Bang on cue, and as anticipated in my last blog, the bass fishing has finally taken off. Even though I’m not expecting bassing to become consistent until August, the doubt and uncertainty about the state of the bass stocks, fuelled by several months of very patchy fishing, hangs over you. We used to get some good fishing in June before the early summer hiatus when the fish went offshore in search of baitfish, but this seems to be a thing of the past. Presumably this is linked to climate change in some way affecting the movements and habits of bass. The recent hot weather certainly seemed to have brought the fish in, along with numbers of mackerel and spider crabs.
I started hearing regular reports of good numbers of bass being caught at the end of July. On the first day of August, a combination of a moderate SW wind and backing tide after dark saw me eager to visit a favourite mark.
Once it got fully dark the fish started biting. The first three came on shallow-diving plugs up to and over dusk, the remaining six on soft plastics (DoLives/Swimsenko/Gravity Stick), fished weightless and weedless – great sport! Interestingly, the smaller fish (38, 39,40cm) seemed to come earlier in the session, with the bigger ones (45,48,50cm) coming later. Whether this was due to the increasing darkness, the stage of tide, or some other effect, I don’t know.
I probably dropped as many fish as I caught on plugs. Like most thinking anglers, I always analyse situations like these. The lost fish came off just as the fish thrashed about as they sensed the shore approaching. Readers may know that I change all the hooks on my plugs from trebles to singles, in the interests of reducing any damage to fish. This is not a problem in terms of hooking fish (except perhaps for small ones), and until recently of landing them. But a change to barbless hooks made me wonder if this was the cause of the problem.
A lot of fish about
Another session a few nights later saw me among the fish again. With calmer conditions, I started off with surface plugs. There must have been a lot of fish about, as the very first cast produced a great splash on the surface. The action continued into darkness, when I decided to switch to soft plastics. I finished up with four on surface lures (a 9cm surface walker pencil type plug acquired from Bass Pro shops many years ago – as per featured image), and three on 6″ DoLive Sticks. The fish were of a slightly better average length, with three around the 50cm mark, presumably from the good 2014 class which is steadily growing in length.
Again, I was having problems with fish coming off at the end of the retrieve on plugs. I reckon that about 50% were shaking the hook out as they approached the rock I was fishing from. I don’t think this was helped by me having to stop winding, so that I could grab the leader and bring the fish up the rocks – several tip breakages in the past have taught me not to lift fish (even of modest size) with the rod.
Keeping the pressure on
This momentary loss of pressure on the hook hold must have, in some cases, allowed the fish to throw the hook. The third fish dropped off just in front of me, and in my haste to grab it before it escaped, I stamped on my rod tip, breaking about 6 inches off the end – ironic really, given my concern to avoid this by not lifting the fish!
I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop me fishing, especially with so many fish evidently about. I managed to continue without the tip ring, albeit with a few line problems, and land another four fish.
What to make of all this? Well I’m convinced that losing these fish is due to using barbless hooks, so I’m re-evaluating whether to continue with them. It’s so much quicker to release a fish with barbless hooks, and easier on you if you get one in your finger, but losing that percentage of fish is not really acceptable, and you might just lose that big one. The answer is to keep the pressure up constantly, never letting the line go slack – but this may not always be possible.
The following night saw me returning to the same mark. I’ve never been one to tempt fate, but it seemed daft not to revisit the scene of my success, with the tides still being suitable and there being so many fish about in the general area.
The air felt cooler than the night before. I don’t know if this affected the fishing, but I ended up with fewer fish this time – five. All the fish came on DoLive Sticks, and about the same stamp as the night before. No lost fish this time – this never seems to happen with soft plastics, which are always fitted with single hooks, but then I guess the hook is more integral to the lure.
I couldn’t resist having a final cast on a surface lure in the dark. I’ve had good fish like this before, and wanted to see if I could repeat it. I had hardly begun the retrieve (‘walk the dog’) when the plug was walloped and what felt like a good fish was on – but just as briefly off again! Not a clincher, but it shows that this is good method.
Poppers and sliders
A couple of weeks later saw me fishing a shallow reef. The plan was to catch the last hour or so of daylight, fishing with plugs, then switch to soft plastics after dark.
But which plug? There was a nice little sea on, with quite a bit of white water. A bit too shallow, even for a shallow diver, and too rough for a slider (I use this term to refer to any surface plug which doesn’t splash or spit water in front of it). So it was on with an old favourite, the Aile Magnet Popper 105; you can see from its flat face that it’s designed to cause quite a commotion in the water – just the thing to get it noticed in rougher conditions.
I worked my way along the reef, casting every 20 yards or so. I cast as near as I dare to a large rock sticking up. Using my usual turn-stop-turn retrieve for surface lures, I caught a splash out of the corner of my eye. Was that a wave hitting a rock? Another splash really had me focussed now. Go on, go on -take it! Bang, fish on! Feels like a good one too.
She gave a very good account of herself, but after a few tense moments I slid her ashore – all 60cm. Just as well I kept the pressure on, as without this the 1/0 barbless single hook fell out just as she came to rest on the sand. She looked a real beauty – the photo below hardly does her size or appearance justice.
A 44cm bass on a DoLive stick in the dark hinted at things to come, but disappointingly that was it for the night.
Juvenile bass surveys
The surveys we do in Cornwall have been running for nearly 30 years now. As in all fields, things change and it’s good to look at what you’re doing from time. Our brilliant group of volunteers give up their time and effort to conduct these surveys, so it’s important to make as much use of the data we produce as possible, and the more robust it is the better. Maximising bass recruitment, by identifying and protecting habitats where juvenile fish develop, is as important as making sure that stocks aren’t overfished. To this end, I’d like to see surveys like ours carried out more widely. Steve Colclough is a national expert in fish ecology in estuaries and salt marshes, and I asked him down to Cornwall to see if he could help with these points.
Steve gave a very interesting talk to the Helford Marine Conservation Group, and joined us on one of our surveys the following day, demonstrating some of the equipment he uses and imparting very useful insights. All in all, a very useful and interesting couple of days, and we look forward to working with Steve in the future.
The survey itself was disappointing with only a few of this year’s bass seen.
Bass Fisheries Management Plan
I took part in the ‘Collective Intelligence’ on line debate, hosted by Policy Lab, as part of the process for developing the Bass FMP. It was interesting to see the many statements being presented for voting on, not least because it gave a real insight into what’s important to commercial fishermen. There was an obvious divide in the statements along commercial and recreational fishing lines, the latter seemingly having taken more trouble to engage with the process. I don’t envy anyone with the task of finding a consensus among all this, but let’s hope they can.
Thanks for reading and tight lines,