My Recent Catches – The Needle has landed!
The air felt especially humid as I stepped out of the car for phase two of what had already been a fantastic session here courtesy of the 60cm bass I’d landed (amongst the others) to the surface sliding lures. Waders, boots, hat and sunglasses were already donned as I made the now ritual ‘double-check’ that I still had my drink, my head torches and, of course, my lures. Slamming down the boot and arming the car alarm, although I’d checked the weather forecast (zero chance of rain was predicted), as I looked up into the late evening sky the cloud formations were telling me quite the opposite – it looked and felt decidedly thundery to me…
On the previous night session, it was highly apparent that there were a lot bass very close inshore, and that they were feeding avidly – proven in the capture of a dozen bass on my self designed ‘Signature’ Needlefish here. But as marvellous as this session was in regards to the satisfaction I experienced from catching a haul of bass on ‘my lure’, they were all somewhat small to modest in size – tonight, I wanted to meet their ‘Mum!’
Following a mesmerising walk that undulates around a very ‘craggy’ section of coastline, and the type whereby you really do need to keep an eye on your footing, as I made my way around the headland and down the crooked and overgrown path I could hear the roar of the swell before I saw it. “Wow!” “That is impressive” I said to myself, as a series of humps in the water rose up over the outer ridge of sand present on this mark, before turning, breaking, fizzing and hissing a further 50m right up to my wading boots as I reached the waterline.
Now stood on a similar ‘beach mark’ to the previous evening’s exploits, the wind (that had been a pain at times the previous night as it swept in from my left) was practically non-existent here tonight. Yet the sea conditions were, in my experience, even more conducive to catching bass – with hits almost under the rod tip not uncommon here in these circumstances over the past few years. Furthermore, as the sky was completely obscured I knew that it would be very dark later on – it was looking good and the anticipation was already wrecking me!
Sensing the signs…
I just couldn’t wait any longer! Conscious that I could be premature in my attempts to lure a bass from the surf I made my first casts initially with the black version of the MC Needlefish very late into dusk. It was already fairly gloomy as I made my way along a 30m stretch of shingle leading onto a group of rocks and eventually sand – flicking the lure out, allowing it to sink with tension on the line, before recovering it quick enough to maintain light contact throughout the entire retrieve.
Occasionally, I would sense the backwash of the waves pulling, dragging and tugging slightly on the braid and through the 8′ 8″ 10-35g prototype Major Craft lure rod, in addition to having to increase the retrieve rate if the lure was ushered through by the more powerful surges. It was on the fifth cast and recovery that I felt two or three slight taps through my set up – almost as if the lure had picked up some of tiny weed fragments that were more prevalent around the coast tonight – probably due to the increased swell and higher spring tide.
Slowing the cast down somewhat, in order to really put an arc in the blank, the line zipped off the spool of the Vanquish as the lure flew out like a bullet into the greyness. Tap, tap, tap… Yes – nailed the culprit! But it didn’t feel like a bass? Loose line, then tight, then loose – this felt like a mackerel to me – which was surprising given the shallowness to the water and the fact that it was almost dark. Sure enough though, a ‘jumbo mackerel’ came bouncing up the beach, unhooking itself (thankfully) in the process followed by another one that did exactly the same soon after.
Although mackerel clearly weren’t what I’d came for, these were excellent signs… If these energetic and almost kamikaze predators were feeding within 15m of dry land then there would almost certainly be bass, and bigger bass at that, feeding on whatever the mackerel were chasing, in addition to the mackerel themselves – come on!
Bass after bass
Almost the second I sensed that it had now become ‘dark’, about halfway through the recovery the rod slammed over fiercely – I was in! It felt reasonable, but not large enough to warrant switching on the head torch, and within thirty seconds or so a 2lb bass was duly brought up the shingle to my feet by a larger wave. Was that a spot of rain I felt? Hmmmm, I bloody hoped not were my thoughts!
In the next thirty minutes though I barely had time to think about what the weather was doing as bass after bass reacted positively to the elliptical-shaped, bright-white piece of hardened plastic ghosting through the shallows and through the softly breaking waves. Some of the hits were immediately after I commenced the retrieve, some were halfway in, and others were very close to line a of submerged rocks running in 12-18″ of water and for around 10m before me.
At this juncture I should have been jumping for joy as I unhooked my ninth bass of the session, but as lovely as it was catching all these beautiful, bristling bass in the 1-2lb bracket I knew that my chances of latching into something substantial were minimal… It was decision time… Should I move to a different mark? Should I change the lure? Moreover, as it had now started raining (how can they get the weather forecast so wrong!?) should I curtail the session before a potential storm rolled in?
Mindful of the occasion a couple of years ago, when I was stood on this very spot as I heard thunder in the distance and just about managed to make it back along the lofty, and dangerously exposed coastal path back to the car just as the sky started to light up around me, I decided to make a further five casts and then call it a night…
One cast, two casts, three casts were all pitched around 50m out into an area of clean sand, just where the waves were turning and where sporadic ‘surf tables’ were occurring. On each cast, if a surge was washing back off of the slightly higher shingle bank I was stood on I would slow the retrieve right down – easily achievable without snagging the highly manoeuvrable needlefish. Conversely, if a group of larger waves were being forced up over the rocks in front of me, I would lower the rod tip down and retrieve quicker so to remain in contact with the lure, alongside ensuring it would remain just under the surface to my feet.
As a large raindrop splashed onto the end of my nose I flicked the lure out for the penultimate time and started to retrieve it at one full turn of the handle per second. Closer, closer, closer – and within a lull in the waves I loosened my grip slightly on the lure rod when BOOOOOOM!!! The rod was almost wrenched out my hands (and I really mean that!) as something far, far more angry and athletic smashed the ‘Needle’ good and proper in less than 18″ of water and around 7m off the rod tip – the rod being pulled down dramatically as the drag groaned! Oh yes!
Danger! As the tide was now retreating so quickly, a collection of higher rocks were just breaking the surface to my right – so I broke the habit of a lifetime and took a leaf out my friend and fellow angling journalists book (Henry Gilbey) and ‘bullied the hell out of it’ in order to gain the advantage! Cranking down on the drag, I managed to ‘lever’ what I knew instantly was a good one as I maintained optimum side strain on the fish as it did its utmost to (what else!) head straight for the rocks – I’m sure these bass are fighting dirtier this season!
Thud, thud, thud – the rod bucked and all went solid for maybe two seconds, as the bass undoubtedly ‘made’ the rougher ground, before being drawn away by the curve of the blank and my frantic retrieval skills – boy was I glad to be using a superb spinning reel with a 6.0:1 retrieve ratio! This is when I felt the weight and the robustness of this bass as it attempted to ‘hold’ in the shallow undertow drawing back off the beach – throwing in a few headshakes as it did so. I really didn’t want to mess around here though, and as I’d already ‘tested’ the hook hold via those brutal first exchanges, I kept the drag setting to ‘extremely tight’ and went about essentially ‘pulling’ the bass ashore.
It worked! And for once a larger succession of waves didn’t try and spoil things as a proper ‘slab of silver’ slid up the beach – whereby I grabbed the leader and heaved her out of the potentially disastrous clutches of the next ‘big wave.’ What a beauty!
It goes without saying that it was ‘amazing’ to have landed twenty-two bass over two sessions (at night) on an invention that has taken a massive amount of time to develop and perfect both – on my part and that of the builder (Tom Cooper at TC Lures), but this really was the fish that I wanted and had really hoped to catch.
Did I get emotional? Dammed right I did! It hit me there and then, that not only was I holding a gorgeous 7lb+ bass, but that I’d lured it on something I had created – indeed, I think a tear might have even appeared as I took a few shots as efficiently as I possibly could under the circumstances, before releasing her (see below) via a splendid gully that almost ‘magically’ appeared before me in the ‘suddenly’ rainless air – yes, it had even stopped ‘spitting’ so that a decent photograph could be achieved in order to do the moment justice.
Skipping back over the pea-sized shingle to my bag, I was shaking like a leaf and trying not to stand on the piece of carbon that Major Craft have very kindly ‘lent’ me as I crouched down to my knees and remained there for a minute just to soak it all up. The next thing that entered my head was that this was definitely the first time I had caught a bass of this size within the gluttony of the much smaller bass I’d landed – food for thought that one… Maybe the bigger bass were there all along and just hadn’t had a chance to get to the lure perhaps?
Follow up capture
To highlight this anomaly even further, I did manage to land another 1½lb bass about ten minutes after decided to pick up the rod again. However, as I sat down to complete this blog post this morning I was ‘chuffed to bits’ to hear from a former client of mine (John Ratcliffe from my blog post here) who, last night, utterly destroyed his personal best with a 64cm ‘fatty’ that had hit a Marc Cowling Signature Needlefish he’d purchased only 3m off the rod tip this time!
There are many aspects to how happy this made me feel: firstly John told me that he’d followed my instructions religiously on how to utilise the lure (via my post here) in what were, by all intents and purposes, quite tricky wind and sea conditions in which he’d taken into account the watercraft element by fishing a zone in which, he reasoned, any natural food and/or bait fish would have accumulated – a great piece of angling in my opinion.
Secondly, the prevalence of large numbers of cuttlefish around his region caught my intention, as I have a strong belief that bass hunting in the shallows at this time of year are most certainly on the lookout for such morsels. Thirdly, the fact that John’s momentous bass hit the lure so close to him suggests to me that it had ‘followed’ the lure for some time and distance – testament to how ‘life-like’ and/or ‘unthreatening’ this lure appears underwater.
I shall leave the rest for John to describe via his fantastically detailed report and photographs below:
“Conditions & Mark
Wind from East 10-12 MPH
East facing mark
Ebbing Neap Tide fished 30 mins before bottom
Short, choppy waves in order of 1 foot
Ambient light levels were initially good, but were likely to decrease over the session
Cuttlefish are prevalent in that general area
TailWalk Eginn 9′ 6″
Penn Slammer 3500
Monster W8 20lb braid
Savage Gear 20lb fluro leader
Breakaway Mini Link
A white MCSP (Marc Cowling Signature Needlefish) was selected because I hoped that the profile would cut through the wind to achieve fishable distances, while still offering a bait presentation that would tempt a large Bass, but that was not of such a size as to intimidate smaller fish. I am aware that pencils have historically been a successful choice at that mark.
The lure casts really well. The wind was blowing directly into my face, but the lure still managed to achieve respectable distances of 30-40m. No alteration was required to my casting style or drop length, it went out beautifully time after time.
Marc has produced a detailed blog about how the lure should be fished at night; essentially a slow (1-2 turns per second) straight retrieve. The lure apparently works well with twitches, but I didn’t try that and followed the advice I’d been given religiously. The lure moves through the water easily, there is a ‘lightness’ when it’s working; you are conscious it’s there, but nothing like the same resistance you can feel when working some sub-surface lures.
Despite being sub-surface, it didn’t touch bottom at all in very shallow water, and it stayed sub-surface almost right to my feet which is a quality I really liked. I could see a slight slalom action on retrieve, and the lure tracked really well in the water.
My third cast went out well and I slowly worked the lure back. About 3m from the shore there was a sudden explosion of white water and my rod bent into a fish. The take reminded me of those I have had on a Patchinko or Spittin’ Wire; there was no timidness or tail slapping it just swallowed the lure and tried to make its escape. I was conscious the fish was heavy, because I can usually just hold the rod under my arm, but the weight and struggle meant I had to relocate the rod butt against the top of my thigh to brace against it and let the rod do its thing. The rest of the fight was a blur if I’m honest, but I was very happy to see a 64cm Bass on the shore. Measured, photographed and returned safely.
The MCSP is a versatile lure that can be fished in a variety of conditions and it’s of a size that represents small bait species. The eye placement is a great trigger point, and it casts well and moves well through the water. What’s not to like? I shall definately be giving it more water time in the future.”
My Book and the Marc Cowling Signature Needlefish
The Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society recently re-released their review of my book ‘The Lure of The Bass’ which can be found here. I have recently commissioned another batch of this self-published title that will arrive next week. Therefore, if you would like to be added to the waiting list please do not hesitate to contact me via the contact form at the bottom of this post and I will contact you as soon as they become available.
Furthermore, the Marc Cowling Signature Needlefish can be purchased from the following retailers:
Thanks for reading, and my thanks to John again for allowing me to publish his write up and his images.