My Year in Review 2018 – Part 1 of 2

My Year in Review 2018 – Part 1 of 2

What a year! With that amazing summer, meeting some wonderful people in the course of my guiding and, of course, writing and publishing a book all being highlights. Here is Part 1 of my ‘Review of 2018’ – a year in which I took the plunge and became a full-time professional bass lure fishing guide.

Dawn south Devon
The panorama following an all-night session seeking out those bass – how could anyone resist photographing such a stunning sunrise.

Jan – April

A lot of Admin!

January was primarily a month of exploration and completing my Tax Return rather than fishing. There were a couple of days/tides in late January and early February when everything looked ‘right’ in which I embarked on testing out a few marks new to me (as I often do in winter). But it was the extremely positive reaction to a blog post I wrote here, and that I initially intended would be the first part to a nine part series that really got me thinking…

Epiphany

In late February, as I walked the cliffs during a freezing cold but beautifully crisp blue-sky day that I decided that I would do something I’d always wanted to do – attempt to write a book about lure fishing for bass from the shore (more on that in Part 2).

It was around this time, following the decision of the publishers of Total Sea Fishing Magazine (whom I had written for on a monthly basis from April 17 – Jan 18 here) to disband and cease distributing this resource, that I had a conversation the Editor of Sea Angler Magazine here about coming on board as a ‘Features Writer.’

My first article for a publication that I had thoroughly enjoyed reading since my teenage years (Mike Ladle was an inspiration to me and still is) was written in February and published in Edition 556 (April – May). I am very proud and feel privileged to write for them, and have subsequently written a further five articles this year encompassing how to catch bass early in the season, in darkness, when the water is rough and on those sunny bright days, in addition to how to adapt during a session – all back copies can be found here.

Sea Angler
The Title Page of my article in Sea Angler Magazine (Issue 561) about how catch bass on lures in darkness.

Lure Fishing For Bass (Online Store)

A high percentage of the lures that I was purchasing were coming from the online store (and what I would describe as a ‘one stop shop’) the Lure Fishing For Bass website here. So when I was approached by them, with a view to me writing a fortnightly blog post for their site alongside their lure descriptions, whilst (very importantly to me) being able to retain my impartiality and to still be able to ‘link’ elsewhere (in relation to lures and equipment sold) that I jumped at the chance. All of the blog posts that I have written since the 1st April can be found here.

Freezing… Literally

The blizzard that hit us here in late February was extraordinary! During mid-afternoon on the 28th February the air temperature was minus 2ºC and the wind was gusting up to 90 mph at the Coastguard Station situated at Prawle Point (the most southerly point in Devon). What was even more extraordinary is that three weeks later it all happened again! Surely, following these extreme events (for south Devon and the UK in general) the weather would balance out and become warm into April… Did it heck!

Bar a brief ‘heat-wave’ between the 15-17th April (when I noticed the mullet appeared), ‘nature’ whether that was on the land or in the sea appeared to be well behind. schedule. I remember vividly standing on a beach at dawn in the final week of April with four layers on, gloves and a woolly hat and feeling colder than I ever had whilst fishing and wondering when winter would relinquish its grip. Ultimately, the prolonged cold had a detrimental effect on the sea temperature, and it took until the very end of the month to reach and remain above what is often the ‘trigger’ on my marks – the magic 10ºC.

South Devon coastline
A spectacular sunset during an early season session for me. Conditions looked good, but there certainly didn’t appear to be any bass around!

It begins (at last!)

I lost a decent bass a few days after that warm spell in mid-April – that I actually thought was a wrasse until I saw it (such was the subdued nature of the battle in the cold shallow water). But I eventually started to catch (1-2lb) bass from an estuary mouth during the final week of April – which is the latest date in the new season in which I’ve started to consistently find them and four weeks later than the year before when a good bass was landed by a client at the end of March during the 2017 season here. The difference I believe from this year to last was that the water temp had reached 10ºC in mid-March. Bizarrely, it seemed like we went from winter straight to summer in the space of a four days at the start of May – and nature responded magnificently!

May

Needlefish and Albie Snax (what else!)

My two lures of the season from 2017 had been the Jim’s Lures Needlefish here and the Albie Snax here. And with the weather now unbelievably sunny and settled, and with it the sea unbelievably clear, I was happily drawn back into chasing bass in the dead of night – nailing a few good-sized bass during the first week of May.

 

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The following week, one of my clients latched into a near 6lb bass on an Albie Snax from a mark that I’d had him stood only a few hours previous in daylight and over low water – an occurrence that would be a continual theme (and one that I really enjoy facilitating) over the course of the season.

Big bass from South Devon Bass Guide
A client who has become a good friend with an early season brute! New to lure fishing, he had fished all winter and into the early spring with very little to show for his efforts (except crucial experience) so he certainly deserved this one! The full story can be found here.

With the weather glorious and my tan improving by day, during the next set of high tides to fall in darkness I managed to land some nice bass – primarily on the sublimely consistently Albie Snax. A ‘good week’ was how I described it in my blog post from mid-May here.

 

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Another regular and very pleasing aspect to the season was the number of Fly, Trout and Salmon enthusiasts who were heading down to south Devon for a guided session with me – a new breed of client if you like alongside my many returning clients. Without a doubt, bar some dodgy casting techniques (I had to get that one in!) these anglers, who are extremely skilled within their own field do make very ‘natural’ bass lure fisherman – the two gentlemen below being classic example from May.

 

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June

Big ones! Plus my ‘3 Day Packages’ commence

A lure that I was extremely curious about, and that I’d only used fleetingly during the second half of 2017 was the Savage Gear Line Thru Sandeel here. It is highly likely that the reason the ‘Line Thru’ is arguably more effective within the estuary systems (most of my bass in April were caught on them) is due to the higher concentrations of sandeels within them. Clearly, this is what these lures imitate superbly.

With one of these brilliant casting and life-like lures attached – right at the end of two days of guiding a father and son combo (Peter + Colin) and following a few much smaller bass landed on a variety of lures, Paul latched into the whopper below!

Big bass south devon guide
A 69cm bass that was actually hooked just outside of its mouth! I think it was a miracle that he managed to land it, especially given that it just about fitted into my net! The full story can be found here.

The two nights either side of guiding these two lovely gentlemen I enjoyed two of my best sessions of the season. I landed five bass on the Albie Snax that were of a very satisfying average size (the largest at 64cm) on one. And then, during another short session from an estuary mark, I landed only one bass, but one that was probably slightly bigger/longer tan 64cm. I didn’t physically measure it as she’d taken (again the SG Line Thru Sandeel) quite a way down and I was keen to return her quickly and safely. All six of these bass are in the gallery below:

 

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My first 3 Day Packages – 3 Days Guided Bass Fishing for 3 Clients incorporating 6x 4 hour sessions (in daylight and darkness) in addition to 3 Nights Accommodation at the Chillington House Hotel BB here for £499 per person were completed in June to (I’m pleased to say) rave reviews! My client testimonials page can be found here.

Bass Fishing Holiday
Dusk, as three of my intrepid bass explorers get their bearings ready for a full on onslaught once it became dark. I will be releasing dates very soon in relation to my 3 Day Packages for 2019.

The first package was completed between the 12-14 June here. Small bass and pollack were caught, followed by one of my clients losing a good bass in darkness during one session, and another client losing one in daylight that hit the lure hard and went off like a train before snapping the line. Thankfully, in between these two ‘lost fish’ one of the guys extracted the dark backed beast below (measuring 60cm+) taken on a large surface lure in a turbulent sea – conditions he said he wouldn’t have had a clue how to approach before these sessions.

 

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The next 3 Day Package took place a week later between the 19-21 June. With the sea conditions beautifully calm and clear there was an emphasis on lure fishing in darkness, and boy did the bass respond! All told, 19 were landed with an inadvertently ‘silver’ needlefish – inadvertent because the outer skin had peeled off of the lure when it had been lost on a reef for two weeks and then recovered!. On the first night, six good bass were landed with the largest at 70cm (below).

Large seabass from south Devon
A monster! This 70cm bass (that I estimate to be well over 8lb) was one of six landed by the same client despite fishing alongside two others. Was it his very consistent style of retrieve or the ‘silver bullet’ as it became to be known that made the difference?

Over the next two nights a further 14 bass were landed, with the spoils being more evenly shared (relatively) including something that I was hoping would occur – a double hook up! Below is some of the highlights from what was a memorable few days for all of us – the full story can be found here.

 

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My final 3 Day Package in June (26-28th) was enjoyed by three friends from the Salmon fishing fraternity. Rather than complete six ‘four hour’ sessions they had stipulated that they only wanted to fish three, and from venues that didn’t involve any hikes! Some great laughs were had, and sharing their experiences including catching bass up to 4¾lb on needlefish from a surf beach, in 12-18″ of water under a Moon that was more like a floodlight will live with me forever. The full story can be found here but below are some highlights from those sessions.

 

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There’s always the story of ‘the one that got away’ and this season some very good bass have escaped – some when I’ve even had my hands on them as you’ll read in Part 2! But by far the funniest reaction (even though we were both gutted at the time) was witnessing an avid Fly-Fisherman lose what was most certainly something special – given the amount of line it took off a tight drag. He did catch two bass that night though and I’m sure he’ll be back next year!

Fly fishing for bass
A very nice bloke who was very unlucky not to land a fish of a lifetime (by the way it was fighting). At least he did catch his first ever lure caught bass during the session, and I know for a fact that he has been well and truly bitten by the bas lure fishing bug…

A session I remember well was a night when the Moon was gradually illuminating the cove my client was casting into. Because of the high cliffs, one half was lit up completely, whereas the other side was still in the gloom entirely. He caught three bass during this session from a mark that has two gullies running directly into it. The beautiful near 4lb bass below was the largest, taken in the dark zone incidentally.

Shingle beach for bass
One of my favourite ‘grip and grins’ from 2018 – what a fantastically receptive client Garry is!

July

The month of ‘firsts’

Something that is exceptionally rewarding as a guide is assisting a client to their first ever bass – whether that is in darkness, on a lure or just their first ever! Witnessing and sharing those moments is utterly fulfilling, and I lost count of the amount of ‘hugs’ I received from almost complete strangers whilst out on the rocks or on an otherwise deserted beach in the middle of the night! Below is gallery capturing some of those moments.

 

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An occasion that deserves a separate mention however, was when one of my clients (Mark) hooked into and subsequently landed his first ever bass on a lure, following a 16 year break from fishing altogether! I remember hearing the rod ‘flex’ in the pitch black as what transpired to be a very nice bass of 68cm (7lb+) took the battered silver needlefish lure at a range of 40m. What a battle it was, and Mark did a great job under intense pressure, as the bass was hell-bent on taking line and then swimming towards him. A gallery of the event is below and the full story can be read here.

 

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Conscious of the self imposed requirement to complete writing my book, edit it and self-publish it, my initial target of late August was looking increasingly unlikely therefore, my personal fishing opportunities had to take a back seat. It was a case of grabbing short windows of opportunity when I could and they invariably occurred at night. Luckily, as the vast majority of my clients were wanting to sample lure fishing in darkness for the first time, by July I was practically a nocturnal animal!

Fishing at dusk
Scenes like this were very much the ‘norm’ from early May until mid August.

 

I caught a number of 2-3lb bass when I was able to head out, but two sessions standout. They were both very sweaty affairs whe the fish landed fell to the brilliant Ablie Snax and Jim’s Lures respectively.

Mac Cowling Bass Fishing Guide
Sleep, write and edit by day – attempt to catch a bass by night was my mantra during July outside of my guiding! This ‘perfect’ near 5lb bass was one of four that I managed on surface lures in daylight and soft plastics and needlefish once the Sun had set.

I couldn’t fish again after the capture of the fish above for a further two weeks. But that session did yield my biggest bass of the season at the point measuring 67cm (7lb). I caught two that night, and significantly they were both hooked from a very specific mark (a target area/feature the size of a car) at a very precise stage of the tide (2-2½ hrs into the ebb on a tidal range above 4m) and when the air pressure had decreased by 7Mb in the previous 12 hours (a good omen in my book). The full story of my bass catches in July can be found here but below is a nice photograph of the seven pounder.

Marc Cowling Devon bass fishing guide
At times, big bass can be remarkably predictable in their behaviour. This was one of a number of 5lb+ bass that my clients and I hooked from a very precise location and within a particularly short period in the ebbing tide during the first half of 2018.

In Part 2…  The season shifts up another gear entirely with dozens of bass caught within short sessions including a haul of 34! Plus increased catches in daylight, big ones lost (urrrggghhh!) and with surface lures really coming into their own as the sea temperature reaches its peak.

Have a wonderful Christmas and thank you very, very much indeed for reading and following my blog and bass fishing and guiding endeavours – it is really appreciated.

Thanks for reading

Marc Cowling

 

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