What happened to all the bass?

After a stop-start summer I was really looking forward to a lengthy spell of good bass fishing through the autumn and into winter. Well, basically it just didn’t happen. I managed quite a few trips right up until the end of the year, in between the storms, but the fish were hard to find – in fact the last bass I caught was on December 2nd.

So what happened to all the bass? You don’t have to look far to see what is the most likely cause. The amount of illegal netting for bass going on down here in Cornwall (which will have implications for stocks in other areas too) has been exposed by Save Our Sea Bass. Commercial overfishing has had an impact on stocks, and therefore on anglers’ catches, over the years; this may well have reached a tipping point in Cornwall, given what I, and other local anglers, have seen in 2020.

Diary review

This is where reality sets in – where we separate fact from impression! Going through my 2020 diary, I see that 62% of my 128 trips were blanks, and I managed just 118 bass from the remainder. The best of these was a modest 61cm, accompanied by just a handful of fish in the mid-late 50’s. It didn’t help that I lost the best fish of the year, a real bruiser which took a peeler crab, at my feet in October! August was my best month, accounting for 34 fish, including most of the ‘larger’ fish. Perhaps the only highpoint of the year was improving my estuary fishing.

It felt like 2020 had been the worst year I could recall, but when I went back to my 2019 diary, I was surprised by what I found. For a similar number of trips (110), I’d had a similar percentage of blanks (65%), but had actually caught fewer fish (87). Why then did it feel like 2020 had been such a poor year?

My collection of fishing diaries. Records stop us seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses.

The increased number of fish caught in 2020 (even this was modest) was consistent with slightly more trips than in 2019, but there was a big difference in the number of ‘quality’ fish caught. Whereas I only managed one fish over 60cm in 2020, in 2019  I caught 11, including 2 at 71cm (excluding my Guernsey fishing).

Some of this may have been down to a reluctance to fish further afield at times due to Covid, and a fair amount of experimenting with estuary marks, but these results are nonetheless pretty concerning.

Getting bigger

Going by the number of 60cm+ fish that  were around in 2019, I was expecting to see decent numbers of 65+cm fish last year, the fish having put on an extra year’s growth. I was also hoping there might be a realistic chance of a double, given that the 70cm fish which seemed to be cropping up regularly in catch reports later in the year would have grown to mid 70’s+

But Simon Toms, Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers fish recorder, notes that only 7 bass over 7lb were recorded from the shore, with the biggest just over 8lb. This despite a lot of anglers fishing for bass in good conditions (before the weather deteriorated in the autumn), who also noted the lack of larger bass. On the bright side, Simon notes that there were good numbers of 3 and 4lbers around.

Natural causes

It’s important to take a balanced view in these situations, and consider what else might be contributing to the picture. Are natural causes also playing a part?

The hoped-for boost in catches from migrating fish in late Oct, and again in mid Dec, didn’t materialise. There were reports of large shoals of bass further east in early December, and commercials seemed to be getting lots of bass in nets in Cornwall around this time, but this didn’t translate into improved catches for anglers. These bass were often stuffed with pilchards.

Bass will follow pilchards, and if you can intercept these baitfish, you could have a bass bonanza. Mostly though, the pilchards and the bass will be out of the shore angler’s reach, except perhaps when there’s a good onshore blow to push the pilchards in. Even boat anglers will struggle, trying to compete with all that natural bait, and with bass completely full, and not able to feed again until they have digested their last meal.

Pilchards (Sardina pilchardus), caught inshore during autumn 2020. Are the shoals off Cornwall increasing each year?
Photo: Stuart Martinez
A portly 55cm late November bass. This one looked like it had been pigging out on pilchards.

Simon Toms comments on a serious lack of mackerel close inshore from July to November last year, and thinks there is a link between this and the fewer big bass we saw. The regular occurrence of tuna close inshore may have had a bearing on both the presence of mackerel, and of  bass – either indirectly, by pushing their food source further out, or directly by the need to avoid these large predators.

A measure of success

With my diary review in mind, it’s interesting to think about what constitutes successful bass fishing to each of us. I don’t get too hung up on numbers of fish (unless of course we’re talking big ones!), but rather I think in terms of the number of successful sessions I’ve had in any given season. These might include sessions where I’ve caught half a dozen 2-3lbers, or at least one fish over 4lb. Some will think this is a pretty meagre measure of success, and my sights have lowered over the years as the quality of bass fishing has declined. Even by this yardstick my bass fishing in 2020 was poor, with only 9 successful trips. Red-letter days, with the landing of an 8lb+ fish, are becoming as rare as rocking horse poo!

But success isn’t just about results. If I happen to hit the mother lode, catching numbers of fish, in quick succession, rather than cash in, I use the opportunity to prove a new lure or bait. This usually results in fewer fish caught than if I had stuck with whatever I was using. But it can also lead to gaining confidence (or not) in new things, thereby potentially enhancing your overall fishing success and pleasure, and avoiding wasted time on things that don’t work for you.

Other measures of success include discovering new marks and new methods, or just simply enjoying time spent fishing in beautiful places and inspiring conditions, time which burns itself into your memory. Trying new marks can also result in fruitless sessions and lower catch figures, but this is a price I’m prepared to pay – up to a point.

Talking of measures of success, why not pick up one of the new BASS competition tapes?

Another year, another lure

I don’t think I could be described as a ‘tackle tart’,  but I do have a penchant for lures. It’s not like I’m addicted or anything (well maybe slightly, to one or two), but I love the search for the perfect lure that casts well, can be fished through anything or in any situation, is reasonably priced and catches huge bass every cast just using a straight retrieve. OK, there’s no such lure (if there is please let me know!), so I’m continually looking at different types of lures for bass fishing, hoping to discover (or rediscover) ones which will improve my results, and are best suited to the varied and changing way I fish.

I almost feel guilty, and a little fickle, in saying that my ‘go to’ soft plastic, the good old DoLive faced stiff competition from the Swimsenko in 2020. I started using this again, after reading a post on Mike Ladle’s blog; a fish on the very first cast and I was hooked, never mind the fish! I noticed that the paddle tail on this lure seemed to gee the fish up on the very small tides, when the DoLive seemed to struggle, so it’s now first choice at such times.

I’m generally late coming to the party in relation to lures. The SF125 is a case in point. I took pity on the one which had been languishing in the fishing drawer since my Ireland days. I  was repaid with almost instant success when I took it for a swim back in the summer, and it’s become a regular when fishing in roughish conditions in daylight – single barbless hooks and all. Likewise the classic Chug Bug, now adorned with two big singles, has finally proved its worth for me.

On a more contemporary note, 2020 saw me catching my first fish on the Autowalker 115S, the Dark Sleeper and, with thanks to angling buddy Stuart Martinez,  Mishna eels. Who knows what I’ll discover in 2021; I have a feeling that needlefish lures might make an appearance.

Captain Derek Goodwin MBE

I can’t close without a word about my good friend Derek Goodwin. As readers of my book will know, Derek is something of a legend, an inspiration to us all, for his hard work and dedication to conducting juvenile bass surveys over many years in Cornish estuaries. I was delighted to learn that he had been awarded the MBE for this work. I have been pleased to help Derek since 2013, and I can say that this award is richly deserved. I know that Derek is absolutely delighted, and so pleased that this important work has been recognised in this way.

Derek, making his way upriver to a survey site.

Roll on next season

Well, that’s me done fishing for now – time to hunker down for the rest of the winter I think. Let’s hope this year’s fishing is better than last!

I hope you and your family stay safe, and that things get back to something approaching normality just as soon as possible.

Featured image from Pixabay

The frustrations of bass angling

In my last blog I spoke about the weather putting the kibosh on the fishing. Well, now that the weather is playing ball, and we have some lovely conditions, the fish seem to have disappeared; such are the frustrations of bass angling!

It’s not quite as bad as that, as you’ll see from my ramblings below, but it certainly feels that way. Not that this is totally unexpected though, going by past catches at this time of year. Is it something to do with migration? Is it something to do with the number of pilchards around? But then that doubt starts to creep in – has the effect of commercial fishing on the bass stocks reached a tipping point?

Netting carnage

I would love to be telling you in my next (January) blog that I’ve had a brilliant end to my bass angling season. But I’m not holding my breath, especially after hearing recent reports of big catches of fish by gillnetters locally.

These fish are aggregating and migrating ahead of  overwintering offshore. They follow a well-known path every year, which puts them at the mercy of those who would intercept them for commercial gain. I have nothing against people earning a living, but this mass slaughter seems like crass stupidity to me. Not only is it doing great damage to bass stocks, the flooding of the market that results makes the price obtained go through the floor. If nothing else, please have respect for this noble fish, and don’t reduce it to being sold for pet food.

And aren’t the current bass regs supposed to stop people targeting bass with gillnets anyway? I’ve already written to Cornwall IFCA about this; please do the same. Save Our Sea Bass have all the info here, and have made it easy for you do this. And remember, this isn’t just a  Cornish issue – these fish come from far and wide.

I can recall being very depressed each winter by reports of huge catches of bass in the pair trawl fishery. Thankfully this has now been stopped, which shows that things can be improved. But for this improvement to be fully realised and maintained, this annual slaughter of migrating and prespawning fish by gill netters must go the same way. The current ban on all commercial methods of catching bass in February and March must be extended locally for gill netters to cover the peak months (Nov, Dec and Jan for Cornwall). We know that spawning fish are making their way back up the coast in April, so that should be included as well.

A lousy bass

Rob Franklin caught a very nice 74cm bass recently.  Going by its length, this fish would have been estimated at 9lb+ using the BASS tape and yet it weighed 7.5lb. This is odd, since bass are usually fattening up at this time of year, and if anything can weigh more than the tape weight suggests.

Rob Franklin’s 74cm bass, which took a whole mackerel.

One possible explanation might be the louse that Rob found on one of the fish’s fins (not visible on the photo above), which looked “like a giant wood lice”. He sent me a photo of one like it:

The Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) identified the louse in this photo as belonging to the family Caligidae.

Is it possible that this thing, feeding on the fish’s flesh, could account for the loss of weight? PML think that low numbers of lice are unlikely to cause significant issues to the host, so this seems unlikely.

Rob says that these lice have been found in the mouths and bellies of cod and whiting locally, leading to the conclusion that they have been eating fish with lice attached.

Rob wonders if the presence of these lice could be linked to reduced numbers of wrasse, which have been harvested as ‘cleaner fish’ for salmon farms, but Mike Ladle (personal communication) thinks this is unlikely.  Whatever is happening here, it will be interesting to see if more reports like Rob’s are forthcoming; Ash Gower recently caught a whiting with two lice attached to its tongue. Thanks to Rob and Ash for their observations.

Cream of Cornish

Angling pal Paul Wallace caught a cracking bass of a smidge under 8lb (7-15-11), one of the best bass registered with the CFSA so far this year.

Paul’s fish, a new Personal Best, was 73cm when caught, and weighed 8lb 5oz, so was nearer the weight predicted by the BASS tape (8-12) or the CFSA chart (8-8), than Rob Franklin’s fish. However, by the time that Paul was able to get his fish officially weighed, 12 hours later, it had lost over 5oz, and its length had shrunk by 4cm. The fish was stored in the fridge, in a plastic bag during the intervening time.

The only reason that Paul kept his fish was that it had taken the needlefish lure well down, and this could not be easily removed.  He was distraught that it couldn’t be returned, but he only keeps the occasional bass, and this one made a good feed for his family. When gutting the fish, Paul noted that its stomach was completely empty; it must have been one hungry bass – perhaps explaining why it took the lure so readily.

How big was that bass?

Both Rob and Paul’s fish got me thinking about the whole issue of how we gauge the size of our bass. Many bass anglers release most of their fish these days, and indeed we are not allowed to retain any bass at certain times of the year (such as now). The use of tapes has become increasingly popular in bass angling, and allows us to get a quick estimate of the size of the fish without having to weigh it. This is more convenient for the angler, easily documented with photographic evidence, and speeds up the return of the fish – important in maximising its post-release survival.

Yet we know that the weights produced by tapes/charts tend to be based on average fish, and may overestimate the weight early in the season, when many fish are thin and spent after the winter and spawning, and underestimate it late in the season when they are fattening up for the winter.

The traditional measure of a fish’s size used by anglers is its weight. Although I suspect this may be changing slowly, we still talk about size in terms of lbs and oz (in the UK), with the magic ‘ten-pounder’ being the holy grail for many bass anglers.

But, as discussed above, the weight of a fish can fluctuate markedly; it will vary over the year as its reproductive organs wax and wane, and if Paul’s fish had swallowed a big mackerel just before he caught it, he could well have been landing a fish nudging double figures. There is a case to say that length is a truer measure of a fish’s size, since this is less influenced by such variations, so should we now adopt this as our default? At least we would all be competing (if that’s what floats your boat) on a level playing field. And in these days, when it is increasingly difficult to catch really big bass, perhaps we should lower our sights slightly, and aim for a ’75er’ (about 9 1/2lb) as the new ‘holy grail’ (it’s also easier than saying 76.5lber!)?

It was bigger  when I caught it!

Seeing how Paul’s fish shrunk and lost weight so quickly, means that he could have lost out to a freshly-caught fish in any competition which requires fish to be brought to the scales at the the end of the weekend. Surely this is an additional reason to consider catch and release competitions, with the fish being measured at the time of capture?

The current minimum retention size (Minimum Conservation Reference Size) for bass is 42cm.  It’s worth thinking about what might happen if your catch was  ever inspected by an enforcement officer – has your fish shrunk below the  MCRS? Granted, it’s unlikely to have shrunk by much during a short shore session, and you would hope that a degree of latitude would be given in such circumstances, but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution when deciding if a fish can be legally kept. I wouldn’t keep a fish under 48cm anyway – that way I know it’s had at least one chance to spawn.

Recent catches

As I indicated above, things have been very quiet for me in the last few weeks on the bass angling front, and from what I’m hearing, things are pretty quiet elsewhere in Cornwall. Mind you, there are still a few showing on the coast, and the odd good fish is turning up in estuaries.

I’ve had a couple of notable sessions while beach fishing with bait. One night, in mid-November, we were catching lots of very small (32cm) bass on lug and razor; I did try a whole squid, thinking to tempt a bigger one, but it got snaffled by one of the tiddlers.

I took some scales from one of these small bass, which showed it was 3 years old, so from the 2017 year class. Our surveys in the Fal and Helford river suggested this was not a particularly good year class, but perhaps it was better than we first thought. Not that these fish are necessarily from those two estuaries – they could be moving along the coast, searching for an area to settle after leaving their nursery area. At any rate, they seem to have moved through now.

It looks like my Guernsey pals are enjoying some good fishing at the moment, with Simon De La Mare and Bryn Le Poidevin having some good sport. How I wish I was with them!

Good luck to Simon on his new guiding venture. I can vouch for his excellent company, and this nice bass he put me onto demonstrates his extensive knowledge of local marks.

A 7lb 4oz Guernsey bass.

Simon is hoping to provide the complete package, including accommodation. If you’d like to contact him for more information, you can reach him on 07781 188444.

A nice bass for Simon De La Mare.
Photo: Bryn Le Poidevin.

Old mark, new perspective

On another occasion recently, we were catching fewer fish, but of a slightly better stamp. When you regularly fish a mark, patterns emerge, or are learned from others, about the best state of tide and conditions to fish it. Over the years you tend to stick to these patterns, in order to maximise your catches, with perhaps just the occasional, half-hearted attempt to fish outside these.

One of the benefits of fishing with other people is that they can make you look at old marks from a new perspective. I fished such a mark with Stuart Martinez, spurred on by his own experiences there.

It wasn’t long before a plump schoolie on crab signalled that Stuart was onto something, and when I landed this 61cm fish on squid, I was convinced.

So, after years (decades) of fishing the mark,  I realised that I had been missing out by not fishing at other stages of the tide, which potentially could produce bigger fish.

Picking up

Things are just starting to pick up. Stuart Martinez caught this 59cm fish recently on a Swimsenko lure, just as it was getting light:

I managed to land this 55cm fish among a catch of 3 one afternoon:

It was notable for several reasons: it was a real fatty, not unlike others I have caught from the same mark at this time of year, and it was one of the palest bass (the photo doesn’t show this well) I’ve ever seen – almost like a different species. Bass can take on many shades of colour, from almost black, through blues and greens to, like this one,  almost white. The ability to do this allows the fish to blend in with its surroundings, to avoid predators and sneak up on their prey.  As Mike Ladle says (personal communication), “fish usually change colour quite quickly, minutes rather than hours or days.” I caught this fish over sand, surrounded by reefy ground.

Interestingly, the only plug the fish were interested in that day was a red-belly Nabarone (fitted with 3 x size 1 singles) – the Feed Shallow, SF125 and Komomo II just didn’t seem to work. The other thing to note is that these fish were caught in an easterly wind – further confirmation that bass can be caught in these (at least when they’re onshore).

So, if you live in areas like Cornwall, it’s important not to give up just yet; if things follow the usual pattern, we could get some of the best fishing of the year, right into January (netters permitting). If you do go out, with the rough seas we can get at this time of year, it’s so important to keep safe. Have a look at the excellent safety advice provided by the RNLI for anglers and if you can afford to, why not make a donation to them – after all, you never know when you might need them.

Thankyou

That’s it for this month, and this year, folks. Thanks so much for reading my blogs; I hope they have  informed and/or entertained in some small way. I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them, and it’s given me a way of continuing the story of my book. For those who may be considering buying this, please have a look at the reviews it’s received, including one from Mike Ladle which I’ve recently added.

I hope you have a good Christmas, wherever, and with whoever, you’re spending it. Let’s hope we can all get back to normal next year. Keep safe.

Tightlines,

 

Featured image: Stuart Martinez.

A bass fishing disaster!

 

I don’t know about you, but 2020 is turning out to be a bass fishing disaster for me. The weather seems to have been even more unfriendly than usual this autumn, severely cramping my style just when I usually catch my best fish of the year. Let’s hope the current quiet spell of weather lasts, although the fish seem to have disappeared from my marks at the moment. I’ve even managed to break a favourite rod wrestling with a pile of weed!

And like many others this year, my fishing opportunities have been very disrupted. What with the late start due to the first coronavirus lockdown,  a good chunk of time away visiting family during the summer Covid window, the recent passing of Toby, and of course the bad weather, trips have been fewer than in normal years. And just to cap it off,  the chances of catching that lunker seem much reduced this year, with few big bass being caught so far in Cornwall.

And with the Angling Trust advising us to fish locally during this second lockdown, some of my big fish marks will be inaccessible to me for at least the next month. But it’s great that we can fish, and we are indebted to the Angling Trust for facilitating this.

It’s blowing a gale out there!

Over the years I’ve tried to give myself as many options as possible in the event of stormy weather. There’s usually somewhere I can fish, especially now that I’m increasingly turning to estuaries. Yet even these are not completely protected from the strong winds from the west or southwest we get at this time of year. Sure, you don’t get the huge waves you do on the coasts, but casting into headwinds is still a problem, and the leaf and other debris which these autumnal winds bring can also be challenging.  If any inspiration was needed to fish in estuaries, have a look at this amazing video which James Lean sent me.

Even if you can find a relatively sheltered spot on the coast, there’s often still a deflected swell present.  I suspect this puts bass off feeding over very rough ground. You may still catch them on sandy beaches, but even here the fish may be well out to sea in very rough weather. Either that, or some may seek the relative shelter of estuaries, so if you can find somewhere out of the wind it could be worth trying these.

In any event, safety is the overriding consideration, and I certainly would NOT go near the coast In conditions like we’ve had recently, which have sadly claimed lives.

Where have all the bass gone?

For bass anglers in some parts of the Country, the bass fishing season has already come to a close. For others, like me living in Cornwall, there’s a good chance of catching a bass or two, including some decent ones, right up to the end of January. Yet even here you could be forgiven for thinking that the season is over, going by the poor catches of late.

This is a familiar conundrum – have the fish been hammered by the commercials, or is there a more natural cause? Are the fish offshore chasing herrings etc? Have they been predated upon by the increasing number of seals? A grey seal needs about 11lb of food per day on average. They feed on various species of fish, and on sandeels, but they are not averse to the odd octopus (and presumably squid and cuttle) and even lobsters, so they are not entirely dependent on fish. Mind you, just the other day, a young seal popped up with a bass in its mouth while I was fishing, as if to say “this is how it’s done mate!” Note that they don’t feed every day though, and during the breeding season (August to December in Cornwall) they may not feed for prolonged periods. The increasing numbers of tuna which are coming to our coasts, presumably following the baitfish, may well be having an effect on the local bass populations (either by displacement or predation).

Migration

One further explanation for the absence (or presence) of fish may be the migration of bass. They move south and west in the autumn, heading for overwintering and pre-spawning areas in the western English Channel. There’s a good chance that the fish in your area will already be on the move by now.

Depending on where you fish, this can either signal the end of your bass fishing season, or a temporary pause until migrating fish from areas further north or east make their way past your shores.

In Cornwall, the ‘local’ or ‘resident’ fish stocks seem to be boosted by the arrival of the first main run of migrating fish towards the end of October, potentially giving some very good fishing. Depending on the level of stocks in general, both numbers and size of fish may be increased.

Like most things in nature, the timing of these events may vary, and it may be that there is a gap between the local fish departing and the migrating ones arriving, giving one possible reason why catches are poor when we are expecting them to be good. Have recent storms disrupted their usual migration patterns?  All this just serves to illustrate that sea anglers are fishing in a highly dynamic situation.

Last good session

The last good session I had was in the SE’lies in mid October, where I had 8+ fish (but biggest only about 3lb) on lures. The day after this I lost a real bruiser, while fishing with crab in rough conditions. The fish was really thumping as I brought her in. I had to negotiate my way down some rocks, using one hand to steady myself, while she tore off to the right. As if this wasn’t enough, I had to contend with some quite big wave surges. Just when I thought she was nearly home and dry, everything went slack! Since then the fishing’s been poor, and the frustration of that moment is being reinforced on a regular basis!

 

A 51cm bass caught on a paddle tail Gravity Stick.

Do you only catch bass?

My brother Nick asked me the other day if I only catch bass. I have been asked this question a few times before, or variations of it, such as “how do you know you’re just going to catch bass?”

The answer, of course, is that we don’t. Depending on what’s about, or the way we fish, we might catch a few garfish, pollack, wrasse or even the occasional sea trout when lure fishing, or wrasse (in the day), dogfish/huss, rockling, conger or ray when legering.

And yet, despite these ‘bycatches’, most of the time I catch mainly bass. If I wanted to restrict these bycatches further, I guess I would limit myself to lure fishing at night, but even then the occasional pollack might show its hand.

Catching big bass in the daytime

Bass fishing has always been thought to be better in the dark. When lure fishing first became popular, anglers realised that good catches of bass could be made in daylight, but this tended to be in the summer evenings or early mornings.

On several occasions, I  have encountered (but lost) seriously large bass during the daytime. I’m talking about the middle of the day, usually when I’ve only been fishing because I was on a fishing holiday, or fishing a competition, and I might as well go, as sit around twiddling my thumbs.

What brought this topic to mind was a recent article in Sea Angler magazine, describing Don Cook’s capture of his 17lb bass, a new Welsh record, in 1980. Fishing was just an afterthought, since Don’s main intention was to collect crabs for an evening session; he stuck his fishing gear in the car just on the off chance – good thing he did!

The question is, are these just flukes, or should we target the bigger fish during the middle of the day? Well, it makes you think – must be worth a try. About the only common denominator is that these fish were hooked in rough ground, so that’s where I would focus my efforts.

Don’t cast too far

The Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society have a great blog. A recent post serves as a useful reminder about not overcasting for bass, fishing in calm conditions and how good mackerel is as bait. The article describes big bass (8-12lb) being caught just one to two rod lengths out.

For sea anglers it can be very hard to convince yourself that bass will come in this close. To my good friend Richard Brandon, with his pike and carp fishing background, this comes naturally. His results, with several good bass taken while legering with squid/razor close in, have convinced me it works. For example, this one took a whole squid just 3 rod lengths out in a heavy sea.

4lb 8oz bass for Richard Brandon, caught only 3 rod lengths out.

Fish the water’s edge

It’s not just bait fishing that can work with a close-in approach. This video from Marcin Kantor shows how this can work for lure fishing as well. As Marcin says “fish the water’s edge and fish the features”. Casting in the open water will catch bass, but this is more dependent on coincidence, with the fish just happening to encounter your lure as it passes by.

Here today, gone tomorrow

Have you ever gone back to a mark the day after a blinding session, only to blank? I certainly have. There are many things that might explain this, but Alan Bulmer suggests in this article  on the excellent Active Angling New Zealand website, that fish digestion may play a particularly important role.

A sudden glut of food items may lead to fish gorging themselves to the extent that they may not feed for days afterwards. The length of time may depend on how long it takes the food to be digested, which in turn depends on the size of fish, the amount eaten and the water temperature. Furthermore, a change in water temperature, away from that which is optimal for digestion in any given species, can have a marked effect on food digestion times, going from hours to days, even to weeks.

Keeping an eye on sea temperatures is an important part of our bass fishing. I measure the water temperature where I am fishing on an ad hoc basis, and this usually ties in well with figures from well known websites. The sea temperature in Cornwall typically ranges from 9-16C over the course of the year, so even without knowing what the optimum temperature is for food digestion in bass, you can see how this could affect their feeding throughout the seasons. In estuaries this fluctuation in water temperature is likely to be even greater.

Bass surveys

Our bass survey programme this year has been very disrupted by Covid. We didn’t manage any ‘1’ group surveys at all, and the 0′ group surveys were limited to shore-based ones only – some of these on a trial basis. The few surveys we did manage to carry out were disappointing, in terms of numbers of ‘0’ groups, but it’s difficult to draw any definite conclusions about the strength of the 2020 class on the basis of such limited data.

Here’s a short description of this work.

That’s it for this month folks. If your season is over, I hope you’ve had a good one. If not, I hope the remainder sees you landing that new PB.

 

 

 

Farewell to a dear friend

Any dog lover who’s lost one will know the pain this brings. And so it is with Toby, our wonderful golden retriever. After 15 years, we’ve had to say farewell to him.  He battled on with great stoicism, but in the end it was just too much for him. A true friend and much-loved member of the family, he will be sadly missed.

Look what Santa’s brought!

I can still recall the night my son stood on our doorstep with this bundle of golden cuteness in his arms.

A ten-week old Toby.

Ben had collected Toby (registered name Kadaka Caricolake) from a breeder in Ivybridge on his way home for Christmas. He knew that we were missing our first retriever, Bouncer, and wanted to show his appreciation for helping him get through medical school. It was a wonderful surprise, and what a present Toby turned out to be – not just a pet who gave us so much pleasure and love, but the embodiment of what Ben had achieved, and his appreciation of our support.

Cheeky monkey

Like all puppies, Toby was a proper mischief maker, with a taste for carpet tiles and underlay! On his first trip to what turned out to be his favourite beach (Carne – on the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall), the little monkey got under an elderly gentleman’s feet, and nearly caused him to have a serious mishap – much to his displeasure!

People often ask when retrievers settle down – well from our experience it’s not until they get to about two. In the meantime be prepared for lots of naughtiness – including running off and jumping in someone else’s car boot!

Growing bond

With Ben and Sarah having left home, Toby helped to fill the gap they left, and became so much a part of mine and Angela’s lives. Like most retrievers, Toby was an outdoor dog. He was never happier than when on the beach, or walking through the woods or along the coast path.  In these, him and I had a shared passion, and the bond between us grew stronger and stronger, particularly without the constraints of work after I retired in 2013. We’d had family pets before, which of course were much-loved, but my friendship with Toby was somehow closer, and he became ‘my dog’, as Angela would say.

Unconditional love

Toby was always great company, and as good as gold (most of the time!). The unconditional love which dogs give makes you feel so good. He always had a cheerful, waggy greeting, bringing me his favourite toy when I got home,  putting a smile on my face and easing the problems of a day at work. He asked for nothing, save for food, drink and shelter, and gave everything, without complaint. He was a healing dog too, and I will forever remember how he helped me recover from a breakdown in 2012.

Toby the healing dog.

Going fishing with Toby

I started taking Toby fishing quite early on. It took him a little while to realise that I wasn’t casting lures out for him to retrieve, and that splashing around in the shallows doesn’t exactly help the fishing, but he got there. He used to get impatient, and if I wasn’t catching he would run over to my fishing partner and see how they were doing.

Come on dad – where’s the fish!

We had many fishing exploits together, and those who have fished with me, or read my book, will know that he became a bit of a fishing legend. He was the perfect fishing partner – he always wanted to go, never minded where to, and never gave marks away!

A bass fishing legend

He always knew when a fishing trip was on, and if I didn’t take him he would sulk until I got home, taking himself upstairs and laying on some article of clothing with my scent on it.

Catch and keep

Toby didn’t believe in catch and release. On one occasion, I landed a bass, measured it, and took a few scales from it, before returning it to the water. As I did so, Toby pushed past me, and made a grab for the fish; he often does this, but usually they are much too quick for him!

On this occasion however, he was successful, and his head popped up with the bass hanging from his mouth – he looked very pleased with himself! I shouted at him to leave the fish, but he was having none of it, and promptly ran off up the beach.

Toby – the bass retriever

I chased him, and was about to give up, when he placed it, ever so gently, on the sand. To my great surprise, the fish was still alive, and had not a mark on its body. Wasting no time, I took the fish back to the water and slipped it in for a second time, holding his Lordship off; amazingly it swam off, seemingly none the worse for its doggy encounter with the terrestrial world!

Handsome dog

I have so many wonderful memories of Toby. Take the day Toby was runner-up in the ‘most handsome dog’ contest at the Trewithen Country and Classics show in 2013. I have never entered Toby in anything, either before or since this. So many people said what a beautiful dog he was over the years (and did so until he died), so I couldn’t resist entering him, and it was all done in a spirit of fun in any case. When he was awarded second prize, I was as pleased as any ‘dad’ could be, and proudly walked him round to show off his posh rosette.

Almost the most handsome dog

It was so hard to let Toby go, but he had a good, long life, and we were blessed that he spent it with us. He will be greatly missed, and leave a gaping hole in our lives. Our lovely boy will always be in our hearts, and will never be replaced.

 

A bass angler at home and away

The last few weeks have seen me on my travels, visiting family and snatching fishing opportunities at home and away, as and when they present themselves.

Together again

Like many who have family in other parts, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to be with loved ones. After negotiating our way through self-isolation, with an obligatory Covid test at the end of it, Angela and I were finally able to be with Ben and his family, including our two wonderful granddaughters, on Guernsey. It was so nice to see them again for the first time in nearly six months. And it was so good to experience the simple pleasures of hugs, handshakes, eating out, and going for a pint as the sun goes down, in the Covid-free environment on the island.

Time was precious, having already lost a week of our visit in self-isolation, and not being sure when we could be with them again, so the emphasis was firmly on family, rather than fishing. And very enjoyable it was too, with some lovely weather and lots of memories to treasure.

Seeing the Red Arrows is one of the highlights of summer for me, but I had given up hope of doing so in this strange year. So when they roared across St Peter Port, suddenly appearing from behind us, you couldn’t help but be inspired and moved.

Guernsey bassing

I did manage to squeeze in a couple of bassing trips with my Guernsey pals; I’m lucky to have such good anglers, and good friends to hook up with over there.

First up was a bait session with Bryn Le Poidevin. I had taken some frozen bluey along, which has produced good bass for me on Guernsey before, but when Bryn tempted me with some verm I was happy to use this instead – I’ve seen Bryn catch nice bass on this. It wasn’t long before a plump schoolie was rattling away on the line, and I’d caught my first bass on this bait.

Next up was a lure session with Simon De La Mare. Fishing Guernsey at night, moving over difficult terrain as the tide makes, calls for expert local knowledge, and I was glad of Simon’s expert guidance. Soft plastics were the order of the day – DoLives, Swimsenkos and Senkos, with a white DoLive finally accounting for another plump schoolie, after moving to a sandy bay in flat calm conditions.

Nipping out for a bass

Before heading off to Guernsey at the end of August the fishing back home was starting to pick up, with some enjoyable sessions, enhanced by valuable learning points.

I’ve never had a problem fishing neap (or ‘nip’ as they call them on Guernsey) tides, but on the very small ones I have come to the opinion that you’re better off fishing a lure with plenty of action, rather than a subtle lure like a DoLive Stick; I suspect the fish need this increased action/disturbance to gee them up on the smaller tides.  The tide on Thursday 13th August was at the bottom of the series, a very small  5.1m High Water (Newquay table). Despite fishing in good conditions, and at the optimum stage of tide in darkness, I could only manage one snatch and a couple of tentative bites on DoLives, Swimsenkos and Senkos, while Sam Wallace and friends caught numerous bass on aggressively worked surface plugs in daylight.

A couple of nights later, the tide had increased to 5.5m. This time I did catch – four bass (including a couple of 55/56cm), on a Swimsenko; the DoLives didn’t produce however. I’m left wondering if the Swimsenko’s paddle tail gave it the edge, in terms of lure action, on this (still quite small) tide height? Conditions were similar and the marks were in the same area.

Is your crab fresh enough?

Bait fishing a couple of nights later with Steve Ainsworth, I was enjoying some good sport, with a bite a cast on shore peeler crab. Steve however was having a lean time, and it became clear that the fish weren’t interested in his live sandeel or his two week-old crabs – as soon as he put one of my fresh (collected by me that morning) ones on he was straight into fish.

I ended up landing six, including three around the 57cm mark. One of these had taken the hook down too far (a risk when bait fishing with ‘J’ hooks). The hook could not be easily extracted, so I snipped the trace as close to the eye as possible. Alas, it was obvious that the fish wasn’t going to survive, and had to be despatched.

That fish has got worms

Interestingly, this fish had occasional tiny worms in its flesh. Steve had commented that fish he kept from this mark always had these worms, whereas he hadn’t noticed this in fish from other marks, so perhaps their presence is a marker for local stocks. Overall, it seems these are quite common in fish – one study found that 65-85% of bass can be infected with these anisakis worms (thanks to Mike Ladle for this reference), which they acquire by eating infected crustaceans. Eating raw or undercooked infected fish can lead to a parasitic infection in humans called Anisakiasis.

 

Two of the worms I found in the flesh of the bass I caught.

Getting back to prawns

I love using live prawns under a float for bass, but in recent times other methods have taken precedence. This is in part due to the effort of having to run a tank to keep them alive, which I have not done for several years. This limits you to using them as you collect them – in my case at low water in an estuary.

I recently came across an article in Sea Angler magazine, describing keeping live prawns in shallow trays in the fridge (at its warmest setting), filled with just enough water to cover them. A couple of such trays from the gardening section at B&Q did the job nicely. I filled one with water from my local estuary, and after allowing the water to adjust to the fridge temperature, I added a dozen or so medium-sized prawns. I changed the water after four days.

On day six the prawns were still live and kicking, so I decided to give them a swim on the coast that night. Using my standard 15g ‘Buldo’ float rig, complete with tip light fixed to the top, I cast out, eagerly anticipating this disappearing and shooting along, just under the surface, as a bass made off with the bait.

 

Live prawns – deadly under a float, especially at night.

Alas there were few fish around that evening, but I did have a couple of really good takes. I missed both of these, and started wondering if the Varivas 1/0 circle hooks (simply tied onto the 15lb mono main line with the float adjusted to about 4ft above this) I was using in an attempt to reduce deep hooking were the case of the problem; Fish Locker  doesn’t seem to have any problems with Cox and Rawle 2/0 Matsu circles though.

Two old codgers who should know better?

It was foggy, very foggy. The sort of night I don’t like fishing on my own – especially where I had in mind. Just as well that Steve was up for it then. I had a sense of foreboding as we made our way down the cliff, with our headlight beams bouncing off the misty air, and attracting every moth in the vicinity.

All seemed to be going well when Steve landed a 6lber. In my haste to share in his success, I lost my footing and came down hard on both knees.

A 6lb 1oz (66cm) bass for the old scrote himself, taken on a soft shore crab which he’d kept in his fridge for at least four weeks.

It’s funny how you assume you can just brush off these mishaps; fortunately all was well – not even a busted rod tip, but one day I know I won’t be so lucky. I thought that day had come when I was upended for a second time on the slippery rocks, hitting my lower back hard. Amazingly, I managed to avoid serious injury this time as well. Steve was just saying how I should get some boots like his, when he stumbled forward, nearly face-planting on his fishing box which was strewn across a rocky ledge.

The next day we both felt a bit sore in several places, but happily no bones were broken – just a few cuts and bruises. We reflected on the possible scenarios in the event of more serious injury, and determined that we should give our footwear some attention. Two old codgers we may be, but we’re not giving up on this mark just yet!

A classic surface lure proven

The Chug Bug (4 3/8″, 11cm) is a legendary surface lure, but for some reason I had never fully got to grips with it. Inspiration from Alan Vaughan, who has caught many good bass on it (and some big stripers) made me dust off one which was lurking in the draw of passed over lures, and vow to prove them.

Fishing in an east wind and a roughish sea, my first choice shallow-diving plugs weren’t producing. A switch to a black and chrome Chug Bug brought instant success.

A small bass taken on the classic Chug Bug popper – fitted with 1/0 Seaspin Gamu SW single hooks.

Simply turning the reel handle one turn at a time is sufficient to get it spitting water out well enough for fish to notice it, even in these conditions.

The first of the three fish I caught on the Chug Bug felt odd when I was bringing it in. The cause was clear – the rear hook had become embedded in the fish’s flesh just above its eye. I have never been convinced of the need to flatten hook barbs – until now. I really struggled to get the hook out, and this can’t have been good for the fish. OK, it’s unusual to hook a fish in the flesh like this, and there isn’t usually a problem with lip-hooked fish, but I’m minded to start doing this now. Having made the change to single hooks, in the interests of increased post-release survival, the extra step of flattening the barbs with some pliers, even if of modest value, now seems logical. It might also increase the chances of the hook coming out in the event that your line breaks with the plug still in the fish’s mouth, not to mention those hook-in-finger accidents!

A new type of surface lure proven

The Autowalker 115s is a surface lure with a difference. It ‘walks the dog’ simply by using a medium speed, steady retrieve, without any rod action. It also casts like a rocket!

I acquired one of these (in the EMIL colour) a while ago, but had only given it cursory attention. Buoyed by my recent success with the Chug Bug, I decided now would be a good time to try to prove the Autowalker as well.

Despite shallow divers not working, the first cast with the Autowalker produced a knock; four fish later I was convinced – only small fish but that probably just reflects what was out there, rather than the lure’s fish-catching abilities. As if to prove the point, the next evening this hard-fighting 59cm bass took the Autowalker virtually as it landed; these things are lethal!

A 59cm bass taken on a Mechanic Lures Autowalker 115s (EMIL colour).

That’s all for this month folks. The fishing should be good over the next couple of months – as long as the weather doesn’t misbehave too much!

Tightlines.

Robin

PS I’ve had some more nice feedback on my book. If you’d like to see this please check out the book reviews page of my website.

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.

First anniversary of my book on bass fishing

A Bass Angler's Life

A book on bass fishing, and life

Today marks the first anniversary of my book on bass fishing A Bass Angler’s Life going on sale. Twelve months on, I can say that the book has been a success – perhaps not in financial terms (as yet), but most definitely from a personal perspective.

Achieving a long-held ambition to have a book on bass fishing published has been very satisfying, and A Bass Angler’s Life  has brought me into contact with many people. I always thought its appeal would be to a niche market, by virtue of its slightly different content – it’s about life, as well as bass fishing. It may not follow the usual format, but hopefully I’ve got the balance right. It was the book I wanted to write, and I’m delighted and honoured that more than 170 people have so far bought it. If you’re thinking of buying a copy yourself, you can see an electronic preview of the book here,  and you can also read a short story from the book on the BASS blog.

The many kind messages people have sent, and comments made, about A Bass Angler’s Life, have been particularly rewarding, and gratifying. Some of the comments are shown (with permission) on the book reviews page of my website. If you’ve read the book yourself, and would like to comment, please let me know.

Recent catches

There’s no getting away from it – things are pretty tough at the moment, with some anglers in Cornwall reporting that this is their worst start to a season ever. I cling to the hope that this might be down to natural phenomena, like the availability of baitfish, but increasingly I’m getting concerned that this is down to the sustained and cumulative effects of netting.  A recent press release from SOSB  draws attention to this, and poor catches on my home patch over the last 12 months or so certainly reflect this increase in netting. If you haven’t already written to your MP about this, please do – even if you’re not from Cornwall. Remember that at some point fish from your area may be migrating along the south coast of Cornwall and subject to removal by these monofilament killing machines, leaving you wondering where all your fish have gone next summer.

There does seem to be quite a few fish around in estuaries at the moment, but these are mostly small (30cm).  Scales I’ve taken from one of these suggest that they are 3 years old – so from the 2017 year class.

I’ve been picking up the odd fish here and there on the coast, including several on 5.5 inch Swimsenkos. I can still remember catching my first bass in Ireland  on one of these lures (in green) back in 2014. For some reason, I only started using them in Cornwall recently, prompted by an entry in MikeLadle’s online fishing diary – pity I left it so long!

My very first cast with a white Swimsenko produced this bass of about 3lb.

My first Cornish bass on a Swimsenko.

That’s enough to give anyone confidence in a lure, and although I didn’t catch any more that night, I have caught more on subsequent sessions, including on a dark blue one. Oh dear – I hope this isn’t the start of another soft plastic obsession!

Lack of fight

Some nice bass are being caught in other areas though – like this 76cm (fork length) beauty which Mike Ladle took on a freelined mackerel fillet. I reckon this is equivalent to about 81cm total length (x1.07), which the BASS tape puts at 12lb (nice one Mike!). He was disappointed by the lack of resistance the fish put up when being caught. This put me in mind of an excerpt from Don Kelley’s book Life With Bass, called When Bass Don’t React which was recently posted on the BASS blog. Given when Mike’s fish was caught (June), it would seem that spawning  was most likely the cause of the fish’s lack of fight.

Estuary bassing

With the fishing being a bit quiet on the coasts, I’ve taken the opportunity to continue my search for estuary marks, encouraged by several reports of big bass caught by anglers fishing for Gilthead bream, and the ban on netting in estuaries . It’s actually rather pleasant, exploring beautiful parts of Cornwall I haven’t seen before. It’s generally a more peaceful way of fishing – unless you happen to come across a swan guarding its nest with a very aggressive hissing!

This chap wasn’t messing about!

Why should some bass decide to take up summer residency each year in an estuary system, while others choose the open coast? How much (if any) do they move between the two? I realise these are moot points to my mates on Guernsey – where there are no estuaries!

Angling lore says that bass will move down estuaries on the ebb, hang around at the mouth over low water, and move back up on the flood. But thinking about this, a fish is unlikely to travel the entire length of the estuary (10-20 Km) every tide. The Cork Harbour Study, which used acoustic telemetry to track the summer movements of individual bass, found that within that estuary system, most bass showed very limited movement during their summer residency phase, with 80% of fish spending 90% of their total residency between 2 receivers located <3km apart, with core areas within this range used for resting and foraging.

So it seems that rather than ranging up and down the entire estuary system, fish will choose a small part of it for their summer foraging period, and move within this. I can envisage fish moving up creeks off the main channel with the flood, searching for crabs, prawns, small fish etc as they go, and then moving back down again on the ebb, perhaps feeding in the main channel over low water as they wait for the flood to start again.

Estuary bassing. This type of lure (Fish Arrow 5 inch Flash J) is good for bringing lures back through weedbeds.

Beach angling

Beach angling is an established part of bass angling in Cornwall – with bait. Anglers are now also increasingly targeting bass on the surf beaches with lures, with great success. Anglers like Jamie Strike have become very proficient at this, and shares some great tips in this excellent podcast.

State of bass stocks

The latest advice from ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) regarding bass stocks shows that the stock has increased slightly (by 5%), but is still only just above the critical level, and still in need of emergency measures to prevent collapse. Although fishing mortality has reduced, it would take several years (i.e. until beyond 2022) to reach a safe level, even if no fish were caught. Recruitment of fish to the stock has been patchy; there have been some promising year classes (2013, 2014 & 2016), but 2017 and 2019 were only fair or reasonable, and 2018 was a near total failure (according to our juvenile bass surveys in Cornwall), so it’s vital that we look after what juveniles are coming through.

Sea Angling in the UK

The long-awaited report entitled Participation, catches and economic impact of sea anglers resident in the UK in 2016 & 2017 has finally been published. I was one of the anglers who participated in this survey, keeping an online diary, recording activity, catches and spend on a regular basis.

On average 823,000 UK residents went sea angling. The total number of fish caught in 2017 was 54.5 million, with 80% of these being released; 7% of the fish caught were bass. The average total spend per angler in 2017 was £1742. The total economic impact of sea angling was £1.94 billion, supporting around 16,300 jobs. The financial worth of recreational bass angling dwarfs that of commercial fishing for bass, so when is this going to be recognised by fisheries policymakers?

Highly Protected Marine Areas

The Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas   calls for anglers (and others) to be excluded from a number of areas. It was disappointing that anglers were not involved in the preparation of these proposals, and that their activities have been included with trawling, despite the fact that our activities are low impact and highly selective, and that we can act as monitors of compliance with any restrictions.

Catch and release survey

Adam Duhamel is a Jersey bass angler and MSc student at Bangor University. For his dissertation he is looking at Catch and Release practices in bass angling. Please check this out via this link  and complete the survey if you wish to help.

Big bass caught in shrimp net

I bet, like me, when you arrive at your fishing mark you head straight for the water, assuming that any bass will have vacated the rock pools you have to get through to get there, so as not to get stranded by the outgoing tide. I have heard of anglers occasionally disturbing bass as they wade through gullies, but this amazing video from Smash Fishing, where Jay Le Gallic catches an 8lb bass, just sitting in a pool, with a shrimp net  just blew me away! The fact that it’s filmed on Guernsey, my adopted second home, only added to my enjoyment of the video. I wonder how often this happens; was this accidental, or is the fish just resting up in the dark until the tide comes in. It’s interesting that Jay notes how bass aren’t spooked by lights in such situations, but I wonder if this behaviour is influenced by the fact that they are confined within a rockpool?

Big bass on lures

Thanks to Steve Ainsworth for sending me this link to an awesome video of Grant Woodgate catching 9 double-figure bass on lures, in  just three trips to Portugal.

Several things stuck me about this video – apart from the amazing fishing of course. It shows that big bass can be caught on lures, as well as bait (although I don’t know how many hours he spent on these three trips doing so), and during the day.  Mind you, these were difficult conditions, and I take my hat off to Grant for landing the fish. A word of caution though – fishing in these sorts of conditions, and from this sort of terrain, can be dangerous, so take care if you try something similar – and I’d suggest you wear a life jacket.

That’s all for this month folks. Tightlines, and let’s hope the fishing improves. Keep safe.

Feel free to subscribe to my blog if you want to read it on a regular basis, and please share on social media/via email if you think others might like it.

 

Bass fishing in the summertime

Summer’s here (meteorologically speaking), following the sunniest Spring on record, which has given us a little light in these dark Corona days. This time of year always evokes strong memories for me. Not just of bass fishing in the summertime, but of family days on the beach, and trips to local events and attractions. Notable among these is the Royal Cornwall Show, the county’s biggest annual event, and very much a Cornish tradition.

Memories of the show are in turn inextricably linked with my bass fishing. Driving past the showground at Wadebridge, as the time approaches for the show and all the marquees and display rings in evidence, always makes me think of warm summer evenings spent bass fishing in some remote cove with friends. But this year is different, the normal hive of activity giving way to an empty quietness in the wake of Covid-19.

A visit to the Royal Cornwall Show – in happier times.

Natural bounty

Summer also brings with it a natural bounty of flora and fauna – some welcome, others not. Take ‘mayweed’ or ‘mayrot’ for example. This clingy brown stuff, which sticks to your leader knot, and ruins the action of your lure when bass fishing, has been much in evidence this year in some areas; presumably the sunny weather encouraging the growth of the algae blooms which cause it. Let’s hope the recent unsettled weather disperses it soon.

And can there be any more beautiful sight in summer than dolphins? Like many people, I’ve always had a soft spot for them. Perhaps watching ‘Flipper’ on TV in the sixties is responsible, or my life-long love of all things marine.  Whatever the roots of this passion for these cuddly cetaceans, I am always stopped in my tracks by the sight of these creatures, especially at close quarters. Imagine my delight then, when Bryn Le Poidevin sent me this stunning still photo he took from a video of dolphins he shot from his boat on Guernsey.

Photo: Bryn Le Poidevin

BASS Photography Competition

Now that we all have phone cameras in our pockets most of the time, it’s easy to capture our surroundings when we’re out and about. BASS are running a free-to-enter competition looking for the best bass fishing-related photos each month. There are some great prizes on offer, so why not have a go?  You’ll find all the information you need on the BASS blog. Entries can be submitted via the BASS Facebook page or the BASS Members’ Forum.

What colour is that lure?

Ever since I did Physics at school, I’ve always had a fascination for colour, or strictly speaking, what causes things to have different colours. The old mnemonic  we were taught for remembering the order of the colours of the spectrum ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ stays with me to this day. And the idea that what we think of as white light is really a combination of these (or black an absence of them) comes to mind whenever  I see a rainbow (strangely pertinent in these Corona times). Start applying this to angling and it really gets interesting.

Most of us have our favourites when it comes to lure colours, but just how important is this in terms of catching fish? My own preferences when bass fishing are natural, or silver and black colours by day, and darker colours/black or white by night, but others find brighter colours such as chartreuse or orange work best for them.

Deadly DoLives – just some of the colours which have brought me success.

Fish have colour vision, but the colours they actually see depends on the depth of water at which the lure is working.  This excellent video explains things well.

A recent post  by Peter Heatlie, concerning lure colours at night, generated an interesting discussion on Lure Anglers Online (with thanks to all those who participated). In conditions of low light, colour is lost, and lures will appear varying shades of grey instead. For example, red or blue lures look almost black in these conditions, while a dark green one also looks pretty dark. These darker shades stand out against the background monochrome grey of the water at night, as will a black lure, and conversely a white one, giving the fish a better chance of seeing it. Fish have  low visual acuity, meaning it’s  probably not worth obsessing about lure detail, but they have high visual sensitivity – very useful for seeing things in low light conditions.

Some anglers think that colours don’t matter at night, and that vibration is much more important because bass are using their lateral line, rather than sight, to locate prey. My own experience is that ‘noisy’ lures (like a Joined Thunderstick plug) will certainly catch bass at night (especially in rougher conditions), but so will subtler lures (like a DoLive Stick soft plastic). And although I have caught bass on many different colours at night, my gut feeling is that darker ones have an edge, and conversely that white ones seem to find the better fish.

Cornish Catch & Release

Being a Personal Member of the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers, and liking a bit of competition in my fishing, I’m going to make a point of submitting the occasional bass under their Catch and Release arrangements (that’s if I’m lucky enough to catch a decent one!).

The procedure for bass is quite straightforward – you just need a clear photo of your fish against a tape measure showing its length (in cm), making sure the snout of fish is up against the end of the tape, and that the tape is perfectly flat wherever possible. Length is measured from the snout to the tip of the tail. Photos should be emailed to the CFSA fish recorder, Simon Toms (st0467@gmail.com), by the end of each month. The weight of the fish will be calculated from this chart Bass weight length CFSA. Bass recorded like this will count for the best bass in the County award for each year.

You will need to be a member of the CFSA to take part. Anglers from anywhere in the Country may join, either as a Personal Member, or by joining an affiliated club, but only fish caught in Cornish waters may be submitted. To join as a Personal Member, please send a cheque for £10 to CFSA Secretary Ralph Elcox at ‘Wayside’, Menagissey, Mount Hawke, Truro  TR4 8DQ. Ralph is also able to help those seeking to join a CFSA affiliated club.

Catch and release science

While on the subject of catch and release, I am grateful to BASS Science Group member David Curtis for unearthing this interesting report from the Environment Agency. Although about salmon, it is highly relevant to bass fishing, indeed many of the concepts discussed will already be familiar to bass anglers.

I found the physiological aspects particularly informative. Physiological disturbance and stress in fish can result in reduced survival following release. This disturbance is greater when the ‘fight’ (retrieval) is prolonged, when bankside handing is careless, and when exposure to air is prolonged, these effects being worse when the water is warmer. It can take salmon up to 24 hours to recover to their pre-fishing physiological state.

I suspect that bass are quite a hardy fish, as suggested by studies like the Cork Harbour one, which showed that 100% of fish caught with lures, and subjected to the insertion of tags, were still alive 20 days after release. Nevertheless, we each need to make informed decisions about how we increase the chances of survival of those fish we wish/have to return.  On a personal note, I only use gear that allows for a quick retrieval, only measure and photograph fish which look over 60cm, and only weigh fish which are over 70cm, doing this as quickly as possible – in practice this probably accounts for less than 10 fish a year. I don’t recall any of these fish not swimming off strongly when I returned them, but it’s impossible to know if any went on to die subsequently, or be eaten by a predator.

Bait considerations

The first bass fishing of the new ‘season’ usually coincides with the spring peel of shore crabs. I’m always keen to use this excellent bait at this time of year, but getting it can be far from straightforward.

Take my first bait collecting trip of the year for example. I could tell from the footprints in the mud, that someone had been through my traps within the last couple of days. My worst fears were realised when I looked in the bucket at the end of an hour’s backbreaking toil in the stinky mud, and saw just two small peelers and one small crispy crab. In disgust, I was about to ditch them, but then I saw an angler fishing nearby, and thought they could at least have a couple of casts with them. Apart from the wasted effort involved, and the cost of the petrol to get there, I would have no bait to go fishing with, since it was not worth taking that number home. And with everyone after bream at the moment, the demand for shop-bought crab means getting hold of these is difficult. It’s enough to make you give up bait fishing!

But crab isn’t the only bait which works early in the season. A conversation with Alan Vaughan, with further encouragement from Dave Taylor, stimulated a developing interest in using cuttle as bait.  They come into shallow waters in spring, dying after they have bred, and you will often see lots of cuttle bones on beaches at this time of year. Whatever has stripped the flesh from these must have had a veritable banquet, and it’s reasonable to assume that bass will be joining in the feast. My initial efforts in this direction have not yet borne fruit, but as with all things to do with fishing, there are many factors which can influence success or failure, and persistence, perhaps with a dash of luck,  should eventually be rewarded.

Another less well tried bait is spider crab. If it was easier to get hold of, I’m sure spider peelers/softies would feature in many more bass catches.  They are present  inshore (but out of reach of the shore gatherer on dry land) from mid-May for about 3 months, often forming large mounds, with the females on the inside, as a method of protection following  peeling (moulting), when the bodies are still soft.  This incredible excerpt from Blue Planet II  shows spider crabs marching and congregating off the coast of Australia in order to shed their shells. Apparently they can be collected from the sides of harbour walls when they are swarming, but this is not something I have tried.

Lockdown Labrax

Although still in ‘lockdown’, we’ve been allowed to go fishing for several weeks now, but to be honest, it’s not really happening for me at the moment. OK, I have had the odd fish on small surface lures and soft plastics, but nothing of any size yet.

There were quite a few fish around at the time that the fishing restrictions were lifted, but they seem to be (un)socially distancing at the moment!   I suspect this is down to the fact that the first main peel of crabs is coming to an end, and the bass are looking elsewhere for their food, until the baitfish move in. Keep at it though, as I am hearing of the odd good catch, and things are changing as I speak. Richard Brandon managed this nice one towards the end of May.

Richard Brandon’s 4lb 2 oz bass caught on razor in rough ground. The rod he used is a near 50 year old Clive Gammon Bass Rod. Photo: Richard Brandon

June can be a very good month, indeed it was the best one for me in 2003 – in terms of numbers. I averaged 2.5 fish per trip in June that year – all on plugs. I put this down to the number of fry around at this time, which in a good year can be considerable. Given that these can be small, it makes sense to ‘match the hatch’ and smaller 9cm plugs have produced well for me at this time.

In the reports I’ve heard, 60-65cm fish seem to be featuring quite regularly. I think these come from the same cohort of fish which were giving us quite a few 55-60cm fish last year. This is a nice size (5-6lb) of fish to catch, and let’s hope some of them survive to grow even bigger.

Capturing the mood

Fishing stirs emotions deep within us. It can be hard to put this into words, but this poem by good friend Richard Brandon captures the mood of an evening’s fishing beautifully.

Out there – a new year arrival

Beneath a stooping, crescent moon                                                                                     the broily waters cleeve and roll.                                                                                         Lines divining cross the cove,                                                                                                      to seek the sea-tribes where they shoal.

Hoping against hope they escape                                                                                       where the death-nets hang and ride,                                                                           undersea gibbets set to make                                                                                               their daily rape of every tide.

Deep midnight, and a final cast                                                                                              flies out a further bribe of bait,                                                                                                 the acrid tang of wrack and kelp                                                                                       comes and goes as the winds abate.

Within the cadence of the waves                                                                                               A sudden jolt. The starscapes slide.                                                                                     The rod bucks and a moonlit bass                                                                                     marks our observance of the tide.

Photo: Richard Brandon

Tight lines and stay safe

Great to be going bass fishing again – but take care

As from today (13th May), we’re allowed to go bass fishing again in England (and hopefully elsewhere soon). That’s great news, but we must remember that this deadly virus is still out there. Please respect the restrictions, and take care not to put yourself, family members, or others, including the emergency and rescue services, at risk.

Although the new restrictions allow for fishing with one other person outside your household, I’ve taken the decision to fish alone for the time being.  If you do decide to fish with someone outside your household, the Angling Trust are recommending that you maintain a distance of 15 metres from them; Dean Asplin explains that this greater distance is required because you could be fishing with them for several hours. We’re allowed to drive as far as we want to take exercise/go fishing now, but please use restraint and common sense here – people in tourist areas like Cornwall are frightened of an influx of visitors from out-of-county at this time.

Let’s hope the fishing is as good as it was this time last year.

65cm (~ 6lb) bass taken on crab 21.5.19.

Let’s get behind those who seek to promote our interests.

Big thanks to the Angling Trust for making the case to Government for fishing to resume. Unbelievably, there are anglers who knock groups like these, and others such as BASS, and its campaigning arm SOSB , who are simply trying to do their bit for anglers. Why not do your bit as well, and join these groups? the more members they have, the more they can do for us.

I guess it’s inevitable, that any group that calls for greater protection for a species like bass, will be blamed for restrictions placed upon those who exploit it – whether for commercial gain, or for pleasure. Responsible anglers, who care for and respect their quarry, will accept, perhaps even embrace, these restrictions, if they are necessary and proportionate. Others, who simply want to take all they can, with no thought to the future, or who feel anglers have been disproportionately penalised, may take a different view. But please respect any restrictions imposed – the way to change things is to get involved, and support these groups when they call for action, not to flout the restrictions.

Groups like SOSB are doing excellent (unpaid) work, to fight for the protection of bass stocks for the benefit of all  anglers, while at the same time defending their rights to take  a bass (or two) home for tea.

It’s personal

Like many other people I’m sure, the Covid-19 pandemic feels very personal to me. I have mercifully, as yet, not lost a family member or friend to it, like many others have. But the ever-present risk of one of my family succumbing to it in the course of their work in the healthcare sector, is never far from my mind.

I’m mindful too, of all the scientists working on vaccines and new tests, and of colleagues working long shifts to process all those thousands of tests, which are proving so vital in tackling the pandemic, in double-quick time. It would be remiss of me not to mention all those working on possible treatments for Covid-19, not least colleagues in the NHS Blood and Transplant Service working on the use of convalescent plasma. How different my life would be right now if I was still at work!

VE Day

How ironic that the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, which drew a close to the unimaginable  loss of life during WWII, should fall in the midst of this awful pandemic, which has also taken so many from us. Yet perhaps VE Day may bring some comfort in showing us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m finding that my emotions are all over the place at the moment, and when my niece posted this picture of my late mum on social media, I  couldn’t hold back the tears. She was an ambulance driver in the WRAF during the war. I am so proud of her, and miss her dearly.

Cathy Bradley, in her early twenties.

A Bass Angler’s Life

The 8th May is another significant date for me – it’s the date I finally finished my book last year, after six years of work. It was a labour of love though, and I didn’t spend every minute of that time on it!

Keeping us informed and entertained

If there are any upsides to this pandemic, the amount of information being provided for anglers to help them get through the ‘lockdown’ must surely be one.

Examples include some excellent blogs on the BASS website, available to members and non-members alike. Likewise the Angling Trust’s ‘Fishing buzz’ webpages. And if you want a master class in bass angling, with lure or bait, I would strongly advise you to visit Mike Ladle’s saltwater fishing diary.

A nice way to while away some time is to watch some Fish Locker videos. I’ve been watching the ones about foraging recently – very enjoyable and instructive, particularly if you have, like me, an interest in marine biology.

Thanks to James Lean for putting me onto this great podcast from Cornish angler Dave Taylor about lure fishing for bass at night. Dave’s enthusiasm, and obvious prowess, comes across in bucket-loads!

I recently read an article in Sea Angler magazine by Mike Thrussel (Issue 582, p78 – 80: Shore Species Spotlight Part 8 – BASS). Something in it really stood out: ” …note small pockets in the rocks that hold water after the tide has gone out because these are hotspots when the new flood tide arrives”. It just struck me as a really clever way of identifying those slightly deeper areas which can be so productive for bass – simple, but it had never occurred to me before.

Recent catches

Anglers in the UK have not been able to go fishing since the lockdown began. Those on Guernsey have though – for several weeks now.  Bryn Le Poidevin is becoming quite a dab hand at photography, and he sent me this gorgeous photo from one of his recent trips.

A beautiful Guernsey sunset. Photo: Bryn Le Poidevin

We all take our phones and other devices for granted these days, but it’s at times like these that you really appreciate the power of modern technology. God knows when I’ll be able to get to Guernsey again, but I’ve been able to keep in contact with my mates over there as if they were sitting right next to me! Bryn Le Poidevin and Simon De La Mare have been getting a few of late, including this nice one for Bryn.

A 3lb 8oz bass for Bryn Le Poidevin, caught on a Patchinko 125 surface plug in his favourite Holo Bait colour.

Bass fishing prospects

With not being able to get out, it’s been a frustrating time for those who like to fish the early run of bass. The main bass fishing season should kick off anytime now – in fact, from what I’m hearing, it already has. Lures, particularly surface  ones, have served me well at this time, as has crab bait. And bang on cue, the foxgloves are starting to flower!

When the foxgloves come out it’s time to go bass fishing.

Changes in bass fishing over the years

Thinking about catches in the past,  BASS are looking for evidence of how the quality of bass fishing has changed over the years. There is plenty of anecdotal stuff about this, but little actual evidence. I wrote about ‘Bass catches in the past’ in an earlier blog. If you have any information which might be useful, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the right person.

Hope for the future?

Thinking about bass fishing in the future, I’m optimistic that the 2020 year class could be a good one. A mild spring, and a run of winds with a westerly component during February and March (a crucial time for spawning), should create good conditions for lots of baby bass to make it to our coastline.

A newly-arrived ‘0’ group bass, about 3cm long, found in an estuary creek in early July.

A memorable session

We may not have been able to actually go fishing recently, but that doesn’t stop us  thinking about it, particularly those memorable fishing sessions that stay with us. These can involve a notable fish, a larger than normal bag, the discovery of a new mark, the mastering of a new technique, or a combination of events, place, time and conditions which burns itself into your memory.

One such session which I vividly recall goes back to 2003. The area where I was fishing is a particularly beautiful stretch of the Cornish coast. To add to this, there are several marks you can fish within reasonably close proximity; in fact, I used to call it “3 in 1” because you could do a circular walk and take in three marks between leaving the car park, and returning to it.

I nicknamed the second mark of the three ‘peg’, because somebody had helpfully placed a short wooden stake in the grassy bank at the top of the cliff, indicating where you can get down. I can only think this was another angler, to whom I’m eternally grateful, although I never saw anyone else fishing there. The last time I walked that way, the peg had gone, so perhaps they’d seen me fishing, and didn’t want anyone else going down there!

I managed to get down with a bit of a struggle, and headed for the water as soon as I found a likely-looking place to cast from. Conditions were superb, with clear water and plenty of ‘fizz’. I was fishing in the evening light, under a moody sky, with the clouds scudding along in the south-westerly wind.  I opted for a Jointed Thunderstick (JTS) plug, a choice that immediately paid off when a bass hit it virtually as soon as it landed, with another joining it soon after.

The classic Jointed Thunderstick in Silver Scale, with hooks upgraded to singles in more recent times.

With seemingly a few fish  around, I really should have stayed put, and cashed in, but  couldn’t  resist exploring while the going was good. Moving further along the rocks, I saw a corner where I could bring the lure back through a gulley, if I could just get down to it. I did, and guess what –  the lure was hit as soon as I started retrieving it! Sometimes exploring does pay off.

Time for a bit of experimenting with different colours and plugs. I clipped on a JTS I had painted myself with silver ‘Hammerite’ and black aerosol, to mimic the Silver Scale colour, which was so effective but not easily obtainable. First cast – bang! Confidence now sky-high, I had to try that Mean Skipper plug from Harris Angling in Blue Silk, a lure which was not unlike the Jointed Thunderstick. You guessed it – success!

I lost count of how many fish I caught before they moved on, but it must have been at least 10. I can’t recall what size they were, but it’s probably safe to say they weren’t monsters. Nice fishing though.

A hairy experience

One last thing to mention. I was beginning to feel slightly unkempt, having not being able to get to the barbers for a couple of months due to the  Coronavirus restrictions. With an uncertain end to these, I considered the possibilities. To my surprise, Angela seemed keen to undertake the task – with the clippers we use for the dog! What the hell, I thought, I probably won’t see many people for a while, and I can always wear a hat for a couple of weeks.

The ‘appointment’ was made, and despite some words about wanting to do it outside because of the mess, it all went rather well really. At least that’s what I think – you can judge for yourself. The hardest part was deciding how much of a tip to give.

Post ‘Coronacut’ – no hat required!

 

Keep safe.

Let’s hope we can all go bass fishing again soon

What might have been

I had hoped to be telling you about my early season bass fishing exploits with my mate Steve Ainsworth, hopefully blessed with one of those lunkers making their way back to their summer feeding grounds; or catching some nice Channel Islands bass with my Guernsey mates; maybe even describing the first trip to my crab traps to collect peelers.

Steve Ainsworth with an 11lb 9oz beauty caught at the end of March 1994. For the full story (including why he’s wearing a suit!) you’ll have to read my book.

This terrible disease

But the COVID-19 pandemic has put paid to all that. This terrible disease has stopped us in our tracks. How can something smaller than a speck of dust wreak such havoc on the world? Whether the cost is measured in human, or in economic terms, the scale of it is hard to grasp. This pandemic is being compared to the Second World War – it’s certainly the most catastrophic thing I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Our lives have been turned upside down, affecting our physical and mental wellbeing, our work and livelihoods, our travel plans, our interaction with friends and family, our personal freedom, and of course our hobbies. Scanning my diary, the only bass fishing-related activity I’ve undertaken since my last blog is collecting razors on the big tides just after the full moon in March.

To show a razor clam coming up after salting
A razor fish surfacing after salting.

Staying at home

But curiously, I’m not crawling the walls in desperation to go fishing (yet!). Maybe that’s partly because, by some strange coincidence, the bass fishing in my area doesn’t really get going until June anyway.

Maybe it’s also partly because my heart just isn’t in it. When you see what’s happening to people at the moment, with the desperately sad stories of those losing the battle against this killer virus, it puts going fishing for fun into perspective.  The danger that our doctors (including my own two corona heroes) and nurses, and all the other key workers, are putting themselves in, and the sacrifices they are making, is truly humbling; it’s also very worrying for them and their families.  I found this short video, Our Heroes , incredibly moving.

I’m following the Angling Trust’s guidance  that we should refrain from fishing, pending the agreement of specific guidelines for recreational fishing with the (UK) Government. I think it’s important that we all do our bit, and set a good example to others.

It’s difficult to say how this whole Coronavirus situation will play out, but it’s just possible that we might see the relaxation of some of the restrictions next month. Whether this will allow for angling, in some limited form, to take place, remains to be seen, but hopefully as we go into June the chances of this will increase. But beating this virus is the overriding priority, and we must do whatever’s needed, however long it takes.

Bass fishing in March

The only bass I’ve heard about since my last blog are the odd fish to 5lb in estuaries, and a few (mostly small) fish caught by Dan Richards on Sandy Andy lures (along with some good-sized sea trout) – in both cases these fish were caught before the lockdown .

My mate Simon De La Mare had better luck over on Guernsey in March, before the lockdown there (now updated to allow recreational fishing from the land as an open sea activity). He finally cracked a new mark, after numerous blanks, with a bass of 6lb 2oz on a black Sidewinder Super Solid Sandeel (6″, 25g) lure during daylight, with the water very dirty from a recent storm. A couple of days later, the weather had calmed down, and the tide and conditions were right to fish the new mark in the dark for the first time. On the second cast, his white DoLive (don’t you just love these things!) was smashed, and after an incredible fight, he slid ashore the biggest bass he’s had in 5 years – an 8lb 2oz cracker. Nice one Simon!

Simon De La Mare (he’s in there somewhere!) with his 8lb 2oz Guernsey bass.

Exercise

I may not be fishing, but I’m still getting my ‘exercise’ with my daily walks with Toby.  Mind you, we’ve had to cut down to one a day, around the village, under the current Coronavirus restrictions.  To be honest though, at 14, Tobes was starting to struggle anyway, so I think he appreciates the lighter routine. As much as he’d like to be down on the beach, clambering over rocks, or walking miles along the coast path with me, his poor old legs can’t manage it so well these days.

A coastal walk with Toby – in happier times.

Walking has taken on a new meaning in these strange times – it’s more about giving everybody a wide berth, and anticipating whether there’s enough room for you both to pass. It seems more like driving than walking! Most people have quickly got the hang of it, but the odd hasty route deviation is still required!  It’s still possible to chat with people though, provided you keep your 2m distance. Some people are nervous, and quickly move on, while others are keen to engage, perhaps as a consequence of their social isolation.

Keeping busy

I haven’t been idle during the lockdown. Having already completed my pre-season preparations, like many redundant anglers, I’ve been scouring the homestead for jobs that need doing – the garden has never looked so kept, the garage and shed have never looked so tidy, and the car has never looked so shiny. I’ve even been cleaning windows! As a result of all this endeavour, I’m absolutely awash with brownie points – it’s just that I can’t use them!

Freezer disaster!

While we’re on the subject of garages, Angela exclaimed “What’s that awful smell”, as she entered the hallowed man cave. “Well it’s not me dear – it must be the coat I wear for bait fishing”. But then I remembered that she had only recently washed it, almost certainly since the last time I went. “Hmmm”, I mused, slamming the garage door shut, “I hope nothing’s died in there”; “it’ll probably go eventually” (the smell that is).

The next morning I decided it was time for a tidy-up in the man cave, ready for when I can start fishing again. “Better just check the freezer while I’m at it” I thought. This was just a routine check, you understand, such as I have performed on many occasions since I inherited the freezer from a neighbour, some years ago – although I must admit that recent events have somewhat distracted me from this. Despite a slightly battered top draw, with one broken hinge, it has always performed perfectly, protecting the treasures of razor fish, squid and mackerel baits contained within.

As I opened the door, the smell hit me like one of my mate’s worst eggy farts – it really was that bad! If you’ve ever cleaned out a sandeel or fish tank, you’ll have some idea of the smell. “Christ, the bloody thing’s packed up”, I muttered, as I touched the squishy 1lb box of squid on the top shelf. The plug was still in, and the switch was down, so I guess it must have just given up the ghost – several weeks ago, judging by the smell!

As I decanted the freezer’s stinking, dripping contents into a bin bag, I wondered what the poor bin men would make of the evil-smelling mess on Monday morning. I did momentarily consider refreezing the razors (even though I didn’t have a freezer!) – they say they work even better when high, but this was more a case of advanced putrefaction. Even the hungriest bass would have turned its nose up at them – assuming they managed to stay on the hook.

So it was in the bin they went – even those 50 odd big razors I collected only a few of weeks ago! I suppose the fact that I can’t actually fish at the moment is some small consolation. If you know of anybody with a small under-bench freezer going second hand in my area (Cornwall) please let me know (not that I’ll be able to collect it anytime soon). At least my fridge is still working, so I can store any crabs I collect – if I can ever get to the coast again!

Helping to inform and entertain

I find that just thinking and reading about bass fishing helps to pass the time and lift the spirits at this difficult time. Organisations like BASS and the Angling Trust are adding extra content to their websites, to keep anglers informed and entertained during the current lockdown. It’s well worth checking these out.

Boost to bass stocks?

With markets collapsing, and restaurants closing,  commercial catches of bass will be reduced. While this will undoubtedly cause hardship for those involved, at least bass stocks might benefit, especially since some may still be spawning for a few weeks yet.

Well, that’s it for now folks. Keep safe, stay home, and let’s hope things get back to normal soon. We will get through this!