Bass are warm water fish. The time of their inshore arrival and their departure to deeper, warmer waters varies for different parts of the country. On the north coast of Cornwall they usually arrive around the end of March and leave around October. Farther down the west coast -round Land’s End, for example – they stay all year round. Although you can sometimes catch them farther north, East Anglia round to North Wales is about as far as they go in any numbers. Often the specimen-sized fish arrive separately from the other fish. In the Treyarnon area this tends to be the last two weeks in July.
So the first thing you need to do is find out when the bass are in. Ask local anglers, fishing guides and tackle dealers and keep an eye on the angling press. It might sound obvious but you won’t catch bass if they aren’t there!
The right ground
The type of ground is important for bass. Look for an area of rock stretching maybe 50m (55yd) or more from the high to the low water mark and finally giving way to sand. (Steep rocky headlands dropping severely into very deep water are not suitable.)
The main attraction for bass is food. If the rocks are weed-free and polished smooth there won’t be much of that. What you are after is weedy, ideally mussel-covered rock, traversed by crab-infested gullies, and riddled with fissures, nooks and crannies stuffed with natural yum! If the gullies have sandy bottoms then so much the better. The gullies are really the key elements because bass swim up and down them rather like the way we walk up and down a pavement — except they eat their dinners out of them!. The angler aims to ‘trap’ or ambush the bass in these gullies.
Time and tide
Under the right conditions you can catch during the day, but late evening and night are without doubt best. Fishing the tide down to low water is nearly always more successful than fishing up to high tide. (In most places, you can work out when low tide is by looking up the time of the high tide prior to a session and adding about six hours and ten minutes.)
For example, let’s say that on a particular day low water is at midnight and that sunset’s at around 9:00pm. The theory is that during the day big fish (5lb/2.3kg or more) are out in open water chasing shoals of mackerel and pilchards. Twilight offers them security to swim confidently into gullies and search for crabs, prawns, sandeels and other delicacies.
Often they come in for only an hour -just cruising around. In our example this would be around 9:30-10:30pm. The hour either side of low water can be very poor. The reason is that as the gullies empty the bass feeding area widens out once more, making the bass less likely to come across your bait.
Sometimes as the tide begins to flood back into the gullies they concentrate again. You should know straight away if they’ve returned. If you don’t get an indication pretty soon, don’t waste time – move on to another mark or knock it on the head altogether. In any case you never seem to get as many fish as on the backtide.
You rarely need to cast beyond 100m (110yd) and, compared with mullet or mackerel, bass aren’t the hardest fighters. A light 12ft (3.6m) carbon beach caster capable of casting 2-4oz (56-113g) or a heavy spinning rod (or even a coarse carp rod) is adequate. A bit of softness in the top is essential in helping you to feel for bites and useful for fighting fish at close quarters, but the rod should not be sloppy. Some reserve power lower down is necessary for casting and helpful if you snag up.
The right technique
You’ve put together a balanced rig and chosen a likely looking area. The next considerations are: bait, precisely where to cast and what type of bites to expect. Bait As an all-rounder you can’t beat a fresh peeler cut in half with a pair of scissors. On the first cast use two new halves but after that, on each new cast, remove one old half and replace it with a fresh one. This conserves bait while keeping the hookbait attractive. Shirring elastic keeps it compact and holds it on the hook. Fresh ragworm and lugworm are also good — particularly at night when bass hunt by sense of smell. Casting area. The traditional rule of casting just beyond the third breaker may apply to some beaches but often it’s not vital. Indeed, sometimes this might involve a cast of over 400m (440yd)! More often than not you can catch bass closer than 50m (55yd) — sometimes right under your feet.
Start by dropping your bait into a likely looking spot — between two rocks at the mouth of a gulley perhaps – and then gradually work towards yourself with each cast, searching the gulley as you go. Especially at night, there’s no substitute for having a feel for the tackle and knowing the spot you’re fishing like the back of your hand. (Even on a still night you can’t tell where a lead has landed by listening for the splash.) Keep a tight line to the bait all the time. If the line is blowing in a great bow around the rocks and the lead is dragging along the bottom, you’re fishing in the wrong conditions. Keep the bait still and leave it where it is. Bass fishing is about patience and confidence.
If you are fishing straight out in front you may be fishing into 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) of water, but don’t be put off by much shallower water. In a gulley at night, on a back- ing tide, there may be no more than 60cm (2ft) —just be prepared for the fish to surface as soon as you hit it!
A funny feeling Don’t expect bass to pull the rod in—they rarely do. You have to learn to read the bites. Hold the rod all the time and use your fingers to feel the line. It’s hard to explain but you have to be really ‘switched on’ for this type of fishing. Bites on crab can be very gentle, perhaps because the bass are wary of them — they expect a crab to fight back. Often all you feel is a gentle bump – almost as if the lead had dropped into a slight indentation in the rock or between the ripples on the sand. Often this can be a big fish.
Really it’s only experience that tells you when to strike. When you feel something-suspicious, try tightening up to the lead very gently – so as not to disturb it or the bait – feeling all the while for signs of life. If you do feel a knock, rattle or bump worthy of striking, wind down to the fish as you strike to take up any slack or stretch in the line, and to keep the fish out of the rocks.