Analysis of my bass fishing diary – Part 9 (Sea State)

Analysis of my bass fishing diary – Part 9 (Sea State)

This is Part 9 of a 12 Part series in which I will share my thoughts, conclusions and overall personal experiences of bass fishing over the past 8 – 9 years, from the south Devon coastline. In the remaining parts of the series I will also cover:

Part 10 – Air pressure
Part 11 – Rocks, Beaches and Estuaries
Part 12 – Which type of lure?

Note – Please bear in mind that any conclusions I make in this series are based purely on my own experiences and my diary entries. I am positive that there will be many similarities in the hypothesis of my fellow bass lure anglers, or indeed, just as many conflicting or contradictory observations – I look forward to the debates!

Why 8 – 9 Years? Please go to Part 1 (Tide Heights) where I explain.


Watercraft… If you look up its meaning you’ll find all manner of explanations ranging from ‘a skill in aquatic services or water sports’ to ‘a boat or other vessel that travels on the water!’

What I’m taking here though is about learning and understanding how the elements (wind and tide especially) affect the sea state and the clarity – which in turn affects when and where fish (bass) will feed. Furthermore, this also links into deciding which lure(s) to attach, where exactly to cast within a specific area, plus decisions such as when to remain steadfast and persevere on a mark or conversely, when to move on and try somewhere else! All these things add up and make a huge difference.

Closely related to two other vital elements that I’ve covered earlier in this series (Water Clarity and the Wind speed/Direction) is the actual sea state. So once again, I’ve been burning the midnight oil whilst analysing my dairy entries, so that I can share my thoughts, conclusions and experiences.

What are swell conditions?

A common occurrence around the Westcountry coastline (or any part of the UK influenced by or subjected to Atlantic weather systems) are swell conditions. These are created when a storm (and the associated strong winds and surge) often hundreds of miles out to sea, push large waves or patterns of waves towards our shores. Another occasion when you can expect swell waves is following a low pressure system that has transited the UK and the winds have subsequently decreased.

Not surprisingly, I have noticed that the larger waves tend to be around exposed headlands or the extremities of large beaches, and the waves always appear to increase in size and regularity on an ebbing tide. Of real importance, is that you do not need a breath of wind where you are actually fishing to experience swell waves.

So why do I mention them in relation to my bass fishing? My theory is that bass use the sudden increase in water movement (and in particular the associated aerated, white water present) to raid the food rich shoreline, looking for items that have been ‘caught out’ or even ‘flushed out’ of the relative safety of a rock pool, underwater ledge or weedbed…

NOTE ***Be very wary of these conditions as they can be very dangerous for the shore fisherman. Proceed with real caution as it can appear flat clam for 5 minutes or so, and then 6 or 7 large waves approach the coastline completely swamping an area. My advice is to stop and watch first before venturing out onto the rocks in such circumstances***

Flat calm
Flat calm on a beautiful evening to be out fishing – but will the bass still bite?

Sea State – My thoughts, conclusions and experiences

Below is a table whereby I have collated my diary entries into a simple format, in order to display the percentage of bass caught during the specified sea state conditions:

Sea State Graph

The results above form the following conclusions:

  • The immediate thing that stands out is just how even the figures are! Very interesting…
  • Calm seas generally mean clearer water however, in south Devon (and all around the Westcountry coastline) you can still expect excellent water clarity in choppy and swell conditions – we are very fortunate in this respect compared to say Sussex or Kent. Therefore, I am not surprised to see a high percentage of catches outside of when the water is calm.
  • When you consider that choppy or rough conditions are generally created by onshore or crosswind conditions, then the combined percentage of 55% is in the region of the 63% of bass that I have caught when the wind direction was either onshore or a crosswind (see here).
  • The 22% catch percentage for bass caught in calm conditions is higher than I thought it would be. In previous seasons, I would tend to fish at dawn or dusk when it was calm – which is a good time yes, although I don’t fully subscribe to these periods being ‘the best’ time to lure fish for bass. There could however, be another reason for the higher figure (more on that below).
Choppy cross wind conditions
A choppy sea a on a showery day – the sort of conditions that consistently produce.

My experiences:

  • There could any number of reasons why the catch rate figures are relatively even across all sea state conditions. But the most obvious one is that I do fish (and attempted to at every opportunity whilst preparing to be a guide) in a wide variety of conditions.
  • Linked to the above, I have added the 2017 figures into the equation, during which I completed less personal fishing than previous years, but lots of guiding. This is significant as my clients would often dictate when they could fish and had chosen the dates well in advance therefore, I was forced into guiding across a broad spectrum of sea state conditions.
  • Without a doubt, if I’d only taken the figures up the end of the 2016 season then the percentage of catches relating to calm sea states would have been lower than 22%. But considering 70% of the catches my clients and I made in 2017 were made in darkness, when the sea was mostly very calm and very clear, has had the effect of ‘bumping up’ the percentage. Ultimately, bass fishing when the sea is calm and therefore, most likely clear appears to be far more productive at night, than during the day.
  • A choppy sea is quite often created by a strengthening onshore wind heralding a weather system following a period of calm settled weather – these are favoured conditions of mine especially early and late in the season.
  • Similarly, and as previously mentioned, a swell can be created following a period of unsettled weather, when more bass are definitely inshore and feeding strongly (in day time at least).
  • A swell can also be created when the largest spring tides occur, again (depending on the mark) these have been times when I’ve often had a red letter day, which in turn can alter/skew the figures.
Swell conditons
What I would term as ‘swell conditions’ – calm one minute and white water everywhere the next! An excellent combination for the bass lure fisherman BUT BE CAREFUL.

To conclude

I mentioned watercraft at the start of this post for two reasons: Firstly, being able to adapt to the sea conditions is paramount to consistently being able to catch bass on lures on the open coast. Secondly, and this goes hand in hand with the sea conditions – being able to pick a venue or mark that is most likely to produce on a given day, can make the difference between a blank and a memorable session.

Thanks for reading.

Marc Cowling




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