Client Catches – A different animal…

Client Catches – A different animal…

Any bass caught on a lure is an achievement. Most certainly, there are times when they are kamikaze in their approach, but generally speaking, a high percentage of catches ‘by design’ would have required some thought, and would have been hard-earned. Indeed, from my perspective as a professional guide, and as an angler who just loves everything about these prodigious fish, any bass over 50cm (approximately 3lb) is a noteworthy specimen that deserves the utmost respect having been on this planet for between 6-9 years at that size.

Then there’s a bass over 60cm or around the 5lb mark – these most definitely achieve ‘red-letter-day’ status in my book, and are most probably in the vicinity of the area it was landed from (and hopefully released back into) for a specific reason therefore, demonstrating tenacity and opportunism, or indeed, a combination of both via what could be a certain level of intellect (and no, I’m not completely crackers – a bit ‘bass blind’ maybe…).

A 70cm bass out of this surf would have been fun last Friday, during my final guided session of what has been a memorable 2021 season.

For anyone either skilled or fortunate enough to achieve catching a bass over 70cm/8lb+ – well, now we’re getting into ‘fish of a lifetime’ territory as in many ways you are dealing with something that is a ‘different animal’ in regards to behaviour once they attaining this kind of size.

The word ‘territory’ is rather apt as it happens, as when my clients and I have encountered bass of between 67-73cm over the past five seasons that I’ve operated as a ‘Bass Guide’ one of the many contemplations or questions I’ve pondered when I’ve come to dissect why a bass of this magnitude was there in the first place (I doubt this is just me!) is whether or not this is a resident or territorial bass, or one that is more transitory in nature…

A 70cm/8lb+ beast for a client (Lee) from back in the summer of 2017 landed on a white, 160mm Jim’s Needlefish lure – the first of the ‘South Devon Bass Guide’ era! I will never forget this bass, as not only did it reaffirm my guiding capabilities in my own mind, but it also appeared out of nowhere during the precise moment the Moon lit up the whole beach and no doubt the section of reef it was hunting along – an occurrence I would later coin as a type of ‘Manual Trigger Point’ in my second book: Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective.

One of many…

The example I mention above is one of many potentially significant deliberations that I have found myself mulling over after the event, primarily because I believe it is this kind of reflection that can lead me to similar, and therefore, more consistent successes in the future… Indeed, if you own either or both of my self-published books: ‘The Lure of The Bass‘ (a title that has been described and reviewed here as a user manual/reference book that I released back in October 18 and that has gone to sell over nearly 2500 copies) or my more recent effort ‘Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective‘ (a title that encompasses everything I have learnt as a guide, and that is more inclusive in relation to the types of venues I guide on and lure fishing for bass in darkness) you will recognise some of the captures below.

Moreover, not only am I delighted to be writing this post due to the fact that a regular client and friend of mine (Steve) found himself latching into and ultimately holding what is the 10th ‘client bass’ over 70cm during a late-October 3 Day Package I completed for him and his two fishing companions, but I have wanted to write this post for sometime as a compendium if you will – detailing this, and the previous nine momentous occasions when it has occurred and the components I have analysed thereafter – components such as:

  • Has the bass landed + released been territorial or transitory in nature?
  • What type of underwater terrain has the bass been inhabiting?
  • Has the 70cm+ bass been landed in daylight or darkness?
  • What type of lure has it taken, and was it fished surface or sub-surface?
  • What time of year was it caught?
  • What potentially was it feeding on?
  • Was it one of shoal, pod or group, or was it a loner?
  • How did the bass react when hooked?
  • Have there been any other noteworthy or notable constituents such as changes in air pressure, air or sea temperature, changes to the seabed on the mark involved, the tide height and/or the Moon phase for instance?

‘Beach then reef’

Within Chapter Three of ‘Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective’ I discuss at great length the types of terrain, period in the year and the overall conducive conditions in which the two respective ‘types of bass’, the resident/territorial species, or the continuously travelling and very much opportunistic, transitory fish may appear, in addition to their potential colouration and the food items they may be preying upon.

A chilly November night in 2017 saw this very plump 70cm bass hit the shingle at after taking an Albie Snax lure retrieved by my client Michal – it was the second ’70’ a client had achieved. I strongly suspect that this beauty was a regular visitor to this rocky, food-rich haunt during that period in the year. This one took the lure very, very delicately and came in like the proverbial sack of spuds – did the cold air that we hadn’t experienced until that point make this one somewhat lethargic I wonder?

In a nutshell, I think that the rougher, rockier and reefier the terrain, the greater the likelihood that a bass will take up almost permanent residency, due in no small part to the amount easily obtainable food items (crabs, prawns, small fish) and the year-long possibilities of these food sources remaining there even in February. Further, I do feel that deep-water estuaries, especially the further south and west you are in UK, the greater the chance that some ‘Big Mummas’ will remain, and in a feeding, breeding and spawning capacity too throughout the entire year – just ask the flounder boys…

Food, glorious food

Clearly, in the vast percentage of cases, food and the need to eat is what drives bass behaviour. Whether that predetermined route a territorial group or individual fish may take along the shoreline is designed with cover and concealment in mind, or whether it is based purely on being able to ‘mop up’ as much food as possible for its efforts (with both aspects more than probable) is your guess as good as mine. Moreover, a substantial increase in a certain food source can encourage bass, and the big ones too, to move inshore en-masse…

Tom Cooper (aka TC Lures) with the third 70cm bass a client has landed with me. Once again, this brute was hunting over a prominent reef system relatively early in the season (June) – a period when there is often a lot of cuttlefish present in the shallows at night. Were these items what this marvellous bass thought the Needlefish Tom was using was? Maybe…

When bass become focussed on a food source to the pint of being utterly fixated, the ability to ‘match the hatch’ can quickly become an essential consideration. Sand eels, cuttlefish, squid, sprat, crabs during the moult, ragworm eggs hatching and the appearance of mackerel shoals can all serve to switch the bass on, to the extent that they can and will deviate from their more regular patterns. Add into the equation periods in the year when they are feeding hard, such as in the spring (post spawning) or late-autumn (pre-breeding) and being in the right place at the right time, and with the right lure attached can be even more vital to your chances of success…

What a jammy bugger! Tom Cooper with the fourth 70cm+ bass and the biggest to date that a client has landed with me at 73cm – a special fish that nailed one of Tom’s home-made Needlefish lures. Note the fish’s lean appearance and ‘fleshy belly’ that most probably signals that the fish had only recently spawned despite being caught in mid-June. Of note however is that this bass, and one of 66cm landed just prior that evening, were a fantastic collection of catches achieved over one of my 3 Day Packages that had seemingly switched into feeding mode when the first warm air temperatures had recently been experienced following a very cold winter here in south Devon.

Unexpected pleasure

If there’s one thing that is certain about bass behaviour it is that they never cease to surprise me! A tiny neap tide and a very high, bright and large Moon, coupled with some exceedingly shallow water covering a pretty much featureless seabed aren’t conditions that I would have ordinarily considered to being conducive to landing another ’70’. But when bass, and the larger bass that simply have to eat I suspect, have been hot on the trail of the ‘September sprat’ for days or weeks have followed and driven these treats well inland in some cases, I guess you just never know…

Another wonderful 70cm bass (the fifth) for one of my ‘favourite’ clients Paul after it snatched the wonderfully subtle white, Wave Worm Bamboo Stick. This really was a ‘Battle Royale’ in the sense that it dragged an inordinate amount of line from a tightly set drag. With nowhere to run, this beautiful bronze-backed bass went berserk within less than 18″ of water. The fact that it was hunting somewhere I really hadn’t suspected a bass of this stature could possibly be, in far from what I had previously perceived to be less than ideal conditions really got me thinking about the possibilities from similar venues, tide heights and Moon phases…

Daylight ‘Robbery’

You would have noticed, as I had with crystal clarity at the time, that each of the 70cm+ bass landed during my first few seasons as a guide were achieved in the dark, on lures that I consider to be remarkably understated and doing very little under the water. Flash n’ splash by day (surface lures in calm, clear sea conditions, and the hard minnows in more turbulent, murkier seas) and slow n’ subtle at night (soft plastics and ethereal-acting needlefish) seemed to be the reliable mantra, but I really wanted to put a client onto one in the daylight…

Step forward Rob, on the final day of a 3 Day Package when he’d had to watch his new-found fishing friends catching numerous bass without so much as a bite himself, armed with what is undoubtedly one of the finest lures ever conceived – the OSP DoIive Stick (come on, I haven’t talked about these for ages!).

Jack Nicholson (in his heyday of course!) eat your heart out!! A complete and utter ‘battlecruiser’ of a bass at 72cm (and the sixth) that snaffled the famed Dolive Stick (in white) in stupidly shallow water, within an estuary clearly, when the sun was shining bright and high. This was another fish that screamed off courtesy of having no apparent snags to run to and very little water to do it in!

I can only imagine that this clonking bass (one that was surely a loner?) was snuffling along the muddy seabed, during the final dregs of the tide, because it was searching for the easiest meal it could possible attain (crabs perhaps?). Or alternatively, it could have followed the fry (sprat or hundreds and hundreds of immature mullet) up into the creek over the flooding tide – a great example of out and out opportunism, both on Rob and the bass’s part…

The 70s Club…

As each season passes, and I complete more and more notes in relation to the venues/marks, and the conditions and the catches (plus the occasional blank of course) it often isn’t until I sit down over the winter period in order to really scrutinise my findings that certain patterns emerge. For sure, I glean a hell of a lot during the season itself naturally, but even though bass behaviour can be very habitual, quite often it is sometimes the small subtleties or slight changes that I only pick up long after the event or events…

Occasionally, a change to the seabed courtesy of late spring storms (which we did experience this year) can mess with a fish’s equilibrium, and related closely to this, sometimes a new or different food source, or indeed a specific type of food source vanishing (such as worms, razorfish or crabs in particular) is also possible if the seabed has changed for the worse. Further examples of bass behaviour changing, either over time or quite suddenly, can be when a mark that has been historically consistent on say, the last hour of the flood, can begin (over a period of tides or a few months) to start throwing up bass on the first hour of the ebb instead – and when I say bass, I mean fish that are 4lb or 5lb+, not groups of small fish.

I must admit to being a little taken aback by Den’s marvellous 70cm bass above (the seventh overall and first ‘client 70’ of 2021!), as it beat the previous best on this mark by nearly 4lb/10cm. Plus, it was caught not only bang-on HW, but the tide had only a modest 2.9m tidal range – something that was a real turn up for the books considering nearly all of the previous captures occurred well into the ebb when a 4m+ tidal range was logged. Of further significance, is that this stunner nailed a Wave Worm Bamboo Stick fished on a weightless, weedless 6/0 hook after being retrieved over and then out of a ‘new feature’ on the seabed here, whereby I reckon this fish might well of followed it for some distance before walloping it only a few metres from Den’s stance.

One of the ‘gems’ of this season, and one that I’ve found especially interesting this year involved the capture of two separate 70cm bass, that were landed from precisely the same venue, at night, on fairly different lure types, and three months apart… For the past four years, this mark has only tended to produce bass (with a brilliant average size of between 3-5lb) on the second hour of an ebbing spring tide, yet this year, most of the bass we have ‘hoiked’ out of it have been hooked about 30 minutes either side of the tide’s zenith. Further, the two biggest (the two fish that added Den and Tiger to the 70s Club) were both hooked pretty much bang-on high water (HW).

Fish it by day and you’re completely wasting your time no matter what the conditions, but on a very calm night (which can occur even when a brisk northerly wind is whipping things up such is the orientation of this beach), even in the depths of winter it can produce – and in style! So what could be the reason for what I have surmised as being ‘atypical captures’ for this venue?

Well, as if by magic, for whatever reason (the tide being deflected in a different way perhaps?) there is now a large (3m x 4m) depression in the sand that has become something of a permanent feature – and it is in this, or very close to it, that these fish, and a couple of nice ones I’ve hooked myself this year up to 5lb have been located.

A bass of this size really is a different proposition altogether, especially when it is hooked at distance as young Tiger’s 70cm slab was. Again, this awesome bass (the eighth 70cm+ for a client) pounced on his Savage Gear Gravity Stick Pulse Tail just before high water, and within the vicinity of a new depression that has been formed on the sandy seabed at this already brilliant venue..

I do wonder if the addition of this more recent characteristic to the foreshore (as it is always exposed at low water) has somehow allowed what I believe are resident, territorial bass that are present along this swathe of beautiful coastline throughout most or all of the year, to discover a new ambush point…?

Sub-surface submarines

Apologies in advance if I sound like a broken record here, but if there are two aspects to the 2021 season that are in complete contrast to 2020 it is that surface lures haven’t been anywhere near as effective this season. To quantify this actuality, only one of the sixteen of the 60cm/5lb+ bass that a client has landed with me this season has been on a surface lure. Compare that to ten of the fifteen that I landed in what was a very truncated 2020 guiding season for obvious reasons and you get the picture. But believe me when I say that we have used surface lures almost as much as what has been the lure type of 2021 – the humble soft plastic paddle tail.

The largest ‘client bass’ of 2021 at 72cm and the ninth 70cm+! This fish took a Keitech Easy Shiner in Sight Special as gentle as a lamb… Would it have hammered a surface lure fished in the turbid water behind a grinning Simon? Maybe, but then my tactic to use a 4-6″ soft plastic paddle tail lure has consistently assisted clients to land some belting bass this year, even when another client or clients has/have been using the previously reliable top-water patterns…

It would be easy to dismiss or rather simply attribute the use of soft plastic paddle tail lures such as the Savage Gear Gravity Stick, Keitech Easy Shiner and Megabass Spindle Worm to the estuarine environments we have frequented more often (due to them producing more consistent fishing compared to the open coast, which again, is in complete contrast to last year) as the season drew on, however, many of these marks are the same venues that produced some spectacular catches to our surface lures, even in November and December, just over 12 months ago.

What I’m getting at here is that despite these larger, wiser and craftier bass still seemingly being ‘tuned in’ to the schools of small fry that we’ve spotted continually between April through to the December period, the fact that they have rarely been there in the numbers to warrant being corralled onto the surface means that our sub-surface soft plastics have completely out-fished the hard, top-waters. In essence, I think it is very possible that these more astute bass are just feeding in a different way to how they were during last year’s ‘bait fish bonanza…’

The 10th 70!

Finally, onto the tenth 70cm+ bass that a client has landed whilst being guided by me, and the only one that I’ve weighed in over a decade at 8lb 4oz… It was caught and released by a very good angler, and someone who has become a friend of mine from his numerous guided visits down from Somerset. As part of a 3 Day Package party with his friends Dave and Andy, I had positioned Steve slightly up-tide of them and asked him to use a White Savage Gear Gravity Stick Paddle Tail. As this was the first of six sessions and I was keen to figure out what the bass in the area may be taking, they were utilising an OSP Dolive Stick and Patchinko 100 respectively.

Substantial, and arguably, more intelligent bass then… I think giving them what they want in relation to the presentation of a lure is absolutely imperative on occasion – and this was definitely one of those occasions as the others guys received no interest whatsoever on their lures. This next moment was magical as Steve recalls: by casting up-tide and retrieving the Gravity Stick back with the flow, Steve said he witnessed the monster below make a very determined beeline for the lure in the shallow, and surprisingly clear water. First he saw the huge mouth and then its overall profile, but before his mind could register ‘bass’ it had grabbed the lure and was heading off to the other side of the estuary!

I was extremely happy for Steve, as although he’s landed lots of bass in the 3-4lb range with me , including some ‘winter bass’ on lure, this was the one he’d dreamed about catching – what a stunner, even though she is a bit on the lean side! It was very satisfying to witness another client achieving a ’70’ in daylight too.

With a relatively small window of opportunity on this mark as the tide floods into a giant estuarine bowl here, with the prospect of more and hopefully similar-sized bass moving through, almost as soon as I swapped Dave and Andy over to the gently weighted paddle tails they both went on to land bass, albeit not in the same league as Steve’s. Could those finite vibrations, emitted by the lure being fished very close to the seabed have proved to be the difference yet again this season, and can the fact that we’ve ‘cottoned on’ to this behaviour also be a pivotal reason for our success? Who knows… But one thing I know for sure is that the 2022 bass lure fishing season will no doubt be different again, but oh will it be marvellous to keep on landing those 70cm plus ‘animals!’

My Books: Just in time for Christmas perhaps?

My most recent book Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective and my first release ‘The Lure of The Bass‘ (Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society review here) are available to purchase or reserve. If you would like to purchase a copy of either publication, please contact me via the Contact Form below and I will send you the payment details. I can accept PayPal or a Bank Transfer.

Thanks for reading!

Marc Cowling

2 Comments

  1. Hi Marc, having read your superb “lure of the bass” please send me the details of how I may purchase your new book.

    Thank you

    Steve Pearce

    Like

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