So I will cover this subject over a few articles as it is such a massive area... One of the main things if you're new to sea angling and want to catch fish yout really need to learn about is hook lengths and presentation of the baits quite simply it's quintessential if you want to catch those targets you're striving to get. So with that I figured the first thing we should look at is hook lengths and the presentation of the bait on them.
Presentation and bait are key aspects of sea angling and getting these right is more important than anything else if it's badly presented fish may ignore it completely or you may not get a good hook up or they may feel something is wrong and eject your bait before you get the chance to set the hook in the fishes mouth.
So today I'm going to focus on Presentation of bait in the water regarding hook lengths.
How do they sit in the tide? Ever thought about it? Knowing your watercraft will certainly push your knowledge further here. If traces are too long in the wrong tide your bait will be flapping around and become unpredictable and may not look right or natural if it’s too short fish may feel the resistance to early and fish like cod and bass can eject a bait with no hassle or if a fish is a shy feeder it may again feel the resistance and leave the bait.
It’s about getting hook lengths right along with the tides and the ground you're fishing.
One thing you want to make sure about is keeping your lead on the bottom make sure you have enough weight!
So with this in mind I figured I would break this down into two areas deep water and shallow water from the shore although both can apply from a boat as well.
You have to remember that at the bottom of the ocean the tidal flow is usually a lot less than what’s happening up top or strong currents you find on the way down. If you're using a long trace say a 3 foot trace for Rays or smooth hounds you would think that the current and tide would pull that Hook length out straight when in reality a lot of the time it is not as strong at the bottom and so it all lays in a heap on the bottom which may put off a fish or you may miss the bite altogether due to the trace not being extended and not registering on your rod tip and then you'll be sat there with an un baited hook whilst a Smooth hound is dining on that crab you so kindly just gave away.
So to counter this after casting out when you feel the weight hit the bottom a lot of anglers will lift the lead back up and pull it in a couple of feet gently or if over clean ground wind the lead in a couple of feet (non gripper weights) which in turn straightens out your hook length and gets you set for action which means bites will be seen due to the trace at full extension which in is showing you what’s happening at the hook point.
So in shallower waters although the tidal force can be stronger the long trace although is far more likely to be extended as we need it to be... We also have the problem of the bait in the tidal flow which if it’s too strong and the hook length is too long it will move around a lot or bounce around as baits are generally smaller when shore fishing and if it's bouncing wildly it will make your bait look unnatural as well as it being unpredictable which in turn means fish may ignore the bait or miss it altogether especially with a lot of marks that I fish on the Bristol Channel because they are approaching by smell and not vision due to churned up waters keeping it murky, my advice would be get online and see how a fish takes bait in a current rays and flat fish too... Once you see it then you totally get why you want your bait anchored hard and easier for the fish to hit!
This can also be achieved by shortening the hook length and keeping it closer to the sea floor which produces less movement within those stronger currents rays are made for the bottom as are flat fish and don’t like to venture off the sea floor so won’t hit a bait moving wildly off the floor up to 3 foot + and other fish approaching by smell and vision may well miss a wild flapping bait.
Fish will swim against the tide, hit the bait and then turn and reset themselves in the current picking up speed and momentum and so hooking themselves if larger fish or giving a good bite indication on your rod tip which gives them less chance of ejecting the bait due to basic physics of their momentum hitting a static target. Rays and flatties…. The flatties tend to suck the bait in and chomp away and rays will sit over your bait due to the underslung mouth and then chomp away on it both of these latter types of fish like predictable meals on the sea floor.
So recapping movement is good as it can be a visual making fish strike and also creates vibration but not in excessive amounts.
So sometimes we need hook lengths a bit shorter and anchored well to the sea bed. I know a lot of anglers use 3ft plus hook lengths but I find I rarely need one over 2ft occasionally I will go to 2 1/2 Ft (30 inches) for rays but personally I have found longer hook lengths tend to make you miss more bites.
With all being said different venues and some larger fish require differing lengths on different rigs but the combinations can be endless, so if you look back at a previous article about beach craft look for currents and where they may be heavy or rip through an area like around rocks or ends of a groin or through certain channels or a gulley and adjust your rigs accordingly.
It’s the same for your watercraft how strong is the currents? What state and size is the tide is there a large coefficient? Is it slack water? All of this contributes to your presentation of your baits.
These lengths are not definitive as all anglers have their own preferred lengths and ideas but these have been refined by myself from standard lengths I was taught and found over time and testing get me good consistent results and less dropped fish and missed bites and with most of the fish always a good clean strong hook up.
So here are some of the lengths that I generally use for certain species I like to target when out and about and get good results on with a lot of them hooking themselves.
Bass 10-12 inches, Cod 14-16 inches, Conger 20 - 24inches, Dabs 8-10 inches, Flounder 8-10 inches, Rays 20- 30 inches, Smooth hounds 14-18 inches, Soul10-12 inches, Turbot 10-12 inches.
Best of luck and tight lines!