My Year in Review 2019 – Part 2 of 2
Hot on the on heels of Part 1 here is Part 2 of My Year in Review (July-December). Enjoy!
Playing hard to get…
Now that summer had finally arrived and the first 7-8lb bass had been landed, I was rubbing my hands together with excitement at the prospects for July! However, it has to be said that the first couple of weeks were somewhat of a disappointment from a ‘size of fish’ perspective – as my clients only managed to catch a series of small to modest-sized bass during what was a settled, warm and sunny period of weather when I expected better to be honest.
Had the bass migrated quickly along The Channel coast with the increasing sea temperature? Were they offshore and following the last of the sandeel or first of the large mackerel shoals? Or were there other reasons perhaps, as to why the larger stamp of bass weren’t located in the areas in which I was expecting them to be – based on past form, time of year and the overall conditions? I really wasn’t sure, therefore, sandwiched in between a planned break from my guiding for a week, I decided to fish a stretch of coastline slightly further afield, in the hope that I could locate a pocket of better fish.
It was around this time that I started experimenting with the black and blue-flecked Wave Worms here – fished either in bright-Moon conditions, or more especially, in twilight. Success! Not only did the black worms work (very late into dusk) but this session was also a welcome reminder that if I could find these ‘pockets’ then I/we would connect with them.
Next up was another one of my 3 Day Packages, and boy did we put in some leg work and dodge some terrible weather – all in conjunction with some rather unsociable hours! But, alongside facilitating and accelerating people’s learning during these packages, there is also the laughs and camaraderie created – more so when the anglers don’t know each other incidentally. And it was one the guys (Kev), who despite snapping his Tailwalk EGinn on the final session, landed the best bass of the 3 Days (report here) at just over 5lb (see below):
The weather began to slip back into that rather unsettled theme again (onshore winds/rain) during the final week of July, therefore, with it came a shift in our tactics and more of an emphasis on fishing at dawn, daytime and dusk. Embracing the fizzed-up, aerated, confused, but still essentially clear sea conditions, hard diving minnows came to the fore in daylight, with diminutive surface poppers and sliders doing the business in low light conditions and when/where the sea was invariably calmer. Below is gallery depicting some of the events:
Follow that fish!
In the final few days of July, what is an annual event occurred – the sprat arrived. Going through my diary entries however, it appeared they’d turned up between 1-2 weeks early… I was keen to capitalise on this, as it can spell an intense period of bass feeding activity, often for weeks on end if the pressure is high and the sea calm and clear. On a monster of a spring tide, I nipped out for a few hours to a sandy beach and enjoyed a brilliant little session on the Wave Worms (see below):
A couple of days later, I experienced one of my favourite guided sessions of the season when I met a very experienced coarse angler called Aaron. If I thought I loved my fishing, this guy was in a different league! But although he’d been hugely successful at catching carp, pike and trout, consistent catches of bass on a lure had, so far, eluded him.
Pushed literally up into the bushes by the height of the tide (on the same sandy beach that I’d landed my collection of bass a few nights previously) Aaron landed two bass, of close to 5lb each, within a 30 minute window (see below) – a fantastic result in the end (that you can read in full here), given that’d he’d spent hours listening to and applying everything I’d been yapping about for the other 7½ hours of the session!
Throughout the month, it really was a case that if I could find or follow the baitfish (sprat, that were rarely visible on the surface) by day then we would ‘clean up’, with multiple catches of bass enjoyed by many of my clients. Generally, these were, again, the smaller ones that may have snatched the surface lures or smaller 80-100mm hard diving minnows we were often utilising before their older, wiser and more substantial (lazy) counterparts could get to the lure – we’ll never know of course…
Something was beginning to bother me though – the amount of seals (as loveable as they are) sniffing around ‘my marks’ and the subsequent lack of bigger bass due (I believe) to their presence… Below is a gallery of some the bass that my clients did land when there were clearly baitfish, rather than seals, in the vicinity!
Towards the end of the second week in August, we experienced two unseasonably stormy events. And as the low pressure systems moved though, probably the worst wind direction for me (a straight southerly) blitzed large swaves of my local coastline. Indeed, for long periods in August, even when the sea did settle back down there were either unbelievable amounts of tiny weed fragments in the water and/or clumps of seaweed heaped up on the beaches – both of which made it exceptionally difficult to fish at times.
On the final day of the month, and a hot, sunny one at that, I grabbed the opportunity to fish one of the largest tides of the year as it flooded over a reef with a variety of old and new surface lures. It was a session that I look back on and smile, as it was fantastic to witness those swirls and savage takes in daylight (having complete so much night fishing!) although it was a pity that I lost a big bass (6lb+) at my feet…
Now we’re talking!
Having spent well over 25 years chasing bass, with lures, around the wonderful south Devon coastline, in the back of my mind I knew that this season hadn’t really ‘fired’ yet. That period in late June (that I covered in Part 1 of my Year in Review here) when the air and sea temperature soared had, thus far, been the highlight, interspersed with some memorable sessions that I (as the guide) and they (the clients) had really worked hard for – harder than I’d anticipated I don’t mind admitting.
What was also slightly concerning, was that areas (clusters of marks that are generally consistent) appeared to be completely devoid of bass, whereas some venues that hadn’t been producing in the past 5-10years, that I knew intimately and used to fish regularly prior to becoming a guide, were (happily) returning to form. Or was this just a case of me having improved as an angler and adding more effective methods to my skillset? Pleasingly, many of the new venues, that had produced bass for me during the previous (and surprisingly bass-rich winter, kept on yielding bass – proving that exploration and experimentation pays dividends in the long run.
As the kids went back to school and the holiday makers dispersed, the Devon lanes became quiet(er) and the Devon bass fishing became frantic! A complete novice (Darren) who’d “only been mackerel fishing a few times” enjoyed a red-letter day (read the full story here) after I’d taught him how to ‘walk-the-dog’ with the frankly brilliant Whiplash Factory Spittin Wire (try fishing it slowly and with a belly-rolling action to those of you out there yet to catch on them) when he landed a 5lb+ bass within the first 10 minutes of the session (below):
A few days later, during that beautiful spell of settled weather during the first half of September, my client (and someone I’d definitely call a friend) Paul returned in style… On a night when the tide was a tiny neap and the ¾ Moon lit up the entire coastline he latched into the second largest ‘client bass’ of the year when the 70cm/8lb+ beast nailed his white Wave Worm (what else) in less than 2ft of water covering, primarily, a clean seabed (below). You can read the full story about this marvellous ‘bronze-backed’ bass here.
Paul followed up this capture a week later when he landed a further six quality bass, this time on a gloriously sunny and warm morning, on an ebbing tide – all on the IMA Salt Skimmer here. Seemingly, the combination of the last of the sprat shoals being ‘mopped up’ by the terns and bass, alongside the exceedingly clear, and still, very warm water served to create superb ‘surface lure’ conditions.
Just before the weather broke, and the first of the autumn storms arrived, I completed my final 3 Day Package (the dates of which for 2020 will be released within the next fortnight) of the season. I’d guided Becky (yes, a female angler) in August and I’d joked that she would ‘out-fish’ the Men during these sessions – which indeed she did!
A number of bass were caught by all three anglers, but the culmination of Becky drawing on all of the tips and techniques she’d acquired during the sessions with me to latch into and land such a stunning bass (below), at dusk, on the black Wave Worm that really inspired. The story can be read in full here.
Surface lures reigned supreme late in the month and during our daylight forays, more so in any calmer interludes or environments. Conversely, it was the hard diving minnows, as expected, that accounted for many of the bass in the rougher, murkier sea conditions and, again, the white Wave Worms that produced (despite trying other lure types) when I could find water both clear enough and calm enough to guide my clients in darkness.
One of those clients (Stuart) managed to land well over 20 bass (the gallery below summarises the events) during his three day visit from Scotland, when the weather (sorry to bang on about it!) was horrendous – the full story can be read via my aptly named ‘Storm Force Bass’ blog post here.
Varied – to say the least!
After five weeks of watching my clients catch bass (I’d fished once in September) I was dying to go fishing. I landed six, which although only in 1½-2½lb bracket felt so dam good – my time would come later in the month however…
Once again, with their metabolism raging, in conjunction with the now above average sea temperature and the copious amounts of baitfish still present, the bass were making hay as it were. In many of the scenerios that my clients and I faced, whatever the conditions and wherever the circumstances (the type of mark), it was the surface lures that where getting ‘hammered.’ Indeed, I wrote a short two-part series (here and here) describing their use in the variety situations we found ourselves in – below is a gallery of just some of the catches achieved:
Mid-month, and following a week when things had gone a little quiet on some of my more regular venues, a decided to guide my next client (Martin) around a stretch of coastline that would enable him to cast and retrieve a multitude of lure types within conditions that I anticipated would vary considerably during the 8 hour session.
Commencing with the ideal lure for the initial conditions (an IMA Salt Skimmer to mimic the immature mullet/bass that were occasionally ‘topping’ on the surface) it took a matter of minutes for him to catch and release the 4lb bass below:
As the tide began to ‘scream’ past us (we were fishing close to the mouth of an estuary) a change of tactics was required, by virtue of ‘bouncing’ a jig-head and paddletail combo along the seabed with the current. Once again, within minutes Martin was ‘walloped’ by the very angry 61cm bass (below) – the full account of this memorable session can be read here.
So how did I get on in October? To say that I maximised the time available to me is an understatement, as time, in addition to the windows of what was becoming a soggy autumn were at a premium… Most of the half-a-dozen occasions that I did venture out involved the alarm clock going off at some ungodly hour, but do you know what – it was worth it! My recollection of these sessions, in which I landed numerous bass of between 4lb and close to 7lb can be found here with a ‘happy’ gallery below:
Wet n’ Wild, but ocasionally wonderful…
Four days of torrential rain at the start of November (that wasn’t bloody forecast!!!!!!) scuppered any chances of my clients’ arranged sessions taking place, let alone any chance of connecting with a bass… Therefore, for the first time in 3 years of guiding, I was forced to reschedule a whole weekend’s worth of trips.
What was equally frustrating, was that it was highly probable there were ‘big bass’ swimming and hunting around the south Devon shoreline – it was just extremely difficult to place my clients safely into regions where they were more likely to catch them. Although none of my clients landed a bass over 3lb in November, I am proud of our exertions and accomplishments (only two blanks in sixteen sessions) during the battering we took out there at times.
To assist my clients to catch a bass on a lure in very murky and often rough seas (conditions in which they hadn’t succeeded before) on metal lures, hard diving minnows and paddletail patterns with jig-heads gave them and I a certain level of satisfaction. However, this was somewhat tempered by the fact that, because I had the (rather guilty) luxury of living very close to the sea, and therefore, being able to head out at a moments notice if and when the conditions and tides aligned, I managed to catch a number of bass in the 4-5½lb range throughout November.
After landing a clutch of small ones early in the month, the larger Insane Creations Bass Slayer accounted for the chunky 60cm bass (below), plus one other over the spring tides in the second week of the November. This fish hit the lure on the drop, late into dusk and just as the full-Moon rose above the cliffs and illuminated the area. The full story of this session can be read here.
My next solo mission saw me traipsing through a wooded valley at 2′ o’clock in the morning, in order to fish a tiny cove that I hoped would have remained relatively and clear in order to fish the fresh flood. Thankfully it was worth the effort, as I managed to extract two bass during this session – one of 54cm and the other slightly larger at 58cm (below) although I’d have much preferred one of my clients to have caught these fish.
Further catches of small bass were made by my clients in the second half of November, but it was another foray that commenced during probably the best afternoon’s weather for weeks that crowned my month. What had been a dire and predominantly ‘wet n’ wild’ month ended on a high as the modest bass (below) snatched my Spittin Wire from right under feet early in the session.
Once darkness set in, a move to a nearby rocky platform, in order to fish an old snaggy haunt of mine proved to be an excellent choice. I hadn’t fished this mark for some time, but after interrogating my records, looking for the patterns/indications of when the bass tended to move through here, it was rather pleasing to land two bass of 57cm and 63cm respectively (below). The full story of this session and my previously successful outing can be read here.
A happy ending
I was utterly determined to place a client onto a December and therefore a winter bass. And with a returning client (Steve) due to join me during an extremely welcome lull in the Atlantic Storms, during which the sea cleared and calmed enough, I was confident he’d catch something worthy of a photograph. It took almost all of the 8 hours and a fair few miles walked and driven, but we got there in the end courtesy of the bass below. The story of this session can also be read here.
“I have to make the most of this settled weather”, I surmised, as I decided to take a bit of a punt on a mark that I really like the look of, but that I’ve fished extensively in daylight and had yet to register a single bite on! I am mad, yes, but to me, the specific feature set with a reef system here just screams ‘bass in darkness.’ I have to admit to being a little dumfounded if somewhat gratified, as the venue produced five decent-sized bass within a short session, including one of 58cm (see below). A clear photograph of this feature (a gully essentially) in addition to my description of the events can be found here.
The horrendous weather and the associated sea conditions put paid to my final ‘planned’ guided sessions scheduled during the second week of December. However, I was in essence, contented – the reason being that I personally feel my 2019 guiding season ended the way I was hoping it would – well and truly on a high.
It wasn’t for the size or numbers of bass caught that this session was special, more so because my client David (a man who had lived with Parkinson’s for 15 years, and therefore, has difficulties with his balance) bent my arm and requested that we head out, even though the sea conditions were borderline to say the least – more in the sense that it was very murky, rather than dangerous I hasten to add.
It was, quite possibly, his Megabass Zonk Gataride lure that saved the day, more than my choice of venue! But either way, I was just delighted to have assisted a gentleman who is determined in his desire to go fishing, no matter what, and to land a handful of lovely winter bass (below):
Conclusions and theories…
No two years are the same when it comes to chasing bass with lures, but this year has been a strange one – primarily because many previously consistent marks just didn’t produce. Yes, bass can be exceptionally predictable at times, alongside being equally frustratingly – it is exceedingly far from an exact Science, no matter how many diary entries I make, I completely accept that. But by being out on the coastline as much as I am, over the course of a season, and in addition to scrutinising the notes that I take and from chatting to my fellow fisherman, patterns do emerge. These are my conclusions and theories…
Seals! I have never seen so many seals patrolling the south Devon coastline… Day and night, open coast and even a long way up some of the estuary/river systems. At times (and there were many) they seemed to follow me! I remember waking at least half a mile around the shoreline to get away from one, and I swear the bugger watched us do it and then popped his head up again as soon as my client cast his lure back into the water! I know some anglers say that seals are a good indicator of fish stocks, but I doubt any self respecting mature bass (that’s been on this planet for at least 5 years) is stupid enough to remain in situ ready to be eaten.
Displacement. Are bass intelligent enough to alter their habits and avoid certain areas where seals have taken up residence – I think they are, as daft as I may sound. I believe this could be part of the reason why many of my ‘great marks’ didn’t produce anything over a couple of pounds in weight during 2019 – regions where I witnessed seals for the first time ever.
It is possible that a particular shoal or group of bass that regularly frequents a specific stretch has been scooped up by a net (although not necessarily from that exact location and rather whilst transiting from one area to another) – Yes. Or that the topography of the seabed has changed in some way, and is therefore, no longer attractive to the bass – indeed, my diver friends report a lack of seaweed on certain reefs, due to it being ripped up by the storms – could either of these be a reason why the bass have been absent on some venues?
Weather. The spring was cold (bar the Easter weekend) and the summer a real mixed bag of thunderstorms, temperature fluctuations and strong winds – and the less said about the dreadful autumn the better! Comparable to the comments I made (in Part 1) in relation to the cuttlefish migration during the spring, and how this could have affected the bass behaviour, something that I believe had a detrimental affect of the fishing was the two deep low pressure systems that arrived around the 10th August…
That annual influx of mackerel chasing the sprat, more often than not, coincides with a period of warm, settled weather, whereby the sprat are corralled closer and closer to the shoreline – culminating in evening after evening of gluttonous feeding as the bass attack both species. However, just as the sprat were becoming established in early August, two unseasonably windy spells effectively ‘pushed’ the sprat shoals either further out to sea, or further up The Channel perhaps – and where they go, the bass will follow… Remember, these are just my theories, but it appeared to me that there was a definite lack of good-sized bass around south Devon in July and August, or maybe they just eluded us?
Happy New year!
Overall, it was a very satisfying season on many levels in which hundreds of bass were caught and safely released by my clients, including numerous ‘PB’s and dozens of them caught their first ever bass on a either a certain lure type or lures in general. I would like to thank my family and friends, Sea Angler Magazine, Svendsen Sport UK, Osborne & Cragg in Plymouth and the online stores Lure Fishing For Bass and Veals Mail Order for their continued support.
Moreover, I would like to thank everyone who reads and supports my blog, plus every single one of my clients (some of which travelled from as far afield as The Netherlands, Belgium and France) for their receptiveness and perseverance. The challenges that I/we face whilst attempting to track down and ultimately catch what is a tremendously wild and remarkably wily predator is what makes holding, admiring and returning one of these beautiful sporting species all the more special – I can’t wait for 2020. Happy New year to all of you!
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Book – ‘The Lure of The Bass’ by Marc Cowling
A modern approach to catching European Sea Bass on lures by Marc Cowling.