It’s a strange summer, but at least we can go bass fishing

The other night, I was returning from an enjoyable (and productive) bass fishing session. It was a warm end to a beautiful August day, and for a moment I was in another time, my mind filled with all those summery things you think about at this time of year – holidaying with family, barbecues on the beach, fishing with mates.

But then the reality hit me – this is not a normal summer. Such things are problematic, particularly if your loved ones live in another Country, and there’s a great big Corona cloud hanging over us all. But we carry on, making the best of things, hoping they get back to normal (or as near as can be) as soon as possible, and that our family and friends get through unscathed.

At least we can go bass fishing

For those who are fortunate enough to be able to get out fishing, this a chance to get away from the doom and gloom, and reconnect with familiar things, especially as things are starting to warm up.

No question that things are improving, with regular reports of good catches. Standing out among these is Jamie Strike’s absolute stunner of 12lb 12oz. Well done Jamie – superb angling! I would say ‘fish of a lifetime’, but he’s hoping it won’t be – he’s got his sights set on an even bigger one! You can read about the capture of this superb specimen in the next BASS magazine – of course you’ll have to be a member to do this, so if you haven’t already, why not join?

Jamie Strike, with his 12lb 12oz beauty.

It looks like things are picking up elsewhere as well. My good pal from Guernsey, Simon De La Mare, has recently spent a couple of very successful weeks on Alderney. His tally for the trip was 57 bass to 5lb, mostly caught on an Abu Mo lure (yellow) or a white 6″ DoLive Stick .

Simon De La Mare’s Alderney 5lber, taken on a white DoLive.

Trying out new lures

With a few fish about, I’ve been taking some new/unproven lures out. Although these are well-known bass catchers, there’s nothing like catching on them yourself to convince you of their potential. Take the Komomo SF125 for example – I’ve had one of these for a while, and really wanted to give it a proper go, to see if I could catch a bass on it.

Thinking about what lures to take one evening last week, the anticipated rough conditions suggested a shallow diver with a good action, which would cast well in the wind, would be a good choice. As I looked along the lures hanging from the shelf, this little guy was calling out “take me, take me”

Komomo SF125 – how could I resist his plea to go fishing?

A couple of missed/dropped fish made me glad that I had given him a place in the lure box, but something was clearly wrong. Could it be the missing middle hook, which I had deliberately left off, I wondered? A quick transplant from another lure, so that he was now fitted with size 1/0 Seaspin Gamu SW’s back and front, plus size 1 in the middle, improved things, with a couple of fish landed. But I was still missing fish which were chasing the plug right up the beach. Maybe I should slow down the retrieve, I thought. Result – two fish landed on the next two casts!

Adapting to the situation

This session reminded me how important it is to adapt to the situation when fishing, and this was brought home during another recent trip. This time I was fishing on a favourite North Coast beach at night with old friend Steve Ainsworth. It was one of those special nights, which prove that you don’t have to catch lots of big fish to enjoy your fishing – the moon was full, the surf was perfect, the surroundings were stunning, and the bass were biting – one for the memory bank.

The small (1-2 foot) surf suggested a modest cast, and sure enough, this found the fish from the off. Bass patrol the strand along a narrow band, parallel to the shoreline, the distance out determined by the size of the surf and state of the tide, so it’s important to adjust your casting distance accordingly. They weren’t big fish, it has to be said, but when you serve them what they want (live sandeel), where they want it (40-50 yards out on this occasion), they readily oblige with some spectacular bites.

When the bites stopped, a move further along the beach put us in touch with the fish again – but only until the surf had moved out beyond a shallowing bar.  A bit of wading, and a longer cast out beyond this, resulted in the bites resuming.

Food for bass

Netting sandeels is almost as enjoyable as fishing with them, so I was glad to be able to give Steve and other friends a hand to top up their live eel tanks on a recent trip . We were blessed with a good haul which included a variety of fish, showing that the seemingly barren sand is in fact teeming with life – and food for bass.

A good haul – including sandeels, pilchards, flatfish, weevers, and even a mackerel.

Soft plastic success

The best of my recent catches is this bass of 59cm which took a 6 inch Senko (Hawg Lures) while fishing over shallow, rough ground in calm and clear conditions.

59cm (4lb 3oz weighed) on a 6″ Senko (watermelon pearl). Note the UK Bass Lure Fishing ticket – evidence of my recent engagement with Facebook!

This was another lure that I’d never really persisted with, despite some initial success in Ireland with it, but regular reports of good fish caught prompted me to give it another go. It wasn’t the only one either – I also caught a smaller bass on a white version of the same lure. The night before, I landed another small bass on a 6″ Yamasenko (baby bass  -green), and another on a 5inch Flash J Split (Crystal Flake/Aurora) – both new to me. The session had started off with a 49cm bass taken on a white/speckled 6″ DoLive Stick, its slightly weathered look evidence of previous outings, and suggesting that the scent they come with (by now surely washed out) has little effect on their catching ability.

Patterns emerging

When you’re thinking about which lures to take, bear in mind that not even proven lures work all the time. A chance encounter with Sam Wallace reminded me of a previous session with him and his dad Paul, when Sam outfished us both with plugs, while the fish simply refused to take my soft plastics.

The same thing happened again on this occasion, with Sam and friends doing well on surface lures, while I blanked! Looking back through my records, it now seems clear that, at this mark at least, hard lures seem to work better than soft plastics on the very small tides, when all you seem to get is the odd snatch, or tentative plucks. Maybe the key here is lure action, with plugs producing more of this, especially if worked aggressively.

Big bait, big fish

I seem to be developing a serious thing for soft plastics, which seem so effective at night, particularly when it’s calm and clear over rough ground. I’m coming to the conclusion that this way of fishing is more effective than bait fishing in such circumstances. Even so, I still have a notion that the chances of catching a donkey, pig, or whatever other animal you equate to a seriously large bass, are arguably higher with a big bait than with lures (not that these don’t produce big bass as well); as the old saying goes “big bait, big fish”.

The trouble with bait fishing is that it seems slightly out of step with today’s ultra-light, ultra-convenient, grab and go approach which has made lure fishing so popular today – and drawn in so many new anglers. Those who enjoy bait fishing are happy to accept the extra paraphernalia and preparation that goes with it, in return for the different experience it brings.

But some types of bait fishing can be almost as convenient as lure fishing. Freelining a large mackerel bait, for example, simply requires a swivel tied to your main line, with a 3ft (or so) trace and 6/0 circle hook attached. I use a dedicated rod, rated 40-100g and 9ft long, with a small fixed-spool reel filled with 30lb braid, but at a push you can use the same rod that you use for lure fishing. And by attaching a prepared swivel and trace to your lure clip, you can switch between the two; a couple of mackerel fillets/heads and away you go – if the conditions (calm and weed-free) allow.

The one downside to bait fishing, when compared to lures, is it’s ability to attract our canine friends, who also have a taste for mackerel fillets, crab, squid etc – so you may have to put up with a few huss and dogs before the donkey turns up!

Tackle changes

In the time that I’ve been beach fishing (30+ years) there have been few changes to the tackle we use for it. Perhaps the biggest of these has been the use of braid as main line. I have made the transition from mono to braid for my rough ground legering with fixed-spool reels, but not yet for beach fishing with a multiplier. Problems with the leader knot getting coated with weed and stuck in the tip ring, and the increased bite sensitivity of braid, have convinced me to adopt Steve Ainsworth’s method, and change to 50lb braid ( Berkley Whiplash) straight through, with just a mono trace (30-40lb).

Lure fishing on the other hand, changes by the minute! Take just one small aspect of this – knots. I use a fluoro rubbing leader at the end of my braid mainline. Because this is short (approx 18 inches), the knot hangs outside the tip ring, so  doesn’t catch on this when casting. The standard double-uni knot has served me well, but when Henry Gilbey flagged up this video  about the GT knot in his blog I took note. Not only is this knot twice as strong as the double-uni (although I’m not sure how important this is since I can’t recall a single problem with it), but it’s even easier to tie. Having used this for a couple of weeks now, I’m sold on it, so thanks Henry!

Taking the temperature

Water temperature can affect the activity of fish, and potentially our catches. Most anglers, I suspect, go by the sea temperature given on TV, or on websites like Global Sea Temperature (GST).

These are useful averages, but I have recently purchased this Exo Terra Infrared Digital Pocket Thermometer so that I can measure the water temperature when I’m fishing; you simply point it at the water surface and press the button. You have to get quite close to the water for it to work, but once you get the hang of this it’s easy enough. So far, my readings have been within a degree or so of the GST figure for that day. You can get localised warm or cool spots, depending on weather conditions, water depth and substrate (sand, rocks etc), and it will be useful to see whether these might influence my catches (among many other things!). With thanks to friends on the BASS  Forum for their thoughts on this topic.

Seeing the light

With my scientist’s mind, I can’t resist the opportunity to test theories when the opportunity arises. Like the other night, when there were mackerel everywhere, chasing thousands of whitebait.

The first thing that struck me was that the mackerel seemed oblivious to the state of the tide, feeding right down the ebb. The second thing was that they carried on feeding well into darkness (I had always thought of mackerel as daylight feeders). As I stood on my rocky perch, I could hear the mackerel ripping into whitebait all around me. I couldn’t resist a look, but as soon as I put my torch on the fish scattered. When I repeated this a couple of minutes later, but using the red beam this time, the fish (by then the mackerel had been joined in the feast by scad) seemed much less bothered – proof that red light spooks fish less than white?

Too bright for bass?

Most bass anglers prefer to fish in dull, overcast conditions, or at night, but there may be occasions when our only opportunity coincides with bright, sunny weather. So, is it worth bothering to go fishing in these conditions? Well yes – if you adapt. This video from the Cornish Shore and Kayak Fishermen  shows how weedless soft plastics (Fiiish Black Minnows in this case) twitched along the bottom,  can take bass on such days, when they are likely to be down deep, among the weed and rocks.

Facebook forays

I’ve been toying with the idea of going on Facebook for a while. My hesitation centred around concerns about the amount of trivial information I had heard was posted, and the amount of time taken up by it; did I really want to spend my life reading about what people  had for tea etc, when I could be out actually doing stuff – like fishing!

Friends told me I was missing out on publicity for my book by not being on Facebook, and with BASS wanting to increase its social media presence, I thought the time had come to take the plunge, so that I could help with this. Well, I’m still finding my way around, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. My screen time has more than doubled, but I’ve tried to convince Angela that this will settle down!

Juvenile bass surveys

We’ve had some pretty exceptional weather this year, including the sunniest spring on record. Hopeful that this might lead to a successful bass spawning this year, our group of intrepid volunteers, with several new recruits from BASS, commenced our juvenile bass surveys in the Fal and Helford estuaries recently.

The ‘0’ group (L to R): John Laity, Derek Goodwin checking the net, Jon Williams, Stew Goode and Jamie Strike.

Our first result was a little disappointing, but we did manage to find about 100 ‘0’ groups (this year’s fish) including these beautiful perfect miniatures of (hopefully) the ten-pounders of the future, measuring between 3.8 and 7.4cm.

‘0’ group bass, from the 2020 spawning


Thanks for reading, and tight lines.