The bass, a member of the perch family, has an elongated body with two dorsal fins. The front one is spiny, and the fish can raise it at will. Each dark gill cover has a sharp spine. Colour varies little – the fish has a grey back, distinctive silver sides and a white underside. The eyes and mouth are large, and the teeth are small.
Bass are predatory. Their huge mouths enable them to swallow large food items, but they also go for small minnows and crustaceans such as peeler crabs. They eat whitebait, slipper limpets, razorfish, squid, pilchards, sprats and herring. In the daylight they hunt by sight near the surface, where young sprats or herring gather. Casting an artificial lure (spoons, pirks or squid) in front of, or behind, shoals of smaller fish is a good way to catch bass. Sometimes you can locate them after fierce storms which stir the sea bed, for they come inshore at night or when the water is murky, using their excellent sense of smell to locate rag-worms, lugworms and other food.
Spawning occurs in May or June. Unlike cod, which shed all their eggs at once, female bass lay their eggs in batches. The eggs drift in shallow water and hatch into larvae in four to seven days. The fry head for the shelter of estuaries and feed on plankton and other small organisms. As they grow, they form shoals and feed on small fish and a fairly wide variety of crustaceans.
Since bass take four to six years to mature (much slower than cod), they are prone to overfishing. At this stage of their life they are only 30-35cm (12-14in) long. Using gill nets, commercial fishermen have decimated bass populations in many areas, taking many fish before they had a chance to spawn. EEC restrictions have now been imposed, and bass have a more optimistic future – though stocks are still exceedingly low.
The warm coastal waters of southern England, Ireland and Wales have scattered populations of bass. In particular, you can find them near estuaries, power station outflows, surf beaches, harbours and rocky headlands. Structures in deeper water such as reefs, off-shore sandbanks and wrecks also have large populations. If the water temperature is high enough in the summer months, bass move into the North Sea, but this is rare. Few are caught off northern England and Scotland, for they are not a cold-water species.
Bass are attracted to warm, freshwater feeding areas during the summer, and they swim up brackish rivers. The warmer water helps them to digest food at a much higher rate. When winter draws near, however, they retreat to the deeper waters of the Atlantic — swimming as far south as the Canary Islands. rocks