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,

 

It’s nearly time to start bassing again!

As the blackthorn flowers come out, and the heady coconut smell of gorse is in the air, it’s nearly time to start bassing again. My head is filled with thoughts of what might unfold in the coming season. What will the fishing be like? What will be the highlights? What new things will I learn? What new friendships will be forged?

Last year was memorable for me in that I finally got to grips with estuary fishing for bass. To begin my 2022 campaign, while I establish at what point the fish come into estuaries, I’ll be using the same tactics (soft plastic paddle tails – mostly unweighted), at the same marks as last year.

During my ‘close season’ I usually try to explore potential new marks. This year my focus has been on estuary marks. There’s a certain peace and tranquility about these places, and with their wealth of wildlife they are very pleasant places to fish. Knowing what to look for certainly helps – areas where there is lots of crab-containing weed cover, and I’ve got several new spots to try once the fish are in.

I needed that break

Although I haven’t been fishing much over the last couple of months, I have been busy with other things. It’s amazing how much time fishing takes up when the season is in full swing, so the downtime not only refreshes my fishing appetite, but gives me time to catch up with a growing list of other activities, both fishing-related and domestic.

Juvenile bass surveys

Before we can start the juvenile bass survey programme for the year there is quite a bit of preparatory work to get through. This includes applying for a permit to net in the Fal, Helford and Camel estuaries for scientific purposes, updating risk assessments and arranging insurance. This year I’ve even attended a First Aid course. Hopefully everything will come together in time for our May 1st start.

Cornwall IFCA

I’m gradually getting to grips with being a general member of Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority. I have to say it’s been a positive experience so far, and I would recommend anglers to apply should a vacancy arise.  Anybody interested in applying, or just finding out a bit more about how IFCAs work, should find the recordings of the Angling Trust webinars with IFCA Chief Officers informative.

CIFCA are working through the objections to the proposed Salmonids byelaw. They hope to liaise with the main objectors, to see if concerns can be resolved, and report back to the June meeting (17.6.22). Although this byelaw is primarily aimed at salmonids (salmon and sea trout), it should also afford some protection to bass and other seafish. Note that all CIFCA meetings can be attended by the public or watched via webcast. Details of meetings can be found here.

I’m pleased to say that CIFCA have agreed to hold at least one public meeting with anglers over the next twelve months. I think these are a good opportunity for IFCAs to engage with anglers, and understand their concerns; likewise it allows anglers to appreciate the limitations under which IFCAs operate, and the needs of other stakeholders. In this way it is possible to build trust and support between both parties while taking the sea angling agenda forward.

Joint Fisheries Statement

Defra are consulting on the Joint Fisheries Statement (JSF), a key part of the new Fisheries Act. While I think it sets out some excellent policies for managing fisheries, I feel it fails to reflect the importance of Recreational Sea Fishing/Angling. Not only does this generate considerable economic and social benefit for coastal (and inland) communities, its environmental foot print is low. The JSF document is a lot to get through (80+) pages, and the deadline (12th April) is nearly up, so if you haven’t got time to respond yourself have a look at the Angling Trust’s response.

Bass netting research

Devon & Severn IFCA are undertaking research looking at the discard survivability of bass caught in short 100mm gill nets set for gilthead bream and mullet in the Salcombe estuary for limited short soak times (up to 1 hour). The results of this research will be published in due course, and are awaited with interest.

Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers

I’ve been impressed with the way that the CFSA are moving with the times. One example of this is their approach to the competitions they run. It is now possible, in most situations, to register fish using video’d footage of the fish being weighed, enabling the fish to be released alive.

Another example is their excellent Recorder’s report. Included in this are the issues of climate change and offshore commercial fishing. I include notes from the report below:

Climate change has brought novel species like gilthead bream to our shores, moving up from the Bay of Biscay.  Recent years have seen an explosion of spider crabs, and this has made rock fishing virtually impossible until they shed their shells and return to deeper water in late July. Bluefin tuna are now a common sight in Cornish waters. Their presence seems to be affecting other species too, particularly baitfish, which in turn may be having an impact on the species we like to catch. 2021 was very unusual for the absence of mackerel around Cornwall throughout the summer months. Sandeel populations have also declined substantially, which may be reducing food availability for some species. These changes may have been partially offset by the increasing number of pilchards and anchovies which are being seen and caught.

High levels of offshore commercial fishing effort are being directed at the waters around Cornwall, particularly by EU vessels to within 6 miles of the shore. It’s hard to see how this can be sustainable, either for recreational sea angling or our local inshore commercial fleet. The sheer scale of these fisheries is turning the inshore waters around Cornwall into an underwater desert. This is particularly apparent with flatfish, with very few turbot, plaice or dabs being caught by anglers in areas where they were once common.

There are particular concerns around the ‘Trevose Box’ where large numbers of trawlers target this spawning ground for flatfish (and other species) as soon as it reopens after the Feb 1st – March 31st closed period, potentially undoing all the good that has accrued during this time.

Organisations like the CFSA need our support. I have recently volunteered to be its Conservation Officer, and have been coopted onto the Committee.

BASS Catch Recording Scheme

The BASS Science group has been developing a Catch Recording Scheme. Some of the findings from the first year of running this on a trial basis have already been shared at this year’s virtual AGM, and an article will appear in the next BASS magazine.

The scheme aims to give members information about fishing quality in various parts of the Country, and information about bass biology such as year class abundance and growth. It is hoped that in time this data will also be of use to our campaigning team. Results are anonymised and locations are only recorded to County level.

Average, maximum and minimum lengths of bass caught during 2021 by participants in the BASS Catch Recording Scheme.

If you would like more information about the scheme please get in touch via my Contact page. The more anglers who participate, and the more areas we cover, the better and more detailed data we can provide. You’ll have to be a member though, so if you aren’t one already, why not sign up for the modest sum of £25.

Marine Strandings Network

The Marine Strandings Network in Cornwall is run by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Their data, collected by dedicated and local people, is recognized by governing bodies and used by scientists to better understand our coastal marine megafauna and the pressures they face. Their research has put real and significant pressure on government to tackle significant threats like bycatch (accidental entanglement in fishing gear) which we have proven to be one of the top causes of death in dolphins and porpoises. The science has uncovered some fascinating discoveries like the threat of bottlenose dolphins on porpoises through their fatal attacks. All of this has been led ultimately by citizen scientists. With thanks to Ruth Williams, CWT.

If you see dead dolphins, seals, sharks, seabirds, jellyfish and other marine wildlife on the shoreline of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, please contact the Marine Strandings Hotline Emergency Number on 0345 201 2626. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer recorder, email the organisers on strandings@cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk  

I recently attended the stranding of a Risso’s dolphin. This was quite a challenging assignment, given the vagueness of location reported, and the positioning of the stranding. Fortunately I know the stretch of coastline well, and was able to locate the stranding fairly easily. It looked like the poor animal had stranded during recent gales, and was stuck fast in some rocks near the high water mark.

A Risso’s dolphin, which I recorded for the Marine Strandings Network.

We normally like to get photos and measurements from all angles, but its position and weight prevented me from moving it. But with a bit of crawling under rocks, I managed to get sufficient photos for the animal to be identified and recorded.

Recent catches

As often seems to happen in March, some nice bass have been caught. Well done to the canny and hardy souls who brave the cold weather at this time of year.

Cornwall anglers Rob Taylor and Dave Noble got among the fish. Rob had a great fish of 8-9 in mid-March on lures, in bright sunny weather and east winds. Dave had a 7-15 beauty, a new PB,  at the end of March. He caught the fish on whole joey mackerel (with tail and half the head removed) just as the sun was going down. The bait was supplied by Camborne Sea Baits.

Bill Morris had several nice bass while fishing a Bristol Channel shore mark. Bill commented that the fish were spawning, and could see eggs running from the fish. Research suggests that bass spawn in the Celtic Sea. Bill adds that by mid April – May all the fish he catches are spawned out.

One of Bill Morris’ catch from the Bristol Channel. Photo credit: Bill Morris

Terry Blampied from Jersey got a surprise when the bass he landed had a lamprey stuck to its side! Goodness knows how long the fish would have survived if Terry hadn’t caught it, and removed the lamprey. These things are pretty gruesome, attaching their mouth by suction to their prey which allows their tongue to tear at the flesh of their prey and drink its blood!

Terry Blampied’s bass with lamprey attached. Photo credit: Terry Blampied

Great service

I don’t have any links with, or promote tackle suppliers, but I do like good service when I see it.

Some recent examples include Bass Lures UK who went out of their way to provide a tailored product to suit my individual needs, supplying a pack of very bassy-looking soft plastic paddle tails. These Flash J style shads look like they will be very effective for estuary bassing. The complimentary smaller versions they also sent should prove particularly attractive early in the season when bass are likely to be feeding on summer fry.

Rooney’s Fishing Supplies know how to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one. An order for some Owner Twistlock hooks ( the light Gary Yamamoto style ones I like so much) hadn’t arrived, so I contacted the proprietor.  He was eager to put things right, and within a few days the hooks were delivered, with an extra pack of 5/0’s thrown in. He was very apologetic, but It wasn’t his fault that the hooks had gone missing in the post.

That’s all for this month folks. Thanks for reading.

Pre-season musings

Not having much to write about during this period of bass fishing downtime for many, I thought I would share some pre-season musings with you. These are more outtakes which didn’t make the final cut of my book A Bass Angler’s Life.

The quest for new fishing spots

Every year, usually at the start of the season before I get into my comfort zone of familiar places, I look at new marks. There can’t be many places around the Cornish coast I haven’t looked at, and the search for new spots increasingly involves going further and further from home. And while bass marks tend to be fairly predictable, coastal erosion, and storms shifting sand about can completely change a mark, meaning you have to learn about it all over again.

Once you’ve decided that somewhere has the potential to produce bass, the anticipation begins. Is it going to be a waste of time, or will it produce that lunker? To me, the learning and experimenting is almost as enjoyable as the fishing itself, but you have to keep yourself in check; you don’t mind a few blanks if it leads to a new hotspot, but you still want to catch fish. The trick is to find the right balance between experimenting, and proper fishing at your known marks.

Being spontaneous

Thinking anglers try to get all their ‘ducks in a row’ before they go fishing. And yet, it’s important to be open to the unexpected, and not to get too regimented in your fishing habits – once you’ve caught fish at a mark, it’s tempting to keep going back and fishing the same area, at the same stage of tide. I’ve sometimes surprised myself when I’ve been a bit more spontaneous.

An unexpected bonus occurred one evening when I was fishing with Mick Larkin. The mark we were at usually produces in specific spots, but I had never before caught fish at the right-hand end. After a couple of hours on the lures, we decided to chuck out some bait. We chose to fish between the more productive ground and the right-hand end, despite the fact that I had never caught a fish there. Perhaps it was that we were fishing on the ebb, with bait, and this ground looked marginally less snaggy than the other areas we usually fish with surface plugs.

To cut a long story short, we landed three fish between us, all around 3lb, before the tide ebbed away too much and weed became a problem. Mind you, I haven’t caught a fish there since; maybe it was using bait rather than lures as I normally do there. But it’s not a place you want to hang around for too long, with those huge rocks just waiting to fall on your head!

Too much information?

Sometimes a little information about a place can be worse than none. One such mark resembles one of my favourite spots but, try as I might, it just wouldn’t produce for me. One reason may have been the fact that other people fished it, and my efforts were inevitably influenced by the tide and conditions when they were there. It was almost too easy; I had to give it a proper go, as if it was a new mark to me.

Putting any preconceived ideas to one side, I ventured forth one May evening at a stage of the tide that I thought would produce, rather than when people had told me it would. I was prepared to waste a few hours, if needed, in order to finally crack this place, and it was a lovely evening to be out anyway.

I was using the old favourite Yozuri Arms Pencil and was twitching it across the calm surface when a boil appeared behind it. Pulse racing now, I carried on winding. Suddenly the plug was seized violently, and the water was thrashed to foam. A lively fight signalled a good fish was on, and I felt more than a little pleased to see 5lb beauty come in. But it wasn’t just the elation of catching that nice fish that had me buzzing – I hadn’t been able to reproduce the catches of other anglers, but I had proved the mark to myself by catching a good bass here at a stage of tide which they dismissed.

That’s all for this month folks. Thanks for reading.

A quiet time on the fishing front

Being a quiet time on the fishing front, and not having much to write about, I thought I would share some outtakes from my book to help you pass a few minutes.  These are passages of the book which I left out in the interests of not boring the pants off everyone. Not that I was unhappy with them, but you actually can get too much of a good thing!

Fishing with prawn at night

Fishing with live prawn under a float is such a simple and natural way to catch bass. Doing this at night adds extra appeal, and can be deadly as this short tale illustrates.

After a long walk, I made my way down to a tiny, deserted cove, well off the beaten track. The path down is not for the faint-hearted, especially when carrying a bucket of prawns. As I picked my way down in the dark my pulse quickened when I heard a moaning sound coming from below. As I got nearer, I realised that a large seal was responsible for this. ‘Oh flip’ I cursed (or words to that effect!), ‘I hope he’s not staying’. He must have got the message because he left!

Half an hour with a small (10cm) ‘Sammy’ surface lure didn’t produce, so it was out with the prawn gear. I was using a 15g ‘Buldo’ weighted clear plastic float sliding on 20lb braid mainline with a 2/0 Limerick Match hook on the end.  I had pushed a small tip light into the plastic sleeve it came with, which was glued to the top of the float.

I was glad I had made the effort to fish this mark. Over the next hour, the little light on the float shot under three times, zipping along just below the surface as bass up to 3lb made off with the prawn. And a move to a couple of other spots within the cove produced more fish to round off the night.

Tales of epic catches

We’ve all heard tales of epic catches. Word gets out and the grapevine is buzzing with rumour and excitement. These tales were usually started off in the tackle shop, or fishing club, but nowadays social media plays a big part.

Each report fired me up, and I’d be down there hoping to share in the spoils.  After a while I came to realise that these reports were often out of date, and misleading with regard to the mark – people may want to tell the world about their success but, perhaps wisely, not where they caught the fish.

I learned not to take too much notice of these reports, except perhaps to note the fact that fish are around in my diary and spreadsheet. With bass being so predictable there’s a good chance they will show at the same time next year, and it could be worth redoubling your efforts at these times. On the other hand, if these reports are from a trusted source, and very current, they can be worth following up – but even then there’s no guarantee the fish will still be there.

I know anglers who follow social media, avidly soaking up the catch reports, and then feeling depressed because their own results don’t match these, or letting these reports influence them on where and when to fish. Better to decide when and where to go for yourself, based on personal knowledge and past experience. Some may feel this is a blinkered approach, but it works for me; it also has the advantage that I can fish away in blissful ignorance of all those big catches I’m missing (or not)!

Changing my fishing style

By the early noughties my fishing style had broadened. I was actively seeking out rough, rather than clean, sandy ground. The session that really convinced me that this type of ground produces bass, even in calm conditions, still sticks in my mind…..

I made my way down to a small rocky cove for a spot of late afternoon plugging. It was a sunny and calm July day, and I was returning to a mark I had first looked at in 1989. At that time I had my beach eyes on – I was only interested in finding sandy bits in all this nasty rocky stuff! This meant fishing it on a low water spring, when the tide had gone out beyond the reef. How wrong I was!

Suffice to say I blanked on that occasion and basically never fished it again – until now. This time I had my rough ground eyes on, and my inbuilt ‘bassometer’ was going off the scale!

After a couple of hours working along the reef, by climbing onto some adjacent  rocks I was able to cast my plug, a Yozuri Arms Pencil, out near a large rock, and work it over some very bassy-looking rocky gullies which were just starting to fill up; no beach angler would dream of putting their bait there.

A couple of turns and there was a violent splash as a fish missed the plug. I paused momentarily, and when I started to wind again a 4lber hit the plug. This one scrapped well in the calm, clear water. I can still recall the pleasure of the moment; a warm summer evening, a beautiful cove, fabulous bass ground, and a good fish caught on a surface lure – magic! To crown the session, I caught a couple more fish, smaller than the first, before I had to pack up.

I walked back to the car with that feeling of satisfaction which comes with your first success at a mark, but which was tinged with a sense of irony, having missed all those years of potentially good fishing. That session convinced me of the value of rough ground bass fishing and I never looked back.

That’s it for this month folks. Thanks for reading.

Another year in a bass angler’s life

Here I am again, reflecting on another year in a bass angler’s life, and looking forward to another one to come, with my usual mix of excitement and optimism (will I never learn!).

Exploring

One of the more enjoyable parts of the ‘quiet’ period over the late winter and spring is looking for new marks. We tend to gravitate towards our favoured, reliable spots, but at this time of resetting things, and with no ‘pressure’ to get out there and catch, a few non-productive afternoons are time well spent, and could turn up a potential silver mine. We did find a couple of ‘humdingers’ but have yet to give them serious rod time. Better not leave it too long as I don’t know how much longer two old codgers will be able to get down the cliff!

Fishing abroad

After numerous trips to Ireland, my fishing abroad has now switched to the Channel Islands. I don’t get the same opportunities to fish there as when my son was living on Guernsey, but love to go whenever I can. The island, and its near neighbours such as Herm, are so beautiful, and with the great company of the local anglers, who wouldn’t want to visit as often as possible. I wrote about my most recent trip in my October blog.

A new canine companion

A year or so after losing our last golden retriever, a six-month old Archie joined me in October for his first fishing trip.

Archie’s first fishing trip

It has to be said that taking a (very) boisterous young dog fishing is not without its challenges! Hopefully he’ll get there in the end, and so far he has (mostly) brought me luck, despite his antics.

Fishing patterns

Apart from a couple of fish in the mid-fifties on crab in May, from an old favourite mark revisited, my season didn’t really get going until mid-July, with a 60cm fish. This was my first decent bass from an estuary, and was taken on a Dark Sleeper lure.

A 60cm bass taken on a Dark Sleeper lure.

This pattern of fishing seems to have become established for me in recent years, and I find the period from mid-July until the end of September the most productive and enjoyable of the year.  It’s possible to catch right up to early new year, but the latter part of the year can be  inconsistent, and a struggle against the weather at times.

A Christmas bass

One late season success was this 61cm bass, caught just before Christmas on squid.

A Christmas bass – it looked like it could do with munching on a few mince pies!

Despite the disappointing results of late, when you get perfect conditions you have to make the effort, and the prospect of tapping into the December migration adds motivation.

An hour passed without event, but a short move along the beach produced a bite on the first cast with razor – a 40cm junior bass with attitude! The next cast was a re-run of the first, except that the bite didn’t result in a fish.

I had brought along some (refrozen) squid for variety, so on it went. Five minutes later, the rod was thumping in my hands, as my would-be captive signalled its intention to regain freedom. No such luck – the top 1/0 Chinu hook had done its job well, despite the ensuing struggle, while the seemingly redundant 5/0 ‘Ultimate Bass’ bottom hook dangled freely outside the fish’s cheek. It’s interesting how larger fish often seem to do this, almost as if they’re going for the pointy end of the squid, and avoiding the beak at the head end, something which younger bass may not have learned to do yet. Catching this fish on squid reaffirmed for me what an excellent bait it is. Likewise mackerel, which also produced a 60cm bass for me in the summer.

“What a beautiful fish” I thought,  whilst at the same time being struck by how thin this fish was. A fish of this size would normally be fattening up for winter and full of eggs, but I’m not sure it would have even made the   5lb+ estimated by the BASS tape.

So why so slim? Had she come from an area devoid of her natural prey? I almost felt guilty about depriving her of a squid meal, but I think she’d probably swallowed most of it anyway. Why weren’t her ovaries filling with eggs in readiness for an encounter with a young buck from further along the coast? I hope she finds a few nice juicy Cornish sardines (pilchards) as she makes her way along our shores, and avoids the monofilament walls of death set to prevent her reaching the spawning grounds.

Meeting a new challenge

Estuary fishing for bass was the last big challenge I wanted to meet. I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea , some preferring the rugged coast and wave-pounded beaches to the quiet backwaters of tidal rivers.

Perhaps I’ve reached the time of life when I can enjoy this type of fishing, but I needed to see results before committing to it. Last year saw that happen.

I had always thought that estuaries were places which produced mainly school bass, and it is certainly true that they are very important nursery areas. Yet in recent years, reports of anglers catching big bass while fishing for other species, like bream, and while targeting bass with lures has changed that mindset.

My estuary catches weren’t prolific, but were regular enough to give me the confidence to stick at it. The average size of fish I caught was the same on the coast and in estuaries at 43cm. Of the 9 x 60cm and above bass I caught last year, 3 came from the coast (2 on bait, 1 on lures), while 6 came from estuaries (all on lures), including my biggest fish of the year at 68cm.

A beautiful 68cm bass – my best of 2021. This fish took a 5″ Fish Arrow Flash J paddle tail soft plastic in the weed margin.

Safe to say that I will be fishing estuaries more in the year ahead. It’ll be interesting to see if this affects my pattern of catches over the year.

A seal encounter

I recently had an encounter which adds a new dimension to the concept of fishing with friends. This young chap/chapess joined me on the beach for a couple of hours while I was catching my final bass of 2021.

Sammy the seal, who joined me on a Cornish beach on a late December night.

He made me jump when the ‘rock’ next to me moved as I turned to refresh my bait! He didn’t seem too bothered by my presence, just shuffling up the beach whenever the waves got too close. I kept as far away from him as I could though, so as not to disturb him too much, and kept the use of my light to a minimum (always good practice when bass fishing).

I reported this sighting to Sue Sayer from the Cornwall Seal Group who was very appreciative of the information. Sue commented that the seal looked like a very skinny pup.

Joining Cornwall IFCA

November saw me joining the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority. I’ve long had an interest in fisheries management, and this four year voluntary appointment allows me to bring the sea angling perspective to meeting the undoubted challenges which Cornwall faces in this respect. My particular focus will be on the sustainable management of the bass fishery, but if there are any other issues relating to recreational sea angling you’d like me to raise, do let me know via email robin.bradley@btinternet.com.

Like all IFCAs, underpinning CIFCA’s work is an important scientific programme. Marine biology is a passion of mine, and I hope to be able to help with this in some way.

Juvenile bass surveys

During 2021 I took on the organisation of the programme of juvenile bass surveys in Cornwall. Although familiar with the surveys, having been involved since 2013, running them is a different matter altogether. With a lot of help from Derek Goodwin, who has run the surveys since the 1990’s, and our fantastic team of volunteers, I think I managed to negotiate the various administrative, practical and reporting aspects of the work, and look forward to starting this year’s programme in May. I gave a brief outline of our findings in my November blog.

If you’d like to get involved with the surveys, or just find out a bit more about them, please feel free to get in touch via the ‘Contact’ tab on my website.

BASS Science

BASS has always been interested in the science aspects of bass, and has its own Science group drawing together information about the biology of bass from a variety of sources.

This is one of the unique aspects of what BASS offers its members, and I’m pleased to lead this group as we move into a period of increasing research on bass, hoping to understand more about its reproduction, movements and lifecycle.

Ghost story

Finally, I never could resist a ghost story, especially ones which involve fishing. I’m grateful to the Piscatorial Raconteurs and Friends for this tale from Jeremy Croxall ‘Thatchers Beat’ which featured in their Christmas edition. Enjoy………..

That’s all for this month folks, thanks for reading.

If only it was a bass!

“If only it was a bass” (or words to that effect!), said Richard, as he landed a dirty great huss. We’d been fishing a mark which has produced some of my best bass over the years and when he felt the bite, and with the ensuing struggle to get the fish in, Richard was hopeful of a lunker. I could hear his voice going up a notch, as he brought it in; “this feels like a good fish”, and then “this feels like a very good fish”, only for his hopes to be dashed as this evil-looking black thing came ashore.

I don’t wish to be disparaging of those who actually target huss, and no doubt would enjoy catching one the size of Richard’s (10lb+??), but if you’re after bass they’re about as welcome as a dose of venereal disease.

Only the night before, I had the same experience at another mark. Unlike Richard who had squid on, I was using peeler shore crab for bait. I had recently landed a bass of 46cm, so when the rod went in my hands again I was hopeful of another. It was a funny sort of bite though, and when it didn’t develop I assumed the fishy enquirer had moved on to other things. As I began the retrieve, it was as if the line was stuck. There was just enough give to make me think I had caught weed on the bottom. Another yank, and the line seemed to come free. “At least I’ve got my gear back” I thought.

It was at that point that I began to feel movement. “This feels like a fish” I thought, and as I slowly brought my line in I was aware of a heavy weight. “Christ”, “if this is a bass, it’s a good one – maybe a double?” You can imagine my feelings of unbridled joy then, when a huss at least the size of Richard’s appeared; I really shouldn’t use such language in front of  an innocent creature!

Downside

I guess that’s the downside of using bait in the shallow rocky areas that these ‘catsharks’ like to inhabit. Not all areas are blessed in this way – this doesn’t seem to be a problem in Dorset for example. And maybe their presence reflects an absence of bass, since these superb predators leave huss standing when it comes to getting food.

Of course one way to avoid such ‘bycatch’ is to use lures –  I’ve yet to see a huss taken on a lure! Mind you, lures have their own ‘bycatch’ when targeting bass – mackerel, pollack, garfish and wrasse for example, can all be taken on lures. Some would consider this an advantage, and there are times when a mackerel or two are nice for tea, or come in handy for bait. I can’t recall catching anything other than bass on lures at night, so maybe this is the way to go if you want to totally exclude catching anything other than bass.

Crab problems

I’m not talking about your bait being ripped to shreds by crabs before your intended target can get to it, but about getting hold of them in the first place. I have laid traps for shore crabs in a local estuary.

Crab traps

I used to be able to collect enough for several fishing trips in one go, but now I seem to struggle to get even single figures on many occasions. Each time I look in the bucket, wondering if it’s worth the effort, I just assume this is due to the vagaries of the weather, or the season (or unwanted attention from other bait collectors!).

But it seems I’m not the only one who’s struggling to collect shore crabs in estuaries. One commercial crab collector I know, who keeps very comprehensive records, has noticed a definite reduction in numbers too.

It’s unclear why this should be. Could it be something to do with the availability of the crabs’ food caused by global warming, or perhaps some change in water quality?

It seems that the numbers of the  furrowed crab are on the increase on the coast, and that they may be pushing shore crabs out (with thanks to Cornwall Wildlife Trust), but whether this is having an impact in estuaries is unclear – I can’t recall seeing a furrowed crab in an estuary.

Whether this change will affect bass in any way remains to be seen. They seem to switch onto feeding on whatever’s about in numbers at the time, and presumably they will devour a furrowed crab just as eagerly as a shore crab!

Tuna everywhere!

Hardly a day goes by without reading about large numbers of tuna being seen around Cornwall. These are an impressive sight, but I can’t help wondering if they are having an effect on bass, and other species; whenever the ecological balance is changed  there is usually some sort of knock-on effect.

A recent article in The Independent looks at the possible reasons for the reappearance of bluefin tuna in big numbers after over 60 years. It suggests this may be due to the influence of ‘Atlantic Mulitidecadal Oscillation’, a 60 – 120 year cycle which brings warmer waters further north.

Recent catches

Reports of bass catches seem to be slowing down now. My own catches have been somewhat disappointing. But I’ve enjoyed being able to go off fishing with my canine companion Archie during the autumn afternoons – one of the perks of retirement; catching fish seems almost incidental in such situations.

I’ve been continuing my estuary-fishing journey, with a modicum of success. This 60cm bass fell to a 5″ Fish Arrow Flash J Shad.

A 60cm estuary-caught bass, taken on a 5″ Fish Arrow Flash J shad.

I’d like to thank fellow BASS member Ian Sefton for sharing his extensive experience and knowledge of estuary fishing for bass.

That’s all for this month folks. Many thanks for reading the blog this year. If you are looking for something to read during the long fishingless winter nights and weekends, why not ask Santa for a copy of my book? You can see an electronic preview of it here.

Hope you’ve had some good fishing this year, and next will be even better for you. Wishing you all a merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

The pleasure of bass fishing

What is it about bass fishing, or any sort of fishing for that matter,  that gives us the feel good factor? For some it’s the capture of a big fish. This is certainly true in my case, although thankfully it’s not the only thing, given the number I catch!

Catching fish of any size is of course enjoyable, but there is so much more to it than that – the pleasure of catching at a new mark, or in a new setting, by a new method, bait or lure; the satisfaction of knowing that you got the conditions right and made the right call. Feeling inspired by beautiful surroundings, and knowing that your body is being physically and emotionally enriched by the experience.  I’ve written about some of the things which have enhanced my feel good factor of late in this month’s blog.

Fishing with Archie

Readers of my July blog will know that I’ve been looking forward to taking our recently-acquired retriever Archie fishing. Now that he’s seven months old, I’ve decided it’s time to start.

Let’s get fishing Dad!

It’s been an interesting experience! At times he hasn’t done my blood pressure any good – he doesn’t get that paddling about in the margins spooks fish, which are often quite close in. Why would he, when we encourage him to do this on beach walks!

His reactions can be quite comical – like the first time he saw me land a bass. He was quivering with excitement, leaping several feet off the ground and snapping at it! A good thing it wasn’t a large fish, or I might have snapped the end of the rod, trying to keep it away from him.

On his first trip in the dark, a big old seal popped its head up, snorting and puffing, about ten yards out. Lookout, I thought, this is going to be interesting. Sure enough Archie proceeded to bark his head off, having been seriously spooked by this monster from the deep!

So far he’s bringing me luck – I haven’t blanked when I’ve taken him on a ‘proper’ session yet. So I’ll just have to put up with his antics until he learns how to be a better bass angler.

Estuary fishing

This leads me nicely into estuary fishing, which is what I’ve done most of with Archie. Estuaries are the bass fishing final frontier for me – the one shore-fishing setting I needed to crack.

Having now completely cast off (no pun intended) the mindset which says you can’t catch big bass in estuaries, I’ve been spending more and more time exploring them. I’m pleased to say that my efforts have begun to bear fruit, and I’m beginning to get to grips with how to fish them.

Several basic factors seem to be important (I’m sure there are others). Fish will follow the tide, moving up creeks with the flood, dropping back with the ebb and concentrating around low water while they wait for the push to start again.   They move in the channels, where they can be ambushed from a suitable vantage point, before the tide spills out over the mudflats, and the fish disperse .

Bass seem to hug the weed line, and many takes have come by casting my lure to the left or right, and bringing the lure along the edge of the weed, only yards out, or as the lure reaches the weed if casting straight out.

This calls for a stealthy approach, at times even kneeling as you cast and retrieve (plays hell with my knees!). One one occasion, a large bow wave appeared behind my lure just a yard out in very shallow water. Somehow managing to maintain my composure, I held my breath. As the lure almost touched dry land there was a great splash, as a 46cm bass smashed into it. Seeing this at close quarters, only just above the water in my kneeling position, was like nothing I have experienced before.

I always used to wonder what lures to use (or even whether to bait fish) in estuaries, but am now convinced that weedless paddletail soft plastics are the most effective lures of all in this setting. Not only are they deadly fish catchers, they can be brought right through weed, without fear of snagging.

I’ve had good results on the 5″ Keitech Easy Shiner, and the 5″ Fish Arrow Flash J Shad so far. Bass really hit them hard. I’ve not had any big fish on these yet, but most are of reasonable size (between 40 and 50 cm), and are of a similar stamp to those I’m catching on the coast. What the chances of catching a big bass in an estuary are, and whether this is the same as for the coast, only time will tell.

A 46cm estuary bass taken on a Keitech Easy Shiner soft plastic lure (Wagasaki colour) with weedless hook.

Even if you’re not catching fish, the beauty and tranquility of the surroundings more than makes up for it. If you let your mind wander, you could be fishing for salmon in a Scottish river; quite a change for a coast angler like me.

Most of the fish I have caught have come in daylight – a treat in itself. Fishing at night in estuaries, especially where there’s no moon, and there’s not a breath of wind is another experience altogether.  The water’s like glass, and you can hear your lure land somewhere out there. As you stand there, a huge splash along the shoreline, only yards out, gets your pulse racing. The answering cast is met with indifference. But then, unknown to you, a fish follows your lure in and  lunges at it at your feet. The resulting commotion, like someone had thrown a great rock in the water, makes you nearly jump out of your skin!

Recent catches

The fishing around the equinox (22nd September) was phenomenal, with some very good bass being caught at that time – one to note for next year.  I had one or two notable sessions leading up to this, but  was caught up in various family visits and trips around that time and the period just after.

One such session involved fishing a new mark with Keith Towsey and Mike Bryant at the ‘magic beach’.  We each headed off in different directions to check out the ground.  It wasn’t long before I was getting some action on surface lures. I’d had two definite slashes at the Yozuri Arms Pencil (YAP – now sold as the Duel Silver Dog 90 – if you can get them), but no hook-ups. Was this small fish missing the size 1 VMC barbless singles I had fitted, or were the fish feeling lethargic on the neap tide? A switch to a more exaggerated ‘walk-the-dog’ style retrieve seemed to gee the fish up, and a solid hit from a nice 61cm fish soon followed.

A 61cm bass taken on a Yozuri Arms Pencil surface lure.

As darkness fell, the fish seemed to disappear, so it was time for a move along the rocks, and a change to soft plastics. I’ve found that paddletails work better with my retrieve style on neap tides, so on went the Swimsenko – bass of  43 and 44cm seemed to justify this.

A few days later I was keen to try the mark again. This time we were fishing in calm conditions on a bright moonlit night. To cut a long story short, we managed a few between us to 51cm (Keith) on white or cream coloured SP’s (DoLive/Senko/Swimsenko/Gravity Stick), but the interesting thing happened when I switched to an Arms Pencil.

I rarely use surface lures at night these days, but my recent success on the YAP, and a Facebook post from Marcin Kantor about this, plus a lack of action on SP’s, prompted me to try. First cast the lure was hit, virtually as soon as I started retrieving. It was a good fish too. I had to perform some acrobatics, clambering over rocks while trying to maintain contact with the fish, and I thought I had her beaten……..you probably know how that one ended!

It’s tempting to think the fish was on/near the surface, and saw the lure silhouetted against the moonlit sky, but who knows.I’ll certainly be taking a surface lure when I fish in these conditions again.

Angling buddy Paul Wallace had a bass of 5lb 13oz on squid recently.  As Paul said in his text message, bass have something magical which makes us keep coming back for more, through the blanks to catch a beautiful fish like that. Well done Paul.

Paul Wallace, with a near-6lb beauty, caught on squid.

CIFCA membership

I’ve been interested in the management of the bass fishery and campaigning for better stocks for as long as I can remember. As part of this I have regularly attended Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority’s  quarterly meetings, observing from the public gallery and submitting the occasional written question.

When I saw an advert for new general members, including people with a background in recreational sea angling, to join IFCAs, I did a bit of soul searching. Could I do the role justice? Could I spare the time? Was I ready for the, no doubt, significant challenges involves? After a good deal of thought, I decided to go for it; time to roll up the sleeves and do my bit, I thought.

Well I’m pleased to say that my application was successful, and my first meeting will be on December 17th. I’m looking forward to working with the committee, and doing what I can to help. I hope that my knowledge and experience of recreational sea angling can help CIFCA meet its commitment to the sustainable use of marine resources and balancing the needs of all who use them.

Bass investigations in Cornwall

Our programme of juvenile bass surveys has now ended for this year. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, taking over from Derek Goodwin. Thanks to our brilliant volunteers, we’ve had quite a successful year. We carried out 16 surveys, including trialling several new sites (on the Fal and the Camel).

Based on the number of last year’s fish we found in our  surveys in May and June, we conclude that the 2020 class is a reasonable one, and has survived its first winter well.

The picture for 2021 is harder to assess. A series of disappointing catches of this year’s fish was turned on its head by one very good result on the Fal.  It’s probably better to reserve any judgements about the 2021 class until we have conducted our surveys next year, when these fish have reached 1 year old.

I can’t close without mentioning Derek’s MBE investiture. I was honoured to be invited to attend the ceremony at County Hall in Truro, with Colonel Edward Bolitho, Lord-Lieutenant of Cornwall, doing the presentation. Very well done to  Derek. This is a much-deserved honour and validation of the importance of this work on juvenile bass populations over many years.

Thanks for reading.

Bass fishing on the magical island of Herm

I’ve just returned from a long weekend fishing with the guys from GBASS  and friends, bass fishing on the magical island of Herm.

Dave du Jardin, Bryn Le Poidevin, Simon De La Mare and Chris Topping waiting to board the Herm Ferry.

You’ll understand what a special place this is, and what a great bunch of guys these are, when I tell you that even though the bass fishing was the worst they’ve known, I can’t wait to meet up with them over there again. I can’t thank the guys enough for making me feel so welcome, and being such great company.

My visit had started with a couple of days enjoying the warm hospitality of Bryn and Emma Le Poidevin at ‘La Boulangerie’, their lovely Guernsey cottage. Of course it would have been rude not to sample the steak and local Breda beer at ‘The Driftwood’, while catching up on the Guernsey bass scene on the first evening. Apparently Breda has been the undoing of many an unwary visitor, but I have to report that all was (sort of) well – even after a Pastis chaser back at Bryn’s.

Thursday saw us stocking up on food supplies (including the legendary Perelle ‘sizzler’ sausages) for the weekend, before meeting up with Dave and Nigel du Jardin for a verm digging session. Verm  formed the mainstay of our bait fishing. Collecting it is no easy task, and requires both skill and stamina in equal measures.

Bryn and Nigel – verm kings. Dave and myself were mainly supervising!

Friday morning saw us making the short trip over to Herm. I had to pinch myself as the ferry pulled into the tiny harbour, with the sunshine showing off the island in all its glory. Was I really about to spend three days and nights bass fishing in paradise, with some excellent bass anglers. I reflected on how fate had brought me to this part of the world, when my son came to work on Guernsey as a surgeon some four years earlier.

It was nice not to have to think about where to fish – these guys know the island well, and are more than happy to show you around. Just as well, given the speed the tide can come in on the big springs like we had this weekend. I vividly recall standing in the dark and feeling the coldness of the water moving up the outside of my waders from ankle to knee in the time it takes to make just a few casts.

You can tell how special the place is to the guys, who are keen to show off its many features and its rich sealife.

An unusual marine worm-like creature, apparently found only on Herm.

As I mentioned above, the fishing could have been better, but it’s funny how it almost doesn’t matter whether you catch or not in these circumstances. Every session starts with hope, and every cast brings with it an anticipation of your bait or lure being snatched, whether or not it actually happens .

But one bite for Dave turned into something special when he landed a stingray after quite a battle (we thought he had hooked the Herm ferry at one point!). The fish was estimated at 15lb, although no one was keen to weigh it, in view of the nasty wounds they can inflict with the long spine on their tail.

A stingray for Dave du Jardin. Photo credit: Bryn Le Poidevin.

We did catch bass, albeit mostly of modest size, except for Dean’s near 6lber.

A 5lb 12oz beauty for Dean Wilson. Photo credit: Simon De La Mare.

My own best effort  was a 53cm bass caught on a watermelon and pearl 6″ Hawg Senko, just before first light while under the excellent guidance of top GBASS rod Simon De La Mare. Although this fish was of modest size, catching it crowned a moment that will stay with me for years to come. Here I was, fishing a sandy bay somewhere off the Normandy coast on a beautiful island as the dawn approached – priceless! A little later, a move to a nearby causeway produced a feisty 50cm bass, just to cap things off.

An early morning session with lures. The first cast on this rock resulted in a 50cm bass on a wagasaki pulsetail Gravity Stick. Photo credit: Simon De La Mare.

Each session saw a different facet of the island, with its massive tides (up to 10m) stripping out to reveal inter-tidal reefs stocked with copious amounts of food for bass and other species, or its gorgeous sandy beaches.

Fishing by day, in the sort of weather we had (amazing to be fishing in shorts and sandals in the middle of October), brings views of neighbouring islands like Sark.

Carl Smith, Simon De La Mare and Dean Wilson heading down to a beautiful Herm cove.

By night the lights of Guernsey across the water seem dazzlingly bright in contrast to the dark skies of Herm. Wending your way to your next fishing session along the dusty spine road, where only people, cows and the occasional quad bike ferrying stuff around are allowed to pass, and hearing the hum of the island’s only electricity generator as you go, reminds you how unspoilt this place is. And instead of that, sometimes long, drive home, it was shanks’ pony back to our holiday cottage for a whisky nightcap (or several) with the boys.

Fishing is about more than just catching fish. It was the reason why I was there, but just being in such a fabulous place, with people who have become good friends, was a far greater reward.

The three bassketeers! Nigel, Bryn and Dave waiting for the ferry back to Guernsey.

Dave du Jardin, the Steven Spielberg of the bass fishing world (aka Mr Stingray) produced this brilliant video in his own inimitable style which nicely captures the essence of the trip; enjoy…….

That’s more like it!

In my last blog I was hoping that this August would be as good as last – well it was! After months of seeing just the odd fish now and again, it’s so nice to be able to go fishing knowing there’s a reasonable chance of catching something. I’m saying this despite not being able to get out as much as I normally would, due to a succession of much-enjoyed family visits and a busy schedule of bass surveys.

Peter Maddern commented on my last blog “August to January is my season these days”. There is a chance of catching bass (including some big ones) earlier in the year, but if you want consistency, I think Peter is spot on, at least down here in Cornwall.

Another estuary mark

A lone 51cm fish on a DoLive Stick, cast along the shore over some shallow weedy ground after dark in quiet conditions, was enough to confirm the potential of another estuary mark.

An estuary-caught 51cm bass, which took a fancy to my DoLive Stick.

Back to the coast

I’ve been increasing my fishing time in estuaries in an attempt to discover more marks, but when a nice SW wind blew up, suggesting a bait-fishing session on the coast might be worthwhile, I headed for the beach.

Sure enough, there was a lovely sea running when I arrived, but the fish didn’t seem to be biting. Almost last chance saloon time, I put on the tail half of a joey mackerel. This method of mounting a mackerel bait works for me, with the bait coming back as it went out (unless I’ve had a bite of course!), rather than as a lump of mush. I know mackerel head works well, and I haven’t ruled out other methods of presenting it (chunks, fillet, whole joey etc).

I felt the weight move, but because I was fishing across the surf, I assumed this was due to a wave lifting it; I now use braid for my beach fishing, and it’s brilliant for bite detection.

The violent thump, thump which followed left me in no doubt this was a fish, and the ensuing battle to bring it in suggested it might be a good one. The landing was a bit tricky, but fortunately the hook was well set in the underside of the chin of a nice bass ( I remember thinking this was quite unusual), and I was able to get it in. This 60cm bass was the second of this size I have caught  on mackerel, out of a total of three to date; a very pleasing result and I shall certainly be using mackerel more now.

A 60cm beauty, taken on mackerel bait. The bag containing my fishing paraphernalia is left in for scale.

Lure trials

As the month wore on, the fishing improved. With good numbers of fish about, I took the opportunity to do some trials with lures which I had not yet proven, or used for some time.

On the first of a couple of productive lure sessions, I managed eight fish to 50cm, reaffirming my confidence in Sidewinder Skerries Eels, and catching for the first time on one of Sean Stevenson’s Eels and James Lanfear’s Needlefish lures. The second session produced seven fish, again to 50cm, this time allowing me to prove a Sunslicker Swimish Lure, a  Megabass Spindle Worm, and several colours of the excellent 6″ AGM Stick Worm.

Just like old times

The fishing wasn’t all like this though. Angling buddy Paul Wallace, who features regularly in my book, and I finally managed to catch up and get out for some fishing. Disappointingly, our first (lure + bait) session ended in a blank, although Richard Brandon fishing with us managed a 3lber on squid fished close in. The following session with Paul, on lures, did produce a couple of modest fish for both of us. As Paul commented, it was good for both of us to catch, as fishing sessions can so often go in favour of one angler over the other, often for inexplicable reasons.

It was great to be fishing together again – just like old times. I was really pleased that Paul caught, particularly as he is having a shoulder op later this month, and probably won’t get out again until at least November. I feel for him having to miss out at such a (potentially) good time of the year, but hopefully he’ll be able to get among those big fish we sometimes see in December and January.

More estuary success

Knowing my current interest in estuary fishing, Keith Towsey offered to show me one of his marks. It looked like the session was going nowhere, with neither of us having any action, but a lone fish at the end completely turned things around.

As we headed back to our cars, by now well dark, I spotted an enticing-looking small shallow bay of mixed sand and weed-covered rock. A few flicks with a rockfish-coloured 6″ AGM Worm Stick produced the odd tap to revive my, by now, flagging commitment. The next cast was met with a definite take, followed by the satisfying feel of a good bass thrashing on the surface. At 62 cm, this was my best fish of the year to date, and my best ever from an estuary.

A 62cm estuary-caught bass taken on an AGM Worm Stick lure.

Returning the favour

Eager to return the favour, I took Keith to one of my marks on the coast. An early fish for me suggested things might go well, but a couple of hours later we’d had no more action.

As with the previous trip, it looked like it just wasn’t happening, and I was about to suggest that we head for home. Then Keith came up, declaring that he had just had a fish about the same size as mine (48cm) on a Gravity Stick Pulsetail. I had suggested he try a Gravity Stick, as sometimes the paddle (pulse) tail can make a difference if the fish aren’t biting too well and need a bit of geeing up.

We were standing next to one another discussing the best way to retrieve this type of lure. “Do you ever twitch them?” asked Keith. Before I could answer, he had a take, the fish obviously responding to this tactic. “It’s a nice fish” said Keith, as he struggled to bring it in. But in she came – all 67cm of her. A nice fish indeed, which the BASS tape puts at a little shy of 7lb.

A 67cm bass for Keith Towsey, caught while twitching a Wagasaki-coloured Pulsetail Gravity Stick.

While most of the fish I’ve caught have been in the 40-50cm range, there is an encouraging number of 60+ fish around. Hopefully they will be joined by a few 70’s as we move into what could be a good autumn.

Catching large bass in the day

As you can see from my photos, I’m very much into lure fishing at night. I do enjoy lure fishing in daylight, but this is usually in the evening, leading up to darkness. Having said that, on a few occasions when I’ve been fishing in the middle of the day, usually when fishing a competition, or on a fishing holiday, I’ve hooked into, and sadly lost, what were apparently very large bass.  These situations have usually occurred on Spring tides, and when fishing weedy, rocky ground with surface lures. I wonder if there is less competition for those fish brave/bold enough to feed at these times. I’d love to know if others have any thoughts on this.

I had thought about actually targeting bass at these times, and a recent capture of an 8.5lb beauty by Jake Bodie has given me the added impetus to give this a go. Mind you, catching fish like that doesn’t come easy, and Jake points out that this catch was the culmination of a lot of research and putting up with numerous blanks.

An 8.5lb lure-caught beauty for Jake Bodie. Photo: Jake Bodie.

Intriguing catch

Perhaps the most intriguing catch I’ve heard of recently, is a 3lb bass taken on float-fished bacon! The angler was fishing off the end of a pontoon, where children use bacon chunks to catch crabs. Presumably some of this finds it’s way to the area around the pontoon on a regular basis, and the bass become accustomed to this. Whether bacon would work elsewhere is unclear, but worth a try I reckon, although I’m not sure whether smoked or unsmoked, or streaky or back is best!

Leave it in

I am indebted to BASS colleagues, via their forum, for flagging up an interesting article discussing “What happens when the line parts” It’s well known that the post-release survival of deep-hooked fish is not good, but by cutting the line, and leaving the hook in-situ, survival is much improved, especially if using barbless hooks made of materials which corrode.

Juvenile bass surveys

Our juvenile bass surveys resumed at the beginning of August. I always feel a sense of wonder when I see the first fish of this year’s spawning coming through.  These perfect miniatures of the adults we like to catch really are beautiful. I find myself wondering where and when were they spawned? what obstacles have they had to overcome to get here? how many will reach the magic 10lb after 20 years or so?

Netting for juvenile bass on the Helford Estuary. Photo: Peter Maddern.

Just when our results seemed to be indicating a poor 2021 year class, a bumper catch on the Fal (1,159 ‘0’ groups) has turned this conclusion on its head. Let’s hope our remaining surveys clarify things. Please be assured that great care is taken to make sure these fish are returned alive.

‘0’ group (this year’s) bass netted in early September. The difference in sizes probably means these fish were spawned at different times. Photo: billy Mathews.

This work is completely dependent  on volunteers, and the bigger the pool, the more surveys we can carry out. If you’d like to help on an occasional or regular basis, especially if you can use your boat, please get in touch via the comments box.

What it’s like to be caught in a rip

I’ve often wondered what might happen if I got caught by a wave while wading in the surf to cast. Watch this disturbing video about a swimmer who got caught in a rip current on Mawgan Porth beach in Cornwall.

That’s all for this month folks, thanks for reading. Do feel free to pass on to friends if you’ve enjoyed it, or leave a comment.

Tightlines,

Bass fishing in estuaries

I used to think that you only caught schoolies when bass fishing in estuaries. It is a fact that most bass spend the early years (up to aged 4) in such areas, so these juvenile fish will predominate, but I’m now convinced that some adult bass (including some big ones) spend their summer and autumn in estuaries, and probably return to the same ones each year.

And why wouldn’t they – with an ample supply of prawns, crabs, worms and all manner of small fish, not to mention the shoals of mackerel when they come in. Of course they have competitors, such as gilt-head bream, and predators, such as seals and possibly dolphins, maybe even tuna at times, but at least they escape the nets (in Cornwall at least – where the River and Estuarine Fishing Nets Byelaw now prohibit the legal use of these).

This new-found confidence in estuaries comes from scientific research – like this study in Cork Harbour in Ireland, from increasing reports of anglers catching good bass while fishing for gilts, and reports of big bass being caught on lures.  It’s making me explore whole new areas, in pursuit of catching a big bass in quiet conditions, away from the big seas on the coast, in tranquil and leafy (creepy at night if you’re on your own!) surroundings.

You can imagine the pleasure it gave me then, when I landed this 60cm bass a few weeks ago while fishing at one of angling friend Stuart Martinez’ marks.

Not only was this my first half-decent bass caught in an estuary, it was taken on a Dark Sleeper lure, which I wrote about in a blog last year.

Get the fork out

With reports of big bass caught in estuaries while bait fishing for gilts, I thought it was time to get the fork out. It’s been a while since I used lug, let alone dug for it, so I wasn’t sure if my old spot still produced, or if I still had the knack of getting them. Undaunted, off I went, wielding my fork and with an expectant bucket in hand.

It was a pity I chose one of the hottest days of the year to date! This, and the fact that I had been fishing late the night before, severely affecting my stamina reserves, did nothing for my resolve. Although there were plenty of casts to be seen, the little buggers didn’t want to come out to adorn my hook – most inconsiderate of them I feel! I did manage a few though (including some quite nice ones) before I sloped off the job, drenched in sweat! (bait diggers have my total respect).

Alas, apart from a couple of schoolie rattles, I had nothing to show for my efforts – not that I would expect to at the first attempt at a new mark. As I sat waiting for a bite, I wondered whether  I was more, or less, likely to catch a big bass with bait or lures in estuaries. Using lures allows large areas to be searched, and  feels like a more targeted approach, especially at night – but is it as effective as bait? I know anglers who have caught big bass on both methods in estuaries, but for the specimen hunter, I think lure fishing has a slight edge.

Bass Nursery Areas

The report on Bass Nursery Areas (BNAs) from CEFAS (Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) has finally been published. As the report says, the original BNAs (37) were introduced in the 1990s, thanks in no small measure to BASS members like the late Don Kelley, to reduce the impact of fishing in areas where the majority of bass are likely to be below the MCRS (Minimum Conservation Reference size, currently 42cm). BNAs are thought to have played an important role in protecting the stock.

The report details 48 proposed amendments (including 39 new site designations) which were received from IFCAs (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities) and the MMO (Marine Management Organisation). The report cites a lack of evidence for many of these proposals, and whether ANY of them have been implemented is unclear.

Perhaps this is a question of the standard of evidence required being too high, since surely just the presence of favourable habitat conditions in typical nursery areas is enough to warrant the increased protection gained from BNA status, particularly when bass recruitment is so crucial to stocks and subject to fluctuations in climate and weather conditions at the time of spawning and over the winter.

This is why our juvenile bass survey work in Cornwall is so important, and if anybody would like to help with these please let me know; it really is very enjoyable and rewarding, and only takes up a few hours now and then. Page 15 of the above report shows the existing BNAs. If you think your area would benefit from setting up a BNA, why not contact your local IFCA about it? Better still, why not set up a juvenile bass sampling programme yourself, to demonstrate the need for this? I would be happy to pass on any information I have about this.

Recent catches

Finally, there does seem to be a few bass about down here in Cornwall, although the bigger fish still seem to be few and far between. It’s still very patchy though – the west of the county seems to be having the best of it, while other areas continue to find just the odd fish here and there, although I have very recently heard of some big catches of smaller fish.

Apparently there are lots of baitfish out there – just out of range of shore anglers! The usual mackerel ‘blitz’ we see in July didn’t materialise, so perhaps that’s one reason why many bass have stayed out;  perhaps it also explains the late showing of tuna, which have only recently been reported.

August was one of my better months last year, so I’m crossing everything that this year will be the same. It started off well last night – nothing big, but very enjoyable fishing. This is one of my favourite times of year, with warm, still nights, fishing in quiet conditions with light gear where you can feel every knock, and twist and turn of the fish as they fall for your slowly retrieved soft plastic lure in the darkness.

One of the bass I caught, a 49 cm fish, took the lure just as I was about to lift the lure out of the water. The first I knew of it was when there was a great splash as the fish tried to nail the Dolive Stick sandeel imitation as it was about to run out of water.

Jellies everywhere

There seem to be jellyfish everywhere, especially the compass variety.

Be careful if you come across these, as they can give a nasty sting. A friend of mine discovered this when we came across loads of these in our sandeel net – one of them leaving a nasty red mark on his arm. Unfortunately the sandeels were mostly too small to be of use.

State of bass stocks

It’s at this time of year that I eagerly anticipate the ICES annual stock assessment for bass.   As you’ll see from the graphs in the linked document, things are still pretty precarious with the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB), and the spawning success (Recruitment) in recent years is nothing to write home about.

Bass Fishing Guidance 2021

Given the state of the stocks, you might wonder why any changes in the Bass Fishing guidance for 2021 were made.  Not that these affect recreational bass fishing, which still only allows Catch & Release in Jan, Feb and Dec, and  two fish per day (over 42cm) from Mar – Nov. On the commercial side however, the Government have seen fit to allow shore based netting for bass, mostly in the Northwest, and in Wales; not only will this damage bass stocks, it could well interfere with the abilities of anglers to carry out their activities.

And there’s been more subtle changes – like the slight increase in bass allowed to be kept from trawls and seines, and the fact that bycatches of bass in nets only have to be ‘unavoidable’ if outside England and Wales.

An unusual fish

I received an interesting email from angling friend, and legendary bass author (Hooked on Bass), Alan Vaughan about an unusual bass he had caught – a fish of 66cm which took an Evostix lure with a small lead-head. It was an exceptionally dark fish, with a large head, “a very energetic bass that gave the kind of fight that we all like”. Alan also noted that it was a slim fish, and weighed 5lb 2oz.

The weight for length and appearance suggested a recently spent fish, yet this would be unusual for this time of year, and the fact that it gave such a good fight also goes against this.

Alan also mentioned that it was a male fish. This is unusual in itself, since male bass over 4lb are very unusual. This got me thinking about length to weight comparisons used in tapes etc. Estimates for larger (4lb+) fish will mainly be based on female fish, since these predominate. So I wonder if the relationship for male fish might be different, and whether this might account for the lower weight of Alan’s fish?

The  fact that most larger bass are female also interests me. This is not unique to bass, and a recent scientific paper  suggests that this is because male fish are more active than females, so that less of the oxygen they obtain from their gills goes into growth; could this account for the excellent fight Alan’s fish put up?

The sex of bass is not genetically predetermined. Whether they become male or female is influenced by the water temperature during their early development (around 6 months), with warmer water  resulting in more males. Water temperatures are likely to increase with global warming, and are likely to exceed 20C on occasion in the shallow estuaries where ‘0’ group bass tend to live in the summer. So could we be seeing more male bass in the future? Will this mean more hard-fighting, but smaller bass? Which would you prefer? Come to think of it, would more, sexually mature, male bass (but fewer females) mean increased or reduced spawning success?

That’s it for this month folks. Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed it please pass on to friends.