Bass fishing this autumn

Peak time for that big bass?

I love bass fishing at this time of year, the season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’. It feels like the air is pregnant with the prospect of a big bass, fattening up for winter,  snatching your bait or lure as you stand on some windswept shoreline.

It’s a time of flux too; the fish are on the move, and the usual fishing patterns change to reflect this. This can mean a pause, or possibly an end, to things, as the resident fish depart on their annual southwest migration. But as time goes on, depending on where you do your fishing, some of the best fishing of the year is on the cards, with the chances of big  (8lb+) bass at their highest, as the migrating fish from other areas make their way past our shores.

A mixed October for bass fishing.

My usual marks were oddly quiet last month. A good example of this was during the weekend of the, bass only, Cornish Lure Festival (CLF) on the 4th – 6th October. Despite fishing in good conditions, at normally reliable marks, the best I could manage was a fish of 46cm.

The CLF is run by the very helpful Ben Field, at the excellent Art of Fishing shop in Wadebridge. Despite storm (ex Hurricane) Lorenzo doing its best to spoil things, the event was a great success; 52 anglers registered, and some nice fish were caught, with 8 fish over 60cm registered. The winning fish measured 71cm and was caught by Ben Winter from Bristol. Devon angler Keir Simms was not far behind with a fish of 69.5. Local anglers Nick Topps and Roger Truscott  were hot on their heels, with fish of 68.5 and 68cm respectively, with Pete Williams catching the longest three fish with a combined total of 179cm.

But by moving around during the month,  I managed to find a few decent fish, like this 71cm (8lb weighed) bass, caught on a white DoLive Stick during Luke Kozak’s second visit to fish with me this autumn.

Conditions were fairly calm, and as I worked the lure with a slow-medium, steady, straight retrieve over the shallow rough ground, I felt that distinctive ‘knock’, which I knew was a fish, and not the lure bumping a rock. As I continued the retrieve, I felt solid resistance……so did the fish! It kited left and right, thrashing the water as it did so. “Don’t go over those rocks” I thought, using the rod to persuade it to go in the opposite direction. As I gained line, the next problem was where to bring her ashore. The gulley to my right would have been easier, but was a little narrow, so I opted for the one on my left, even though this meant bringing her across the front of the flat, low rock I was standing on. Safely ashore, I took stock of this thing of beauty I’d just landed, and spontaneously blurted out “Luke, I think I’ve hit the f***ing jackpot!”, before I quickly realised that I hadn’t landed my first double.

A return visit to the same mark the following night produced just the odd schoolie, and it looked like the netters had been in. This is an ongoing problem for anglers in Cornwall, despite the fact that bass cannot legally be targeted with gillnets. The other problem this month has been the weather, with a succession of wet and windy spells making fishing challenging at times, and affecting when and where we can fish.

Increasing your fishing options.

This has prompted me to look at estuary marks, since they escape the big seas we see on the coasts, and by moving around, you can get out of most winds. With the abundance of easily available food in such places, you wonder why big old bass would choose to battle the waves on the coast, rather than forage for crabs, worm, shellfish, prawns etc. in such quiet backwaters with relative ease. Perhaps they move between the two, at certain times of the year, or in particularly heavy weather. Or maybe it’s a bit like humans, who exploit a range of habitats, from gentler climes to those of a harsher, more physically demanding nature; the fish choose to return to the same familiar summer feeding grounds each year, wherever they may be.

Meeting the bass challenge.

Estuary fishing is popular in Ireland, and the potential for catching big bass in these is beginning to be appreciated in Cornwall too. This is as a result of some very good fish being caught by a mixture of targeted fishing, for example with lures, and while fishing for  other species such as gilthead bream and flounders. The problem is that, for me, it’s like starting bass fishing all over again, looking for new marks. I have never paid much attention to estuaries, which I always regarded as producing only small fish, and focussed my efforts on the coast. But that’s fishing for you – continually challenging what we know and do, and I’m determined to meet this one final challenge.

In my last post, I referred to my quest to catch a big bass on mackerel bait this autumn/winter.  I’m grateful to anglers like James Batty,  and to Clive Hodges on the BASS Forum (access to this comes with membership) for their advice and tips on using and presenting mackerel bait for bass. I’m pleased to report some progress on that front, with the capture of a 64cm fish (5lb 3oz weighed) recently.

Not a monster, but a respectable start I thought. You can just about make out the remains of the 4″ long tail-end of the joey mackerel I used for bait in the photo above. After a couple of hours standing on the beach, without a bite,  I found a handy rock to sit on. I was holding the rod, contemplating heading for the hills, when the tension on the line suddenly went. Instinctively, I knew a fish had picked up the bait, and was swimming towards me. I wound in as quick as I could until I could feel the weight of the fish, but not for long, as the fish kept coming at me. After more furious winding, I felt the weight again, and then managed to beach the fish, through the small, breaking surf. Had I not been holding my rod (which I always do), I probably wouldn’t have known anything about this, the fish swimming around until the hook came out of its mouth. To land my first bass on mackerel, and a half-decent one at that, was brilliant. It’s given me an unshakeable confidence in this bait now, and this will undoubtedly increase my determination to stick with it, and maybe even catch that lunker on it.

Planning for that fish of a lifetime

As I write this, we’re entering what is, for me, the best time of the year for big bass. So, during some of the bad-weather days we’ve had recently, I’ve been doing a little planning. I’ve looked back through my catch records for places which have produced 8lb+ fish at this time of year, and will target these when the weather and tides are suitable. Fishing at this time of year can be tough, and big bass don’t come easily (unless you get lucky), so as well as knowing where the fish might be, you need to be determined and focussed, and put the time in. Let’s hope these efforts pay off, and I’ve got something to report in my next post.

Short days, long nights

For those who like bass fishing after dark, the shortening days of autumn bring increasing opportunities to fish our favourite places. Those marks which fish over a neap low water, or a big spring high, can now be fished during the late afternoon/early evening in complete darkness, if work or other commitments allow. And for those who like fishing at first light, you don’t have to get up at silly o’clock at this time of year; Mike Ladle reckons to get fish on lures as soon as he can see the lure ‘splash down’, so I’ve started timing my arrival to coincide with this if I’m fishing early morning sessions.

Saving our bass

We’re approaching the December EU Fishing Opportunities meeting, where all the member states get together, and indulge in a bit of serious horse trading over what can be caught in the following year. It’s supposed to be about responsible fisheries management, but it usually ends up being an exercise in keeping the commercials happy, usually at the expense of anglers, while paying lip service to the scientists’ advice about what the  bass stocks can sustain. Keep an eye on the Save Our Sea Bass website for details of how you can help with any campaigns they may run as the meeting approaches.

For more information on what I’ve been up to this year, check out my picture gallery.