Species spotlight – Bass

While my fishing time will be slightly limited over the next few weeks, I will be writing species guides to many of us fish encountered around Anglesey and North Wales. It didn’t take much thinking which would be the first fish under he spotlight – the mighty bass.
When beginning the adventure into guiding I knew bass would be a very popular target. There is a great fasination with them, and they tick all of the boxes; on the right gear they give a great fight, they look good and taste pretty good too if you like to keep the odd one. They also pose a challenge, many anglers including myself have spent hours stood in the surf holding the rod waiting for that telltale thump as a bass takes the bait. To the inexperienced fisherman catching one can feeling impossible task, and those more experienced may turn up at a productive mark in ideal conditions only to draw a blank and be scratching their heads. In this (fairly) brief guide I’ll cover as many aspects of bass fishing as I can by drawing on my own experience, going through the methods tend to use at different types of marks, baits and when to fish. Anyone looking for specific marks I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed but my aim is to give you the knowledge to scout and try marks out for yourself.

Thinking back to sessions this year where I’ve caught bass, either targeted or accidentally there is one common factor – water movement. This means anything from a big spring tide, the incoming (or outgoing) tide through a narrow channel or round a headland, or waves breaking making the water ‘fizz’. The amount and type of movement along with the location are linked to other factors such as water clarity and with the weather conditions usually dictate the methods I would use.
It’s often written that the period of high tides two days either side of a big spring tide is best for bass. This is true at some marks, as sufficient water covers areas normally inaccessible for the fish to hunt over. Boulder fields, beaches with gulley’s close to the high tide mark and narrow creeks and estuaries suddenly become fishable. At shallow rocky areas of open coast the fish will be mooching around boulders and along the margins of rock pools ambushing crabs, shrimps and small fish. Often bass will actually wait in the gulley and deeper pools for the tide and waves to wash a meal towards them. If the water is clear, a lure imitating the natural prey could work a treat while being able to fish a greater area, as there won’t be bass in every pool. Otherwise in a rough, dirty sea, a big crab, worm or squid bait would be my preferred approach. The sheltered expansive sand/mudflats at the Bangor end of the Menai Strait also tend to fish better on a bigger tide as you get more time fishing when the water reaches the shingle – wading onto the mud is a definite no no as the water comes in faster than you can move.
Headland marks can range from shallow points at the end of a beach to rock marks that plunge into 30ft or more depth basically at your feet. In strong currents bass will position themselves in pockets of water close to the shore out of the lateral current. If the current is moving right to left it’s a sure bet that the bass will sit and wait for a meal on the left side of the headland. With less tide run headlands can still be a great place to target as the fish will pass as they move along the coast, almost acting like a bottleneck. What time is very mark dependent and reliant on doing a bit of homework to find the fish holding features and the best state and size of tide to fish. On the shallower marks light ledgering a worm or crab bait that rolls around a bit can be effective, though if the ground is rough and water clear I would prefer shallow diving lures to reduce tackle losses. Deeper marks I have had results float fishing or deep spinning a sandeel very close to any rock structure. Don’t be afraid to try for bass at any mark, if they are caught on beaches a mile either side of a deep rock mark they have to pass there at somepoint.
A host of marks on Anglesey come under the ‘narrow channel’ category. Parts of the Menai Strait have very narrow shallow channels at low tide, and there are many estuaries that virtually dry out at low tide. These are my favourite areas to fish as they pose a bit of a challenge. The window when the marks are fishable is often short and the window to catch is often shorter, before weed and strong currents make presenting a lure or a bait in a natural way difficult. They all fish slightly differently but I feel most confident fishing the first 2 hours of the flood on medium to neap tides. However in some Menai straits marks I will be persisting later in the tide, as I’m sure that another wave of bass would arrive further into the flood.
Standing in the surf with water lapping over the top of my wellies was where my sea fishing career began. On the mid Wales beaches holding the rod was the way to go, with a tripod more bites were missed than hooked. I find on Anglesey I’m waiting longer for bass bites fishing this way, and when there is a big surf on I’m fishing heavier and further out to find the fish than I would have done previously. I would go as far to say the rougher the sea and dirtier the water the better,certainly if you are fishing daytime. As well as fishing straight off a beach it would always be worth trying rocks adjacent to the beach that are accessible throughout the tide. Often the fish run close to the rocks looking for food washed out, and you aren’t moving your gear every 15 minutes. Anglesey usually needs a few days of strong winds to whip up a decent surf and fishing in the middle of the weather can be very productive, but if that’s not possible i would aim to fish the first sign that the wind is dropping or changing direction. State of tide depends on the mark but to give myself the best chance of catching at somewhere new I’d start fishing either side of low or high tide. That’s usually gives away whether the mark would fish best on the flood or ebb.
So how do I set up for bass? Where possible I use a stiff 9ft plugging rod with 20lb braid for almost everything. I can plug away and if that’s not working a quick rummage for a couple of crab and I can be ledgering with 1 or 2 ounce weight. I think I am almost too reliant on this gear when sometimes a light beachcaster and the need for a heavier weight would help hold bottom for longer. Rough weather and pounding surf usually dictates the need for heavier gear and despite feeling a bit overkill would go for 5-7oz capable beachcasters. Rigs are always made simple, either a running ledger with the weight simply slid into the line, or a pulley rig with pennelled hooks up to 4/0 size, even a small bass has no trouble with hooks that big. I have caught bass on all manner of different rigs but these are the two I would use when targeting bass. I can present a reasonable size bait at distance and if I’m going for bass, I’m not usually trying to catch small ones!
Lure fishing is still quite new to me but I’ve put a lot of hours into it this year. I carry a range of surface sliders and poppers, sub surface and deep divers as well as soft plastics. The ground I’ve had most success on so far has been shallow so naturally I am slightly biased towards using shallow diving lures. I’ve also narrowed down the lures I take out to mostly ones that look like natural prey items; mackerel and sandeel patterns are a favourite but also darker lures that look like small Pollack or blennies.
Successful bass fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time. The only way to do that consistently is to do your research on a mark, scout it in the daytime before fishing a range of conditions to find the most productive. Taking notes, both the blanks and catches, will help build a pattern, and I feel this is one reason I’ve had more success this year than previously. I hope this article has helped inspire a few people to give bass fishing a serious crack. Let them show their muscle on light gear, then give them the respect they deserve by letting them swim off again. Can never fail to bring a smile to your face.
Cheers for reading
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