Just when you think you’re having a great bass fishing year, you get brought down to earth by a whole list of things conspiring against you, over which you have no control.
The most obvious of these is the weather; we seem to have had one blow after another, creating big seas, and restricting when and where you can fish. And it seems to have rained for most of the month! Now, I’m not a fair weather fisherman, but standing in pouring rain for hours just doesn’t do it for me. So when I see those two little drops on the BBC Weather App, it’s feet up and watch the telly time for me.
Feeling the pressure
One aspect of the weather is atmospheric pressure. In November the pressure was low (below 1000 hPa) on 14/30 days, and the average was only 1001 for the month, significantly lower than previous Novembers. When the pressure is dropping you can get good fishing, but if it stays low it seems to put fish off feeding. The other thing about low pressure is that the tide doesn’t go out as far as the tide table predicts. This can prevent marks being accessed safely over low tide, or mess up a bait collecting trip.
The rough conditions have made me turn my attentions to the calmer estuaries for bass fishing more. I’m still in the information gathering, trial and error, lots of legwork phase. I’m looking for somewhere I can catch big bass, in calm conditions, and preferably during the day. Let’s hope my efforts pay off in the long run, but as yet, despite some promising leads, success still eludes me.
Despite getting out whenever I can, catches have been poor for me in November. This is particularly frustrating, especially at a time when big bass are on the cards. Whether this is down me persisting with big fish baits, at the expense of lure fishing; to not having the conditions to fish the marks you know well; to the atmospheric pressure, or to changing migration patterns, I don’t know. It’s worth checking out landings of fish at your local port to see what bass might be feeding on, or drawing them away from the shore. For example during the week ending 15.11.19, 1300 kgs of cuttle (‘black gold’ as they’re known) were landed at Newlyn. The only consolation is that most of my other mates in Cornwall haven’t done very well either. Some have though – Richard Brandon had his best month of the year, with 9 bass to 4lb+ on bait, and Simon De La Mare in Guernsey managed 77 bass, including 8 over 5lb – all on lures. I’d be interested in any comments from other anglers about their bass catches in November.
The netters are out
But maybe there’s another explanation for the poor bass fishing I’ve seen this month – gill nets. It’s currently illegal to target bass with gill nets, yet we know this is widespread under the pretence of fishing for other species. Reports from anglers in other parts of Cornwall, and elsewhere, suggest that whole areas of the coast are, at times (like now), effectively closed off by gill nets. Not only does this damage bass stocks, still in a precarious position, it puts wildlife, such as seals, dolphins and birds, at risk of slow and painful death. They also prevent commercial hook and line fishermen from earning a living, and prevent anglers from catching a bass – they can be set so close in at times that they are within range of even lures! A couple of recent trips serve to illustrate my concerns about nets.
At last some success
Despite fishing a lovely wind sea, perhaps a foot or two, and no weed, I wasn’t expecting much, in view of recent results. After an hour with mackerel baits, it looked like my suspicions would be confirmed. Time for a change of bait, I thought, but should I stick with the fish theme, and try a Cornish sardine, or use one of those juicy crabs I collected from my traps last week? I opted for the safer option, and loaded the 6/0 Viking with a couple of shore peelers; they seemed to be peeling well mid-November, and I wondered if the bass would be in tune with this. I made a modest cast, just far enough to clear the odd rocks dotted about the sand, took up the slack, and waited……….
Contemplating the brooding Autumn night sky, a definite tug on the line brought me back to the here and now. A second tug was met with a swift sweep of the rod up and back, but there was no resistance. Interesting I thought, better check the bait. The dollop of crab had been pulled down, and a bare patch betrayed the attentions of a fish. Since the bait hadn’t been out long, I topped it up with another crab, and lashed the whole lot together with bait elastic.
No more than five minutes after casting out, I had another bite; but this was much bolder than the last, the type you hit instinctively – and hard. Yep, fish on, and putting up a good scrap, as I brought a pleasing 55cm bass through the surf.
Time to experiment?
With bass like this around, I just had to try a sardine. I’m all for experimenting, but after 20 minutes without a bite, I decided it was time to go back to crab. I loaded up with a couple of decent peelers (not cheap if you have to buy them, especially compared to sardines, but worth the money), and cast out to the junction of rocks and sand.
I didn’t have long to wait to see if the fish were still there – the rod slammed over, and this was met with an automatic strike. Yep, fish on, and kicking strongly, as I wound her in. She was putting up a lot of resistance, and I had to adjust my grip on the little multiplier handle to keep her coming. Slowly but surely, I brought her towards me, until she was there – a beautiful 61cm bass (5-8 weighed) laying on the sand. Not the big one I am looking for, but very satisfying, particularly after my recent bass drought (apologies for photo quality).
If only we’d known
A couple of nights later, I was back at the same mark, this time with my mate Steve Ainsworth. The tide had built from a neap low water, to a medium spring; the sea was a similar height, although more of a dying, erratic swell than a busy wind sea. Hopes were high, but despite two of us fishing for 3 1/2 hours, with a range of baits (crab, mackerel, squid, bluey, razor) we caught nothing – zilch, nada, diddly squat, blankety blank! Who knows why this happened, but to not even catch the odd fish, I reckon there must have been a net out in front of us. We were probably completely wasting our time; if only we’d known this before we started. So frustrating and disappointing!
An encounter with a feathered fisher
My efforts on the coast have not been without incident though. Take the night Paul Wallace, Richard Brandon and I were bait fishing with bass legend Alan Vaughan. Alan was just telling me how he holds his rod pointing down at the water, so that any bites are not absorbed by the bend of the rod, when I heard a loud squawking noise to my left. “What the f**k is that” , I said. “It’s a heron” said Paul,” it must have flown into my line!” Fortunately he managed to release our avian piscator friend, and all was well. I expect he blanked as well though!
An encounter with a whiskered fisher
On another occasion, I was changing lures when a hissing noise drew my attention to this, amazingly camouflaged, little fellow among the rocks:
As you can see, he wasn’t best pleased to see me, hissing and baring his teeth! He was a few yards up from the high water mark, and with the tide on the turn, I couldn’t see how he was going to make it back into the sea. I took my coat off, thinking I could pick him up and carry him down to the water. I moved towards him, but he was having none of it, and I decided to leave well alone.
Call for help?
Anglers sometimes curse seals for scaring the fish off, but they are amazing creatures, and such an integral part of the marine environment. I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to help this one, reflecting that it would probably die; many pups do at this time of year – this is the harsh reality of nature I guess. But it played on my mind, and I called Dave Jarvis from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) in the morning. Yes, they can come out in the dark if needed and safe to do so; and yes, the fact that it was an inaccessible, unnamed beach, a mile or so from the road was not a problem.
After speaking to Dave, I decided to go back down to the beach, and if the seal was still there, to call out the BDMLR. But it was nowhere to be seen. Presumably the morning high tide, with the building sea, had allowed the stranded seal to get back in the water. How long it would have survived, if indeed it had lasted the night, I don’t know. At least I’ll be better prepared next time I see something like this.
A load of bullocks
On another occasion, I arrived at the field above the cliffs to find a herd of chunky-looking ‘cows’, instead of the usual cuddly sheep, huddled around the gate. “Bullocks!” I thought, I’m not letting them stop me going fishing. I took a deep breath, and gently opened the gate. The young fella leaning against it jumped back, which made all his mates do the same, rather unnervingly. I slowly, but purposefully, entered the field, not thinking about what I would do if they decided to turn nasty; you can’t let such considerations affect your fishing now, can you?
As it turned out, the boys were fine, and I made my way to the top of the cliff. I had worn my Rockhopper studded boots, anticipating a slippery descent after all the rain we’ve had. But I hadn’t anticipated that some helpful person would have cut the rope! Without this, the prospect of getting down the cliff was a daunting one, and getting back up even more so. I hesitated; was all this trying to tell me something? Bugger it, I’m not giving up now, I thought.
Slithering and sliding, I made my way down, with the odd brush with the nettles and brambles. But despite fishing for 2 1/2 hours over dusk and into darkness, with a selection of lures, in nice conditions, I only had 1 small fish on momentarily. Maybe I should have listened to my inner voice after all. On a happier note, I did manage to get back up the cliff, and the boys took no notice of me, even with my head torch on.
A fair deal for anglers
The annual EU Fishing Opportunities meeting is fast approaching. It’s vital that we make the case for a fair bass bag limit for anglers in 2020. Even if you feel passionately about Catch and Release, it’s important that you support this. Don’t inadvertently play into the commercials’ hands by allowing them to get higher catch limits at our expense, thereby damaging stocks when they are still far from safe.
Save Our Sea Bass have once again come up trumps, and produced a very professional, informative and helpful resource with which to make your feelings known to the fisheries officials very easily. Please visit their website and support this campaign.
And if anybody asks for your vote in the General Election, ask them what they’re going to do to ensure that anglers are given the proper recognition they deserve, and are allowed to play a meaningful role in shaping fisheries policies and management.
To make an ongoing contribution to the campaign for more and bigger bass, learn a lot about bass fishing, and get to know other bass anglers, why not treat yourself to a subscription to BASS for Christmas; it could be the best £25 you’ll spend all year!
Don’t give up on the bass just yet; depending on where you fish, there is still a chance of a good fish over the next 6 weeks or so. Let’s hope the weather doesn’t mess things up too much! Tight lines and I hope Santa brings you that big one for Christmas.
Please check out my gallery for more of what I’ve been getting up to this year.