My Recent Catches – Only by the night…

My Recent Catches – Only by the night…

If you’re a Kings of Leon fan then you’ll recognise the title of this post – what an album! Good memories, and I can also say that I was once very fortunate to have met the band – not for a guided session though unfortunately!

Only by the Night: Amazon.co.uk: Music
I thought you may like an quick insight into my taste in music!

Only, only, only

Having fished only three times since the turn of the year (prior to the third national lock down being announced on the 5th January) and only once since angling was confirmed by The Government as a recognised form of exercise (thanks to some excellent lobbying by the Angling Trust here), I can confirm that my ‘batting average’ remains high.

In addition to the 7lb+ ‘Pit-Bull’ in the featured image (more on that capture later), as the title suggests, although most of these sessions have commenced during the daylight hours (taking in some wonderful sunsets in the process) it has only been once darkness has set in that these ‘mercurial operators’ have awoken…

What’s more, it has only been the exceptionally reliable Wave Worm Bamboo Stick and my self-designed and TC Lures built Magnetic Weight Shifting ‘Surf’ Needlefish (also available from Lure Fishing For Bass here) that have been accounting for the fish. Moreover, although I have utilised a multitude of lure types (and rods!) whilst either assessing them or adjusting to the conditions I’ve faced during these sessions, the foremost method has been to retrieve something moving in a slow and somewhat subdued manner.

My First

After blanking on my final outing of 2020 I couldn’t think of a better way to blow away the cobwebs (although New Year’s Eve was hardly party central!) than to head out onto the coastline intent on placing the first bass of 2021 on the beach! It felt good too, and with the air temperature most definitely on the ‘nippy’ side (at close to freezing), but with the sea feeling warm in comparison, it didn’t take long for the first ‘bites’ to reverberate through the carbon, culminating in the well-hooked ‘scrapper’ in the image below – my first ‘silver’ of 2021 on New Year’s Day itself.

When utilising a soft plastic and a 6/0 weed-less hook, if a bass has a ‘proper go’ at the lure there is generally only one outcome!

With a series of regular ‘taps’ now occurring (both on the retrieve and on the drop), yet failing to convert into actual fish landed, I decided to switch to the Green/White MWS Needlefish (that you can also purchase via Veals Mail Order) with a view to reaching the extreme far side of the submerged reef I was targeting, both in the hope of a proper bite, and a proper fish!

Respecting and fully appreciating that geographic location dictates whether a lure-caught bass is even a viable quarry for many anglers at this stage of the year, even though it was early January, I was still feeling exceptionally confident of connecting with something at least a little more substantial than my earlier, yet pleasingly obliging bass.

With the glowing haze of a near on Full-Moon about to rise in the eastern sky, following an adjustment, mid-retrieve, to the angle I was holding the rod (from up at between 30-40o to the opposite, by holding the rod tip down as I stepped out of the water due to a sudden leak in my waders!) a very solid THUMP brought about a wonderful curve in the Major Craft prototype I’d brought out to play with.

After a brief battle (the power this rod possesses is impressive) the 3lb ‘mid-winter’ bass (above and below) was quickly admired, held up for a photo and safely returned. I was very happy walking back to the car, as it had been a great all-round way to start my bass lure fishing year.

That’ll do nicely! I was really chuffed to land one on the Green/White version of my Needlefish as I fancied that colouration to do well.

Crazy

Two nights later, as I crunched as delicately as I possible could down to the waterline of what was a wonderfully sheltered cove, I could actually hear the attacks on the unfortunate bait fish (fry of some description) being smashed to pieces within the shallows. Now, considering it was the middle of winter, and with a skin-numbing easterly wind howling over the cliffs behind me, this certainly wasn’t what I was expecting… Even on a humid, mid-summer’s night I would’ve been surprised to experience this much activity, but to witness it during the coldest spell of the winter so far was just plain crazy!

Of course, I didn’t know for sure that bass were the culprits, but alongside thinking ‘well, what else could it be’ there was only one way to find out! So as my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, for the first few minutes I gently flicked the sublimely subtle Wave Worm into the midst of the activity – holding the rod just that little bit tighter in case an absolute brute, gorging itself out in the shadows, decided to turn on my lure!

A match!

On the third retrieve I received a tiny ‘pluck’, followed a few casts later by a more solid ‘tap’ that met with a ‘rattling resistance’ before the culprit (a hand-sized bass) managed to wriggle itself free just as I was about to lift it out of the water. ‘One more cast I thought’ and with that I hit into another ‘mini-bass’ or rather a mini bar of spikey soap!

At roughly the same size as the Wave Worm, as I gently placed this little mate back into the surprisingly warm water, two thoughts entered my head: where’s your mummy and what have I got in my box that looks and acts like the prey items still being savaged? Ah ha, a match – the silver version of my needlefish.

Even though there certainly wasn’t any surf around tonight, and I didn’t consider casting distance to be a necessity, rather than use the ‘original MC Signature’ needlefish (here) that I had with me, I really fancied giving the Magnetic Weight Shifting ‘Surf’ version a good thrashing instead!

Clicks and Taps

I just love making that first cast with any lure, but to hear that lovely ‘click’ as the ball bearings are drawn to the arse-end of the lure, just as the rod compresses to send it sailing out there is a satisfying sound and feeling – the braid literally fizzing off the spool of the Vanquish too – gorgeous!

With concerns about the news and that of another imminent lock down drifting into my thoughts, I was ensuring that I took in all of the sights (yes, even in the dark!), smells and sounds pertaining to what has become ‘the norm’ for me – standing at the water’s edge, in the pitch black and most probably miles from the nearest soul! Just then, after taking in the slack following a cast to my left and feeling for the needlefish level-sinking out in the moonlit depths, I felt a distinct tap – yes!

Nicely hooked immediately above the over-sized eye – this bass seemingly ‘went for the optimum strike point” as my diver friends had previously described, and that helped shape the design process of this lure.

Fickle

Checking the time, now that the Moon was peeping out from behind the cliffs and clouds, and the tide was approaching its peak, I began to really focus in, not only on the retrieve style, but on the sink rate too. Since landing the previous bass, on two further occasions I’d sensed a fish essentially ‘bump’ the lure on the drop – clearly ‘they’ were in a fickle mood due to either the prevalence of the fry or indeed the increasing cold, now that the sky was beginning to clear and the wind speed increased.

It’s a fantastic attribute – utilising an extremely light (at less than 300g for the rod and the reel) set up that facilitates a connection and ‘feel’ for everything that is happening at ranges approaching 70m, whilst retaining the capability to ‘launch’ every lure I’ll ever use. With the superb Yamaga Blanks Ballistick TZ NANO 86M (here) in my hand tonight, after allowing the ‘silver bullet’ to descend back towards the seabed, following a 2-3 second pause to the retrieve, just as I was about to recommence the recovery another bass walloped it!

An adjustment to the retrieve style brought about the second bass of the evening to fall to the charms of the ‘silver bullet’ – again, hooked on the centrally positioned hook.

Any more?

Attempting to outwit these marvellous creatures, when you don’t always know for sure or more especially as far as I’m concerned when you do know they are out there, but just playing hard to get, is a situation I revel in! And with what appeared to be the winning formula (for tonight anyhow) now ‘locked in’ I fervently searched out the cove as the tide started to ebb – my favourite time…

As is often the case, just as I began to detect a minuscule amount of ‘current’ through the set up a bass jumped on the needle! On what I presume was a very natural appearing (to the bass) drop/soft swing around in the tide, the 53cm fish below transpired to be the pick of the bunch as, after releasing her, I went on to I land another bass in the 2lb range only a few minutes later – this time on the paused retrieve again curiously.

The hovering, exceptionally understated and seemingly tantalising movement (or lack of) the MC MWS ‘Surf’ Needlefish was most definitely ‘what they wanted’ on this tide – a good example of how mixing things up can summon them to hit a lure when they otherwise might not have.

I really wished I’d checked the charge on the action camera, as what I’d thought was a brilliant release video cut off after a few seconds therefore, unfortunately you’ll have to make do with the image below – highlighting my cold and rather rosy cheeks!

I felt much, much colder than I looked at this point and my hands were raw, but when you’re still able to catch bass in January, and when a freezing easterly is blowing, you just need to get on with it. It was lovely getting into a warm bath 30 minutes later though!

My time

As you’re probably all aware, the period between mid-December until the end of March is ‘my time’, in the sense that I don’t guide clients (I wouldn’t be able to anyway with the restrictions currently in place of course) but rather, I attempt to utilise the time very wisely from a research and development perspective.

Placing my peepers on venues new and even old, assessing if any ‘new’ lure types can improve my armoury and putting my own designs through their paces form this exploratory phase. Further, when I am fishing regularly in the winter and on into March, I tend to alternate between researching a new venue during one session and returning to what I’ve already ascertained is a ‘bloody good spot’ on the next.

Decision

Since the previous uneventful and bitterly cold session on the 4th January I had been absolutely ‘routed’ to my desk, tapping away on my computer (you’ll find out why very soon) and staring, lovingly, at the new Daiwa Morethan 19 EX 87ML 7-35g rod and a collection of IMA hard Lures that had arrived since then. Therefore, with the weather, sea state, clarity and tides all perfectly aligned to allow the potential to do all of the above in one, ‘exercise come assessment session‘ I took the decision to head out, on my own, to a quiet area local to me, where I knew I had about a 0.01% chance of seeing anyone else.

I’ll talk about the rod and lures another time as I’m sure what you really want to read about is how I latched into the ‘pot-bellied bass’ in the featured image and below. In my mind, I was going to split this session in half, with the majority of the walking, climbing, casting and overall experimentation being carried out in the daylight so that I could obviously see what I was doing – switching to ‘serious bass-hunter mode’ as soon as the Sun had set…

A pig!!!! They don’t come much more ‘portly’ than this! Incidentally, this set up has serious potential…

With the sea set very calm and very clear, and without even a hint of a breeze, I very carefully made my way down the muddy path, and across the rocks in order to access what I can best describe as a very narrow (20m) and fairly shallow (2-10ft) inlet. Here, a bank of gravelly shingle above the high water line leads down onto a section of flat reef, essentially criss-crossed by a series of clefts and channels cut into the rock. Further, the rock itself is littered with around a dozen ‘ambushing’ clumps of wrack, which combine with the channels to provide what I believe are excellent ‘roads’ into and out of the area whilst offering the optimum levels of concealment.

Tactics

If it helps, the tactics I will often employ when I am intending to target such a constricted zone are to:

  • Firstly, if it isn’t already dark then I will wait until it is.
  • In the conditions depicted, I will generally commence with the most subtle lure I have so not to ‘spook’ the fish.
  • If the tide is flooding, then I will continually aim and retrieve the lure into this area.
  • If no bites or fish are forthcoming then towards the top of the tide, I will ‘rest’ the zone for a few minutes every ten casts or so, just to allow any fish to move in and become established – a trait I know bass will perform.

Lo and behold!

With darkness coinciding with the mid-point on what was a decreasing (from a tidal range perspective) series of tides following the ‘springs’ earlier in the week, my levels of anticipation, and to a slightly lesser degree, expectation, were at fever pitch as I gently flicked the Wave Worm into action – commencing with a very, very slow and straight retrieve initially. At around half a turn per second, I was imagining and could actually feel the weightless lure occasionally touch the reef or slide through a frond of weed in what was currently around 6ft of water – was there anything out there?

Hmmm, remembering the sink/pause technique from the 3rd January, for the next few casts I decided to allow the lure to sink to the seabed upon entering the water, retrieve it twice as fast as I had been until halfway through the recovery, and then allow it to sink to bottom again, before inching it back in to my under my rod tip. Third cast, just as I recommenced with the more deliberate second phase of the retrieve (after allowing the lure to touch the reef again) about a further six or seven turns in and, lo and behold… THUUUUUUMP!

A soft take rather than a sharp one which is not an unusual occurrence in my experience. Although she looked well hooked, it didn’t take much to dislodge the point from inside her mouth, so I was right to maintain that all important tension throughout the short-lived battle due to hooking her so close in.

What a feeling, and what a way to expedite my familiarisation with a new rod at a range of perhaps 7-8 metres! It’s surreal, you just know instantly when its a better fish, as although any attack on a lure in the dark startles you, it’s generally a much softer THUD, followed by a pause lasting what is probably a split second, before these wiser fish ‘compute’ how their going to get out of danger.

With my drag currently set to ‘tight’ I allowed the fish to really put a bend in the rod as it attempted to torpedo to my left in the first instant. The reel buzzed briefly, but then I felt the tension through the 298g set up alter very quickly, as the bass broke the surface in spectacular style – like a succession of bricks being thrown into the water!

I like it when they do this though, as although there is a risk the fish will shake the hook(s) as it thrashes its head, providing you do your utmost to try and retain the same amount of tension or pressure, more often than not, you’ll win the day (or night).

Not long after returning the ‘Pit Bull’, I received another spectacular hit that somehow didn’t hook up, and I later followed up the success above with another much smaller fish. It was great to know this wasn’t the only bass to be lurking out there!

Seeing this fish under the water in my hastily adjusted beam I was a little stunned to be honest, and I have to admit that under the pressure of ‘really not wanting to lose this one’ the final moments of pulling her up the shingle are a blur of condensed air and not allowing the fish to ‘flip’ – their most recent party trick it seems! Arriving on the shingle, blimey this thing was menacing!

By far the largest bass I’ve landed in January at just under 66cm, it was her broadness and roundness (“like a rugby ball”, a friend of mine commented after seeing the photograph!) in addition to a belly utterly stuffed with what I reckon was the same variety of fry that had been prevalent during my previously successful mission, that astounded me.

I estimate she was just above the 7lb mark. Indeed, alongside her evident bulk and density, as I held her for the obligatory grip n’ grin, the power she had in that body was insane. With her dorsal fin erect and body taught throughout, the pressure she placed on my thumb (by gripping me with the rough pads inside her mouth) actually caused me to bruise!

Seasons reasons

During the memorable period I experienced between January to March 2019 (you use the search function at the bottom of my Home Page to search for posts released during these specific months) witnessing immature fish, harbouring in the sheltered and potentially warmer shallows on my way to various venues, was a key indicator as far as the likelihood of catching a bass, even in February, was concerned.

Returning to the title of this post however, I would have to say that there appears to be a direct correlation between this activity occurring only at night, which in turn, could offer a suggestion as to why the bass are far more difficult to tempt (if at all!) even from same venue during the short hours of daylight.

I’m always looking for reasons as you know, and at this stage of the season if I do head out, it will only be for good reason – with exercise of the body and mind being the contributing factor, whilst adhering to the restrictions during these unsettling times. On a brighter note, I’ll leave you with a beautiful image, taken of one of my clients a couple of seasons ago on a late autumn session, not far from where I landed what was a very special mid-winter bass – it won’t be long until we’re all out there again I hope.

Stay safe and stay local.

Many thanks, as ever, for reading.

Marc Cowling

3 Comments

  1. Nice Marc , great to see you can still find then even in January , I have tried a couple of times, during daylight, but no joy ,so have pretty much resorted to chucking out a big bait close in. Only resulting in Conger !
    Ah well keep trying .
    Great read ,many thanks
    Mark ( Lee cotton’s friend ) .

    Like

    1. Thank you for the comment Mark. The next time we get a settled spell, have a real concentrated effort within a similar sounding mark to the one I’ve described. If those fry/bait fish are in the margins/shallows then you’re in with a chance.
      Best wishes
      Marc

      Like

      1. Thank you , I will keep trying , just conscious of keeping local at the moment , and living in Plymouth a lot of the marks I tend to fish are in Cornwall around the Whitsands , Rame areas not sure I can justify that traveling distance .
        Let’s hope things change in the very near future .
        Thanks for reply .
        Best wishes
        Mark

        Like

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