CHAPTER 9 – ‘MORA’
Spring (Part 1)
In the spring the North Atlantic Drift, pushed along by the mild southwesterly winds, carries rich nutrients into the bay from the far off seas of the Gulf of Mexico. Creatures living in the sea and above it depend, in one way or another, on the movements of the great oceanic currents and air masses so they move to take up their summer quarters.
Little terns begin to arrive in late April to claim their nesting sites amongst the stony banks along the seashore, where for a few months they noisily work the inshore waters diving for sandeels. These and many others, like the Manx shearwaters, travel great distances to arrive precisely at the time when the feed they will need to sustain their hungry nestlings is building up around the coastline. The incredible chains of life and food are essential for the survival of all the land, sea and air animals. At the time when terns and oyster catchers lay their eggs, so perfectly camouflaged amongst the stones and pebbles, the keen observer may see the stoats working silently and sinuously over the ground, trying to find eggs and newly hatched chicks to take back to their own newly born offspring.
Another predator, the angler, watches these signs with interest and as the season goes forward to its zenith he will see the gulls gathering out in the bay and diving for the brit and sandeels driven up to the surface by the mackerel and bass shoals. He will see the acrobatic garfish and their smaller cousins the saury pike (a type of needle fish) skittering on the surface in pursuit of their feed. Beneath the surface of the bay the crabs, which have been more or less dormant in the mud during the winter, begin to migrate inshore. When they start to feed, their growth is prevented by the tough shell which has been their protection, so they prepare to grow another and larger one. Just under the carapace a new skin forms, preventing any nutrition from getting to the outer hull which becomes brittle and cracks away to present a defenceless food source at a time when it is most needed by the fishes that have been on short rations during the winter.
Mora, sensing it was time to join the spring migration, left the hulk, which for many years had been her winter quarters to return to the bay. With age she had grown to be a great fish and few bass were now her senior; she fed less often and more selectively than in the old days of the shoal but when she was hungry, as she was now after her long spell in the old ship, she would take into her cavernous mouth soft crabs the size of a plate or, hunting the reef, pollack of 2lb and 3lb. She stayed out in the deeper water to start with, where the feed was better, returning only to the inshore waters of the bay when the mackerel arrived. Mackerel had become a favourite diet of Mora’s and she would with ease, take her fill from the travelling shoals, sometimes chasing them right into the surf.
The angler had been up since dawn; he had fished the flood tide without a bite. He wondered if the bass were far out in the bay with the mackerel, or giving chase to sandeels, and he wondered if he should have fished a fillet from a frozen mackerel he had brought instead of the ragworm he had dug the day before. It was though, a matter of principle to fish the rag, after nearly breaking his back digging them in the stony mud of the estuary. While the tide ebbed he rested on a sand dune, watching through his binoculars the wheeling terns and oyster catchers on their nesting ground. Panning round, he saw far out to sea the gulls and gannets diving over an area where the surface boiled with fish. Gradually the hunting fish came closer to the shore and he could see the rainstorm effect, as the mackerel and bigger bass drove the fry before them; right into the surf came the silver host and the angler could see in each curling green wave, translucent in the light of the afternoon sun, the shadows of the fleeting fish.
From time to time he thought he saw a larger form, much larger, surging powerfully into the waves. He stiffened and taking the binoculars from his eyes blinked and cleared the tears that had come with the concentration. He put the glasses to his eyes again, adjusting them to needle sharpness. The big shadow was there again, swirling amongst the smaller mackerel. His mind raced for an answer. Occasionally the mullet, big mullet, cavorted in the waves of the surf, their dorsal fins breaking the surface, to be mistaken for bass; but there were always many of them, never singly and never so big. Was it a migrating salmon having one final fling before his long fast in the river? Could it be a bass? If so, he had never been privileged to see one so large, or was his imagination making it bigger the more he looked at the elusive shadow? He looked again into the tell-tale waves; the mackerel were still there moving down the beach as the run of the ebb pulled the fish along. Once more he saw the form of the great fish silhouetted by the waning sun, and that once was enough to stir him into action.
He leapt up and ran towards his car. Unnoticed the 10 x 50’s slapped on his heaving chest as he covered the ground. He weighed up his options – low tide in half an hour … what bait to use? … rag or mackerel, or spin a big Toby? … will the fish work back up towards the estuary when the tide changes? … is the 15lb line on the reel strong enough for a fish like that? Arriving at the car and trembling with excitement, he got his breath back and worked out his plan of action. From experience he knew that the mackerel came very close inshore on the flood tide, staying there until dusk before moving out for the night. The temptation was to spin in the hope of covering a greater area of water than was possible with ground tackle, but it was the big fish he was after, and the chances were that he’d be plagued with mackerel attacking the flashing bait. He remembered that some of the best bass are taken on big fishbaits, and the flash of a belly strip with a large scent trail across the sea-bed would be a better attractor than a ragworm.
So the decision was made and he hurried to prepare his tackle and get down to the shore in time to catch the change of tide. He packed spare leads, hooks and swivels into his haversack and in case it should be a long vigil, took his torch and a flask of coffee. Rigging his surf rod he decided on a single long flowing trace and a carefully sharpened 4/0 hook. A two ounce lead was clipped onto the link swivel, distance not being essential if the fish were feeding close in where the shallow gullys in the sand were.
Making sure that the knots had been tied correctly the angler gathered his gear and started hurriedly for the beach. When he arrived he looked anxiously at the rolling surf, hoping to see the fish, but there were only the strands of weed being thrown to and fro in the waves. By the time he had carefully cut a fillet from one of the mackerel and mounted it. The tide had started to turn and the creamy edge of the surf crept up the damp sand towards his feet.
He cast out, not too far, a gentle swing that sent the flashing bait no more than 40 yards into the clear sea. He settled down to wait, hoping against hope that the big bass would come back towards the reef, worrying in case there should be a flaw in his tackle when, and if, the moment came. Many times he checked to make sure that the clutch on the reel was not set too tightly, doing it by touch as he dare not for a moment take his eyes from the sea. He waited. Nothing happened.
Author: David Hill
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.95 Autumn 2000.
Photo: Kevin Sherman
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008