My Recent Catches – The 12 Bass of Xmas
I remember it well – thinking to myself as I stood in the middle of winter, on a multitude of exceedingly lonely venues ranging from sheltered rocky plinths, gravelly nooks, pebble beaches and sandy shores, just how ‘crazy’ I was to be out there, and wondering if this ‘night fishing with lures lark’ really was all that it was cracked up to be!
Then one night it happened! On the 17th April 2017 I landed my first ever bass in the dark ‘by design’ by retrieving a white, 6″ Hawg Wild Lure Senko in about 18″ of water over a delicious section of reef that I’d ear-marked as somewhere I thought bass may slink into. I tell the full story in my second book ‘Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective (Volume 1)‘ – how the research, planning and effort finally culminated in what was a rather skinny bass, yet one that is up there with the most consequential catches I have achieved.
Five years ago, when I was about to embark on my first full season as a guide, my sole aim in attempting to learn and hopefully ‘master’ how to regularly catch a bass on a lure at night, centred around having greater options for my clients during those tranquil sunny days, when the bass were often difficult to tempt. We’d receive plenty of ‘followers’ in these conditions (those bass that take an interest in a lure, before sussing something wasn’t quite right), but not as many catches as I would have liked, which is why during the summer of 2017 my approach shifted towards snooping around under the stars and Moon-light around 50% of the time…
There were many seminal captures that year, achieved after I would successfully ‘evaluate’ a beach/reef mark (one in which I’d caught bass from in twilight or in very rough sea conditions during daylight, or more likely, from the adjacent rocky promontories bordering it) to see if it would produce, before taking a client there soon afterwards to similarly pleasing results. But fast forward to now, and with each passing season I have continued to regularly engage in ‘research missions’ at night, in order to enhance my understanding of how to tempt these mercurial predators from all manner of differing types of venues, terrain, sea states and water clarity, but most significantly, during periods in the year outside of the preconceived ‘best times’ perhaps…?
As I’m sure you would have read within numerous articles, portrayals and descriptions of mine over the past few years, I do have a preference for a spell of high pressure for my forays during the winter months – a period when I tend to concentrate almost exclusively on fishing at night, purely and simply because the rewards are worth the additional effort – as even if it’s cold, at least it’s dark very early of course!
The calmer and clearer the better as far as I am concerned in relation to the sea, as not only are these the conditions that ‘open up’ more extensive swathes of the coastline to me, but I also believe that what the bass are feeding on (crabs, smelt, shrimps) become easier to locate in these more serene settings whilst expending the minimum amount of effort. Moreover, I would almost go so far as to say that they are prerequisite for a successful session, especially the deeper into winter you go, as the bass become thinner on the ground and the more and more lethargic they become – when ultimately, I think they save their own hunting almost exclusively for the darkness also…
Orientation for options
It’s obviously immensely satisfying having a formula or two that can extend my season to the extent that bass are viable year-round prospect, but what is equally important is that I continue to move with the times in relation to new lure types, plus keeping an open mind with regards to tactics, methods, etc. Additionally, making moves to overcome the more common wet and windy weather conditions associated to low pressure systems and winter in general, is advantageous on a number of levels.
Having spent years finding them, exploring them, fishing them and keeping meticulous notes on them, by fishing marks that are orientated in a way that they provide shelter from whichever way the wind is blowing, be it a south-westerly Gale or a ‘Beast from the East’ even, means that I have created ‘options’ for myself during these periods should I be mad enough to head out…
What is of equal importance, is that even if I don’t catch (which let’s face it, is hardly a given between December and late-March/early-April) then what I will learn just by being there in relation to how quickly a mark recovers (the sea flattens and clears, or the weed fragments dissipate or become concentrated into a particular area for instance) is absolutely invaluable. What’s more, once you become more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of a venue, you will also be able to ascertain whether those gaps in the weather (the ones that often prove to be wonderful windows of opportunity) are worth the effort in search of winter silver.
All of the occurrences I mention above were precisely what I took advantage of over the height of the festive activities. It would have easy to have sunk another G&T or a bottle of beer, or even scoffed down another mince pie and clotted cream (all of which I did plenty of over Christmas trust me!) but due to the ideal conditions presenting themselves I actually completed three sessions on three separate marks. The first two were based around a novel wind direction during the week prior to Christmas Day, with the third (on Boxing Day evening) due to there being a brief, yet irresistible interval, where the wind dropped out entirely and all of the constituents aligned…
Wind in the East, fish bite the…?
For almost a week between the 16th and 22nd of December the wind howled in from the east/south-east – a direction that turns the whole of Start Bay into a gigantic cappuccino-coloured mess, and anywhere facing south into a frenzied, weeded-up waste of time at this stage of the year. However, the upside of this prolonged continental blast (that wasn’t particularly cold it has to be said) was that the large sections of the south Devon coastline that face west saw the sea flatten and the water become increasingly transparent.
Furthermore, with rainfall totals over the preceding weeks having been pretty negligible, all of the estuaries that I frequent were in a decent state water clarity wise. So even though the wind was blowing in from a more atypical direction to stir up the muddy shallows on a good percentage of my marks, it actually did me a favour in the sense that it offered up the chance to return to a couple of places that are unfishable in a fresh northerly or a westerly, and that I’d been waiting (itching actually!) for the chance to return to, both with a view to enhancing my personal fishing prospects, and that of my future clients.
Margins for error!
On what are two very similar estuary marks, located on two completely separate estuaries as it happens, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the wind is filtering in from the opposite direction to what it ‘normally’ does that the fry/bait fish also find themselves located within very sheltered and contrasting regions to ‘usual’. And much like a session I completed at the start of 2021 (that you can read about here) as soon as I arrived down on the shore for the first session I could see the small fish/fry scattering (as it was twilight when I commenced fishing) as they were hounded, herded and attacked from below!
BANG! A bass of about 2lb grabbed the lure as it was brought off of the sandy/gravelly seabed after a gentle lob parallel to my stance – a cast made specifically because it appeared that the fry where doing their utmost to remain within the weedy margins here – although I suspect that even the small bass chasing them were most definitely wise to this act of self-preservation.
Did I say small bass? I’d arrived early onto the mark with the intention to concentrate more on the night fishing, but within a further ten casts/retrieves, again just on the edge of the weed as I’d allowed the Savage Gear Gravity Stick (Paddle Tail) to sink in a controlled manner (on a tight line so that I could ‘feel’ the lure deftly throbbing through the Major Craft blank), as I brought the lure within a metre or so of the margins a huge swirl developed and the rod was yanked downwards very sharply!
Although it was a relatively short-lived battle, due to how to tight I currently set the drag on an acquisition I made in late-November (a Shimano Exsence C3000MHG) following the early retirement of my Shimano Vanquish (for now anyhow, until it is serviced and returned to me) it was actually the power of the rod that really assisted me to keep the head up of what I knew was a much better fish.
With wild head shakes and thrashes on the surface, I do believe the 63cm (close to 6lb) bass that eventually found itself being dragged through the wrack and in between the rocks I was stood on was a bit surprised to find itself on dry land! Boy was she was angry – doing everything she could to squirm and ‘spike me’ as I attempted to capture the images above and below:
Friend or foe?
With a Full-Moon getting higher in the night sky and with fish clearly in the area, it didn’t long for another predator (the only aquatic one that a bass has to worry about generally) to pop up in front of me – a bloody-great seal! Now, even though I have heard and have read about anglers who have caught lots of bass off the end of a seal’s nose, I have to say that I am firmly in the camp that believes that most bass over a pound in weight will have the sense to scarper, or keep their heads down if they know a seal is on the prowl…
Drat! Or words to that affect as I missed a hit on the drop, at range, within a few minutes of Sammy not having been seen or heard. But within ten minutes another bass (below) at 2lb utterly nailed the Gravity Stick – the Pulse Tail this time now that the current had slackened off, with the take once again, right on the edge of the weed.
I was on a roll, but my friend obviously heard the commotion and sure enough, up he or she popped again to keep me company for the next 30 minutes of zero bass activity therefore, I decided enough was enough and headed home very satisfied with the evening’s sport.
It is extremely tempting to return to a venue that has produced a 6lb winter, lure-caught bass, and if I didn’t catch anything on the following night I might well of regretted my decision to head to an entirely different river system. But as I alluded to at the beginning of the post, even though I just love everything about going fishing, in the back of my mind is always the prospect/opportunity of potentially learning something new, that I can then transfer into my guiding operation.
And this is why, with that easterly wind colder and stiffer than the previous night and with a touch of south in it, that I headed to a mark that I don’t get to fish all that often. Armed with a tactic that I hadn’t previously undertaken on this venue, that was to essentially retrieve the lure parallel to the weedy margins (of bladder wrack mostly) that adorn this particular creek, when I was smashed by the 3lb bass below, again, even before it was dark, I knew I’d made the correct call!
Twenty minutes later, and with the force of the mid-tide current now swinging the Gravity Stick (that was rigged onto the Savage Gear 3g belly-weighted 6/0 hook) around a little too quickly for my liking (I surmised that the lure wouldn’t appear natural enough) I changed over to the wider, wiggling tail action of the 5″ Keitech Easy Shiner – skewering it onto a hefty 7/0 10g VMC Heavy Duty Swimbait hook. The response was immediate too as you can see below, with this bass and another soon after, both seemingly intent on remaining very close to the wrack in order to ‘pick off’ anything swishing by.
With darkness now upon me, alongside the suspicion that I was being observed (which I indeed was courtesy of what I think was a beautiful barn owl sat, and now occasionally hooting from a branch, high above my head) I was expecting the bass to move in… However, it remained exceptionally quiet for the next two-and-a-half hours, and up towards and then over, high tide.
Was the Moon too bright? Was there a seal out there somewhere? Was the swirling wind whipping over my head putting the fish off? I wasn’t sure, but in my back pocket of ‘bass trickery’ was the knowledge that the turn of the tide, and even more so, the quickening pace of the ebb, can make a monumental difference to the behaviour of these fascinating fish… So, buoyed by the previous night’s endeavours, the catches I’d already achieved, and the confidence I had in the lures, the mark and the methods I continued…
As so often happens when I am fishing or guiding on mark that is swept by high levels of natural flow/tide/current, as soon as it begins to back-eddy or change direction, or indeed as soon as I begin to ‘feel’ the pressure increase on the rod/braid, or in the case of a ‘paddle-tailed’ lure, a magnification in the vibration of the lure’s tail without administering any increase in retrieve speed, a bass jumps on the lure! And not just one bass but four, one after the other and all in the 2lb range that were all hell-bent on grabbing anything as they swept through on the edge of the flow bordering the wrack margins – the tide being the natural trigger for these events.
Seven bass landed during the 3rd week of December is not to be sniffed at, and although I was very happy with my decision to fish this mark, and with thoughts of a hot cup of tea and some ‘posh’ biscuits beginning to enter my head, I put them to one side as things went quiet once again – the sign of a seal, or the chance of a better stamp of fish in my experience helping to maintain my levels of concentration.
On the drop, within two seconds of the lure entering the water as I whipped it up tide and adjacent to the thickest mass of weed on this mark and… WALLOP! Game on! This was the one I wanted, as the drag gave the slightest of buzzes and the bass tried very hard to get back into its weedy lair. Unlucky matey! I was seriously in the zone having been tied to a paint brush or roller for the preceding week prior to these two fabulous sessions therefore, what I knew was a good one was only ever going to end up in my hands – although the ‘Bass Gods’ would get their own back on me as I will reveal in my next post…
The Main Event
With the wind returning to a more prevailing southerly and westerly direction in the few days leading up to the main event itself – Christmas Day, bringing with it some damp, if very mild conditions, I had my eye on a Boxing Day ‘bash at that bass’ long before I sat in my armchair, stuffed to the brim with roast beef and all the tasty trimmings that evening… A 12 hour period, in which the wind was forecast to drop out entirely was on the agenda – providing I could obtain the relevant ‘permission’ of course…
“Yes, that’s OK darling” came the reply from my ever-patient wife, who knows all too well why I study the weather charts so avidly, and why our coastal walks always seem to coincide with low tide! So with the fire lit prior to my departure, and with the four females in our household (my wife, daughter and the two guinea pigs!) all content to see the grumpy fishing-starved man head out the door, it was with very high levels of anticipation that I clambered into the car and began a journey that would end very happily.
I have long placed to one side any notion that bass lure fishing in the depths of winter is a waste of time, and to be honest, the way the air felt as I traipsed along the muddy path to my chosen beach you would have been forgiven for thinking it was late-October – what a truly, truly stunning night this was. Moreover, instinct and hard-earned knowledge of the mark I was gingerly climbing to under the red glow of my head-torch was telling me that my chances were in the 70-80% bracket, although I certainly didn’t expect to end up holding and releasing what grabbed my lure only 15 minutes into the session!
Perched on a level platform of rocks and casting out over pure sand that was, at the time, only covered by 3ft of water perhaps, I did consider using a Needlefish lure in the reposeful mini-rollers that were lapping this wonderfully sheltered sub-region. However, with a bit of weed about I knew that the more ‘weed-less’ virtues of the Savage Gear Gravity Stick Paddle Tail (I cannot get enough of these lures in case you haven’t realised!) alongside it’s pretty decent casting prowess with the spike weight inserted up its arse would enable me to reach the required zone.
Swinging the lure behind me, it was one of those casts when you compress the rod perfectly and you just know that the lure, whatever it is, is piercing the air like a missile. I reckon I achieved at least another 5m on this particular lob, which despite the gentle fizzing and hissing of a receding wave coming to the end of its own momentous crossing of the ocean, I heard the splash as the lure entered the water.
Tightening up as swiftly as I could, I knew the lure would already be on the seabed as I lifted the rod and began the five or so slightly quicker turns that I tend to add to the start of the retrieve with this lure type at night. SOLID…. B******s – snagged. But then the snag started to move! THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, the headshakes commenced, and the rod bent over to some severe pressure as this bass tried to decide what to do next in its quest to get that sharp thing out of it’s giant gob.
Brute force – and a tug of war is, in a nutshell what this battle consisted of, as at no stage did the fish (until it was under the light in front of me) take any line from the drag which, considering I hooked it at 40m range tells you how tight the drag was set. I mean there were some serious bouts of frothing up the shallows and wrist-aching levels of power to deal with, but for all intents and purposes I was in control of her from the moment she engulfed the lure.
Making up the dozen
That was the only bite I had for the next four hours! But like the ending of a familiar Christmas song ‘And a partridge in a pear tree’ I actually didn’t mind one bit as I felt like singing from the roof-tops (or cliff-tops!) as I’d landed 12 Bass over Christmas, with some absolute crackers to boot. And I’ve got to tell you, it was something very, very special indeed to be stood out there, under the stars with only my rod for company combined with that warm feeling of accomplishment – feelings that I hope are captured a little bit in the video below:
Taking the time to find new marks, or experiment on the ones you might or might not know well, and gaining the knowledge of how they might fish during the peak of your own bass lure fishing season – if it is safe to do so, then winter is ideal time to do it. And remember, it really doesn’t matter whether you catch or not – you’ll learn a hell of a lot regardless.
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The Lure of The Bass & Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective Volume 1
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 both currently IN STOCK. If you would like to find out more then please click on the links above. Further, if you would like to purchase a copy of either publication, please contact me via the Contact Form at the bottom of this page and I will send you the payment details. I can accept PayPal or a Bank Transfer.