CHAPTER 6 – LESSONS LEARNT
For some weeks I kept two small bass in a 55 gallon tank along with a few beadlet anemones, a single large snakelocks anemone, two small shore crabs, some limpets and winkles, and a selection of palamanoid prawns and crangoid shrimps.
Both fish were caught on rod and line using cockle as bait. The smaller of the two measured approx. four inches long, the larger about six inches. They were introduced to the tank one day apart, the smaller fish first.
The place of capture was a small tidal overflow called ‘Alice’s Pipe’, connected to the sea via a very large diameter pipe which runs under a road. The other end of the river runs up to a sluice gate which connects to the river. It is only ever open to the river when the river systems are overfull and the gate is opened to drain off some of the water out of the river. The tidal side is then flooded by freshwater, but not the other way around. This piece of water is always tidal, the tide times being about half an hour after the main saltwater tide times. Many species of saltwater fish get into this river, and as well as bass there are flounders, dabs, occasionally a plaice or two, mullet and eels. Plus countless millions of crabs!
The bottom is mud … thick, grey, sticky mud, about 18-inches deep in places, and the whole system is littered with shopping trolleys, an old motorcycle, lumps of wood, the remains of an old boat … the usual things.
Both fish were caught on float-fished cockle, using a modified 12 foot carbon freshwater matchfishing rod, altered by shortening the middle section by 18 inches (not for technical reasons … I shut the car door onto it!). The reel was a fixed spool with 6lb line, ending with a size 2 carp hook. Both fish took the bait before it had chance to sink to the bottom, approx. 6-10 inches below surface level. I was able to see both fish take the bait.
In the beginning both fish were understandably very shy in the tank, reacting to the slightest movement on the outside, and disappearing behind the rockwork. After three days, the larger of the two began to show signs of feeding, making several feints at the prawns and shrimps which were in the tank.
Day four, and both fish were seen to be actively hunting and eating the prawns, and most of the shyness was gone. Both fish now spent a good deal of time out in the open water in the front of the tank, cruising along its length.
Day six, all the shrimps and prawns were gone, and I attempted to feed the fish on whole cockle and whitebait, both of which were instantly taken. Interestingly, the whitebait was intercepted in mid water, whilst the cockle would be picked up from the tank bottom or where it had landed on the rockwork. The smaller of the two fish would, and still does, eat both foods whole, swallowing the mouthful down in one action, but the larger fish would take the food item into its mouth and spit it out two or three times before swallowing, accompanied by a lot of chewing motion and spitting out of small particles. Both fish now eat a variety of foodstuffs, cockle, whitebait, dead and live shrimp, prawns, mussel meat, and small pieces of whitefish bought from the fishmonger such as cod, haddock and plaice.
The larger of the two now shows no signs of shyness at all, and will react to my presence by bobbing up and down in the water and following me, almost like a dog begging for food. Neither fish seems to rest in any one place for long, even at night when the tank lights are off, they are constantly active and looking for food.
Both fish have from the start shown signs of skin irritation, and often scratch their sides on the rockwork. I cannot see anything obvious, and have not treated the fish or the tank with any chemicals. As the fish were caught in slightly brackish water, I wondered if the irritation could be sea lice.
Both fish are showing signs of growth, probably due to the temperature of the tank water being higher than that in the river. They will have to be returned early in the New Year, as the biggest fish is already deepening in girth, and the other is not far behind.
They seem to have two methods for catching live prawns and shrimps. One is outright attack, homing in using eyesight and going straight at the prey with mouth wide open and gills flared. The other is more cunning . . . they will stalk in much the same way as a cat stalks a mouse, i.e. sneaking up on the creature using the rockwork as cover, and only attacking the prey at the last moment as they are detected. Dead shrimps and prawns are normally attacked as soon as they hit the water, so I drop them in the tank in the outflow of the powerhead and let the current do the rest.
Tank: 50”x 16”x 20”
Filtration & aeration: A filter set using one bio pot filled with floss for the removal of large debris, and two bio filters for biological filtration. A venture protein skimmer is also used. A powerhead provides extra water movement and is connected to a timer giving a three-hour on, three-hour off cycle over the twenty four-hour period.
Internal décor: A few large pieces of lava rock, three large pieces of chalk, and some boulders and large flints collected from the local beach. A half-inch deep layer of coral sand and crushed cockleshell serves as a substrate. No natural plant life has been grown, but a few plastic plants are used.
Illumination: Illuminated by one 30-inch tube for 10 hours a day, and one 24-inch tube for one hour before and one hour after, the main lighting period.
Water parameters: Temperature: 70.7°F, SG-1.019, PH-8.1, Nitrate, nitrite and ammonia all register zero using Tetra test kits. Water changes are made at the rate of 5 gallons every two weeks using Tropical Marine salt and fresh cold tap water. The water temperature once rose as high as 77.8°F over a spell of hot weather with no signs of adverse effects on the tank inhabitants. No water cooler was used, but six small plastic lemonade bottles with frozen water were placed in the tank, and these were changed on a regular basis.
And now back to Alice’s Pipe. Apparently the water in question is a storm drain overflow for the river, and was not named when it was dug by the water authority. The outlet into the sea was called Alice by local shore fishermen, who needed a name to put to into print after an extremely large bass was caught there. Alice lived nearby I’m told. So, there you have it … Alice’s Pipe!
Author: Richard Huggett
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.97 Spring 2001.
Photo: Sam Osbourne
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008