Catch Fish with
For anyone unfamiliar with the site always check the FRESHWATER, SALTWATER and TACK-TICS pages. The Saltwater page now extends back as a record of over several years of (mostly) sea fishing and may be a useful guide as to when to fish. The Freshwater stuff is also up to date now. I keep adding to both. These pages are effectively my diary and the latest will usually be about fishing in the previous day or two. As you see I also add the odd piece from my friends and correspondents if I've not been doing much. The Tactics pages which are chiefly 'how I do it' plus a bit of science are also updated regularly and (I think) worth a read (the earlier ones are mostly tackle and 'how to do it' stuff).
"You must go fishing all the time to be able to write so much about it!" I frequently get comments like this. However, the truth is that I don't go that often, perhaps two or three short sessions a week on average - not a lot for someone who is retired and, in theory at least, could go fishing more or less every day. I have all the usual family commitments, and with our large family these are considerable, add to this those days when it is too windy, wet, flooded, etc. etc. or even those times when I'm crocked due to some sort of (usually fishing induced) injury and you'll see what I mean. All this is really an excuse for occasions like the present when I haven't been fishing so the diary is looking a bit too thin for my weekly inputs. Anyway, I dug out the following stuff just 'to keep the pot boiling'.
Although sea anglers tend to be the grubbiest, smelliest branch of our sport, snobbery is rife in sea angling circles. While most of us are happy to hook cod, conger, bass and plaice, we don’t seem to get very excited when a lesser-spotted dogfish or one of its relatives snaffles a bait intended for something higher up the social undersea ladder. Why should this be? Simply from the fact that many anglers believe that fish from the primitive shark family, to which ray and dogfish are related, are somehow inferior to those species with proper scales.
Bony fishes, the ones we normally regard as fish, and ‘sharks’ parted ways many millions of years ago, yet both groups have been great survivors. Each has produced it’s bottom feeders, mid-water foragers and it’s surface swimmers. The wide variety of 'flatfish' ranging from tiny dab to mighty halibut are matched by designs which include small spotted rays and barn door skates. Even the sleek, fast-swimming tunnies and bonitos have their selachian (shark type) equivalents in the streamlined, warm blooded, porbeagle and mako sharks.
Each of the two main groups of fishes has it’s own special forms. Dogfish and rays are notable not just for their rough, prickly skins, porthole-like gill openings and multiple rows of teeth but for their super-sensitive noses and electrical receivers. It is no accident that these fish can often find your bait on the darkest nights and in the murkiest water and, of course, the ability of that curse of a fish, the lesser-spotted dog, to bite avidly when even the ubiquitous pouting have ‘gone off’, is well known to all.
German and American researchers have discovered that rays, scudding about on the sandy sea bed, are able to recognise their own kind by using high-tech transmissions. It seems that rays such as our thornback, small-eyed and undulate have electric organs which are arranged in strips along each side of the tail. The output is much like the magnetic chips on your credit card. Rays also have sensitive detectors located in little, jelly-filled pits in the skin. Scientists, by setting up their own 'dummy electrical organs' buried in the sediment have been able to attract rays to the spot and so effective was the ploy that the fish often settled on the sea bed piled on top of each other like a skate sandwich. It seems that when these fish first meet each other they send out friendly little impulses of electricity. The frequency and nature of these pulses varies from species to species.
Conclusions drawn from these studies suggest that rays use electricity to signal to others of the same species, either warning them off them off their territories or perhaps for recognition during breeding. They also use their detectors to locate the tiny outputs of electricity from the muscles of potential prey such as buried sandeels or flatfish. French scientist, Dr Rousset, spent ten years tracking at the distribution of rays and less-spotted dogfish in the in shore fishing grounds of Brittany. The thornback ray was the commonest and most widespread of the five species examined because it was less fussy about the sort of sea bed it lived on. Lesser-spotted dogfish were also pretty common and together with the thornbacks made up two thirds of the catch. Other, less important, species included small-eyed, spotted, blonde and undulate rays.
The most detailed information relates to the good old thornback. The average size of the females, as in many other species of ray, is bigger than that of the males, so I suppose that, as anglers, we would prefer to land the larger ladies! Where should we seek them? In fact, the majority of young rays and males were found in the sheltered waters of the bay of Douarnenez in France, while their larger mates and mothers were concentrated off more exposed stretches of coastline nearby. At times 80 to 100 percent of these fish from these later areas were big females. Spawning took place between March and September with the baby fish hatching four or five months after egg laying. The young thornies were about six inches long. Infant fish grew quickly reaching about a foot long within a year and about eighteen inches at two years of age. For older fish the picture of growth was a bit more confused but they obviously reached a large size quite quickly off the French coast. Around our own shores it seems that thornbacks take longer to reach a decent size and a big fish may be something between ten and fifteen years old.
The bay from which Dr Rousset’s fish were caught and examined is a large one ranging in depth from a few metres inshore to about 30 meters (100ft) near the outer edges of the bay. The inner, shallower areas are carpeted with fine sands and silts while the deep water near the mouth is underlain by gravel and coarse sand. Although the big female fish entered the exposed northern part of the bay in winter and left in late spring they often moved quite close in along the sandy shore which was exposed to the prevailing wind. Large fish never seemed to venture in to the sheltered areas.
Small-eyed rays were scarce in the large bay but were even more abundant than the thornbacks in a much smaller cove - the bay of Bertheaume - floored entirely with coarse sand, further north along the coast. The biggest small-eyeds entered the area to spawn and mate between April and June to be followed by an autumn influx of smaller, immature specimens. These fish associated with spotted rays and blonde rays, much as they do in my local bay at Swanage, in Dorset.
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