My Year in Review 2021 (Part 2 of 2)
Welcome to Part 2. Depicting the challenges, the highlights, the lures types that came to the fore, and of course, the catches achieved from July through to Christmas. I am delighted to be writing this account, as it represents a chapter in my bass lure fishing and guiding journey that encompasses some of the greatest levels of consistency we’ve achieved since I commenced business – oh, and a personal best that I doubt I’ll ever beat!
July (A veritable variety)
Now that the sea temperature was approaching something close to where it should be at the start of the month (nearing 14oC), even though the sea state, both on the open coast and inside the estuaries, was indifferent, the numbers of bass inshore were increasing tide by tide it seemed. But there was a definite caveat to the catches achieved – I (or we) needed to be in the right place, at the right time, and most importantly, utilising the ‘right’ lure to stand a chance of being successful.
Hard diving minnows – the ‘classic’ bass lure. You’ll have noticed that I don’t talk about them all that much nowadays, primarily because I/we only tend to use them in open coast situations when the water is turbulent – the thinking being that this is the environment in which they are most suited. The blog post I wrote “Client Catches – Back on the hard stuff” describes my thoughts on this.
But with the weather still indifferent throughout July, with heatwaves one week and a named storms (Evert) the next, even though many of my open coast venues and ventures had been somewhat frustrating so far in 2021, the overall conditions (white, aerated water smashing up the beaches and around the rocks at times) warranted the effort – and I’m glad we did for these sessions as it happens. Below is a gallery of the catches achieved by my clients throughout July on the hard, diving minnows. Moreover, if you don’t already own them, then I would wholeheartedly recommend the IMA Hound Glide, IMA Sasuke 120 and Megabass Zonk Gataride SW.
A very quick shout out for a lure that is incredibly versatile – the Savage Gear Seeker. Whacked out in the surf, retrieved slowly in the flow of an estuary mouth, fished sink and draw in deeper water or just very simply, when some extreme distance is required to reach the feeding fish – they are always in my lure box. Here’s just one of a number of bass my client (Jon) landed during a humid late-July evening when, surprisingly, little else was working until we clipped one on.
Windows of opportunity
When I am planning a session, after the height and timings of the tide, the next thing I look at is the wind strength, direction and its likely affect on the water in terms of swell and clarity. In a nutshell, if some ‘white water’ is possible, then my attention will be turned towards fishing areas of open coastline orientated in such a way that they more or less face the wind. Conversely, if it’s likely to too rough or too calm, then my instinct is to fish either within the estuaries in the case of the former, and at night from the beaches in regards to the latter.
I mention the constituents above because quite often there will be short (periods of maybe only a few hours) ‘weather windows’ in conjunction with the state of the tide when I know that a specific mark (or marks) will be become far more conducive from a bass catching perspective. The following are good examples of when this occurred in July, as in essence, I really was ‘dancing with the Met Man’ from one session to the next.
As you can see, a real variety of lure types were successfully utilised during July in particular, plainly because the overall conditions dictated their individual use on a given day/night, and on a given tide and venue. A further instance worth highlighting, is that the soft plastic paddle tail lures ‘came to the rescue’ many times after the surface lures failed to deliver – occurrences that acted as a forerunner to some awesome action as summer slipped into autumn…
August (Normal service resumed)
I am sure you would have noticed the disparity compared to my 2020 Year in Review (here) in that there are very few surface lures hanging out of the mouth of the bass my clients and I caught. As previously mentioned, in my spare time (I spent more days back in forth to the recycling centre over the summer in preparation for selling our house than fishing unfortunately) I continued to scour the open coast for signs of life (bait fish activity), but it was within the estuaries that the more dependable fishing was occurring – even though the bait fish weren’t within them in numbers either…
Up the creeks with a paddle
I was still giving the open coast headlands, beaches, reefs and tide races a fair old bashing, but as had occurred in June, I just couldn’t get away from the realisation that, by day at least, even if everything ‘looked good’ it was a 50/50 chance as to whether I’d be able to find the fish – odds that just aren’t ‘good enough’ in my game. Therefore, I returned to the mantra that had served me well earlier in the summer for my next round of 3 Day Packages, and concentrated on brackish environments and paddle tails by day – to some quite spectacular results as you can see in the galleries below, and that can read about here (Client Catches – Perfect Paddle Tails):
The Sunslicker Swimish, 5″ Keitech Easy Shiner and Savage Gear Gravity Stick Paddle Tail in the pure white or white/speckled flash patterns were lure types that I’d experienced success with last year, but it was the 5″ Megabass Spindleworm that was also exciting me around the time – especially after one of them tempted the ‘animal’ (at well over 7lb) for Pro Fly Fishing Guide John Tyzack below. You can read the full story about this capture here “Client Catches – Bang on trend“.
I was already in love with the Paddle Tailed pattern of the Henry Gilbey inspired and designed Gravity Sticks, although interestingly, the very first bass I landed on one was on the Pulse Tail. And it was during a solo session in which I was playing around with this version that I realised how its more subtle, and above all, its level-sinking attributes with the 1.8g spike or nail weight inserted, could be utilised very effectively, whereby I transferred this epiphany straight into my guiding.
The methods, tactics and my general approach continued along the same vein for the remainder of August, with further lovely, open coast, night time bass landed by my clients Dave and Stu (below) whilst targeting very specific ‘ribbons’ of tide on shallow rock marks, on separate nights, with the Savage Gear Pulse Tail. For further reading on just how specific or precise I will ask my clients to retrieve their lures you can follow the link to my blog post “Client Catches – How precise is precise“.
But it was by day, even under some extremely bright overhead conditions that my clients achieved some even more memorable results – with those Gravity Sticks accounting for most of them (as you can see below) in water ranging from gin-like to coffee-like…
Knowing when, and knowing how to adapt to the environment or conditions you face as a bass lure angler is, in effect, part of what makes up a major attribute/skill – watercraft. Coupled with a ‘hunters instinct’ that I believe all of possess, when the water was decidedly turbid, either through rainfall (which had become less of an issue it has to be said) or the wind’s ability to stir up the margins, with the confidence I had in these throbbing/vibrating lures, even chocolate-coloured water didn’t deter me in areas where I knew bass were present – although I did go a bit ‘radio-active’ with the lure colour (for me anyhow) at times, and when I felt it was a necessity for the fish to actually ‘see’ the lure.
The capture of the formidable 65cm bass above and below really, really opened my eyes to further possibilities, and in particular, to venues that I’d discounted due to the constant lack of water clarity… My mind began whirring as it so often is! As an aside, I cover how my clients achieved these catches under my tutelage in a post I wrote titled: “Client Catches – How murky is murky“.
September (Bountiful bait fish + bass!)
That the colder than average air and sea temperatures in the spring had ‘delayed’ the start of the bass season, and that nature was essentially ‘behind’ was confirmed in my mind by the lateness in which the sprat and the hoarding mackerel arrived. In 2020 I’d first witnessed this annual occurrence on the 3rd July (the earliest I have ever know this occur), yet in 2021 it took until the 9th September, a full nine-and-a-half weeks later!
After a week away fishing and guiding completely at the end of the school holidays, I recall saying to my next 3 Day Package clients that if the sprat didn’t turn up on this next cycle of spring tides, especially considering the warm settled weather (hooray!), that they just wouldn’t be this turning up at this year at all… But if they did, then the fishing would be epic!
Epic doesn’t quite cover it, as alongside catching around 25 bass (mostly in the 2lb range) on evening one, they repeated the process on evening three and then some by landing what must have been 70-odd bass in the 1-2lb range after an inexplicable blank on day two. But if that wasn’t exciting enough, the capture achieved earlier on the third afternoon was something truly special – a 72cm/9lb monster, tempted from some horrible-looking (cloudy and dirty) and ridiculously shallow water for such a beast.
I will tell the complete story (and it is a good one I promise) behind this menacing monster, and the 3rd client 70cm+ bass of the 2021 season, within a venture that I aim to start soon, although I did write a blog post about this, plus some of the other extraordinary captures achieved within less than knee-deep shallow water in “Client Catches – How shallow is shallow“. And in case you’re wondering yes, it was a ‘paddle tail’ in the form of the superb Keitech Easy Shiner in Sight Flash that did the trick.
One for the Guide
Surely the open coast would be firing on all cylinders by now? Nope – apart from those bonus bass bonanzas during the second week of September, despite some sweaty walks, serious rock clambering and clifftop reconnaissance missions, the only reliable fishing I could muster was, yet again, within five of the eight estuaries I regularly frequent.
When something is working so well, be it an approach, tactic, method or a specific mark, a type of mark, or perhaps a lure type, choosing the correct time to experiment, stray, or revert back to the previously reliable ‘modus operandi’ is another balance that I have to strike. For the first two days of my next 3 Day Package however it was all about maintaining the ‘status quo’, which was listening to the clients’ wishes (which was to sample some of the estuary fishing they’d seen on my social media platforms and website blogs) whilst ultimately placing them onto some lovely bass.
There are numerous reasons why I absolutely love facilitating the 3 Day Packages (3 Anglers who rarely know each other at the start of the package as they often come alone, 3 Days/Nights of fishing generally broken down into 6x 4 hour sessions and 3 Nights B&B accommodation at the excellent Chillington House BB Hotel for £499 per person), but one of them is having the capacity to mix things up a bit, with a view to achieving better fishing, or a better fish!
This Year’s Top Model!
But before I move on to the next fantastic capture, that came about after an intuitive bit of guiding most definitely aided by a clients’ ‘heirloom of a lure’, I have to pay homage to a really good guy who joined me on four separate 3 Day Packages in 2021. Andrew was ‘The King of the 3-4lb bass’ who, alongside landing quite a few of this size and many, many others (he’s a bit handy with a Patchinko 125 and probably caught more bass on this lure himself this year, than everyone else put together!), just couldn’t crack the 5lb barrier. We had many, many laughs though, not least about the ‘2021 Calendar’ that I could have asked Vista Print to design for him based on all of his bass-catching exploits over the season – here’s a gallery just for you mate!
Pop, Pop… SMASH!
Onto mixing things up a bit, and with some brilliant bass already landed on this particular 3 Day Package, now that I was regularly witnessing some pockets of bait fish (sprat that had, by now, infiltrated far up into all of the river systems) I was itching to see if the bass would be interested in crashing into a ‘popped’ surface lure.
This was one of my favourite ways of tempting the better sized bass last year (see here), and with Dave’s handed down 14g 90mm Rapala Skitter Pop attached and the ‘pop, leave it for between 2-8 seconds, pop, etc.’ technique perfected, it took all of about ten drifts (you can read exactly how we utilise a popped lure in the flow/current in my blog post “Client Catches – Operation Big Bass“) for the poor lure to be obliterated as the hungry 68cm/7lb+ whopper (below) devoured it – what a moment, and one that the other Dave (from a few photos above) said will live with him forever.
October (Learning curve steepens)
Although I have been chasing bass on lures for thirty seasons now, I can tell you, categorically, that I am learning all of the time. These magnificent fish keep you on your toes, and as I’ve said many times before, they can be as predictable in nature as they are impulsive. Just when you ‘think’ you’ve got them sussed a curve ball is often introduced – which in the case of many of the captures in the succeeding paragraphs was the increasingly coloured-up water we had to overcome…
It was bonkers. After nature felt like it was a full month to six weeks behind in the spring, here we were in October with it feeling like the beginning of September! What’s more, much like in the preceding month, an area of High Pressure sat close to the UK, serving to keep things warm and settled – settled that was until my next batch of 3 Day Package clients arrived!
Thankfully, the highest winds and heaviest rain was reserved for the overnight periods only (especially the early hours), therefore I had a fighting chance of making the best of what could have been a more difficult situation – but then this is what I spent 10 years doing prior to becoming a pro-guide – finding marks that could provide shelter and produce bass, almost no matter what the weather did.
Day One was tough as I recall, but with the plan re-jigged and ready for Day Two, although the water that greeted us well up one my favourite estuaries was ‘chocolatey’ to say the least, with the help of a certain ‘Lime Green’ lure (the Sawamura One-Up Shad in the ‘Tree Frog’ configuration that the gentleman fishing in the featured image of this post very kindly gave me a batch of – thanks again Martin) we prevailed, and in style!
In all honesty, in years gone by I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near water as dirty as it was, but when you’ve achieved catches on the quivering paddle tail lures in similar conditions the more and more confident you become in your ability and their capability of attracting bass who surely pick up on the movement long before they see it. I discuss the virtues of various coloured lures and the visual aspect to bright or two-tone patterns at great length in a recent blog post I released called “Client Catches – Sense or Sight (Daylight)“.
What was especially pleasing about this 3 Day Package is that it saw another one of my old haunts really coming back on form. A stunning cove, sheltered from the worst of a westerly Gale, backed by woodland, and with some wonderful platforms and promontories at either end of it was the scene on two consecutive evenings, interspersed with another muddy, yet successful, estuary jaunt. Moreover, to add another contrasting twist to the event, it was white, two-tone and a ‘glowing’ (yes glowing) hard, diving minnow (in the form of an IMA Hound Glide in Lime Back Pearl Glow) that did the business, with the numerous bass in the 3-5lb range over two magical evenings (see the gallery below). These events are depicted in my blog post “Client Catches – Sense or Sight (Darkness)” in conjunction with my opinion on how bass may utilise their full complement of senses (bar smell) to hunt.
While we’re on the subject of colours and visual attraction, I would love to hear from anyone out there who has a theory or two as to why a bright white lure (especially a more subtle and perhaps silent soft plastic over a noisy hard lure) is so damn effective under a bright sky, in daylight, in clear to-relatively clear water… I have my own theories of course, but I think it would be great to collate many ideas – maybe I’ll whack something up on Facebook about this subject over the winter too…
This is where I need to pay homage to what is undoubtedly my ‘lure of the season’ – and many others I suspect. As in addition to figuring out (who am I kidding!) what I believe is ‘the limit’ in relation to coloured water and when a bass ‘will or won’t’ take a lure (occurrences that have provided many a lightbulb moment), the utilisation of the Savage Gear Gravity Sticks, not only within the estuaries, but also on the open coast rocks and beaches too, has proved to be something of a revelation. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that they have already achieved ‘classic status’ such has been their impact to the UK bass lure fishing scene.
As it stands, the Gravity Stick Pin Tail is a lure that I intend to use as a kind of replacement for when I run out of white Dolive Sticks or Wave Worms (which I will eventually) – as I think they can fill the void should I require something I can retrieve in a straight line only, with minute levels of vibration or a tiny wobble, whilst being twitched around and left to sink naturally.
The Pulse Tail really intrigued me initially, as I wanted something that would emit some vibration if I was retrieving a soft plastic within low-to-moderate levels of current, and I felt that a Wave Worm, Albie Snax or Needlefish wasn’t quite what the bass wanted during certain sessions. I tend to use these rigged onto the Savage Gear 3g belly-weighted 6/0 hook, and the 1.8g tungsten spike weight as covered earlier and in the image below:
The Paddle Tail version is, for me, the lure for when the current is running hard, again with a 3g or anything up to 10g has worked well, depending on the velocity of the flow and the depth you want them to swim. On the contrary, when I or we have utilised this pattern ‘weightless’ (something that enables the whole body of the lure to wriggle even more intensely) in very, very shallow water (even as shallow as 8″ would you believe) it has proven highly effective, both in daylight and darkness, and in clarity that is almost non-existent as you’ll read below.
Lucky…? I think not…
If you think my client Steve (above) is grinning like a Cheshire cat, it is because he’d had to endure being mercilessly ribbed about how ‘lucky’ he was by the two friends he had brought along for a 3 Day Package, courtesy of landing the amazing 70cm bass (below) the day prior. Karma I think you call it!
This was the first bass I have weighed in a very long time, but with questions about its weight being fired at me as we unhooked it, I asked one of the other guys to grab my brand-new electronic scales and sling so that we could see, given that the fish was full of energy. Measuring 70cm, which made her the 10th bass over 70cm a client has landed with me, she went 8lb 4oz – a beauty, and one that I was especially chuffed to see a regular client and now friend land, even if he did get some stick for it! It’s not luck Steve – it’s skill! Very well done to you.
November (Highlights of a lifetime)
I was literally rubbing my hands together (and I really was!) at the prospect of another forecast spell of settled weather (did I really used to wish for moderate-to-strong south-westerlies!?) that l hoped would bring the sort of fantastic fishing that I experienced in November 2020. You might recall that, although the Country was thrown into Lockdown Two and I was forbidden to guide (as people would have had to drive to get to me, and the public were only permitted to drive to buy food, medicine or drive locally to exercise) I was still ‘allowed’ to fish myself.
So with my final two 3 Day Packages of 2021 lined up to encompass what I considered were excellent tides (that would enable me to guide on a very high percentage of the 180+ marks I have) and with the weather forecast looking equally conducive for the first couple of weeks of November, I knew that if the bass were feeding as hard as they were 12 months ago my clients were in for a treat.
What actually transpired is that although a number 3lb+ bass were caught (see the gallery above), given the time of year, the tides and the overall conditions, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t land anything bigger. But that is fishing as they say, and bass have a habit of letting you know who is the boss, alongside just disappearing or going completely off of the feed for days or week or so sometimes.
Just before these packages and immediately thereafter, with our house purchase/move complete and with us now settled in, with a few evenings to myself I decided to ‘hunt em’ down’ so to speak via half-a-dozen solitary searches, just to see what was happening along a few stretches I hadn’t visited for a while to some pleasing, although not spectacular, results. The two largest bass that I am holding within the galley (below) are around the 57-58cm mark
The TC Lures/Marc Cowling ZIPP WAKE
Early in November, after months of design, development, and of course some very intensive and extensive testing, Tom Cooper of TC Lures had built and was ready to deliver my latest concept – a 15g, buoyant, surface sliding lure that I eventually named the ZIPP WAKE. The gallery below forms a collection of the bass catches I achieved, most of which were when I was testing it alongside my clients with their permission. The ZIPP WAKE is available from (Lure Fishing For Bass, Veals Mail Order and Mr Fish Jersey) or to find out more about it’s conception, its construction and where, when and how to utilise it, you can read my blog post here.
I did say that someone was going to ‘get a double’, and I reiterated this every single time I was out with my clients – willing them to do it as I stood and observed them. The way I looked at it, the time invested, the effort exerted, and the venues we were fishing and learning to fish, meant that sooner or later, a 10lb+ bass was going to appear – and appear it did…
Did I ever imagine that I would be fortunate enough to land a double (as it does take some luck too), and that when it came along it would weigh over 12lb? In all honesty, I had a feeling, and my friends kept saying it to me too, that if I could beat the 10lb barrier, I would obliterate it. These are moments that I will treasure forever which, once the reality of what I’d achieved kicked in, turned me into a quivering wreck as I safely released this very, very special specimen back to her home.
I did write a blog post about what this quite staggering bass means, in addition to the emotions and the sensations I felt whilst in the company of such an awesome creature (here), but I hope that you’ll understand that I’d like to save the entire, almost heart-stopping and clearly memorable moments, and of course the planning and detail of my first double figure bass for a future project: Volume 2 of Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective. I will probably commence writing this in the spring, with a release date planned for March 2023…
A quieter spell…
A few days after my 12 pounder (I still can’t quite believe I can say that!) I sneaked out to a new mark, and was exceptionally happy to land five bass within the session. The largest went 60cm (my red-letter day ‘benchmark size’ of around 5lb) with, again, the lure of the season, the Gravity Stick (the Pulse Tail variant on this occasion) accounting for four of them in darkness – all of which grabbed the lure on the drop rather interestingly…
A bit a quieter spell, both on the weather and the fishing front, ensued for the remainder of November, but in between the two very successful missions I completed above, another friendly client of mine (Barney) managed to land the bristling bass below, on the Gravity Stick Paddle Tail, retrieved just on the edge of the tide and close to a bit of underwater structure. What a month November had been – and people think I’m pulling their legs when I say November is my favourite month of the year for bass lure fishing!
December (Welcoming in Winter)
I always terminate my guiding season early into the second week of December, not because there aren’t any bass around you’ll understand – I actually welcome winter. No, primarily it’s due to Christmas being on the horizon, and like all of us, getting organised and spending time with the family takes precedence.
What I do find at this stage of the year however, is that along with the stunning sunsets, the bass become a little more concentrated, with pockets of fish dotted around some very specific bays or even gullies, as well as only feeding within certain parts of the estuaries. What this translates to, is that I find myself shifting back into how I operate early in the season – testing and trying out lots of different types of venues, and that ones that, historically, have been more reliable – ‘hunter mode’ essentially.
I have to say that I always have mixed feelings about ‘culling’ the guiding at this point in the year though – as on the one hand I am really looking forward to being able to fish more myself during a great period in the season here in south Devon, but on the other hand, because it is my job, I feel that maybe I should still be assisting clients who are eager to extend their own season, or just sneak a few moreout before the year’s end!
What a start!
So with the sea temperature still around the 12oC mark (which was much warmer than the whole of May incidentally) and the weather and tides perfectly aligned on a high percentage of my marks, I was very excited to welcome my final group booking of the year – 3 very keen anglers who’d travelled all the way down from Sussex for 2 days. If you follow my blog avidly, then you might have already read about Scott’s 63cm bass that he landed on the very first cast of these sessions (you can read how they all got on here in “Client Catches – Topsy Turvy“).
Ironically, considering they hadn’t been anywhere near as productive as in previous years, despite the two largest bass of these sessions falling to soft plastic paddle tails, the surface lures attempted to make a late season comeback. Do I have a theory about the comparative lack of top water action in 2021, especially in comparison to 2020? You bet, and it revolves very basically around bait fish numbers, and the fact that over the course of the season, they were down 80% on last year by my reckoning.
Fixated… or not…
When I am writing about bait fish, then primarily I am describing the species that we notice the most – namely sand eels, whitebait/sprat or smelt and mackerel, herring or scad, with even garfish thrown into the mix too. In ubiquitous terms, the greater and more abundant their concentrations are, in conjunction with how high all of these silvery fish are in the water column (which means they are being preyed upon) then the greater the likelihood that the bass will join the party, to the extent of becoming gradually, and ultimately, firmly fixated.
I definitely think this is what happened in 2020, but with only periodic increases in the numbers of sand eels and sprat in particular, in addition to both of these staple food items being ‘late’ to appear, most definitely had an effect on the bass’s behaviour. Although one of my clients caught one in April and one or two per month thereafter, the mackerel were conspicuous by their absence until the second week of September whilst heralding the arrival of the sprat also.
Furthermore, I don’t recall seeing a scad all season, yet the garfish became so abundant from October through to December that they were a pest at times. Bizarrely, I remember wading through the shallows of a sandy beach in order to access a rocky platform during the final days of November and being surrounded by ‘pin’ sand eel – an occurrence normally reserved for March/April…
All of the above leads me to the conclusion that, as items splashing above their heads on the surface wasn’t happening all that often, that the bass, in general, remained content to prey on smaller and less obvious (to the angler) clusters of immature fish (fry) and small schools bait fish within the shallow shorelines, quiet bays and weedy margins without exerting too much energy. Subsequently, I do wonder whether this had an influence on why the sub-surface paddle tail lures, swimming with, holding or being overpowered and struggling in the current/flow/tide performed so well…?
Some ‘Me’ Time
Once I get over the ‘guilt’ of not guiding (it doesn’t take too long ha ha!) I do like to embark on some serious fishing myself in December – and when I say serious, I mean only heading out when I know conditions are absolutely spot on. Once I start on the DIY (I’ve got another winter of pain-staking sanding, prepping and decorating to complete!) then I find it hard to put the old paint brush down: paint by day, fish by night-fall will most probably be the theme now that we’re into the New Year. Moreover, in addition to some writing, as I always do in January through to the end of March, I will also return to alternating between proven venues on one session, and somewhere completely new to me on the next, so to keep on augmenting the learning process and accumulating the marks.
To end this post, I’m going to tease you a little now, as firstly, I want to keep you coming back for more updates on how I’ve been getting on of late! But secondly (and this is the real reason), I want to write a separate blog post about my endeavours over the Christmas period that I already know I will title: “My Recent Catches – The 12 Bass of Xmas” – there’s a big hint there! In the meantime (as the tin of Dulux ‘Rock Salt’ is calling me!), I will also provide a further insight via the gallery below, plus I will tell you that one of the bass measured 71cm – which is my largest ever December bass, and fittingly, my final bass of 2021. What a way to end the year!!!
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