My Recent Catches – A jolly January!

My Recent Catches – A jolly January!

As the title suggests, aided by the conditions that I love in winter, this month has been a very successful one! I have caught (and released) a good number of lure-caught bass (fifteen to be precise), within the dozen sessions I have completed, with the two largest measuring 57cm and a fantastic 66cm respectively – a belter that matched my previous ‘January best’ (the Pit Bull you may recall?) that I achieved last year (see here).

Alongside depicting these captures though, what I’d like to convey are the constituents that I believe really mattered and made the difference, in the hope that it may encourage or even inspire you, my readers, to give it a go, no matter what your geographic location. Below is list of these constituents:

  • The splash of the lure
  • Session length
  • A systematic approach
  • Concentration
  • Mixing things up!

Now I could be a little premature in writing what is essentially a catalogue of my catches throughout January, as I may well venture out at least one more time within the final few evening’s of the month (with the air and sea temperatures at between 10-11oC it would be rude not too!) so who knows, I might well add a few more yet…

A rather ‘rotund’ 66cm bass from January 21 that I imagine weighed close to 7lb at the time of capture – and a fair few ounces less after digesting that belly full!

The Bass Gods

Before I crack on, I just have to tell you about a rather funny occurrence come mishap – one in which the ‘Bass Gods’ were looking down on their own it seems…

After landing that splendid 71cm/8lb+ bass on Boxing Day (here) I didn’t venture out again until New Year’s Day, whereby I blanked spectacularly! Thereafter, with the weather forecast to be calm, cold and crisp over next few nights, in conjunction with the decent tides and a lack of Moon (something I’ll talk about later in this post) I was fairly confident I’d catch during my next few solo sorties…

Session Two of 2022 saw me on a new mark and almost blast frozen to the beach without so much as a touch. Therefore with the prospect of a third consecutive blank a distinct possibility (something that I certainly wouldn’t be ashamed of given that it was approaching mid-winter) I decided to sniff out a venue that is, historically, more likely to produce at this time of the year than anywhere else I am currently aware of.

For two hours I scoured the inner margins – peppering all the more noteworthy nooks and bass holding crannies that have produced for me even when the frost is forming on my dry bag time and again. Adding a forth layer due to the cold (it was minus 2oC that evening), as the tide entered the second hour of the ebb I knew that it was now or never in regards to my chances…

Cold AND wet!

Now more or less at my initial stance on the beach I noted the ‘new’ rocks that were protruding out of the soft shingle – a signature left behind by the massive late-autumn and early-winter spring tides no doubt and something that I would need to be careful of as I waded gently into the water’s edge should I need to land something.

Angling a cast high and to my left in order to reach a specific underwater feature here, as I always do at night (and you’ll find out why as you read on) I pre-empted the lure entering the water by ‘tethering’ the flight of the lure in that final second, so that whichever sinking, soft plastic lure I am using descends through the water column on a ‘tight line’ as it were. One second, two seconds, three seconds… BANG!

What a wallop! And with that an almighty splash erupted at close to the 40m range I’d arrowed the lure. This felt decent, but then everything went ‘light’ as the bass decided it couldn’t ‘out gun’ the drag setting and rod power, and as such, it began to swim at a rate of knots directly towards me. Winding like crazy, I regained contact just as the fish ‘found’ the edge of the weed beds on this low-tide mark.

Arrghhh – it had made it in there too! Yank, yank, yank – followed by severe pressure on my part. Yes!!! I extracted her via some angry thumps reverberating through the marvellous Major Craft Seabass Custom 882M, but as I lowered the rod and began inching her towards dry land you know what happened… Yep, as I turned, I stumbled on one of those bloody rocks (this must have looked hilarious thinking about it) and although I tried for what seemed like 10 seconds (but that was probably no more than a couple) I eventually had to drop my esteemed set up into the drink and place both my hands in front of me as I entered the knee-deep water!

Appreciation

Cold, and now very wet, as I recovered from being on all fours in water that was actually a hell of a lot warmer than the air surrounding me, I grabbed hold of the dripping wet rod/reel in the hope that what would be a very hard-earned bass was still attached. Tug, tug, tug, as I regained the slack and brought what I could now see under my headtorch beam was a bass in the 57-60cm range under some kind of control, the bloody braid managed to tangle itself around my right wading boot – for ****s sake!

Just the additional moment of slack line, as I adjusted my leg to untangle myself, was all it took for the fish to sense yet another chance to escape, and with a further shake of the head she slipped the 6/0 hook. What can you do? Nothing… You have to watch as one of these magnificent sporting species skulks back into the shadows and you’re left standing in the cold, and the dark, in the middle of nowhere with a very long, wet, cold and uncomfortable walk back to the car.

Instead of cursing my luck, I genuinely tipped my woolly hat in its direction, and with a smirk of appreciation for its tenacity I surmised that I had been exceedingly fortunate to have landed so many beautiful bass, including my personal best 12lb 2oz beast in November (here), and that, well, you can’t get them all in can you? I did fish on for another twenty minutes, but ultimately, the cold got the better of me on this occasion.

I probably ‘deserved’ that misfortune as I should have been more careful, and as I’d escaped unscathed in a physical sense sometimes its good to take a ‘slight knock’ as it really sharpens your appreciation of how quickly you can hurt yourself when you’re out there alone – even more so in the dark (although I do carry my McMurdo Personal Locator Beacon (here), but then I’d need to be conscious to press the button of course).

Splash and dash

Back to the catches I did achieve then, and with a positive mindset towards the imposing ‘Wolf-Moon’ that would be beaming down upon me over the next few nights around the mid-month period, I was utterly determined to place my first bass of 2022 on the deck as it were. What’s more, I ended up landing three bass the next time I ventured out, with one in the 53cm range, plus a tiddler, and then another that I accurately measured at 57cm (4.5lb) towards the end of the session – so a good average for mid-winter for sure.

Quite how what has become my weapon of choice (my beloved Major Craft Seabass Custom 882M) survived becoming warped and then jammed in the boot of my car just recently is testament to its robustness. What a rod, and one that assisted me to tame my first bass of 2022 (above) at around 3.5lb.

When I say the Moon was bright, I mean that I could still see the horizon despite the dark having set in about 3 hours earlier! But taking note of those constituents that I mentioned earlier in the post, there is no doubt in my mind that fishing under a high and highly illuminated Moon is a bit like fishing under a bright Sun: the fish are there, but you need to find a way of overcoming any reticence they are displaying to hit a lure by tapping into their very instinctive nature…

I believe it’s all about getting a reaction, and nothing gets a better reaction out of any bass within (I’m guessing here) a 10-15m radius greater than a lure delicately ‘splashing’ onto the surface of a calm, clear seascape whereby they often dash in and grab it – a fact I can only deduce given that I certainly can’t land a lure on their heads this often! Indeed, each of the bass that took the lure that night snaffled it within two or three seconds of it hitting the water – with remember, a tight line administered to enable/aid a controlled and level sinking trajectory of the Savage Gear Gravity Stick (what else at the moment!) Pulse Tail that I was using.

The largest bass of my 4th session in January at 57cm. This beautiful fish took the Gravity Stick ‘on the drop’ – a tactic achieved by holding the rod ‘up’ and bringing the reel’s bail-arm over concurrently as the lure enters the water following the cast, thus enabling you to be in instant contact and control of it as in descends. Hold on tight though, as some of the attacks are highly reactive and downright vicious!

No magic wand!

Brimming with confidence, I tried precisely the same tactics, on precisely the same mark, under precisely the same conditions the following night and blanked! Yep, that’s bass lure fishing encapsulated – just when you think you’ve got them sussed (I never actually think this I must add!) they swallow you up and spit you out again in the nicest possible sense. There are formulas that I know can work, but never a magic wand – but then that’s just one of things that make these creatures the challenge that they are in that you’re always having to ‘think’ around the problem as it were, or a series of multilinking dilemmas at least.

So even though I could have fished for hours longer that evening, as it was fairly warm for January despite of the clear sky serving to highlight that exceptionally ‘white’ Moon, after two hours of fruitless casting and retrieving I decided to call it, in order to save it for another time – the next night as it happens!

This is another important aspect, as although I am very fortunate to be able to fish when I like between mid-December to the start of April (when my guiding kicks in again) the amount of concentration it takes to ‘hunt down’ and ‘out wit’ these wonderful creatures, especially in the depths of winter, means that I find that short sessions, in which I can fully commit everything to every single moment I am fishing helps me immensely.

Satisfying

Taking into account the two paragraphs above is what made the next session even more satisfying, as after inviting a client and friend (Jud) down for an evening’s fishing (for what would be a short session considering the frosty airmass) I was exceedingly happy to land two fish in the near 48cm range, again, under a Moon that was staggeringly vivid once it had risen.

These weren’t huge bass of course, but I’d found a way to tempt them that evening courtesy of allowing the Gravity Stick to drift back to the seabed, again, on a tight line, a number of times on the retrieve. The occurrences prior to these captures had told me that the bass present (and they were most definitely there as Jud received a number of hits during the first hour or so of the session) were being lethargic and therefore reluctant to positively strike. It was upon recommencing the retrieve, and bringing the lure back off of the seabed, that the fish struck – all of which I duly noted and logged, both mentally and in ink!

One of the two bass in the 48-cm range that I landed on a very cold night. My thanks to Jud for travelling down to see me, and for taking the photograph above – this one eye-balled me the whole time!

Fancying it

Replying to Jud the following morning, with the Moon set to be completely obscured by thick cloud (and by virtue of this, the air temperature much warmer) I mentioned to him that I “fancied a big one” later that night. Indeed, sometimes, you just know you’re going to catch, which considering I was now fishing within the latter stages of January is something I have to regularly pinch myself to comprehend given how I was ‘programmed’ to lure fish for bass by my Uncles as a teenager (second week of May onwards until October, Spring tides, in daylight, when there’s some movement to the sea etc.).

Thirty minutes into a session that I was already enjoying immensely due to the warm and tranquil setting, it was after administering a long pause to the retrieve, one in which I could feel the Pulse Tail throbbing through the sensitive rod tip, that after continuing with the retrieve after the lure would have surely rested on the sandy seabed that everything just ‘locked up’.

In the same vein as the 71cm Boxing Day brute, I actually thought that I’d hooked the bottom momentarily, but then as there wasn’t anything out there to snag on it just had to be a fish!? Oh what a scrap this was – severe strain at first, then a bout of head thumping, before she rose to the surface against the tension of the drag (a subject in which I intend writing about my methodology in this respect) – all before I could get her anywhere near my pebbly stance.

I didn’t weight this wonderful bass as it gave me quite some scrap, but at a more slender 66cm than last January’s fish I reckon it weighed in the region of 6.5lb.

Although she didn’t ‘take’ any line, the parallel run that she performed saw me doing the ‘Moon-walk’ between the boulders and sandy patches close to the water’s edge in a desperate attempt to keep her out of the weed. Just…. I just about kept her out of the thick kelp that adorns this brilliant mark (one whose secrets I am gradually unveiling) before one final heave with the exceptionally powerful Seabass Custom saw me win the day. Oh yes, this was the one I’d dreamed of catching earlier that day…

The confidence I have in the rod, the reel, the braid (Sufix 131 Lo-Viz Green) and the fluorocarbon leader (19lb Seaguar Ace Hard) is enabling me to get these battling bass ashore with minimal fuss – if I hook em’, I want to land em’ – simple.

With yet another bass succumbing to the Savage Gear Gravity Stick you could be forgiven for thinking that this is all I presently use at night – and to be completely honest, you’d be correct 80-90% of the time! They are just brilliant lures, that suit the various types of marks I am fishing, and how I am approaching them. Very simply, for the time being I am just massively enjoying catching bass and ‘making hay’ as it were while the Sun or Moon shines – literally, as the weather we’ve enjoyed in January has made it as conducive to catching as it possibly gets.

Would I have tracked down this 6.5lb January bass on this mark if we’d experienced a month of wind and rain? No is the short answer, as I wouldn’t be able to safely stand there, which is why I have only tentatively experimented under the stagnant (yet very welcome as far as I’m concerned) weather pattern we’ve been under throughout most of January. I have really, really enjoyed my fishing of late, whilst trying very, very hard to catch!

What I find hugely intriguing is the prospect or idea that this mature bass could or may have been in the vicinity for some time, and that it was in fact the ‘change’ to the retrieve style (that long pause) that triggered her to attack – these really are the sort of questions that without a submerged ‘stealth camera’ we will probably never learn the answers to…

Either way, I was enjoying myself so much that evening that I went about trying all manner of things – speeding the retrieve up, twitching the lure occasionally, casting into areas I hadn’t previously placed a lure over – you name it. The result? A further 3 bass up to just shy of 3lb (below) to the Gravity Stick (notice I didn’t change the lure!).

I love catching these fish – especially when the perception is that all the mature fish migrate hundreds of miles south and westwards in order to breed in winter – how many of them remain close to our shores while the sea temperature is still well above 10 degrees is even more intriguing.

Systematic

As the area of high pressure shifted slightly and a brisk easterly developed I decided to return to scene of my pre-Xmas 63cm bass. If you’ve read that post (here) then you may recall that I fished two separate tidal waterways in which I targeted the weedy margins via casting and retrieving my lures pretty much parallel to the shoreline.

Now, whether my friend ‘Sammy the midnight seal’ was in attendance that evening I don’t know, but what I do know was that bass were being extremely finicky that evening. I managed to land two that were both in the 2lb range (no pictures as I just wanted to get them back and carry on fishing as the bass can move through quickly here), but I did ‘miss’ a few hits on the drop, and another much larger bass (I think…) that made a speculative attempt at the lure as I was about to lift it out of the water.

I was pleased overall though, as without all of the recent little tweaks I’d made to my retrieve style in regards to the Gravity Sticks, alongside the very, very systematic way in which I approached the venue I don’t think I would have caught that night – so I suppose I was still experimenting really, just not in relation to alternating between well-know and then new marks, as I normally would or do in winter and early-spring.

Happy Henry

Our writing, guiding, fishing and family commitments rarely align, but whenever we can, Henry Gilbey and I do enjoy catching up to talk fishing and to try and catch a few together. So with my recent successes tempting him over the border and into the land of a proper pasty (I’ve opened a can of worms here haven’t I!) it was this systematic approach, on a mark only a few hundred metres up the river to my previous night’s joy, that he joined me for a sesh…

Motorway

In rudimentary terms, this estuary venue has rocks covered in thick wrack beds all along the foreshore for about 50m, which converge onto flat mud/gravel dotted with clumps of weed for a further 20m, before the seabed drops away quite suddenly into some very deep water. Now, as you may have read within Chapter 4 of my second book (Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective Volume 1), and in particular, the section titled ‘Peripheral Positioning’ I strongly suspect that bass utilise this ridge (where a flat platform slopes into a relative abyss), and potentially the more powerful velocity to the natural current/flow along this narrow section as a means to navigate and essentially transport themselves from one area to another – or the while keeping an eye out for an easy meal of course.

Add in the capability for a large, lone bass, or a pod of them to either rest within the weed clumps as the tide flows through and around them, or the opportunity to deviate slightly towards the shore in order to hunt for crabs and fry within those weedy margins as the tide propels them, and what you have is a three-lane bass motorway! To this end, I described to Henry (who is keen to sample more estuary fishing in darkness) how I amend and alternate my retrieving angle on each successive cast, in order to take in or cover each of the three possible routes a bass, or the bass may take.

It worked a treat, as not only did we both catch on the white, Paddle Tailed Gravity Sticks (a lure he designed with Mads Grosell at Savage Gear) but my bass was hooked very close to me and just off of the weed, with Henry’s similar-sized fish snatching the lure farther out where the seabed dropped way – what a great way to christen his new camera!

Effort=Reward. If the fish are there, and you concentrate fully within the opportune periods of tide and weather, and with the correct tactics, I reckon you might be surprised at what is still feeding along our own patch in winter…

Surprise yourself

Taking into account the fact that you clearly you can’t catch what isn’t there, in addition to the conducive conditions being a rarity in winter perhaps, if you fancy the prospect of giving the winter bass a bash then I hope the information above will resonate enough to tempt you out. The way I’ve learnt is that you never know until you try… Go on, surprise yourself with a lovely, wintery, silvery bar!

Thanks for reading – Marc Cowling

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