A bass angler’s winter

It’s that time of year again

It’s funny how we bass anglers seem to fall into the same, reassuringly familiar, pattern over the year. This is mostly dictated by fishing and the weather. At this time of year, the winter weather is playing havoc with our seas, and the bass are (mostly) off spawning.

January catches

My catches for January were poor. This is not unusual at this time of year in Cornwall, once we get past the period immediately after new year, which I missed this year as I was spending time with family in Guernsey. Mind you, I did hear of a few fish being caught in Cornwall – Steve Richards’ son Dan was catching nice fish until well into the month, like this one on 24th January:

A nice bass, just shy of 8lb, for Dan Richards – caught on a Fiiish Crazy Eel Offshore 20g jighead/Savage Gear Sandeel 10cm tail combo.

And one of my Guernsey pals, Simon De La Mare, has done well this winter, and was catching throughout the whole of January, with 5 bass in the 4-5lb range during this time.

Simon De La Mare with a fat 66cm Guernsey bass, caught in late December on a white DoLive.

Time for a winter break?

So for most of us it’s time to scale back on the fishing, but we can’t let go completely. With spring just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about what  the year ahead might bring, and what new methods, marks, lures, equipment, clothing, footwear etc might increase our enjoyment of our fishing, and our chances of success.

It’s also a time for checking gear, and stocking up on supplies. Don’t forget your local tackle shops, like the excellent Lowen Chy Angling in St Austell, Gwinear Angling near Newquay and Art of Fishing in Wadebridge. If you can’t find what you want, you’ll need to go elsewhere, and as a BASS member,  you’ll be entitled to a discount from a range of tackle suppliers and guides.

New toys

Anybody who has read my book A Bass Angler’s Life’  will know that I can hardly be described as a ‘tackle tart’, but I do like to try new lures out. So when Steve Richards told me about one called a Dark Sleeper I was intrigued, particularly when he sent me this link to an incredible bass fishing video where two French anglers are catching some big bass on it.  This is a beautifully made film, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Naturally I just had to get one of these things myself. As the film says, because the lead is internal, and the attachment is at the top, they can be trundled along the bottom, where these goby imitations should attract any bass lurking among the weed and boulders. I’m looking forward to giving it a try at the first opportunity I get!

Steve also sent me a link to a new type of surface plug, the Autowalker 115s. I don’t like too much fuss when I’m lure fishing, so this lure, which imparts a walk-the-dog action with just a simple straight retrieve, suits me down to the ground.  I’ve already taken delivery of one I obtained from here. 

Not another hotspot!

Even though I’ve fished at many, many marks over the years, there’s always somewhere new I want to try. This year is no exception, and I’ve already sussed out a couple of places which I’ve either been told about, or I just fancy the look of.  It’s important to get the feel of the place, find out what the ground is like, where to park etc., so that when you do eventually fish it you don’t waste any time.

Where did all the sand go?

One of the effects of the rough weather we get at this time of year is the way it can strip sand away from beaches, temporarily exposing rocks underneath. I noticed this at a couple of my local beaches recently. In one case I could see that the sand that had been removed from the top of the beach, exposing extensive rocky ledges, had been dumped near the low water mark. When I returned a couple  of weeks later, the beach had almost reverted to its previous state. In the other case, the sand appeared to have been moved down to the other end of the beach. Apparently this movement of sand is caused by a combination of waves striking the beach at an angle, causing the sand to be gradually pushed along the shore (longshore drift), strong tides and currents, and a lack of seaweed to stabilise the sandy bottom.

This lack of seaweed may be caused by a certain amount of ‘pruning’ as a result of being ripped up by the waves caused by autumnal/winter gales, and the fact that its growth is limited in the early months of the year. Have you noticed how the weed problems you would normally expect are less in winter?

What effect does this have on our fishing, apart from revealing rocks you never knew you’d been standing above? A favourite mark of mine fishes best when I can get onto sand for a couple of hours over low water. Last year all the sand was gone, which made the type of fishing I like to do there difficult, even on a big spring tide. When I did try to fish it, I blanked, probably because the sand had been piled up offshore, creating a bar just beyond casting range, keeping the fish outside until the flood was well underway.

I like fishing rough ground, but do these newly exposed areas on the beach fish as well as more established ones? Does it take time for the gobies etc to colonise these areas, and are they put off by the fact that the sand can reappear at any time?

A helping hand from nature?

The weather also affects fish behaviour. One aspect of this is the first winter survival of very young (or ‘0’ group) bass, and spawning success. As yet, we have not had a prolonged cold spell this winter, so the good numbers of ‘0’ groups we saw last year should hopefully survive well. Persistent winds from a westerly direction around the time of spawning help to push the tiny fry towards our coasts, and increase the chance that they will settle as juvenile bass in our estuaries and elsewhere. This leads to good year classes, providing good fishing in the future.

The winds in recent weeks have been mainly from the west or southwest, so hopefully this means we might be in for a good year class – assuming there are enough breeding fish left to produce the fry, that is. Let’s just hope we don’t get another ‘beast from the east’ like we saw in 2018, with strong east winds, which could have the opposite effect. Our juvenile bass surveys in the Fal and Helford rivers in Cornwall will resume in May, so these should give us an indication of both first winter survival of the 2019 class and, from August on, the strength of the 2020 class. Incidentally, if anybody would like to help with these surveys, please let me know.

Let them do their stuff

The spawning fish will hopefully be left to do their, very important, thing, with the prohibition of commercial bass fishing in February and March.  If you see bass for sale, and it isn’t farmed, report this to the MMO via this link.  Similarly, if you see ‘wild’ sea bass on a restaurant menu, ask if it’s fresh or frozen; if the former, again report it to the MMO. Recreational sea anglers can fish for bass during this period, but cannot keep one during February. While we can keep two fish (over 42cm) a day in March, I would suggest that you return any fish whose girth suggests they are still carrying eggs. Note: the bass fishing proposals are expected to be ratified at any time.

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All the best and tight lines,