How do you catch Bass in very rough, murky conditions?

How do you catch Bass in very rough, murky conditions?

It’s the Bass lure fisherman’s worst nightmare – amplified if you live a decent way from the coast and you’re not sure what the conditions are going to be like following a storm. You’re literally praying that the sea isn’t like coffee, or even worse, full of floating weed as you’re driving/walking to the coast. Some days (like Saturday, when I had a client booked in) it is best to walk away completely in order to guarantee yours and somebody else’s safety –  in this case, the sea conditions were just too dangerous.

Can you plan in advance?

I’m assuming here that most people don’t live within view of a Bass mark. Therefore, it’s all well and good watching the weather forecast, but unless you can see the beach from your window (I can’t unfortunately), then, even when you know your marks like the back of your hand and how they react to certain conditions – when things are extreme, what do you do?

The only way I’ve found to get a general idea of what the weather/sea conditions are like is to take at look at the surfing webcams on sites such as Magic seaweed here or to look at the webcams on the nearest Coastguard lookout station to your marks. Sometimes however, you just need to take a chance.

A recent session

Late on Friday afternoon, I was desperate to get out Bass fishing after a long week at work. Knowing that I had a session booked for the next day, I was keen to see the conditions for myself before the strengthening wind that was forecast for overnight and the next day moved in.

I chose a mark that I thought had offered a modicum of protection from the current wind conditions. On initial inspection, it didn’t bode well….the sea was very murky and there was a lot of floating ‘crap’ but it was the size of the swell that had me concerned… My first mark was a definite ‘no way’, my second a borderline maybe. I had my doubts and didn’t want to be going for a swim with my new lure rod!.. A wise move indeed as you can see in the picture below… So how did I get on and what tactics did I employ in order to catch a Bass?

Pretty rough and a huge tide = caution required

Rough seas in Devon bass fishing

What tactics should you employ?

How do you catch Bass when faced with rough seas, murky conditions and troublesome floating weed?

It is difficult but not impossible to catch Bass on lures in these conditions however, bait fishing is more likely to yield results and possibly the bigger fish. But if you’re an unwavering lure fisherman, then it can often pay to remain flexible by adjusting your approach according to the conditions.

I have found the following 3 methods can often prove successful, before moving onto method 4 – using bait:

  1. Fish very shallow, clean (sandy) ground
  2. Use weedless, paddletail lures
  3. Work the margins, don’t cast too far
  4. Bait fishing for Bass 

So lets look at them separately:

1 – Shallow, clean (sandy) ground – 

When you think about it logically, the deeper the water, the less light penetrates, the more difficult it is for any fish to see a lure in murky conditions. Therefore, unless you put the lure literally on the end of their noses, the sheer volume of water means that your chances are reduced.

If you look to fish where the depth is no more than 18 inches, then you will be maximizing the amount of light and reducing the volume of water present. Furthermore, the reason I say ‘fish over ‘clean ground’, is that if you attempt to fish in 18 inches of water over rocks/weed, then you’re likely to lose a lot of gear – weedless or not, the terminal tackle will just get dragged into the nearest snag under very rough conditions. The very shallowest of diving plugs, surface lures or indeed, weedless soft plastics are all useable however, floating weed can still be a nuisance.

2 – Use weedless paddletail lures – 

The key here is ‘vibration’ in that if a Bass is struggling to see a lure, then it is more likely to be feeding by using its other senses – in this case by picking up on the signals of a prey fish/lure designed to imitate a fish in distress. If you are having difficulty finding a clean, shallow ground mark then the type of lures seen in the images below can prove very effective, particularly if they’re bounced around slowly on the seabed. With a cone weight attached to gain distance you can make up your own combinations or use one of the many types of ‘ready made’ paddletails available (seen below). You could use lures like the savage gear sandeel where the hook is protruding, but it will inevitably pick up more weed.

HTO Artic Eel

HTO Artic Eel used for Bass

Padddletail ‘Shad’

Paddletail lure used for Bass

3 – Work the margins, don’t cast too far – 

Weedless lures are excellent Bass catchers, but as I’m sure many of us have found out, weedless doesn’t necessarily equal no weed! Yes it means we can cast into rocky weedy areas with a lesser chance of getting snagged, but when there is weed on the surface or being moved around hard on the bottom, it is often the line that collects the ‘crap’.

In order to try to combat this, another useful method is to try to fish the margins – the first couple of metres or so from where you stand however, please think safety here by picking a high stance and even consider casting back towards the shoreline when its rough. 

Again, common sense dictates that the less line you have in the water, the less weed can collect on it therefore, think venues that are no more than 6ft deep. It is the final card to play in terms of lure fishing if you cannot find either shallow, clear ground or the paddletails are hoovering up the clumps of weed being washed around in the flow. The good news is that you can fish relatively light – but with enough weight (if indeed it is required at all) to remain in contact with the lure.

Just let it move around naturally, casting into any kind of small bay exposed to the waves or undertow would be a good starting point – The lure below (a Red-Gill Slug-Gill) has worked very well in these scenarios.

Reg-Gill ‘Slug-Gill (cone head optional)

Reg Gill Slug Gill for catching Bass

4 – Bait fishing for Bass

I talked about Bass utilising their senses in item 2 above, therefore if fishing with lures is proving either too difficult or unsuccessful then give a mackerel head or lump of squid a try to appeal to their sense of smell. Both are very easy to attain (I get mine from a supermarket on the way to my marks) and are cheap.

In a similar way to above, try to find as safe a mark as possible where you can gently lob the bait into 1 – 6ft of water, preferably into a tiny bay with a clear (sand/shingle/flat-rock) bottom. You could use a running leger with a small amount of weight with a 2 – 4 ft trace however, to keep things very simple and to reduce the amount of terminal tackle on the bottom (a magnet to floating weed of course) then a large 6/0 circle hook free-lined will work well – The trick here though is if the conditions are extreme, keep checking the bait isn’t smothered by weed by winding it in, clearing it and recasting every 5 – 10 minutes or so.

Look for the positives!

What might initially appear to be a wasted trip to the coast, could turn into a red-letter day if you think about the positives below:

  • More Bass around – It is a well-known fact that there will be more Bass inshore during rough onshore conditions – good news.
  • Bigger Bass – The likelihood of connecting with that monster is more possible as these fish will be looking for easy pickings/large mouthfuls.
  • Catchable in areas you never really considered – It still amazes me, some of the venues where I’ve hooked Bass. Tiny coves or gullies that are inches deep on the neap tides suddenly become a viable option on a high spring tide and/or very rough seas. This is something that I will cover in Part 6 (Predatory Bass) of my series of how to find and fish Bass marks.

So how did I get on?

I managed 2 Bass, one small (1lb) and one of between 2 – 3lb. One was taken on the HTO Artic Eel (see the featured image at the top of the page) fished onto a sandy area that only ever gets wet on high spring tides and therefore very shallow (1ft to be precise). It was the only place that was fishable in this way in the very strong current and large waves that were increasing with every hour it seemed. Of note, is that I lost another fish that grabbed at the ‘white’ paddletail ‘shad’ lure (above) as I was about to lift it out of the water at my feet.

I then tried bait fishing as I had 2 pieces of squid with me that I used right on the top of the tide (as a bloody monsoon moved through as it happens!). I was casting it no more than 2 metres out, into 4ft of water, onto a patch of shingle that forms part of a tiny bay only 10ft across. After about 30 minutes or so, just as I was thinking of packing in, I had a sharp pull on the (lure) rod which resulted in this slightly bigger Bass (below) – Yes I’m drenched but very happy believe me!

Blimey I look miserable – and wet!

A bass caught from the shore on Bait

I hope that as the Autumn approaches and with it, the rougher, murkier seas that you still feel confident to give it a go – you never know – it could be the day you latch into a very big Bass.

Marc Cowling




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