In the warmer months bristling predatory bass can be found in all manner of coastal locations, from surfy beaches through to muddy harbours and estuaries.
The challenge for many dedicated sea anglers is to catch a double-figure specimen – a real catch of a lifetime, especially from the shore.
Large shoals of juvenile bass, often referred to as schoolies, haunt the coast in pursuit of prey, which is extremely diverse.
They’ll smash into shoals of baitfish, but are just as eager to inhale crabs and molluscs off the sea bed. Estuaries and harbours are prime warm weather schoolie hotspots.
These muddy habitats yield a rich and diverse range of marine organisms, the majority of which feature on a bass’s menu.
Catching smaller bass is pretty straightforward. Locate a shoal and sport is almost a dead cert. It’s that classic shoal instinct of eating anything they come across – snooze and you lose, as your other shoal mates wolf it down!
Great sport can be had targeting lively schoolies on light coarse gear, though fairly abrasive mouths and rough scales call for lines of no lower than 6 lb breaking strain. Here’s what Matt Sparkes uses…
Bass on quivertip gear with Matt Sparkes
The method I employ for my bassing session is to use my Avon rod with its quivertip section, coupled with a freespool reel loaded with durable 6 lb Maxima, fished straight through, paternoster style, with a chemically sharpened Aberdeen size 1 hook and a 1 oz carp bomb.
Bait wise, I opted for that classic sea bait, ragworm, this time choosing the fattest, juiciest king rag that my chum Deano, from Purbeck Angling, had to offer.
Bass have cavernous mouths, and a worm as thick as your finger is a mere snack!
1. Warm summer months herald the bass season. They are the number one species for many keen sea anglers.
You’ll find them all around the coast, in every conceivable marine habitat, from tranquil sandy beaches to muddy harbours.
A bass’s diet is broad, and anything is fair game. Sandeels and crabs are cropped with gusto, and it’s the latter that bring bass into harbours, estuaries and tidal rivers.
Tides definitely affect your chances of catching them. I arrive just as the tide begins to rise steadily, as this brings in all the edible goodies that vast shoals of schoolies seek out. Sport can often be hectic, with fish after fish of all the same size wolfing down your bait.
Expect the odd biggie, too. This smashing 7 lb 8 oz fish (above) nailed my king rag bait within seconds of casting out, and did it ever fight! It’s fantastic sport on a quivertip rod.
2. Tidal stretches, which are incredibly rich in all manner of mud-loving marine organisms, can often produce impressive numbers of bass.
Crabs in particular are abundant, and armour cladding and powerful pincers do nothing to deter a hungry bass.
Tiny shrimps also inhabit these muddy shores and are predated by many juvenile marine species, including little fingerling bass – all of which are happily taken by bigger bass. This is also prime mullet territory, and a winter flounder feeding ground.
3. Bass can be caught using many different methods – I’ve even seen plenty of schoolies caught on fly gear by experienced fluff chuckers.
A great method in this harbour environment is to use quivertip tactics – not the delicate 1 oz tips you’d use for little silver fish, but the beefier tips associated with twin-tipped Avon-style rods.
Abrasive pads on a bass’s mouth and rough scales call for a main line and hook length of no lighter than 6 lb breaking strain.
Hooks can be either a size 6-8 carp hook or, even better, a chemically sharpened Aberdeen medium shank in a size 1 or 2. Lead size depends on the strength of the tide, but a 1 oz carp bomb is usually okay.
4. Ever present shore crabs can be insufferable, stripping your hooks bare within a minute of casting out. These habitats provide an easy, crunchy feast for visiting bass.
It pays to take plenty of bait with you, not to feed off these annoying nippers (there’s no chance of that!), but to make regular casts in the hope that a passing bass will wolf down the wriggling treat before the greedy crabs get a look in.
Another option is to float fish, keeping your bait just off the deck. Use the same sort of outfit as for floodwater chubbing, of robust line and chunky Loafer floats carrying around 3 to 6 SSG. It certainly saves on bait, but trotting tactics do generally seems to pick out the smaller bass.
5. Playing a lively bass on fairly light gear (by sea fishing standards) is exciting stuff, with a bullying scrap akin to a big chub.
Sport is almost non-existent on a low tide, but as soon as it starts to back up, the bass appear, sometimes in big shoals, with the odd biggie hugging the deck, seeking out crabs and devouring them whole, pincers and all.
Fishing through into the darkness can also yield some impressive bass catches, but have your wits about you, making sure the route back to your car isn’t cut off by a higher than normal spring tide!
6. Handle your catches with care. Bass are a valuable commodity for recreational sea anglers, and it’s nice to slip them back in tip-top nick, which often means a few seconds of nursing them back to full health before letting them swim off.
Watch out for those spines, too. Little, lively schoolies have numerous spiny fins and sharp gill plates, which will pepper your hands with painful stab wounds as you try to calm them down for unhooking. A wet cloth or gloves saves you from too much blood loss.
A spacious, river-style net will land the biggest of bass, and an extra long, sturdy handle helps to reach fish from moorings, harbour walls and rocky venues.
7. Quivertipping is the best method for estuary bass fishing, especially where crabs are present. Little judders and plucks are registered easily, giving you a warning that your bait is being devoured systematically.
A solid Avon tip doesn’t register a crab’s unwanted presence anywhere near so effectively. A bass bite is altogether different, though, a full-on slamming affair that can wrench your rod clear of the rest.
Barbel anglers will be very familiar with these ‘three foot twitches!’ For that reason, I prefer to use a reel with a freespool mode, to prevent the rod disappearing into the sea!
8. Legal restriction have been stepped right up to help conserve our fragile bass stocks, as commercial fishing has hammered European bass numbers.
In the first part of 2018, all fish caught by British anglers needed to be released immediately. There were also limits placed on commercial fishing – some say not tight enough.
But from October, anglers were allowed to take one fish per session, until the end of 2018.
The current UK shore-caught bass record stands at a mighty 19 lb, but many considerate bass anglers release very big specimens, as these bigger fish are of crucial breeding age.
Bass are slow-growing and long-lived fish (a 10 lb specimen could be 20 or even 30 years old). They take six or seven years to reach sexual maturity, and are generally in excess of 40 cm long at that stage.
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