My Year in Review 2019 – Part 1 of 2
Now that Christmas Day/Boxing Day have come and gone, and many of the associated festive ‘duties’ have been fulfilled, I imagine many of us are absolutely desperate to go fishing (I’m heading out this evening and cannot wait!). However, if the weather and sea state have combined around your local coastline to conspire to make the chances of you latching into a bass essentially futile, then the next best thing is reading about fishing or buying yet more lures in preparation for the 2020 season! So with the former in mind, now that I’ve had chance to sit down, reflect and digest the 2019 season, here is Part 1 of my ‘Year in Review.’
Old Haunts… New Approach
With the sea temperature in south Devon still hovering around the 11.5ºC mark, I was confident, in fact convinced, that there were still bass lurking… But following a few speculative sessions in daylight, and in what I would consider highly conducive conditions, I was somewhat disappointed to draw a succession of blanks – a return to what had been a ‘winning approach’ was required… with a twist!
Fishing with lures in the winter – in darkness! During the brutal 2017/18 winter and early spring I was extremely busy writing my book The Lure of The Bass and just didn’t have time to fish. But if I had intended on fishing, then it would have been a continuation of my sessions out in the dead of night, even in the snow and ice! So with high pressure and calm, sunny and settled conditions firmly in charge of our weather, I decided to make a concerted effort to return to some of my favourite and more consistent venues over the past 18 months, and with the lures that had served me so well – the needlefish, senkos and Albie Snax.
This then, was new territory for me – lure fishing in darkness in January…. But first trip out, on a night that was as still as I’d ever witnessed out on the coastline, ten minutes in I felt a slight ‘bump’ – they were here! At this juncture, I was almost expecting to catch, although I suspected it might only be a small one – something I’d have been happy about to be honest.
A few minutes later though, following an almighty ‘jolt’ through my Major Craft Skyroad and the lure pretty much stopping dead, I knew I was attached to something decent! This was confirmed when the fish ripped at least 5m of line off the drag, before eventually revealing itself to be my biggest ever ‘January Bass’ at just over 60cm (below). I added a smaller bass during this session too, which you can read about in its entirety here.
I managed many more sessions in January, most of which were successful, before a flu virus laid me out good and proper towards the end of the month! Below is gallery of some of the catches I achieved, all on the white Wave Worm Tiki-Bamboo Stick in very calm conditions – with another nice one of 55cm that commenced the Tailwalk EGinn 88M here journey that I embarked on. What would February bring, I wondered…?
The bass above was caught during the final week of February and measured 57cm – by far and away the largest I had ever landed at this time of year. What is ‘consequential’ about it, is that everything I had read and previously believed was that bass of the this size (mature fish) depart our shores to find warmer water (11ºC) in which to breed – well, this one certainly didn’t read the brief! You can read the fully story in my blog post here.
During what was a spectacularly warm and settled February (when I was in danger of being sunburnt whilst sniffing out new marks in daylight ready to fish once the Sun had set) I managed to land eighteen bass in total – mostly on the Wave Worms, but also some on the Daiwa Shoreline Shiner Z97F in choppier and windier conditions.
Predominantly, the sea temperature remained in the 10-11ºC range throughout the entire month, which I believe is highly significant and that greatly assisted me to achieve these catches. Below is a gallery of some of those fish, including one other of just over 3lb (another mature bass) that I landed on the 11th February – mid winter.
I was on a roll! But then the weather turned downright nasty for the first two weeks of March forcing me to re-think my tactics yet again, in order to keep catching. In hindsight, this actually worked in my favour, as it made me search for areas that were extremely sheltered (tiny coves tucked out of the strong, westerly biased wind and, at times, heavy rain) and where the water was maintaining a modicum of clarity.
On the 10th and 11th of March, whilst the were still Gales blowing, I started catching again, even though the sea temperature had by now, momentarily at least, dropped below that ‘magic’ figure of 10ºC (which it did so for only a week). Although these bass were tiny, the confidence it gave me to slog it out and carry on fishing (I only caught at night I must add) through the rest of the month, even when it was dire out there, was seminal from my perspective – plus, I knew it would assist me when the weather did improve and the water started to warm up.
What’s more, this period enabled me the opportunity to ‘branch out’ somewhat by virtue of thoroughly testing a bespoke lure that I’d designed myself and had built by James Lanfear of Jim’s Lures – a ‘Marc Cowling Signature Needlefish’ (the lure in the photograph above).
I won’t go into the precise details and description of why this lure looks and acts (the size, shape, colours, weight-to-size ratio, sink rate and swimming action) the way that it does, because rather than having it handmade out of wood, I am currently in the process of testing out hand-poured plastic (and therefore slightly heavier and, importantly, 100% uniform) versions of this needlefish lure – watch this space as they say…
I nearly forgot! I also found the time to create my own YouTube Channel – a platform that I aim to use far more in the future, in conjunction with some exciting projects planned for the 2020/21 seasons…
Back to the catches in March then, and as the weather improved significantly and remained so, as try as I might, despite landing a lot of bass in March on my self-designed Needlefish, the Shoreline Shiner, Whiplash Spittin Wire and, of course, the white Wave Worm, I just couldn’t crack the 3lb barrier. Pretty much every bass that I landed, bar the first two of the month, were in the 1-2lb range – still fantastic for March of course,! But I reckon there were much bigger ones out there… My blog post depicts some of the catches here, in addition to a few theories of mine following what was an exceptional start to my 2019 campaign, and one that I really, really enjoyed!
I guided a couple of clients during the first half of April, and on each session we landed a few small bass, both in daylight and in darkness. Additionally, I ventured out a little more in daylight myself and was rewarded with a few modest bass – taken on the weightless, weedless soft plastics OSP DoLive Sticks (see below) from some of my rugged reef marks and over pure sand rather interestingly…
After landing a couple of small bass on surface lures in March and on what had been one of my lures of the 2018 season (the Whiplash Factory Spittin Wire), I was keen to experiment with their use once things warmed up a touch. Alongside some brilliantly bass-filled sessions in early April when utilising the Wave Worms, again during some very calm and tranquil nights, it was the capture of a number of bass on these exceedingly consistent surface lures that really got my juices flowing!
Some of the takes were literally within two seconds of the Spittin Wire hitting the surface! Yet, the most exhilarating aspect to fishing at night with a surface lure (while raising the rod tip up high and simply twitching them sporadically) was the intense levels of anticipation! To hear that splash out in the shadows, in conjunction with the rod hooping over really did it for me – what a way to catch a bass! Below is a gallery of some of the fish caught by this method.
Back to the guiding, and it was a contrasting approach that saw the first good-sized ‘client bass’ landed. Just before and during that glorious Easter weekend a Father and Son team joined me for a session. On a day when the weather returned (fleetingly) to something resembling the summer of 2018 Chris (the Dad) latched into his first ever bass on a lure (below).
The lure he used was one that I’d taken a shine to after spotting it in his box (a Duo Press Bait Kamuy) – a pattern/lure type that would prove to be very consistent when fished on a ‘sink and draw’ retrieve. Furthermore, it was particularly effective when utilised in deep water, over a clean sandy seabed and during the spring and early summer – when the water temperature remained below average. Indeed, the rather chilly and unsettled nature of the weather would caused me to reschedule a series of sessions during the final week of April – annoyingly so…
At the start of May the season, as expected, really began to kick off. There appeared to be bass everywhere, due in all probability, to the huge numbers of sandeels present (the greatest amount I had witnessed for the past 5 years). It was more a case of fighting our way through the small (1lb) fish to get to the better ones at times though! Below is a catalogue of client catches from the first half of May.
With the water still on the cold side, it became apparent that only a limited array of lures were attractive to the bass – ranging from my self-designed Needlefish and the Wave Worms by night to the metal jigs (such as the Savage Gear Seeker) by day/dusk. But as we entered the third week of the month an influx of larger bass arrived – with the biggest one (the 68cm brute below), rather unfortunately for my very understanding client, utterly destroying his Spittin Wire while I was having a few casts and he ate a biscuit and drank a cup of tea! (I felt so guilty about this as you can read all about here).
A few days later I welcomed the three anglers who would form my first 3 Day Package party of the year (Den, Henry and Michael). Thankfully, the weather kind of behaved itself, and the amount of effort these guys put into their fishing was rewarded appropriately (see below) – the full story can be read here.
Between my guiding commitments I managed to fish a number of ‘new’ venues in darkness (marks that I’d been champing at the bit to fish all winter) and was cock-a-hoop to discover that they contained some very nice bass (see below) – again, please follow the link to read the full story here depicting these events.
Where’s the warmth!?
I really shouldn’t be wearing a woolly hat at night in June, let alone during the day! Yet, with daytime highs, at times, only reaching 12ºC and the sea temp not far off of that figure, even though the bass lure fishing was ‘good’, I felt it hadn’t yet clicked into gear properly… I was waiting (and hoping) for a heatwave!
During the first week of June, and when it was decidedly chilly, I welcomed a returning client (Andrew) back to south Devon. For the first two days it was a real struggle, but after scouring my diary entries for previously successful strategies and venues in these conditions, during the final evening/night session he managed to land nine bass – with the largest the 5lb+ stunner below (full story here):
Next up, the weather attempted (yet again) to scupper my plans with the clients for my next 3 Day Package. However, despite an afternoon/evening of un-forecasted thunderstorms (in which we had to cancel an entire session) and some unseasonably cold and windy weather throughout, my clients still managed to land some cracking bass (here) Moreover, one of the clients (Alan) had a very good bass escape, when it grounded him in some weed before shaking the hook… Below is some the catches they achieved within those few days with me:
With my guiding and the associated writing and promotion of my season now in full swing, my personal sessions began to take a back seat. However, upon sneaking out ‘mid-month’ to a favourite cove of mine, I latched into three absolute ‘trains!’ It was a pity I only managed to land one of them (below) and incidentally, this was the evening that the roller-bearing failed on what had been an excellent spinning reel for me – the Abu Garcia Revo MGX here.
At last!!!! Summer finally arrived during the final 10 days of June, and the bass (as I suspected they might) reacted accordingly. Once again, it was another returning client, this time a spritely 70 year old (Paul) who kept up with (and then some!) as we went about hunting down a lunker! On what was one of the most perfect evening’s fishing you could imagine he landed a personal best bass of 66cm (below) in addition to another over 50cm and many other smaller ones. What wonderful moments these are to treasure and that are captured here – although only in part of their glory, as I’m saving the full story for a future project…
Many more clients enjoyed themselves (via catching lots of 1-2lb bass, many of which were their first ever on a lure) in the latter stages of June. However, a definite highlight was when a client of mine (Jack) landed eleven bass in one session (including the trophy fish that latched onto his lure in the final casts of the session below) whilst retrieving his needlefish within a tide race, but where the seabed was essentially pure sand – his story can be read and full here.
The events herein are noteworthy, in the sense that I began to realise more and more at this stage in the season that I/we were catching more bass over a clean seabed than over reefs and weed. This is a huge shift from the two previous seasons when we’ve fished with lures in darkness and something that I have a theory about…
The best was yet to come though! As the first continuously settled/sunny days and 23-25ºC air temperatures arrived, they coincided with the arrival of three clients who’d met the previous year (on one of my 3 Day Packages) and that had decided to arrange to fish together once again on one of this year’s packages.
Angus, Rob and Tom timed their visit to perfection, as I believe that the bigger bass, who’d possibly waited longer to spawn, were now utterly ravenous. What’s more, now that the sea temperature had increased significantly in a short space of time (courtesy of the increased air temp) their metabolism was off the scale! What transpried was a magical 12 hours, in which the largest bass that a client has ever caught with me (a big-headed but exceptionally thin 73cm fish landed by Tom) broke my net and three further fish of 56, 60 and 66cm respectively were celebrated (below). All the tactics and moments are captured in my blog post here.
Conclusions and theories…
I’ve mentioned the weather and sea temperature a lot in this post for good reason – it really does affect the bass, or rather what they are feeding on, a great deal. For example, when I was catching those bass in January, February and March I was splitting my efforts 30% daytime and 70% darkness – yet nearly all of the catches were achieved at night. Something that I noticed, and consistently so, was the amount of fry (immature fish seemingly prevalent and flourishing in the warmer sea temps perhaps) right in shallow and margins, but only at night – I believe the bass were almost exclusively feeding on this nutritious food source.
Then there were the sandeels (that I began to notice in early April) and my switch to metal lures fished vertically rather than horizontally. Although there was an abundance of slender, silvery fish around our shores, I believe that, due to the relatively low water temp and therefore, supressed metabolism of the bass, that they just weren’t ‘up’ for chasing anything moving in a straight line (horizontally) through the water. Yet a lure that mimicked the fluttering/shimmering of the flank of a sandeel amongst a large shoal was pounced on – and consistently so.
Finally, why did I/we struggle when fishing, at night, with lures, over flat expanses of weed and reef – the type of venue that had yielded so many bass in the two previous late spring/early summer periods? Cuttlefish. Or rather the lack of them – a suspicion that was confirmed by my diver friends. Could the supressed air and sea temperature have affected their inshore migration?
Yep, I really do think that bass are on the lookout (at night especially) for these meaty bass treats that venture into very shallow water at this stage of the year to breed – which leads me onto why I believe the needlefish have been more deadly (think of the profile or side view of a cuttlefish compared to a needlefish) earlier in the season… just a theory!
Like the 2018 season (when it remained bitter up until the final days of April and then transitioned from winter to summer within a week) as soon as the water temperature rapidly increased by a couple of degrees, it simply switched the bass on – that urge to feed avidly augmented the possibility that some the bigger females spawning later than normal, and by their metabolism shifting up a few gears.
In Part 2
In Part 2 I will describe my endeavours from a guiding perspective, in addition to my (few and far between) solo ventures during July through to December. Also, as intimated, I have a number of additional theories relating to how the bass reacted (their behaviour) to certain occurences this season, and I will also expand on the succcesful techniques associated to what was, overall, an excellent season, but one that wasn’t without its challenges.
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