How’s that for a season opener!

In some years it’s not until mid-summer that I see a decent bass (if I’m lucky), so how’s that for a season opener!

I wasn’t expecting that

With various family and other commitments, fishing time has been at a premium of late – just when I planned to start ramping up my efforts. So when an unexpected opportunity arose, it was a last-minute check of the tide and weather before setting out for a short afternoon session. I really wasn’t expecting much – perhaps an odd schoolie, given the time of year (and the sunny weather).

But fishing is never a waste of time, and always enjoyable, so I had nothing to lose. As part of my estuary-fishing learning curve, I was keen to see if there were any bigger bass in estuaries yet, or whether this only happened in the autumn. So imagine my surprise, and not a little satisfaction, at catching this 64cm beauty (estimated at around 6lb).

A 64cm lure-caught beauty taken in early May

Everybody has their own ideas about when to expect to see bass fishing starting to become worthwhile. For me it’s traditionally been when the foxgloves show in force, or the second set of springs in May. Having said that, in the last few years the fishing (for me) hasn’t become consistent until July. I can recall catching fish of around 5lb on the coast at the end of May in years gone by, but it’s not usually until August that I see something of this size.

The question is, was this fish just moving through, or does it mark the return of adult fish from their spawning activities? But this was a solid, fit-looking fish – not thin and spawned out. So maybe it missed a spawning year for some reason, and had stayed in the estuary all winter? I guess we’ll never understand all the ins and outs of bass biology, even with the increasing amount of research that’s going on in this field.

An interesting session

Despite an apparent lack of fish, the session was interesting. As I bent down to measure the water temperature (14.6C – 3 degrees warmer than the coast at the time), I could see small ragworm swimming in the water. I have seen this before in estuaries. They leave their burrows at this time to spawn. I only saw a few, but there must have been thousands out there – perhaps this, and the warmer water temperature, brings the bass into estuaries earlier than on the coast?

My fishing was interrupted when a young seal appeared. It was a little way out, so I couldn’t see clearly what it was doing, but it appeared to have something in its mouth. It kept dipping its head underwater, then popping up again with what I assumed was a fish, and taking a bite. I couldn’t make out what fish it was, but it looked long and creamy, so not a bass I thought – possibly a dogfish (lesser spotted)? I know that some local anglers have concerns about the number of seals we’re seeing in estuaries, and the effect this might be having on bass – including the very young ones.

Matching the hatch

Towards the end of the session I started getting the odd knock as I retrieved the lure. I was using a 5″ Shad, and wondered if this was down to small bass nipping at the paddle tail on the end.

I had bought some 4″ Fish Arrow Flash J Shads as a result of discussions with fellow BASS member Ian Sefton, who finds them a good fry imitation. They also (particularly in the browny colour) vaguely resemble (at least to my eyes) the ragworm that were about. Late Spring /early summer usually sees large numbers of the fry of various species, a fact ably demonstrated in a recent juvenile bass survey, where we found literally thousands of 6-7cm mullet. These, along with the spawning ragworm,  must be tempting morsels to a hungry bass

Baby mullet – about 6-7cm, in early May. Photo credit: Peter Maddern.

I was eager to satisfy my curiosity, and see if I could catch one of these ‘small’ bass bumping the lure, so now seemed a good time to try one of the smaller shads. I was coming to the end of the session, and more or less just going through the motions. I’d also given up trying to keep Archie from splashing about in the shallows! Fortunately he’d found a stick to occupy himself a bit further up the shoreline because the bass I caught must have been mooching around among the weed only yards out.

A nice bass in the sunshine

As I stood in the late-afternoon sunshine the little lure (it looks tiny in the fish’s mouth) was snatched. Battle had hardly commenced before it was over – that’s how close in the take was.

Landing it was no problem – but getting the hook out was! I had fitted the lure with a 3/0 Owner Twistlock Light unweighted hook, and this was stuck fast in a solid part of the fish’s mouth. It took some shifting, and I rested the fish in the water before having another go at getting it out. Eventually I did get the hook out (not without spilling a little of my own blood!). She went back OK, after allowing the tide to gently wash over her gills to let her recover a bit. Lesson learned though – don’t forget to crush the barb next time.

I could hardly believe what had just happened. A beautiful bass, early in the season, in beautiful surroundings that I was fully able to appreciate in daylight. It occurred to me how much angling adds to our appreciation of nature. I’ve always enjoyed walking, but when you fish you not only see places – you feel them.

Quality of bass catches

The Government are developing Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs). In the first tranche of these will be a FMP for bass. This will be vital for the maintenance of healthy bass stocks with a natural age/size profile. The Angling Trust has more about this here. 

As part of this, on behalf of the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers (for which I am Conservation Officer) I’m collating evidence (hard or anecdotal) about the quality of anglers’ catches of bass (numbers and size) in Cornwall, and how this has changed over the years. So if you have any information or personal comments that I can use and attribute to you, or know of anyone else who might (they don’t have to be CFSA members), please let me know.

Thanks for reading, and tight lines,