My Recent Catches – Splash n’ Dash…!
No I haven’t been for a swim again in my quest for a February lure-caught bass, but rather the catches that I’ve achieved so far this month (don’t get too excited mind!) have all had numerous components in common – with one in particular being dominant and potentially noteworthy with future sessions in mind…
So before I reveal what has been the magic formula (although you may well of guessed from the title and my reference to it within my previous blog post here) allow me to highlight the six other elemental, and indeed, integral ingredients:
- The successful marks were all ‘high-tide’ venues.
- Calm to ‘slight chop’ sea conditions were observed during the sessions.
- The night time air temperature was around 10oC – exceptionally warm for February.
- The successful venues have been at the mouths of or just outside of estuaries.
- The only lure that I utilised was the Savage Gear Gravity Stick Pulse Tail (in white).
- All of the bass were landed well into darkness.
Now, were not talking about huge bass here, or indeed huge numbers – but in the five short sessions I have completed I have managed to land six bass measuring between 42 and 53cm (so mostly mature fish) with a silly number of ‘bites or hits’ missed or that failed to hook up… More on that later.
Why the short sessions? Well certainly not because it was cold and frosty out there as the air temperature, as mentioned, was around 10oC often before, during and after the sessions, despite some of them ending after midnight – crazy stuff considering you’d be happy with those kind of numbers during the day at this time of the year. If it had been frosty I would have been remaining next to the fire rather than stood out in the wilds, as I was suffering from a rotten cold (not COVID as I did keep testing) over the period of these captures and I think the fresh air actually did me good!
Worth the effort
Returning to those elemental ingredients then, and as I’m sure you would have picked up on, I do like to complete my mid-to-late winter fishing forays in the darkness, and not just because over the past four winters I’ve alternated between writing books and ‘decorating and doing up’ my home, and therefore, the evening’s afford me the opportunity. No, it’s because I’ve come to the realisation that as the water temperature decreases alongside the metabolic rate of the bass, my quarry subsequently ‘prefers’ to hunt at night also, when I believe there is more available food present (something I wrote about following the capture of the first 70cm+ bass of the 2021 season here). Essentially, its just more reward for the effort exerted from mine and the bass’s perspective I guess!
You won’t find me out night fishing in Gales (unless I can find shelter of course) or pouring rain, so again, it’s probably no surprise that the bass I managed to hook, admire and return were achieved when the sea was calm to choppy, but generally clear, all courtesy of that enormous area of high pressure that stuck around for 3-4 weeks from mid-January through to the second week of February – and very welcome it was too.
The types of venue and environment then – and the fact that each of the five sessions were completed from a different venue suggests a number of things: that there must have been quite a few bass around the South Hams coastline taking advantage of the relative warmth (the sea temperature was also hovering between 10.3 and 10.6oC during these sessions which is above average), the prolonged settled spell of weather was most definitely conducive to catching, and finally, that my tactics were correct – although as you’ll read shortly it was only something very specific that accounted for these fish.
An unbroken sandy seabed, one with mud combined with gravel/shingle, plus regions encompassing ledges dropping off into deeper water and one with a distinctly weedy margin all came up trumps, not only on spring high tides, but also on the subsequent neaps – with the hour either side of high water proving the definitive time. Moreover, as is so often the case in darkness, that first hour of the ebb really is the ‘golden hour’ on a good percentage of my marks – the number of which is consistently growing as I continue to hone my approach season by season.
The lure type
Although I did experiment in regards to mark selection (I could have gone almost anywhere I wished due to the wonderfully settled sea conditions), my sole intention during these sessions was to catch what is a rare beast – which is what a February bass most certainly is. This is why I didn’t deviate from commencing each session with a lure that I have supreme confidence in – the Savage Gear Gravity Stick Pulse Tail in white, rigged onto the Savage Gear 6/0 3g belly-weighted hook, with that all important spike weight inserted where the Sun doesn’t shine (you can find all of these items here).
Now I’m fully aware that I am in danger of sounding like a broken record in regards to the effectiveness of these lures! However, the truth of the matter is that the more I play around with the style of the retrieve (speeding up, slowing down, the pause, allowing them to sink mid-recovery etc.) the more reliable they are becoming – all I am doing here is sharing this information.
This all leads me to the most significant factor – that all six of the bass I have caught so far in February were hooked within 1-3 seconds of the lure splashing on the surface and descending through the water column. OK, so the capture of six bass is hardly going to prove anything categorically, but consider and then contemplate this: between 20-40% of all of the bass my clients or I make contact with whilst fishing with level-sinking soft plastics or needlefish in darkness (note – not necessarily land) occurs within this short, yet seemingly vital period in the whole process – serious numbers of fish and big ones too!
I am not pulling your leg here either when I say that if I’d landed every bass that attempted to eat (or maim) the lure during the 14 hours of total fishing over those five sessions, that I would have already smashed my ‘best’ February tally of 18 fish in the month – achieved during that remarkable spell in early 2019 (see here). How I missed them or why they didn’t hook-up I’ll never know, because there were numerous occasions when, as the bass clearly moved through, I would receive almost a bite a cast for sometimes four or five successive casts – bonkers!
There’s more too, in fact it’s what actually prompted me to come at this blog post from this angle – the fact that I did not receive one single bite whilst the lure was transiting back towards me on the retrieve, despite trying all of the tricks that have worked wonders for me since mid-December, including bass of 63, 66 and 71cm respectively.
What I’ve covered thus far are the actualities, but for the moment conjecture takes a little more precedence! Please bear in mind that these are my own theories and thoughts, but there could be a number of reasons for the following occurrences:
- Even though the air and sea temperature was exceptionally warm for the time of year at 10oC+, in my experience it is still on the lower limit/scale of when I would consider bass to actively ‘chase down’ a lure here in south Devon – hence the lack of interest while the soft plastic is travelling primarily on a straight trajectory. That said, you could certainly argue that rising rapidly in the water column to snatch at something that has only just entered the water requires them to exert a greater amount of energy…?
- Although I was targeting very specific underwater and known bass holding features during some of the sessions, unless there were dozens of them laying in wait (possible) on the more barren stretches of terrain waiting for the Gravity Stick to appear, I doubt very much I could land it on their heads as often as the bites I received! Instead, they must surely have been reacting to the noise created by the lure impacting into the water, and as they swam through in the tide they would deviate from their initial track to investigate…?.
- I am certain that a bass ferociously hitting a surface lure in bright, calm, clear, daylight conditions is not only doing it out of their innate or inherent instinct, but also because they are swimming in a shoal whereby it’s a case of of ‘eat it or miss out’ – the competitive aspect as it were. Maybe this is still the case in the depths of winter also, in the sense that providing the lure lands close enough to them to sense and perhaps immediately see it (despite the darkness which I really don’t think is a problem for these apex predators), if they are swimming in a group (and the sporadic bursts of hits and bites does lean towards this presumption) and they are feeding then ‘he or she who reacts slowest goes hungry!’
- As intimated, if I’d landed every bass that made an attempt at the lure I would have caught a good two dozen over the sessions, therefore, perhaps some of the fish were tiny, or maybe they were being reticent, or maybe I was just unlucky not to hook them?
To conclude, what I can say with certainty is the more ‘controlled tension’ I retained through the braid/leader immediately the lure entered water and sank, the greater the chance of a solid hook-up. Indeed, I cannot emphasis enough the importance of being in ‘solid contact’ with it at the precise moment it plummets into the water, as it really is a case of as the lure splashes, they seemingly dash in and nail it!
Pre-empt the moment of impact by tethering or ‘checking’ the flight of the lure, and then concurrently bringing over the bail-arm as you raise the rod up into the 45o position – winding rapidly if you need to, especially if there is a bit of wind swirling around. From this point, continue to turn the reel’s handle at whatever pace is required to perpetuate that essential level sink rate and overall ‘tightness and feel’ and then await ‘that BANG!!!’ I bloody love it!
Finally, and last but not least, the reason I believe these occurrences are noteworthy and/or of real significance, is that with my future clients in mind (more so if I have two or three of them and I can experiment a little), and indeed my solo sessions or even when fishing with a mate, I might even go to the extent of casting out the lure, be it a Gravity Stick, DoLive Stick, Needlefish, Albie Snax or Wave Worm (none of which I’ve suddenly forgotten about I hasten to add) and only actually ‘fishing it’ expressly for those few seconds that it splashes and sinks, before retrieving it in very quickly and doing this repeatedly.
It may sound counter productive, but in my eyes, given how often it has proven so devastatingly effective, it could actually increase the odds of catching – especially if the bass are being coy, reticent or just plain difficult to tempt, yet I am positive they are out there…
The Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society have just published their review (here) of my second title ‘Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective‘ (Henry Gilbey’s review can also be found here). Further, details of my first release ‘The Lure of The Bass‘ can be found here. (BASS also reviewed this book here).
Both books are available to reserve/pre-order by contacting me directly via the Contact Form below, whereby I will endeavour to reply as soon as possible with the payment details – I accept Bank Transfer or PayPal: