Bass Fishing Techniques

A ‘zone beyond the third wave’ sounds as superstitious and unattainable as the gold at the rainbow’s end. But if you can drop a bait inside that zone, you’ll find a magical reward The secret of successful bass fishing is not fancy tackle, complicated terminal rigs or exotic baits but being able to locate the fish.

Bass are an inshore species that feed along the shallows of estuaries, over rocky ground and in surf, currents and tideways. But by far the most popular and productive angling spots are surf beaches.

Beaches can be categorized into storm beaches, which are exposed to prevailing winds and the open sea, subject to almost continuous surf, and lee beaches, sheltered and free from big waves.

Feeding zone on storm beaches

Storm beaches may be steep, with the surf breaking a short distance out, or shallow, with white water showing for several hundred yards and the pent-up surge running well up the beach before receding. Scoured by ceaseless wave action, they look devoid of fish food. This is deceptive, for sandeels, immature flatfish, crabs, shrimps and other creatures are concentrated by the surf into a well-defined area. In this feeding zone, which runs through the surf, parallel to the beach, you will find bass. It may be quite narrow but you must locate this zone and cast into it. On steep beaches where the surf breaks close-in, the familiar advice ‘just beyond the third or last breaker’ will place your bait correctly. But on shallow storm beaches or on lee beaches the surf may be breaking 300 or 400 yards out, driving anglers unused to such conditions to despair. The fishing zone will be found in the first ‘water table’ rarely more than 80 yards out, and often much closer.

The water table is where the depth remains fairly constant despite the repeated surges and the water forms a ridge noticeably higher than the level nearby.

Wade out to knee depth and search the table by moving the bait around until bass are contacted. Fish at this distance until bites cease, then begin the search again.

Shallow storm beaches usually become steeper near the high-water mark. When the tide is almost full, the surf will shorten, and casts of 40-50 yards or less are sufficient.

Locating the bass

The task of locating bass on steep beaches is just the same. In moderate or light surf they can be fished for with lighter tackle than the shallow storm beach. Long casts are then unnecessary as bass in these conditions may be only a few yards out, patrolling along the edge.

AT-A-GLANCE

Specimen sizes

Bass specimen sizes are 7lb for boat and shore fish from Isle of Man, the North East and Lines: 9lb for the coast of Wales, Avon and Somerset, and Channel Isles; to 9 1/2 lb along England’s South and South West coast.

Rod

Double-handed spinning rod

Reel

Multiplier, fixed-spool

Line

b.s. 15lb to 25lb b.s.

Rocks: any expendable leads on rotten bottom

Sand: grip, breakaway leads

Hooks 10 to 40 fine wire

Baits

Sandeel, prawn, peeler crab, mackerel strip, small fish, squid-head, lugworm; many artificial lures

Techniques

Single and twohook traces, paternoster ledger, float fishing, drift lining of the shelf below low water mark. In flat calms, these steep beaches tend to fish better than shallow ones, particularly at nightfall and after dark.

In such conditions, a squid head fished on a 40 hook can take some very big fish. Terminal tackle is best kept simple—a twohook paternoster serves well in lively or strong surf, and a single-hook ledger in calmer conditions, when fish may be more particular. Hook sizes from 10 to 40 depend on the type and size of bait used. Lugworm and ragworm are the most commonly used baits, with lugworm proving the more successful after dark.

Soft or peeler crab is the most effective all-round bait for bottom-fishing, and clam, razorfish and slipper limpet are also good. Fish baits such as live and dead sandeel, or slips of mackerel or herring, will take the bass of specimen size.

In calm conditions or light surf, an ordinary casting ‘bomb’ without grips is adequate as it does not matter—indeed it will help in searching the water—if your bait wanders a little. In good surf, however, it will not stay in the feeding zone, and bombs with wire grips are essential for holding bottom. The breakway type are easier to free than the old fixed-wire kinds.

Three common faults

Lack of success on storm beaches can be attributed to three common faults: not holding your rod, casting and shifting ground too frequently. Changing fishing stations or moving around on a beach pays off only if you know the beach thoroughly. If you do not have detailed local knowledge—stay put. Bass will come your way at some stage, but if you move about you may leave just before the fish reach you. Missed and undetected bites make the difference between a good and a bad day’s fishing. Consequently, you should always hold your rod and stay alert. With the rod standing in its rod rests, bites may not register strongly enough to be noticed, and you may miss others because you cannot reach it in time to strike.

On lee beaches a wind usually does little but colour the water and fill it with weed. But in certain conditions, with a decent wind and wave, parts of a lee beach may develop a flash surf. Then you can fish those parts with every hope of success, for the bass will be concentrated into a narrow band. Otherwise look for the same sort of features as you would on a storm beach.

Likely fishing areas

Beaches may be a few hundred yards long or stretch for mile after featureless mile. Where does one fish? Both ends of a beach are likely areas. If there is a sweep of tide along a beach, bass tend to swim with it so choose accordingly. One end of a beach may fish better on the flood, on the ebb or at some stage in between. Only by consistent fishing will you get to know the local pattern. Even so, weather and seasonal tides may affect this timetable. Spring tides may provide different results from neaps. At other spots fish may come at any time.

Frequently, beaches are flanked by rugged coast which may hold bass in calm conditions, but when the sea gets too rough they are driven off and can be intercepted as they hit the beach. Similarly, any spout where a current or set of tide strikes the beach is worth trying, as fish are channelled there.

Pay attention to rocks, reefs, craggy cliffs, patches of weed on a stony or pebbly bottom, and points where the surf penetrates a little farther on to the beach or appears to be a little rougher. Anything that breaks up the monotony of an otherwise featureless beach is worth examining. Look, too, at stretches where sandeels are found in the coarse sand, or where sandbanks are covered by tide. Fish in the gullies between the sandbanks, as bass are rarely caught on top of them.

The bass larder

Low water exposes rock split by pools and clean patches of sand. Weed-covered boulders and stones or fissured platforms of rock may abound. This is the habitat of the shore crab, velvet swimming crab and the larger edible crab. Blennies, gobies, butterfish and eels are plentiful in the rock pools and under the damp weed, as are shrimps, prawns and slaters. Provided the waves are not too rough, big bass cannot resist such a rich larder.

Surfcasting tackle is quite ade-quate for fishing here. Long casting is unnecessary and may lose expensive tackle. Bass come in very close with the tide, nosing around in the shallows. Twenty to forty yards —less, sometimes—is usually far enough. It may seem wrong to cast right into the rough, but this is where the bass are. For fast retrieve of line over obstacles, some anglers claim that large fixed-spool reels are particularly good spots are where there is a current running onto or over a spur, reef or rock. But remember that your bait is more likely to be taken on the uptide side. It is important, after the sinker has settled, to tighten the line very gently to avoid pulling the sinker into weed or a snag.

Terminal tackle

Single-hook traces should be used, as two hooks double your chances of getting caught up. Mostly, however, it is the sinker which fouls, so when using either a single-hook pater noster or a paternoster ledger, always attach your sinker with some rotten-bottom. If you must break a fouled line, only the sinker is lost. Sparking plugs, rusty nuts or bolts, or even suitable stones will serve as disposable sinkers.

Bass feeding over rough ground bite very delicately. A paternoster ledger allows them to take line without becoming alarmed. Give the fish time to get hold of the bait before striking the hook home. If the fish is played gently at first, it usually heads for deeper water over less snaggy ground, where it can be fought more safely.

Float-fishing over rocks

In areas of high rock and deep gulhes, float fishing is effective and enjoyable. As the tide floods in over the rocks and fills the gullies and crevices, the bass move in, searching for food. They may be found close-in, often in very shallow water, so keep out of sight. –.

As the depth of water will vary considerably, your float will need frequent adjustment. Use just enough lead to take the bait down to the desired depth. In calm conditions a fine float is adequate, but in broken water it will not be seen, nor will it support the bait.

Allow the float to wander in the wash. The take is usually very positive, the float sinking down and away. Just tighten your line and lean back, and the fish will usually be hooked with ease.

Float fishing baits Live prawns and peeler crab are the most effective baits for float fishing, but a string of mackerel, sandeels and other small fishes, and lugworms, are also useful. Crabs can be a nuisance to the angler fishing on the bottom; they quickly shred and strip soft baits. Peeler crab is the best bait as it takes them longer to demolish their own kind.

Fishing over the bar

Irrespective of size, estuary fishing is governed by tidal flow. The typical small estuary has a shallow bar of sand or gravel at its mouth. At low water, bass congregate out-side this bar, waiting to run upriver on the incoming tide. When the tide has grown strong enough, it rushes over the bar and the waiting bass go in with it. This may not happen for several hours after the tide has turned, so that you can productively fish over the bar from the late ebb, during low water, and for an hour or two of the flood.

Unless there is a surf running on the bar, reasonably light tackle, such as a double-handed spinning rod, can be used for bottom-fishing. Driftlining with a live sandeel or a strip of mackerel is very effective. Use the force of the current to move the bait naturally and, by paying out line judiciously, search the ground over and beyond the bar.

Whether bottom-fishing or spinning with artificial lures in the chan-nel, remember that any particular spot will only yield catches for a certain period. Once the channel is no longer well defined and the water spreads over the sand or mud flats, fish become hard to locate.

Where small-boat fishing pays off

Small-boat fishing comes into its own in larger estuaries. You can anchor in narrows or constrictions of the channel, where bass often lie on the bottom, taking prey as it is swept past. Spin or driftline—either with artificial baits, sandeel or mackerel strip.

Cast a heavy spoon (such as a Toby) upstream at an angle of 45 degrees, and allow it to sink as it sweeps downtide, giving it an occa-sional jerk to impart life and keep it clear of the bottom. Bass usually take the lure as it swings around and straightens out downtide.

Estuarine sandbanks are best fished with sandeels mounted on a ledger tackle trundled along the bottom with the current. When the flood tide slackens, troublesome crabs may force you to float-fish your bait just above the bottom.

Sometimes you are lucky enough to find bass shoaling in pursuit of fry in an estuary, over reefs, or in tideways in the open sea. Be careful not to put the fish down by taking your boat through them or too close to the shoal. Get uptide or upwind of the shoal and drift back down by them—not through them. Casting the line towards the edges of the shoal and drawing it across in front of the shoal, will give better results than casting into the middle, for it will be more easily noticed than in the thick of the fry shoal. The size of the lure is often important as bass may become pre-occupied with fry of a certain size and ignore bigger or smaller lures. These shoaling bass afford the most enjoyable spinning on sporting tackle that British sea fishing can offer.

Ron Edwards Writes:

In large estuaries such as the Thames many sandbanks are formed. One of the most renowned is Pan Sands about five miles off Heme Bay, in Kent. This particular sandbank dries out at low water and is clearly marked by a beacon which can be seen from several miles away. There is little weed, as strong water flow prevents it taking root.

Whereas many banks run parallel with the tide, the Pan Sands run diagonally across the current. Bass are attracted to the lee side out of the tide run. As the sea flows across the bank, its depth changes from 30ft to 3-4ft in a matter of yards and the current speeds up enormously, resulting in a ruffle on the surface that clearly defines the outline of the bank. Small fish, such as sandeels and whitebait, are carried in the torrent over the top of the sand into the quieter water beyond, where the bass lie waiting for easy prey. Shoaling fish are betrayed by seagulls which await food-fish forced to the surface by the pursuing bass.

Marks such as Pan Sands provide better sport when fished from a dinghy than from a large charter boat. The shallow draught of a dinghy enables it to anchor right above the bank where, during the early flood tide, the water may be only one or two feet deep. Anchor a few feet uptide of the ripple; you can then cast on to the bank andlet the bait roll down to the waiting bass.

Handbook, so it is sufficient to say that the tube fly is an extension of the traditional salmon fly.

One of the first to reach the attention of salmon anglers was the Parker tube fly, since when all tube flies have followed a very similar style and method of construction. One of the earliest to earn a name was the Stoat Tail which, in its original form, consisted merely of fibres from the tail of a stoat, whipped round one end of a piece of tubing. As with all patterns which achieve a measure of popularity, variations soon began to appear, and these usually either took the form of additions to the tube body itself, using silk and tinsel as coverings, or by the addition of different coloured hairs to those used on the original Stoat Tail.

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