November Bass Fishing – A great time of year.
Following almost relentless East and Northerly winds, that had the effect of completely flattening out and clearing the sea here in South Devon, the wind finally swung around to create more lively, onshore conditions. So how did this affect the Bass fishing? Positively!
A truly stunning dawn in South Devon – worth getting up early for
Hatching the plan
As ever with me, I had been hatching this particular lure fishing escapade for a good few days. The wind and rain had really hammered the area for the two previous days therefore, I knew the sea would be a) rough and b) murky… I was correct on both counts, and even though it didn’t look particular daunting from a ‘standing on the rocks perspective’ at dawn (the picture above was captured in between the swells), once the tide began to flood and the wind increased, it really did become quite wild (see below).
I’m a sucker for trying out new marks, and as this mornings tide was a small flooding neap (high water being 4.4m on the Yealm Entrance scale), it seemed logical (to me) to test out 2 or 3 marks for future guiding purposes.
So 0530 saw me scrambling for the alarm before it woke my very understanding Wife… too late… By 0600 I was pulling on my waders, adjusting the head-torch over my woolly hat and checking the leader-knot ready for the half-mile hike along the squelching, muddy coastal path and down across the rocks.
The first mark is a stretch of rocks, some 300 yards long that run parallel to the direction of the current. It drops off into fairly deep water (15 ft at low tide) with kelp and the odd sandy gully also running parallel. Close to the main area of rock, there are large boulders or slabs in which the waves break – ultimately creating some nice oxygenated, fizzed up sea conditions.
Having only studied this mark on Google Maps, I was relatively unsure of the exact geography of the area therefore, once content that I was high enough above the swell I opted for a large, very obvious surface lure initially – the Storm Chugbug. Through the gloom, I could make out an area of very turbulent water where the current and waves were foaming around a slab of rock some 15 ft x 10 ft in size and began to cast right in amongst it – unable (at this stage) to make out the lure splashing down on the surface – to no avail.
As the sky began to lighten and the tide started to flood, I gradually and methodically moved around the 300 yard stretch, casting into what I considered were likely areas where a Bass might be waiting for an easy meal…. Not a sniff, not a swirl, nothing….
With two brand new Daiwa Shoreline Shiner Z 120F 19g lures burning in the back of my mind I was desperate to get one onto the lure clip. These lures have served me really well in the past. They cast extremely well (up to 70m it says on the packet and I wouldn’t argue with that), they swim between 1 – 2 ft beneath the surface, are stable in medium to rough conditions and are, most importantly, fantastic Bass catchers….. normally.
Casting and working my way back along the reef, by this time with the swell becoming bigger and more regular in addition to the flooding tide, I was very confident of latching into a Bass. As it became even lighter, I could now make out that the sea was very murky indeed, with only 6 inches – 1 ft of clarity close into the rocks – not normally a show-stopper by any means, but with absolutely nothing to show for the early start (apart from some nice pictures) and relatively long walk, I decided to move another mile around the coast to my next venture into the virtually unknown…
The size of the swell really increased with the flooding tide
Trial and error – what do they want?
The next mark I wanted to try is another deep (by my standards) water mark that suited the sea conditions perfectly I thought. It is a gully, some 30 yards across that is very exposed to Southerly through to North-Westerly winds and again, around 15 ft deep at its entrance (at low tide), with a mainly kelp/rocky seabed. It is the type of mark I like to fish in rough sea conditions as the depth of the water means it doesn’t generally ‘murk or silt up’ too much in comparison to a shallower sandy mark. Additionally, there are many stances on either side of the gully that are well above the high tide/breaking waves height – just as well!
I always wear an automatic buoyancy aid Airflo Wavehopper Fly Vest Life Jacket when I’m out fishing/guiding which, even though is obviously not a guarantee of safety, is considerably safer than wearing nothing. By the time I reached the gully the tide was approaching the 3rd hour mark – the sight here was quite impressive. A huge 6 – 8 ft well was pounding the outer edges of the rocks again creating some magnificent foaming, boiling, aerated sea conditions – it literally screamed of Bass.
As the rocks at the entrance of the gully were taking the brunt of the swell, the area in the centre was actually considerably calmer by comparison – it appealed to me that the Bass could possibly be waiting in the turmoil so firstly, on went a small surface lure in an attempt to mimic a small disoriented fish splashing desperately trying to gather itself… after 20 minutes – no attacks.
Next onto the lure clip went a Rapala Max Rap Long Range Minnow. This is slow sinking lure that casts very well into the wind (especially when you slow the cast down a bit) intended to represent a small fish slowly dying, trying to revive itself, before slowly sinking down again…. another 20 minutes passed – nothing again.
By this point I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be one those days when the conditions look great, but the Bass are just elsewhere. I was progressively being pushed higher up the rocks and further back from the entrance of the gully, so a change to a 35g small ‘brit like’ spinner was introduced to the proceedings.
I have caught some really decent Bass by fishing ‘spinners’ and even though it appears an almost ‘ancient’ or an unfashionable method in comparison to the casting out the modern weedless soft plastics or high performance (expensive) finely tuned lures of the moment, they certainly still have a place in my lure box (and that of most other Bass anglers I suspect).
However, it was all to no avail – Even my ‘lure of the moment’ the Illex Nitro Sprat 90 (14g) was given a dunking, at range, fished in a ‘sink and draw’ and straight (or linear) retrieve. The Bass had to be somewhere – it just looked too good for them not to be on the feed.
Note the ‘turbulent’ area of water inside the gully below
If all else fails – trust your instinct
I had one more mark to try – another mark that I had never fished before in my life. A nearby tiny cove (50 yards wide), beautifully exposed to a Westerly wind where the seabed is exclusively of sand – would the Bass be prowling in such an area? 4 ft deep and being battered by the waves like a washing machine on spin – would the Bass be there mopping up anything unfortunate enough to be getting smashed around?
You bet they were! First cast with the Illex Nitro Sprat still attached – the intention being to slowly bounce it back across the seabed either towards me or drifted/lifted occasionally to look natural in the flow of the wave movement – whilst maintaining contact…. Bang! I could feel the unmistakable head shaking of a well hooked Bass and with the fish staying relatively deep, I was hopeful that it was a decent one.
First cast, wallop! – 3 lb Bass
A repeat performance and then…
A quick picture and another 3 casts later saw a repeat performance ending in a near 3 lb Bass (no picture as I was on a hot streak here!) – a 40 yard cast, let the lure sink to the bottom until you feel the rod tip (set at 45 degree angle) bounce upwards slightly, signalling that the lure (jig-head) has made contact with the seabed. You then commence that ‘pull up’ (by 6 inches to 1 ft in this scenario) of the rod tip and slow ‘drop down’ retrieving the line steadily at the same time.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to fish these superb ‘paddetail’ lures and so long as you maintain contact and feel for the lure hitting the bottom occasionally, then you won’t be going far wrong. Indeed, the next Bass actually nailed the lure as I began to steadily retrieve it off of the bottom – in my experience a very common part of the retrieve when you get a solid hit.
Things went a little quiet for about 10 minutes and I was starting to think about heading home. However, a slightly longer cast aimed across the cove at ‘right-angles to my stance and the natural wave movement/direction saw the Nitro Sprat vanish into the surging swell. The two previous fish had taken the lure worked back towards my stance after being cast out at a 30 degree angle to the rocks and by bouncing it back in with the waves. However, the plan here was to let the paddletail lure ‘drift’ around in the natural ‘power’ of the waves, moving the lure around almost in the same way as you would by allowing it to drift down in the current of an estuary.
By keeping the rod tip slight lower and by occasionally lifting the rod tip up by no more than a few inches, I was able stay in contact with the lure. After about 30 seconds, I felt a very subtle ‘pluck’ and a very, very timid tap, tap….. I lifted the rod sharply and the fish really thumped with that fantastic head shaking and power jolting right through the braid, the rod and through my right hand/wrist, taking a couple of feet of line for its efforts – a great feeling!!
I knew instantly that this was a larger Bass, as it stayed remarkably deep at first and I did very briefly wonder if it was a Pollack or large Wrasse as I drew it closer to the rocks, but on breaking the surface it did the usual parallel swim for freedom 2 yards out from the rocks before I could manoeuvre it safely (by judging the swell) onto a slightly higher platform, before nipping down to grab it.
This Bass was in spectacularly good condition – absolutely perfect in every way. Fins bristling, gills flared and determined to place at least one of its spines in my hand – which the bugger did….. right in my thumb (blimey it hurt!). I estimate it weighed close to 5 lb, certainly above 4, but as always, I was eager to get it back into the water after a few ‘selfies’ with the timer set to a 10 second delay on the camera.
Stunningly beautiful – there is no other fish like it in my humble opinion
When in doubt – try to think clearly
Difficult I know when you’ve been up since the crack of dawn, have walked a few miles and have fished for hours on end. However, by sometimes taking a step back, sitting down for 5 minutes (eating a pasty as I love to do when out fishing!) or just by going through your lure box and taking the time to think about the conditions present or were the Bass might be feeding, can often pay dividends.
By fishing 3 separate marks, trying different methods and by using a variety of lure types I eventually got the formula correct on this particular day – and boy did I learn an awful lot about this stretch of coastline. Not only is it proof that Bass can, without doubt, be caught over the neap tides, but it’s also further evidence that Bass can and will ‘nail’ lures in murky conditions. Maybe the scent (shellfish booster) on those Nitro Sprats played a part? More food for thought I guess.
Thanks for reading. Marc Cowling