Some Lessons Learned By Leigh Davies
Isn’t it strange how we bass anglers in the main tend to be creatures of habit? My favourite conditions when plugging for bass in North Wales are gentle breezes and a calm sea state. I suspect that the reason for this probably has more to do with ease of fishing than anything else, but nevertheless I seem to have had some quite good results when the weather is settled and there is no, or very little, surface chop. This outlook has been ingrained into my psyche since I began plugging seriously about three years ago – until last week that is. I was over in Ireland for a weeks bass fishing and as usual was scanning the local weather forecasts in the hope of hearing about ‘light winds’ and ‘gentle breezes’ that would enable me to fish in my favoured conditions. Of course, in South East Ireland things are that much more critical than on say, Anglesey, for even a moderate onshore wind here can produce an unfishable sea. As it turned out, for the first two days the variable winds were between 15mph and 25mph, and on the third day, a South Westerly hit gale force at times. Initially, I didn’t feel at all confident. Old habits die hard and my calm sea had not materialized, but after managing to land eight bass over three days by moving around, the best being a nice 6lb 2oz specimen caught on the first day, I was pleasantly surprised and felt much happier about my prospects for the rest of the week. All of the bass were caught on a 120mm, 30grm Contact Feed Popper which is a beautifully finished plug with holographic sides and a green back/white belly which I like to use when the sea state is too rough for the smaller and lighter Duel Aile Magnet/Yo Zuri Mag Popper. I know that this is when a lot of BASS members like to use a Chug Bug but I just can’t take to them somehow, despite catching my largest bass on a blue and chrome Bug last year. The Feed Popper has two large trebles and inside the rear of the lure are three ballbearings that cause it to sit vertically in the water rather than lie flat like the Chug Bug. Whether this makes a difference or not I don’t know but it was certainly the plug that worked for me all week. Result! Light North Easterlies forecast for the rest of the week. I was going to clean up! “You’ll not be catchin’ anythin’ in that flat sea” came the unsolicited comment from a solitary old local walking his dog at dawn on the lonely, desolate headland as I made my way down to the rocky shoreline. Ha! What did he know? He’d only lived there for about seventy years. I told him that I was going to give it a go anyway, guiltily hoping that from his clifftop cottage he would see my spinning rod bending into large bass all morning. “Fair play to ya” came the reply, chuckling to himself as he headed home for his breakfast. The sea was flat calm
and gently lapping around my wading boots as I made my first cast at the left hand corner of the beach. The air of expectancy was electric and I genuinely expected a fish to attack my lure on that first cast as it spitted and popped irresistibly in the half light on its way back to me. Yep. You know what’s coming don’t you? I didn’t get a take on that first cast, nor the second, third nor fourth. In fact, I didn’t get a take, swirl, follow, splash or attack on the hundred or so casts that I must have made as I fished along the length of the beach. As I arrived at the large, rocky spit that dissects this very long stretch of shoreline, I sat down on the nearest rock. I was shattered. I’d tried every lure in my bag and retrieved with every variation you can think of without a sniff of a bass. When you think you’ve got a handle on them…etc. Staring absent-mindedly out to sea I became aware of quite a lot of turbulent water being created around the end of the spit as the flooding tide came in over the rocks and onto a large area of shallow water over flat rock interspersed with a few gullies. Largish breakers began to form as the tide came over and around the spit, and the shallow water between the breakers was very choppy. I recalled the old local’s prediction during our chance meeting at dawn, and against all my instincts I decided to clip on the Contact Feed Popper and have a few casts into the turbulence. What had I to lose? Half-heartedly I lobbed the plug out into the shallow maelstrom. Despite being a largish popper, I could hardly see it in the seething water, but what I did see was a flash of silver amongst the foam. A split second later my powerful 10ft Daiwa Whisker spinning rod was curved into a large bass. A few minutes later after a thrilling scrap in the shallow water, I landed a 9lb 10oz bass on an incoming swell. After admiring the magnificence of that fish, weighing it, photographing it and then taking one last respectful look before carefully returning it to its own medium, it struck me as being such a fleeting moment that we have with our quarry in relation to the amount of time, effort and expense that we invest in trying to catch that big one. I landed a further four bass that morning up to 4lb 3oz, all caught in the turbulence. Interestingly, the two smaller bass were caught closer in where there was less movement in the water, well away from the roughest area. A valuable lesson learned about bass in turbulent water! Another lesson learned that morning was that in future I will be using a net to land my larger bass. Up to now I have not used one, thinking them cumbersome and awkward, but having been impaled on a treble a couple of times when attempting to gill even small bass, I have changed my mind. As I tried to land that near double-figure bass, I realized just how close I was to possible serious injury, not only from the bass’s own natural armoury but also from the large and extremely sharp treble hooks on the plug. And of course, as Ian Morris pointed out in his article ‘The Bare Essentials’ in BASS 114, using a landing net has to be better for the welfare of the fish, especially if you are fishing from an elevated position. Oh yes, and while I’m on the subject of tackle, if anyone is considering buying one of those compact digital electronic weighing scales for their bass fishing, all I can say is don’t. Yes, they are very accurate, but it only takes one accidental dunk in a rock pool and they’re finished. This has happened to me twice now and they are far too expensive an item to keep on buying. They don’t have a place in the wet
and wild world of shore bassing. I have now returned to using the trusty spring balance – far cheaper and more reliable. Having fished four different marks in four days, and with those gentle North Easterlies forecast to continue, coupled with the fact that I’d had such a great morning’s fishing on the spit, I decided to carry out a little experiment and fish the remaining three days at this beach in exactly the same way in order to see if any form of pattern developed. Dawn next morning found me on the deserted beach plugging away on the flat calm sea with the same results as the day before – zilch. As I reached the spit I could see that the smaller tide had not yet started to spill over the rocks because of course the tide was an hour later, but as soon as the water began to churn up I cast the Feed Popper into it. I landed four bass of 3.0, 3.12, 4.3 and 4.8 together with four or five unconverted attacks. Again, the two smaller fish were caught in the less violent water. The same procedure the following morning produced the same pattern of catches from the spit with fish of 2.2 and 2.12 caught just out of the wilder water together with two more fish of 4.14 and 5.5 caught slap bang in it, again with a few missed attacks on the plug. On my final morning, I got out of bed a bit later to compensate for the later arrival of the tide over the rocks and again arrived at the spit fishless. This time, because of the small tide, there was a lot less turbulent water over the spit and it was now more of a chop than the maelstrom of four days earlier. I got the feeling that this was going to be a ‘one chance only’ sort of day. For an hour there was no action whatsoever and, ironically, I thought that perhaps there was now not enough movement in the water to attract the bass. However, a cast into the remaining small area of choppy water resulted in a firm take from what was clearly a big bass that I just couldn’t stop. Here was my ‘one chance’. The drag on my reel was virtually fully tightened because of the many rocks around the spit and I was hanging on to my arched-over rod ‘double-handed’, desperately trying to turn this monster before it reached them. Not a chance. I could see the 30lb Fireline cutting through the surface of the shallow water as the bass headed straight for the jagged, half-submerged rocks. This fish was on a mission and nothing was going to stop it. As soon as I felt that awful sensation of line rubbing against rocks I knew that it was all over and a couple of seconds later the two feet of 25lb mono ‘rubbing leader’ (used precisely for this sort of situation) parted and the line was left flapping limply in the breeze. I felt sick. Like most of us, I’ve lost large bass in the past but tend to be fairly philosophical about it – you win some, you lose some - but I really wanted to land that fish. I don’t quite know why that was. Maybe I wanted to finish the week with a good fish; maybe I wanted my little ‘experiment’ to have conclusive results with the capture of that great bass; maybe I’m getting more and more intolerant of leaving a plug in a bass’s mouth. Probably a combination of all three. All I know is that it took me a few hours to shake that feeling off. There were no more bass that session. So apart from me being exceedingly p****d off that morning, what had my short experiment achieved? First of all the old local was spot on (Fair play to ya), but
then they usually are aren’t they? He was obviously a fisherman, but did he know what the turbulent water around the rocky spit could produce? Probably. The thing that puzzles me about the complete lack of any activity over several days along the rest of the beach, taken with the local’s confident assertion that I wouldn’t catch in the calm conditions is that I have previously caught many bass to 8lbs 10oz from that very stretch of shoreline, at the same time of year, when the sea was like a millpond. That was why I was so confident on that first morning at the mark. It didn’t seem to make sense – but then we are talking about bass angling. It was also obvious that the bigger bass monopolized the roughest water around the spit. Was this because that was where all the food was, perhaps concentrated in the swirls and eddies where only the bigger and more powerful fish could maintain a presence for any length of time? Or were the smaller fish kept out of the turbulence by the bigger specimens who saw them as competition for the food that was present; or maybe they even viewed the smaller bass as prey? For the first three days of the experiment, it seems that the progressive reduction in the size of the tide together with the lessening of the associated turbulence had little effect on catches. On the fourth and final day however, when the size of the tide and the amount of movement in the water had diminished considerably from earlier in the week, the only action was the hooking and losing of that large bass – no small bass caught nor any other attacks. Perhaps there was a ‘cut off point’ when the bass moved away, leaving only the odd, large, powerful fish to remain to feed in what became a small patch of choppy, shallow water on a small tide. Of course it could be that they were just simply less inclined to feed in the quieter water at that particular place. I often get the feeling that I’m doing something wrong when I’m plugging away along rocky, weedy beaches, or trying out new marks in search of bass, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on what it is until now. Don’t get me wrong, I do catch my fair share of bass, and this year I’ve been lucky enough to have caught a few really nice fish. Nevertheless, I feel that it may be more luck than judgement. Well allright then, luck combined with a lot of effort, application and hard work. And that’s just it. I reckon a lot of the bass that I’ve caught over the past few years can be put down to simply putting the time in. ‘Slogging it out’ if you like. There must be many bass anglers who catch more and bigger bass than I do, and put in only half the time fishing, and that was brought home to me on that rocky spit in Ireland. Because I had decided to conduct a small exercise for my own amusement, fishing the same mark in the same way in similar conditions for a few morning sessions, I ended up catching thirteen bass from a very small area when the rest of the beach was seemingly devoid of fish, including a 9lb 10oz fish, and then hooking and losing a bigger one in exactly the same five square yards of lumpy water that I wouldn’t normally look at, let alone fish in. That has got to tell you something. It certainly did me. How many hours have I put in arbitrarily casting a plug up and down the length of beaches, maybe catching the odd schoolie, when there has been the fish-of-a-lifetime lying in a depression between two boulders ten yards away or a shoal of five and six pounders picking
off sandeels as they are sucked out of a bank of fine gravel by an ebbing tide well within casting range? When I arrived back home from Ireland, I visited Mike Ladle’s excellent web-site Operation Sea Angler (www.mikeladle.com) to see whether there were any new entries in his ‘saltwater fishing’ diary. There was a small entry entitled ‘Predictability!’ which coincidentally was about plugging for bass in turbulent water over several sessions and it ended with the following lines, ‘I find these sequence of trips to the same spot, at the same time, under similar conditions, doing the same thing VERY informative. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it is the most important approach to learning where when and how to predict results. Random sessions at different spots, however successful they may be are much less useful in establishing the patterns so vital to consistent catches’.