Striking is one of the most exciting tactics involved in sea angling, its like pulling the trigger of a gun, it’s a crucial part of the hunt to many anglers. But is it essential to success and what’s involved?
It’s a fact that most species of sea fish will hook themselves eventually if you don’t strike simply because they are intent on eating the bait and oblivious to fishing tackle. A deliberate strike makes little difference to the catch rate in many situations although it does please the ego of the captor to think so, whilst more important to many anglers is that a premature strike helps prevent deep hooking!
The way the particular species feeds, what it eats, the mouth structure and its mobility have an influence its ease of hooking. Most of the speedy tropical mid water predators are more difficult to hook than the bottom grubbers such as the flatfish which once the hook has entered the mouth cannot escape, others with large hard bony mouths are difficult to hook because the hook cannot find a place to lodge!
Overall for fishing around the UK a less enthusiastic approach to striking will result in more fish being hooked. The decision when to strike depends upon what the angler wants from his sport, what he is fishing for, the type of bait being used and conservation. If the rod is lurching seawards and is in danger of being lost then a strike is essential, if the rod tip is nodding continuously its likely that the fish is already hooked.
The actually strike can vary from a full blooded sweep of the rod to just tightening the line. Line stretch at distance of course reduces the amount of movement at the hook end of your tackle and some sea anglers even run backwards during the process to increase that movement. Reeling as you strike can also prove more effective, but beware of striking too hard, especially at short range when it may test your tackle and knots.
Let’s look at the best striking technique used when some of the most common UK species.
COD: A relatively slow bottom dweller with a large mouth, invariable swallows the hook when a bait is left on the sea bed. Powerful rod pulling bites are generally after the fish has hooked itself. Slack liners from codling can be most difficult to hook and the answer to them is patience. Take up the line and only strike when the fish pulls the rod tip down.
WHITING: Difficult to hook on occasion, this small predator attacks baits in numbers with some tremendous rod pulling bites that are easily missed, especially in slack tide. More fish are hooked when fishing in strong tide because the fish have to swim to stay still to eat the bait, when it is engulfed they relax and the tide drives them back on to the hook. Short snoods and neat (small) bait presentation and a wired grip lead definitely improve the hooking rate.
BASS: A fast feeding predator that rarely swallows the hook because the bites are so positive. Be near your rod when it takes off. A bony mouth, so a large, sharp hook is essential.
DAB, SOLE, PLAICE AND FLOUNDER: Often flatfish nibble and pluck at the bait, but invariably once they take the bait they are hooked because their mouth is far smaller closed than open. There is in fact no way to prevent flatties swallowing the hook. With hook removal often fatal even with soft wire hooks. For the conservation minded tiny hooks (8s- and less) can be removed more easily with a disgorger and with less damage than large sizes of 2 and above.
TOPE AND SMOOTHHOUND: Positive bites give the angler every opportunity to pull the trigger on this species which is why they are so popular and fun to catch. The tope is one of UK sea species that circle hooks are practical for , but there is a definite technique for striking with circle hooks and it involves a steady tightening of the line and not a full blooded strike!.
RAY: Invariably this species cloaks the bait causing the rod tip to tremble, later the fish moves off having taken the bait pulling the tip down, slacking the line or sometimes pulling your fishing rod over, Because of the way they feed ray are sometimes foul hooked outside of the mouth by a premature strike.
BLACK BREAM: One of the most difficult sea fish to hook because of their bait pecking and small mouths, use light tackle and line, small hooks, bait small and neat and be patient.
GREY MULLET: Mullet like the coarse fish have learned about hooks and line through being caught and returned, their more acute instincts in clear water also makes them shyer. A rule when fishing for mullet is never to strike by sight when you see a fish take the bait, always wait until the float disappears or the tip goes round!
DOGFISH: Infuriating to hook if you react to the bites, ignore them and they are more likely to be hooked, but not every time. Don’t move the rod or bait once a bite is spotted!
CONGER: The old school reckon a conger should be given time to take the bait, but this may allow it to swallow the hook and so striking early is recommended to avoid deep hooking.
Holding your rod with the line between the fingers you will be able to feel the tugs from the small species and it’s a fun way to fish. Experiment with striking and you will find that in a majority of cases catch rates are greatly improved by letting the fish bite for a few seconds before hitting it. Of course when using multi hook rigs to catch fish for the pot letting the fish hook themselves is far superior to striking every rod tip rattle!
Using braid line that does not stretch is a practical way to improve your bite indication but remember the lack of stretch amplifies the smallest nibble, so be patient and wait for a positive movement.