Bass from a boat

Commercial fishermen are occasionally lucky enough to take huge bass weighing up to 30lb (13.6kg). Fish of only half that weight are also fairly rare, but are prized catches for sport anglers, says Mike Millman. river systems. Salcombe in Devon and Barmouth in North Wales are noted bass fishing areas for the small boat angler.

Rough and ready to feed

A fast tide run is essential for successful bass fishing. The harder it runs the better the end result often is. Most of the famous bass marks feature a hard-running tide and the marks given here are popular with both charter boat parties and private boats for both.

During the warm months between April and October, when they are most abundant, bass become a treasured target for a swarm of determined, some would say obsessed, boat anglers. If you’re thinking of joining the ranks of dedicated bass anglers in pursuit of a dream double-figure fish, you need to know where to go, what tackle to use and the best way to fish for your prey.

Specimen bass tend to occupy prime feeding areas – where sandeel and its larger relative the launce head up the menu. Kent waters are very productive and account for both British Boat and Shore records. Heavy bass are regularly taken by boat anglers near Reculver Sands off Kent,. The Needles and other places round the Isle of Wight, Alderney Race in the Channel Islands, Beachy Head, Portland Bill, Lannacombe Bay, Eddystone Reef and the Manacles.

You can also expect bass in estuaries, particularly those with a sand bar. The fish are often willing to penetrate deep into tidal that reason – the big tides mean big bass.

Many of the best areas don’t just have a fast tide run. There is also some sort of sea bed feature – usually a bank or reef- which channels the tide and provides shelter for predators and prey. In the tidal maelstrom around the feature, bass attack the launce, mackerel and other prey fish. This also occurs round some wrecks in big tide areas.

It can be important to fish at the right state of the tide. In Lannacombe Bay, knowledgeable anglers prefer the first two hours and the last hour of the flood to fish for bass on the drift, though you can catch at other times. Bass around offshore reefs such as Eddystone and the Manacles are most active at dawn. Specialists like to be on the grounds before first light.

Set-up and method

If you’re fishing from a charter boat your skipper will know the hotspots and steer you to the best zones. You don’t need specialized gear but make sure your rod, line and other bits are equal to the job. Rods and reels A 10ft (3m) uptiding rod with a medium action, or a two-handed spinning rod matched with a small multiplier carrying monofilament up to 20lb (9kg) test, suits the tackle demands perfectly. But the average 7lAft (2.3m), 20lb (9kg) test boat rod is quite acceptable although this gear is somewhat less sporting and less fun to use.

Line For bass fishing on the drift you need a long monofilament trace – up to 6m (20ft) of no more than 15lb (6.8kg) test – which is set up to come off a plastic lead boom. Connect the trace to a swivel with a bead cushioning it where it meets the boom. Leads and booms Weight the boom with enough lead to keep it tight to the bottom. A square-sided torpedo of about 4oz (113g) is usually enough. It is vital to keep the trace on the bottom and to achieve this you pull line steadily from the multiplier or allow it to go off under thumb pressure. Set the multiplier clutch precisely to suit the strength of monofilament used.

The baits

In many cases, nothing beats a live launce or sandeel, though dead eel and even mackerel strip can also work. Prawns and shrimps are a fine alternative, while artificials such as plugs take many fish. For really big bass over wrecks, some anglers use only live joey mackerel. Hooks and hooking Match the hook to the bait. You need a fine wire hook for a live eel. A Mustad Black Nordic Bend size 3/0 no. 4447B is ideal, but a blued Aberdeen is almost as good. Mount a live eel by passing the hook point in under the jaw and pulling through. Then nick it through the underbelly just behind the head. A gentle pull back seats the hook neatly against the bait fish’s head. Be sure you only nick the belly skin or the eel quickly dies.

The method Drift fishing around banks and reefs is a very successful way to take bass from a boat. The trick is to find the productive areas where the tide concentrates the bait fish and the bass (good charter boat skippers know these places) and to work your bait along the bottom contours.

Bass can attack baits with great ferocity. If line cannot peel off the reel under pressure, the first rush of a hooked fish either snaps it or pulls the hook free. Every bass puts up the fiercest possible struggle and the power of a double-figure specimen is remarkable, especially in the fast tide. Bass are very cunning and often switch from diving away to heading back up towards the boat. If you’re not familiar with bass antics it’s easy to believe the fish has broken away. If it happens, retrieve the slack line as fast as you can to restore direct contact.

There is a great danger of losing the fish when it nears the surface. Bass don’t like the light and a glimpse of sky invokes an even fiercer struggle to escape. Keep a tight line to the fish and gently but firmly play it, and then you can draw it safely to a wide-mouthed net.

Plugging away

Small boat and dinghy anglers can do well slow trolling in estuaries. Mount a sandeel on an Aberdeen hook with a long trace, and work it well astern of the craft – away from engine noise and prop wash.

If you’re looking for bass aboard a small boat, keep an eye open for working birds. A flock repeatedly diving or displaying a high level of activity near the surface often indicates that a shoal of small fish has been driven towards the surface by hunting bass.

Manoeuvre the boat around the disturbance and then turn it at an angle, allowing the bait to pass through the area where the bass are feeding. Small artificial eels and plugs (notably Rapalas) can be particularly effective for this.

Plug fishing for predatory species such as bass is becoming very popular. If you locate bass feeding on small fish you could be in for some exciting sport. Carefully and quietly motor close to the spot, kill the engine and let the boat drift. Cast plugs beyond the disturbance and allow them to sink under the influence of a small Wye or barrel lead, positioned above a swivel set 1.2m (4ft) from the plug. When the plug is 3m (10ft) or so below the surface, retrieve it with a series of jerks.