Time to go bass fishing!

When the foxgloves come out it’s time to go bass fishing – as somebody told me years ago.  There’s no obvious link between the two, yet the saying is usually pretty reliable. There’s no sign of foxgloves in my area yet, so perhaps the explains the lack of fish at the moment! Maybe they’re both feeling the effects of the cool spring.

I’m not saying you won’t catch bass before this, but if you want to focus your efforts, this is a good time to think about starting. If you want to be more specific “The second set of springs in May” is another good time to aim for.

Recent catches

After an encouraging March, April was very disappointing in terms of bass catches. Just one schoolie was the sum total of my catches from nine (mostly chilly!) sessions (mainly bait). I don’t think I was alone though, with those anglers in Cornwall who actually went fishing reporting the same. Other areas (Dorset, Wales, Sussex) seem to have  been more productive though.

Reverse migration

With so few anglers fishing at this time of year, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions, but a pattern seems to be emerging, and I would be interested in the views of others. Looking back, these catches in March are quite regular and consistent, and are probably due to a reverse migration, where fish are making their way back to their summer feeding grounds. The angler who is prepared to brave the chilly weather at this time could well hook into the fish of a lifetime.

By April, most of the fish seem to have moved past Cornwall’s shores, bringing early results to anglers further up the line. I say most, because there is still a chance of connecting with a hefty specimen down here; the odds are against you, but you could just hit the jackpot.

But it’s not until May that most of the resident bass return to Cornwall, and fishing should become more consistent. By resident, I mean those fish who habitually return every year, and spend the summer and autumn feeding in the same localised areas, exhibiting so-called ‘site fidelity’.


One of the highlights of the early part of the year for me is using the quiet time to discover new marks. In recent years however, I’ve run out of steam a bit on this. I think this is partly because there aren’t many places in my part of Cornwall I haven’t already checked out, and partly down to a desire to consolidate what I already know, and turn this into actual results.

Bit when an old and trusted fishing partner suggests looking at somewhere, it spurs you on to make the effort.  Steve Ainsworth and I like fishing the same sort of weedy rocky ground, with lots of ledges and gullies, so I knew it would be worth the effort. Without giving anything away, the ‘bassometer’ was going off the scale as we checked out the mark, with visions of great fishing nights of the past being repeated. This mark had everything – boulders for lure fishing over, gullies and flatter ground for legering. And it was so enjoyable just to be on our beautiful, inspiring Cornish coast again, now that the Covid restrictions are easing.

One area of my fishing where I  still have much exploring to do is estuary bassing. Now convinced that larger bass do live in estuaries for much of the year, working out where to fish for them is high up my list of priorities. But it’s like starting all over again, so I’m anticipating my catch rate suffering a bit. Only time will tell if this is a price worth paying,  but  I’m looking forward to finding out.

Water temperature

The relationship between bass fishing and water temperature is a complex one. Localised warm, or cool spots may cause a temporary increase, or decrease in bass activity, depending on how long they spend there, due to the fish being poikilothermic (their body temperature varies with their surroundings).

A temperature of 10C is thought to be the trigger for bass to begin feeding. Yet they will still feed in water temperatures of 7.5C, although probably less often since it takes longer to digest their food at this temperature.

When thinking about when bass fishing will really take off, I have always set more store by the time of year than water temperature (allowing for year-to-year variations), since this determines whereabouts the fish are in their annual cycle of movements – as the old saying goes, if the fish aren’t there you can’t catch them.

But once they are there, the water temperature may make them more, or less active, and make their food take longer, or shorter, to digest so that feeding will take place less or more often. Rising water temperatures may also make their inshore food more active – whether this makes them more attractive to bass is uncertain, but it will make them grow faster, providing a bigger meal for a hungry bass.

Bass surveys

We have just begun our 2021 juvenile bass surveys in Cornwall. In May and June, we’re looking for juveniles from last year, or earlier. This helps to support our assessment of the previous year’s spawning. However, since our surveys were severely curtailed by Covid last year, we weren’t able to draw any conclusions about the strength of the 2020 class, and the work we are doing now will be our main opportunity to assess this.

Our latest survey results were encouraging, which is a good sign for the strength of the 2020 class.

Measuring juvenile bass from the 2020 class. Photo: Craig Baldwin

With regard to this year’s bass spawning, I’m a little concerned about how well the larvae and fry will have grown, given the cooler temperatures we’ve had recently, and how many will reach our coast and estuaries this summer, given the run of easterlies we had a few weeks ago. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, but we won’t know until we start looking for the ‘0’ groups in August.

All the best, and tightlines.


10 Replies to “Time to go bass fishing!”

  1. Let us know how the surveys go please! I really enjoy reading your blog as you always have additional interesting tidbits… poikilothermic being todays example. I’ve not heard that word since my marine biology days at UCT in the early 80’s.

    1. Will do Greg.

      Glad you like the blogs. I do find the marine biology aspects of fishing fascinating, but then there are so many aspects of this wonderful pursuit which draw us in.

  2. I’m a great believer in using natural indicators like the foxglove. My grandfather taught me to start bassing when you see the first swallows. He was a gnarly old cornish farmer who had many a wise word to say!
    I sometimes fish in January but rarely bother with February and March . Nice to give the angler a rest as well!!! Tackle serviced ,research and a nice spot of reading in front the fire!Time to switch off and plan the season ahead. Mark those favourite tides down on favourite marks on the tide table or calendar. The simple things first, go on your knowledge and watercraft first without the hindrance of weather to think about. Chose the mark when the day is imminent and you know the weather. I have 3 days every year which I circle in my tide table as soon as I get them, they are my banker days. Days/nights that I will fish without fail as I know the big fish will turn up on certain tides and times like clockwork , baitfish or no baitfish they just appear and go again.
    The Feb/mar fish are often small and it’s nice to give them a rest that these fish aren’t manhandled and exposed to the elements . At a harsh time of year when they are expending energy just to stay alive rather they don’t need to be fighting for there lives on the end of a line. These often lean fish in lean times I do wonder if the mortality rate goes up. Juvenile fish are a little more fragile,with energy burnt off trying to escape and being exposed to air temps colder than the water they’ve come from can’t do them much good I feel. Reverse cold water shock!!!
    I’ve seen my first swallows at salcombe 3 weeks ago and have started in ernest the season of 2021! Here we go again!!!🙌😁 Tight lines!

    1. Love that about the swallows Dave – I shall look out for these in future.

      Thanks for sharing those very useful insights. Like you, I have tended not to fish in February and March, bit I’m increasingly getting the feeling that it’s worth targeting those big specimens in March (without going to extremes!). They do need handling with particular care at this time though.

  3. Have been up on the north coast near Cape Cornwall taking photos the last couple of evenings Robin and the foxgloves are up and just about to burst open. The ones in my garden are just blooming now.
    Dave said about swallows well there have been hundreds arriving over the last week here in the west. The sheltered Kenidjack Valley is full of them all feeding up after their travels.
    I see on the various osprey webcams the chicks are all hatching so surely summer will start this week.

    I’m just waiting for a bit of warmth in the air to make being out a bit more comfortable for my old bones.

    1. Great news about the foxgloves Peter – hopefully we’ll start seeing them up here (and the bass!) soon as well.

      Hopefully I’ll be able to leave the wooly at home soon!

  4. Hi Robin, up here on the north coast the saying is when the cliff pinks are out the bass are about, never know it to be true, the better fish start to move towards the end of july.

    1. Hi Eddie. Yep, sea pinks (thrift) are an iconic flower for a bass angler. I’d also heard that about the better fish coming in in the second half of July on the North; let’s hope they do this year!

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