to sea when hooked. Just hang on to him until he's in open water, then steady, gentle pressure will bring him in safely.
I use the time when he's running to decide where to land him, and get my landing net ready. One important thing is not to put the net into the water until the fish is fully played out. A last-minute surge of power in a bid for freedom has left many anglers fishless just as they thought they were home and dry. Proper use of your reel's slipping clutch is essential for this powerful fish, particularly in the closing stages of the fight. Watch the bass's gills when you've got him in for landing. If he's "breathing" normally, with long deliberate gill movements, he's not ready. But if those movements are fast - as though he's gasping for breath - he's all yours.
Beach spinning has slightly different requirements. I scale my line up to 15 lb because I will be using leads up to two ounces to get extra distance - up to 50-60 yards. There are no real guidelines to finding fish from the beach. It involves moving about a lot, searching the water. The long casts are not to reach the fish. They are a lot closer in. It's just to get the lure behaving right by the time you've retrieved to where they are lying.
Search the area thoroughly, but don't hang about in any one spot. If a bass is there, he’ll take first time if he's going to take at all. And if you get a fish, don't hang about in the same place expecting another. He won't come. You don't have to move far - just a few yards at a time. Try to place your lure in the trough behind a wave and retrieve at least as fast as the wave is coming in - again keeping close to the surface. June and July are the top months of the year for this style, with good sport in the spring and autumn - though fish turn up in lesser numbers all the year round.
Fish the incoming tides for the best results, though you can often find bass from the rocks at other times. You don't need a large selection of lures, but it is important what sort you use in different conditions. I always prefer rough, dirty water with low visibility, and use a lure with plenty of vibration to attract the fish. My choice for these conditions is a metal lure of the Toby type or a commercial artificial sandeel. But when I fish in clear, calm water, visual lure action is what matters - and I have yet to see anything to better my own "rubber ring" lure, which flutters attractively through the water. Using light tackle. The use of fine wire hooks is essential if you want to drive the hook home. For general use I prefer size 4/0, going up to 6/0 when I know the bigger bass are about.