Photo Courtsy : Google Earth, Ashish Chavan, Rodin Rehman & Maish Singh
Many a time, while strolling beside a rocky shore, littered with treacherous rocky formation, you may witness a person, scaling these rugged and slippery outcrop of rocks, while the relentless surf of a surging sea, spraying him with foaming water, you will immediately form an opinion on his intent to commit suicide! Look closely and you will be surprised that the person, so obviously insensible to causing himself some serious injury, is not trying to commit suicide but is carrying a rod in his hand and is obviously trying to catch a fish!
Observe him for some more time and you will see him perched precariously on a small shelf and throwing his lures beyond the point from where the waves are forming and if you have any idea about the lore of fishing, you will pray silently that the poor soul should not get any strike from a big fish, which in consequence is bound to drag him inside the water!!
Go on watching and you may get lucky to witness the strange one hooking a big one, bracing his feet and throwing the weight of his body behind, fight the determined fish, pull it over the drop-off, guide it through many snags and expertly take it out by its tail and holding it in his arm like a beloved, ask some lesser mortals standing securely at a distance to take a quick photo. Finishing the ritual of capturing his trophy, he will kiss the fish and gently lowering it in the water once again, let it swim away gracefully to the sanctuary of deeper water from where it was brought out!! So much for just a photo!!
Welcome to the world of shore popping. What you have just witnessed is the strange breed of anglers, a unique mix of foolishness and fearlessness, who have taken the challenges of popping to another level by leaving the sanctuary of a boat and venturing to impossible looking places on the shore in their quest to land a big one.
Shore Popping is a type of fishing that typically signifies fishing from a rocky outcrop or off a beach for some lesser mortals. This type of fishing is gaining lot of momentum amongst anglers from India. This is an activity which can be enjoyable to the extent of raw thrill if one knows to maintain a balance between recklessness and awareness to look after personal safety.
Like any other sport, shore popping is also governed by many rules and guidelines and as it involves lot of risk, it is prudent to understand all factors involved and only then venture to indulge in this sport.
Before actually hitting the spot, one should make lot of preparation in term of identifying and collecting appropriate tackles and lures, mastering leaders and knots, identification of probable spots and understanding tides. I will start from the last and try to cover all the factors in detail.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have fished saltwater time and again, may only put the understanding of tides to a cursory glance at the tide table of an area and decide on the timing of fishing window on offer, but for many of our friends, especially the ones who have only fished freshwater, a thorough understanding of tides and its effect on fishing is essential.
It is an established fact that moon plays a significant role in feeding pattern of fish and as such it is essential that before planning any saltwater trip, one should understand the effect of moon on feeding pattern of fish. For this, one has to learn to study the tide table. The predictions of a tide table are a reflection of waxing and waning of the moon. The lunar phase has a direct influence on the tides and their Ebb and Flow. If you take a closer look at a tide-table, you will find that in the duration of a day, the tide will rise to maximum height and then recede to minimum low, twice (In India). The peaking of tides is known as high tide and minimum levels are called low tide. The current created by these tidal activities between high to low release a lot of food for small bait fish and bring them closer to shore. The bigger predatory fish follow the moment of these bait fish and come near shore or inside the estuaries to ambush them.
It is very easy go get all relevant information from a tide table, including the moon phase, sunrise and sunset time.
The biggest tide happens around full moon or new moon. These tides are known as spring tides. During these tides, the current created is much stronger and the fish movement is generally more. The most productive period in saltwater fishing is around these tides. Four days on either side of these tides with few hour windows on either side of turning tide is best way to plan a trip. This does not mean that you will not be able to catch fish during other days. There are other times also which can be very productive. The incoming tide coinciding with dusk or dawn is also a very good time to target some good fish.
Exploring different spots, collecting local knowledge, interacting with other experienced anglers and the ability to observe movement of bait fish or feeding of predatory fish will give you the wisdom to understand specific characteristics of spots and feeding pattern and the time to target fish. If the fish holding spots or drop-offs are away from the shore and can only be accessed during low tides, one can plan his trip during the neap tides also.
(A note of caution – these tides can be treacherous and rise suddenly. Always collect local information before choosing a spot. Never fish alone. In case you are fishing from a rock, sand bar or point, the fast rising water can cut out your retreat. It is always advisable to fix a cutoff time beforehand on the basis of the tide predictions. The allure of few more casts is irresistible but it can jeopardize your life. )
Identification of Probable Spots
Selection of spot is one of the most important and intricate point in the art of shore fishing. The lore of spot selection is governed by many factors and can only be absorbed over a period of time by spending time beside water and decoding various signs pointing to presence of a predator or bait fish.
Primarily the presence of any predator fish is governed by the presence of bait fish and developing an eye to detect bait fish is the first thing one should learn to master. In open waters, if a bait ball is being chased by predator fish is a spectacle which can be seen from a distance but when it comes to shore, where predators take advantage of various ambush points to catch their prey, it is a different story. The feeding pattern is species specific and can be obvious or hidden. The Boom of a Barra striking its prey near surface or mullet flying around a white streak of movement while Ravas (Thread fin Salmon) hammering a shoal are very audible and visible.
One does not have to look beyond if he spots a visible feeding and should immediately let his lure fly just beyond the activity zone and drag it through the mayhem.
It is when no activity is visible or is very subtle; the lore of spot selection comes into play. For the sake of understanding, we can divide spot selection in three parts.
- Gathering information in Advance.
- Gathering Local Information.
- Beside Water
Gathering information in Advance.
The best way to explore any spot is to gather information beforehand. The knowledge of local topography, access roads, and open spots are very valuable and can be interpreted with a bit of understanding. Satellite imagery program like Google Earth or Google Map are very advance tools to reconnaissance a target area in advance. I accept that it is not easy to comprehend these images taken from top and can be misleading as it does not show depth or contour of the topography. It requires a bit of practice and understanding of advance functions to easily understand the merits and accessibility of a potential spot. I prefer using Google Earth as it gives me flexibility of Historical imagery, Elevations and Co-ordinates.
The best time to observe a potential shore is when the tide is low. In case the present image on Satellite Imagery is of high tide, using the historical imagery option gives us the latitude of accessing previously recorded Satellite Imagery of the same spot. The ‘Historical Imagery’ tab on Google Earth is listed under ‘View’ button.
Once you hit this button a slider will appear and you can scroll through satellite imagery taken from different years, time and seasons.
The Street View option gives you a fair idea of the topography and elevation of a particular view. To get this view, drag the Street View icon on the given location and you will get a fair picture of the area. As we move the cursor on a frame, the co-ordinates and elevation are recorded on the right bottom of the frame. It is good to note the co-ordinates and use a GPS for locating the marked spot once you are actually there. The elevation reading is often far from the actual and cannot be trusted but can be used as a rough guide.
The colour of water indicates the depth. Dark Blue is deeper whereas lighter blue is shallower. Using the scale option on the left-hand top of the frame, one can measure the distance of deeper water and plan according to his casting distance. The places where you can reach deeper water by casting are the one you should keep in mind.
Let’s take the example of Neil Island, Andaman and Nicobar. A cursory observation will tell us that the close approach to deeper water is on the eastern side of the Island. North Eastern tip looks a very promising place. The western side also look good and if exploring this Island, one should concentrate his efforts on these two sides. The gullies along the pier also look promising and can be explored for a good catch.
Note: The above observation is true to the extent that during recently concluded ‘All India AIGFA Saltwater Competition, all fish were landed from these places only!
Gathering Local Information.
There is no substitute of local wisdom and I will include those who have fished a particular spot under the same category. Where ever you go, you will find local traditional fishermen beside a shore. Be friendly, talk to them and gather as much information as you can. This meeting can also mislead you so it is important to ask pertinent question and process the information logically. Here are few of the questions which can help you in your quest of selecting your honey hole.
- Did someone fish the same locality before you? Did he land a fish and what were the species he was catching? Make sure to mark the spot where someone has fished before and landed a fish.
- Is there a drop off nearby or deep holes?
- What species are the locals catching on hand lining?
- Any spot where regular feeding take place?
These information thus gathered should be given due consideration and explored for selecting a productive spot..
There is no substitute of local wisdom
The dilemma of exploring or abandoning a particular spot comes into play once you are actually beside the water. There are few things you have to understand before actually letting your Popper fly out. The first thing to evaluate is whether you will be able to land a fish in case of a hook-up. Never fish without complete understanding and a clear plan of landing a fish. It is no use hooking a fish and loosing it with a Popper hanging from its mouth. Such kind of action is ethically incorrect and against the true spirit of sport fishing and harm both the angler and fish. The angler may only lose his terminal tackle where as the fish can lose its life!
As mentioned previously, it is of advantage to read a spot during low tide and mark all the snags, outcrops, holes and drop-off etc. when the water is low. Many a good spot, which remain out of bound during high tide can be reached and exploited during low tide.
Let us try and understand identification of few places which are good enough to hold specimen fish. This is the time to develop an eye for unseen by observing the behaviour of water passing over a particular spot.
The tidal activity and friction of wind create waves which pushes water towards the shore and away from it. One can see the water rising, rolling, churning and crashing near shore but these activities are not visible beyond a point. It will be incorrect to assume that the water is static there so why the presence of this activity is visible only up to certain point and then disappear. Understanding the above is essential in order to develop an eye for unseen and submerged structures, breaks, holes and much more!
Let’s do an experiment. Take some water in a bucket and throw it on a plane surface so as it flows from one point to a drain. Now place a plank between the point from where the water is flowing and the drain and observe the behaviour of water. In the first instance, the water will flow smoothly and go in the drain whereas in the second instance, the water will rise due to its kinetic energy and pass over the plank. The rising or disappearing of waves work on same principle. The decrease in depth causes water to rise up.
A good drop off near a shore can easily be identified by observing the behaviour of water passing over it. Formation of Sudden wave indicates presence of a drop off just beyond the point of wave formation. Drop-off near the shore is preferred place for predator where they patrol in search of bait fish.
Drop-off near the shore is preferred place for predators.
Deeper waters, beyond or beside reefs can also be very good spots for targeting good fish and can be reached during low tide period. The presence of a reef underwater is visible as a turbulent or different coloured patch of water.
Deeper waters, beyond or beside reefs can also be very good spots
On some spots, it is even possible to walk on the edge of reef during low tide and fish from there. Such spots are tricky but are a gold mine and can produce explosive action. Below is a prime example of such kind of spot.
It is even possible to walk on the edge of reef during low tide
Any tongue of rock, extending in the water is also good place and shall be tried as they are known to hold good fish. There are many places where such kind of structures go deep in the water and become instrumental in reaching deeper waters which is not possible from shore. These places are preferred by bait fish and are regular hunting ground for predatory fish. Besides being good place to target a fish, such structures also give latitude in fighting and landing a fish with much ease.
Such structures also give latitude in fighting and landing a fish.
There are many other signs and pointers which can lead you to a good fish. A mullet breaking surface in perfectly calm waters, bait fish taking refuge in very shallow water and not moving from there, a streak moving on the surface or a shoal of bait shimmering in the choppy water can all indicate presence of predator and must be investigated. In actuality the list is endless and cannot be chronicled but by spending time beside water and fine observation one can attain a sixth sense and an uncanny ability to automatically select a spot.
- Rod: A short, light but sturdy rod is desired for such kind of fishing. Popping requires lot of casts and a rod one is not comfortable with can put lot of strain on the body of an angler. One needs lot of backbone in his rod so as to guide the fish over drop-offs or bully it away from structures and snags. There are many popping specific rods available in market and choosing one becomes a nightmare. Choose a rod between 7.2” to 8.4” even though you may have to compromise on casting distance. Given a choice I will choose more casts over longer casts. In a nutshell, the ideal rod should be easy on your body, strong enough to drag a big fish out and with an action which is suited to throwing lures ranging from 80 grams to 180 grams. If one does not want a big hole in his pocket, two rods stand out, V-Tro and Penn-Battle.
- Reels: There are many factors governing the selection of a Reel but to me the prime factor is drag. One can compensate for any shortcoming in a reel except the drag. It is no use taking a reel which starts slipping or worse jam under the onslaught of a trophy fish. Ideally the reel should be of high gear ratio, have a quality drag and perform time and again under adverse conditions and tremendous strain put on it by the mad rush of a determined fish. The easy thing will be to recommend Shimano Stella but I will not want to dunk my Stella in saltwater, which so often happens with this kind of fishing. There are many other reels which are suitable for this kind of fishing. To me Daiwa Saltist and Shimano Saragosa are a great value for your money options.
- Hooks: The essential part of your setup, which actually catches the fish for you are, hooks. Those who have experienced the pull of a determined Giant Trevally will testify the uncanny ability of this fish to straighten the best of hooks and going with under rated hooks is akin to hara-kiri. The size and weight of hooks are lure specific so one should have a range of hooks suitable for the lures one wants to try. Traditionally Poppers and Stick baits comes with treble hooks but now more and more anglers are choosing a Solo Hook behind. The success ratio of using an assist hook instead of a treble is much more and as the puncture point is only one, the fish does not get any chance to straighten the hook by the muscle power of its jaw. It is recommended to use two split rings for attaching a solo hook as it trails straight with the lure. One can also use a Jigging Hook, which comes with a ring and attach it with a single split ring. The market is full of some very good hooks but I will recommend 5X strong Mustad 9430DS which are good enough to hook and hold your fish.
- Leaders: Leaders are now integral part of shore -fishing and cannot be avoided. Many a theory and practices are afloat amongst anglers world over but when it comes to shore based Popping, I will advice a long and twisted leader attached with your main line with an AS knot. The long and twisted leader gives you a chance in difficult places due to maximum abrasion resistance and it is also easy to land a fish from shore by holding the leader. The market is full of leader material and one can use any brand of his choice.
Right now I am using Mustad Shock Leader and it is performing well for me.
Note: AS Knot is available on www.aigfa.org. Below is the link to said knot.
Some Myths and Facts about Shore Based Popping:
In the Indian Fishing Community, there are lots of myths about shore based angling. The first being that one can only catch a fish by using artificial lure from rocky shore. In fact beach and estuary mouths are equally productive and can produce some amazing fishing. Deep drop beaches, sand bars, point bars, mangroves and flats are places regularly visited by almost all fish which feed near shore, rocky structures. The current created by tidal activity and wind turns lot of sand on shore and releases food particles trapped therein. Bait fish come close to shore in search of food and in turn the predator follow the movement of these bait fish.
The other myth being that you can only catch small fish from shore! This is also not correct and given a bit of understanding of migration pattern of bait along the coast, specimen fish can be had from shore. The thing is that the challenge and difficulty index in landing a big one from shore is more than fishing from boatand given the type of tackle used in general by the angling fraternity in India is not adequate and hence no good fish is landed! It is time that we take a holistic view of this situation and accordingly upgrade our tackles as we do while fishing from a boat.
In conclusion, I will summarize that standing on a shore and casting out your Popper blindly is not the way to go about it. I would rather go to a shore, study it and try and cast my artificial bait on a spot which has the maximum probability of holding a good fish. It is up to the fish to take that bait or not because even if I will return home empty handed, I will know that it was not my fault that the fish did not bite.