A time to reflect
It’s that time when we reflect on the year just finished, and look forward to the one just starting. Whether it’s about bass angling, or life in general, this is something I’ve always done. I guess it’s about the closing of one discrete chapter in your life, and the opening of another. Perhaps my Scots ancestry has some bearing on this; I love Hogmanay and a ‘wee dram’ of the rusty water!
This New Year is also the start of a new decade. So much has happened to me in the last ten years, both in my personal life and my fishing life, and I’ve no doubt that the next ten will be just as eventful. That’s assuming I’m fortunate enough to be around for that long! As you get older, you become increasingly conscious of your own mortality. This inevitably affects how you view your fishing – will I still be able to fish in 10 years’ time, and if so in what form? Should I try new things, with the risk of wasting precious time, or stick with what I know?
A book about bass angling
Easily the most momentous event of 2019 for me was the publication of my book ‘A bass angler’s life’ in July; I wrote about this in my first two blogs. They say that everyone has a book in them, and I’d certainly encourage people to have a go – I’m glad I did. I’ve gained a great deal of satisfaction from just achieving one of my lifetime ambitions, and the comments I’ve received have made it all worthwhile; I’ve included a few of these in the book reviews section of this site.
As I’ve said before, fishing isn’t just about the catching of fish – it’s about many other things, including the friendships you form through it. Last year saw old friendships renewed, current one strengthened, and new ones forged, and I count myself very fortunate to have such good friends. I won’t embarrass them by mentioning names, but they know who you are, and I thank them for their valued friendship.
A disappointing December
If you look through my picture gallery you will get an idea of some of my bass angling antics last year. The telling thing is that the last picture is from mid November. After that my catches pretty much died away, just when I was expecting things to ramp up. The awful weather in November and December didn’t help the fishing, nor did the amount of gill netting that was going on. Family business took me away from Cornwall over Christmas and into the New Year – just when the conditions were getting interesting! I did have a lovely time over in Guernsey though, including the birth of my second granddaughter, who tipped the scales at 7lb 8oz – if only I’d caught a bass that size while I was out there! I did manage a few small bass on DoLives on New Years Day over there, so at least I’ve opened my account for 2020.
Bass angling in 2019
Many anglers reported disappointing catches, consisting mainly of small fish. From a personal perspective, looking back on the year as a whole, I would say it was quite a good one. OK, I didn’t catch as many as I usually do (and some others did), and I still haven’t landed that double, but I did manage some nice fish. These included 12 over 60cm, amongst which were a 7lber and two 8’s.
I think the reason I caught fewer bass in 2019 may be in part down to the way I fished. Until November, I did a lot of lure fishing, mainly with DoLives and plugs with single hooks. I’ve found that both these tend to result in fewer hook-ups from small bass. This is no bad thing in my mind, as this avoids any potential damage to these fish, and I’m mainly after the bigger ones anyway (like most folk I imagine) .
After November, I concentrated on bait fishing, mainly with big mackerel baits, which again seems to result in fewer small fish.
Bass catches in the past
We often speak of the ‘good old days’, when bass angling was so much better than today. You had only to stand on the beach with your split-cane rod and centre-pin reel, loaded with ‘cuttyhunk’ line, and the bass would leap onto your hook. But was it really like that?
The trouble is, there is such a lack of data for us to make an objective comparison. So when Richard Brandon sent me a link to a chapter in ‘The Art of angling’ called ‘Bass and bass fishing’ by esteemed author and angler-naturalist Donovan Kelley, I was intrigued to read his breakdown of the sizes of bass you could expect back in 1957. Among a total of 400 fish, caught over a representative period, he records the following: 1.5-3lb: 56%; 3-5lb: 32%; 5-7lb: 8%; 7+lb :4%. My own catches in 2019 were split as follows: <3lb: 76%; 3-5lb: 12%, 5-7lb: 10%; 7+lb: 2%. It’s interesting to note that, even using the techniques I did, I caught a greater proportion of smaller fish, and fewer medium-sized fish, than in those days.However, my catches of larger fish made up a similar percentage to Don’s.
Other anglers in Cornwall reported bass around the 60cm (~5lb) mark in their catches, and it seemed that there were quite a few bass of this size around. I think these are from a steadily growing (by around 5cm per year) class, possibly the good 2007 year class. Later in the year, there also seemed to be a reasonable showing of 70cm (~8lb) fish. If these fish are spared the net, we might have an increasing chance of catching a ‘double’ in a year or two’s time.
Looking forward to the coming year, I hope that my results, in terms of the number of 60cm+ bass I catch, continue to improve. I will come up with a plan to try to achieve this, incorporating new knowledge and experience from last year. I’ll probably fish right through the year, increasing as we go into summer and autumn. I’m going to concentrate on those techniques and areas likely to produce bigger bass.
Lure fishing will probably form the larger part of my bassing, using my favourite DoLive sticks, so effective for fishing over shallow, rough ground at night. I’m not forgetting surface and shallow-diving plugs though, especially during daylight hours. I will bait fish whenever this seems like a more effective option, particularly early and late in the year.
At the EU Fishing Opportunities meeting last month we were expecting the usual stitch-up of anglers. What a pleasant surprise then, when our bag limit was increased for 2020. We have our colleagues in SOSB/BASS and the Angling Trust, and all those anglers who supported them with emails etc, to thank for this – it shows what can be done.
Come on CIFCA
I hate to finish on a negative note, but some may already know of the 75-100 immature bass which were found dumped in Hayle Harbour recently. These were probably caught in gill nets, with a mesh size which is too small to allow undersized bass to swim through, despite the minimum size having been increased to 42cm several years ago.
Cornwall IFCA have done little to try to address this problem, so this needless slaughter of fish will continue. These are the brood stock of tomorrow, and desperately needed to replenish depleted stocks when capable of breeding. I applaud those commercial fishermen who have already changed their nets to those with a higher mesh size, and who abide by the current bass regulations. But there are those who still use the old nets, and cynically flout the law by targeting bass with them, ‘accidentally’ catching as many as they can, with the law powerless to stop them because of unenforceable regulations. And because they can discard their dead undersized fish at sea, usually nobody is any the wiser to the number of immature fish they are catching. With the current size profile of bass stocks, they are probably throwing four back dead for every one they can keep, and yet they carry on doing so. If you feel as strongly about these issues as I do, please let your MP, Cornwall IFCA and your local media know what you think. We have a couple of strong year classes (2014 and 2019) coming through, so let’s give them the chance to at least reach maturity.