Client Catches – Murky Madness…

Client Catches – Murky Madness…

If, like me, you’ve been enjoying the ‘Indian Summer’ and the associated settled and sunny weather, then in conjunction with this, the seemingly endless and bountiful supply of whitebait/sprat and the mackerel shoaling around our coastline has most probably kept you smiling on the bass lure fishing front too! Not so the garfish I would imagine…!

Warm evenings, massive spring tides and generally calm, clear seas have most definitely influenced the feeding patterns of the bass here in south Devon (I can’t speak for elsewhere in the country of course), in addition to the types of venues in which I’ve hunted for them – both from a personal and guiding perspective. Alongside the catches, I’ve also taken in some stunning sunsets on this wonderful coastline and have met or been reunited with numerous ‘top blokes’ along the way – it’s been great I have to say, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this season.

Perfect conditions for a ‘night raid’ on a reef covered by shallow water as the light fades and the tide rises, yet we blanked on this occasion… Had the bass simply ‘had their fill’ earlier that afternoon, when the gulls, mackerel and most probably bass had been smashing the bait fish up…?

The downside

Has there been a downside to any of this to this wonderful run of weather? I wouldn’t say it’s had a negative impact, but there has been a couple of things I’ve needed to consider whilst planning the guided sessions, or when we’ve actually been out there and things weren’t necessarily going to plan. Tide – and lots of it, courtesy of fishing close to headlands, tide races, shelving shingle beaches and estuary mouths because they are the places where the ‘bait fish’ are routinely herded and hoarded within recent weeks has formed a part of my attack for sure.

Without a doubt, and as I’ve already mentioned within a couple of my posts this season, it has certainly been what I would determine as a ‘bait fish driven year’ and a continual case that if you “find the food/prey times mentioned you’ll invariably find the bass” – which isn’t always as easy as it reads when the coastline is vast and the bass are happy to swim miles and miles between tides (it appears) so to remain literally within immediate striking distance of this constantly moving ‘larder’.

Sprat or whitebait washed up on the beaches has been something of a regular occurrence for the past 6 weeks or so.

The opportunistic bass is also one that is tempted to stray from its more regular surroundings and patterns of behaviour (I’m thinking resident or territorial bass here that I talk about within multiple stories in my second book ‘Bass Lure Fishing – A Guide’s Perspective Volume 1‘) and whose ‘search image’ may have become so impressively refined in the highly transparent waters washing our shoreline and all the small silvery things frantically swimming within it that a lure just doesn’t ‘cut it’. Moreover, it may also be one or a group that may not want or be required to feed in darkness – as its belly is already full to the brim following an afternoon of glutinous and frenzied feeding activity…

The ‘Odds Game’

So then, after describing clear blue seas and the like you’re probably wondering why on earth this post is titled Murky Madness…? Well, the way I see it, if my odds are no more than 50/50 of locating those more ‘transitory and opportunistic bass’ (again, a nod to my second book here sorry!) out on the open coast, then if I consider that the estuary systems may provide with me odds closer to a 70 or even 80% chance of catching then this is where I’ll head…

If you’ve ever witnessed bait fish or fry being carried or corralled by the current then you will know that one of the things they will do (following the formation of a shoal to protect themselves – that only serves to actually highlight their presence in reality) is to attempt to harbour within the lee of some kind of structure. This could be in the form of a boat, jetty, a collection of rocks, a hump of gravel in the seabed, or indeed, within the seaweed.


The scenarios I’ve depicted above again involve the presence of clear(ish) or very clear water as you’ll actually be able to see the smelt, sprat or fry doing this – sometimes all year round too depending on what type of mini-species they are. But here’s the thing – on numerous occasions over the past few seasons I/we have observed bait fish scattering in water clarity ranging from decidedly green/grey to a downright disgustingly tea (with milk) and even chocolate colour, in which there is only a few centimetres of clarity at best… In this scenario the bait fish are effectively invisible to us unless…

Mullet, gliding through the shallows will very often disturb the bait fish, but what is clearly even more obvious will be bass actively attacking them! You may recall the blog post I wrote describing how fry scattering (as if being snapped at from below) within the flow or slick of current resulted in the capture of a gorgeous 66cm bass earlier this season (Client Catches – The Art of Watercraft here) – and the water definitely wasn’t clear that day as you can see below.

Us anglers can be equally as opportunistic as our quarry and here’s the proof courtesy of a smashing near-7lb bruiser that revealed its presence whilst chasing the tiny fry or bait fish. You can read the story of this client PB here.


So when I asked Tiger (a returning client with an impressive pedigree of extracting big fish – be it freshwater or salt) to shift along the shoreline some 10m or so to target a filthy zone of water in which I’d just spotted dozens of poor little fish maddeningly disperse at break-neck speed I knew there was likely to be only one culprit, and most probably, only one outcome…

“It’s head, back and tail came out of the water just after you placed me here as it smashed into the fry Marc”, were Tiger’s words as I unhooked his 2nd largest bass at 68cm (following the 70cm he landed whilst being guided by me for the first time last year here), “and within a few turns of the handle a couple of casts later it just hit the lure (a white Savage Gear Gravity Stick Paddle Tail rigged onto a SG weightless 6/0 hook) like a train before dragging about 10m off of the drag!”

68cm and well over 7lb I would imagine and under the sunniest of skies! I am quickly getting used to taking photographs with the Google Pixel 6 smartphone (that has replaced my Sony Cybershot Camera that was damaged when a wave washed into my Dry bag!) set to ‘Portait Mode’.


What a fish, and one that started the 3 Day Package that Tiger was enjoying with his friends JT and Alan with a bang – quite literally! Would I have asked Tiger to have cast his lure into that particular region if I hadn’t of spotted the disturbance? Possibly… But what is of huge, huge significance in my view, is that these very decent-sized bass, who are most probably within the early teenage years in regards to their age and therefore highly astute predators, can actually sense and ultimately see these tiny 2-4″ fish in water that is so coloured – it’s like they just know they should be there…

I often look back and reflect to 20-25 years ago when I was desperately trying to ascertain where and how I could gain a consistency to my catch rate, and a happily recurring theme is that with each atypical capture (and similar capture that backs up a theory and so on) outside of ‘the norm’ or what I’d previously believed to be the best time and venues to fish for these marvellous creatures, helps me to place another piece onto the jigsaw puzzle.

There’s no other fish like them in my humble opinion!

Thanks for reading

Marc Cowling

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