Dr Mike Ladle - angler, author and zoologist.

Interviewed by John, added on 10/12/2006

Perhaps best known for the classic angling books "Operation Sea Angler" and "Hooked on Bass", Mike has also starred in several Video/DVD productions, runs his own BLOG and even helped design his own range of spinning and saltwater fly rods. He is well known for being a long time advocate of lure and saltwater fly fishing for European Bass and, though being the modest type he might not admit it, has done much in promoting this type of fishing. However Mike is really a great all round angler, who enjoys fishing for a variety of species with a variety of methods. What I have always loved about Mike and his work is that on the one hand he shows how scientific information and theory can be applied to angling but at the same time demonstrates a simple approach to methods and tackle. Not only a great angler, he also takes time to answer correspondence and is a great down to earth, straight talking type. He can also swear like a trooper!

Mike catching mullet along the Dorset coast. Making a radio programme about mayflies. Mike & Jack in the Caribbean.

A nice cliche easy one to start Mike!

As an angler your probably known best for your Bass fishing, though your obviously an able all rounder be it crusting for carp, river piking or even fishing in the tropics, with that in mind do you have a favourite type of fishing?

I enjoy fishing for anything but, partly because I detest restrictions (bait bans, tackle and tactics bans, close seasons, distinctions between game and coarse, etc. etc.), I prefer sea fishing. These days almost all my fishing is from the shore and I spend some of my holidays in the tropics, again mostly shore fishing. I don’t have a favourite approach but I do a lot of spinning.

You're a great user and abuser of your gear Mike, having a refreshing, uncomplicated 'universal tackle' approach, what is your current basic set up and tell us what you put it through?

I’m ashamed to say that my rods and reels are almost never dismantled (except when I go on holiday) and stand propped in a corner of the room. I have a couple of 10-50 or 60g spinning rods with fixed spool reels loaded with 30lb braid (Dynon or Whiplash) – these get used most (carp, tench, pike, chub, perch, eels, bass, mackerel, pollack, jacks, snook, barracuda, tarpon, bonefish, etc.) I have an 8wt fly rod with an Okuma reel and a floating fly line that also sees a lot of use (bass, mullet, mackerel, pollack, chub, dace, snook, tarpon, bonefish, etc.) and I have a 12ft 1-3oz rod with a fixed spool reel and 30lb braid or 15lb nylon that I employ for large live and dead baits (bass and pike). With these rods I use bread, dog biscuits, plugs, poppers, spoons and rubber baits, flies and little Redgills and live or dead fish on circle hooks. Rarely any lead and occasionally a split cork for a float. I have other bits and bobs (shot, floats, small hooks, etc.) for catching bait.

With your book 'Operation Sea Angler', along with your colleagues Harry Casey and Terry Gledhill, you applied scientific fact and observation to your fishing, for those that have not read the book can you tell us briefly of the outcome? Do you think most anglers should give watercraft more attention in general?

All this talk of ‘scientific facts’ sounds a bit off putting but it’s just a matter of common sense really. If so called ‘science’ can tell you where fish will be, when they will feed, what they eat and how they are likely to behave you’d be mad to ignore it. If it helps to explain why you sometimes catch and sometimes blank it has to be a bonus on future trips. Most good anglers apply science without thinking about it. For example – the ‘evening rise’ in rivers relates to drift and emergence of insects at dusk, consistent catches of mullet on the fly occur at the top of the spring tides when Coelopa maggots are available. Big catches of big bass can be made from rocky promontories in rough weather during the autumn migration towards the south and west and so on. Success stems from doing the right thing in the right place at the right time.

(In 2006 after a great deal of effort and work, the Bass Anglers' Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S) committee, with the support of its members, put forward its Bass Management plan to DEFRA which included proposals to increase the minimum landing size for European Bass, to allow them a chance to reach spawning age, and to increase inshore net sizes to help protect depleting stocks)

As a fellow B.A.S.S member, what was your opinion on the disappointing response from fellow sea anglers and the perhaps disappointing outcome on the BASS consultation program? (DEFRA agreed to increase the minimum landing size but not to a level that would ensure bass are able to reach spawning size before capture) Was it a classic example of anglers not knowing how to have common voice for their own good?

The B.A.S.S. conservation group’s efforts are an example to us all. Anglers are as apathetic as any other section of the population. If we could do away with the traditional irrelevant distinctions between coarse, game and sea fishing and speak with a single voice we should be irresistible in attempts to save salmon stocks, prevent overfishing of bass and cod and make sure that rivers, canals and lakes are cleaned up for the benefit of all of us. (but we won’t).

As a Zoologist and having worked for the Freshwater Biological Association, what do you think about the abolishing of the old traditional coarse fishing close season? Are you in favour of close seasons in general?

I’ve already suggested that I see no point in most close seasons. The elimination of close seasons on still waters has done no harm that I’m aware of and may as well be extended to canals and rivers. I can already fish round the year in running waters if I want by simply switching from salmon to trout to pike. If I wanted to disturb nesting birds I would walk a dog rather than quietly go fishing. Perhaps there is a need to protect some edible species such as salmon and trout from exploitation when they are ‘sitting ducks’ as they pair up to spawn in shallow water. If anglers feel they must have a break – just take one!

Those that read your site will know you have recently become a convert to using circle hooks for a lot of your piking, can you explain what situations and methods you use them for and the results?

Most of my pike fishing is in Dorset Rivers. I lip hook my live or wobbled dead baits on circle hooks (I expect it would work with static deads). Nearly all my pike are hooked in the jaw and on the rare occasions when they’re not there’s only one hook to remove. I catch a fair few fish most seasons with a sprinkling of twenty to thirty pounders.

I know you enjoy a bit of saltwater flyfishing, though you have your own refreshing down to earth, non-purist style tell us a little about your approach, what you attach and the species you enjoy on the fly rod?

I’ve fly fished in the sea for almost forty years (see tackle above). I use poly-maggot flies (baited with live maggots) for Coelopa feeding mullet (and bass), streamers and little rubber eels for fry feeding bass, mackerel, pollack, coalfish, scad, garfish and even the odd wrasse, and little shrimp or Idotea imitations for bass (and sometimes mullet). My catches of mullet on the fly now run to thousands of fish and of bass even more. I also use the same fly tackle in the tropics for small tarpon, snook, jacks, bonefish and barracuda. In our waters thicklipped mullet are generally the best fighters on fly gear.

I remember you saying in one of your programmes that if Mackerel grew to 10lbs you wouldn’t need to fish for anything else such is the great sport they can give, having caught species around the world what is your favourite species and what pound for pound do you think gives the best account of itself?

Much, of course, depends on the tackle you use to catch the fish. There are lots of species that I’ve never hooked. Some give heart-stopping takes (pike, bass), some build up the suspense (will the carp take or won’t it), some jump like mad things (seatrout, tarpon, barracuda, Nile perch), some plunge to the bed (conger, pollack, wrasse and tuna), some just run like hell (mullet, salmon, jacks and bonefish) and others combine bits of all these attributes. I think I prefer the ‘runners’. There’s nothing like losing metre after metre of line in ‘unstoppable’ runs to get the adrenaline flowing.

Angling seems to be an established tradition in the Ladle family. I remember it was my father that also started me along the fishing path, what advice would you give fathers in trying to pass on the love of angling to their offspring?

I think anglers are largely born not made. I have four sons. I took them all fishing when they were young and they all enjoyed it but only one is a fanatical angler these days. All you can do is make sure that they catch something when they go with you. At least one of my grandsons seems to have inherited the bug.

John and PurePiscator would like to thank Mike for giving his time for this interview.

This site is optimized for Internet Explorer 6+ and Firefox.