CHAPTER 5 – GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS
A Tale Of Two Bass
It was an odd year for me, for the most part I had to force myself to find time to go fishing. It got so bad that I didn’t even take any rods to Guernsey when I went in August – I vowed it was going to be a family holiday … (Those who know me better will be smirking to themselves by now!). Sure enough one look at that the oh-so-inviting seawater and I was itching to have a bash. A memorable encounter with a 4lb 1oz thick-lipped mullet, hooked in no more than eight inches of water and tearing off 15 to 20yds of line in one searing rush, and my love affair with fishing returned with a vengeance.
I returned from Guernsey on the Saturday, and the Monday evening found me on my local river where I promptly extracted a 3lb 8oz thick-lipped mullet. The need to get out fishing gathered apace, and a bass session was lined up as my next fix. I was beginning to rue losing so many sessions through the year and I intended to make up for it.
Thursday evening was designated a bass session and fatally I began keying myself up for it. The weather appeared promising when I went to work at 5.30am and things looked good – I hoped to be fishing by 5.00pm at the latest. However, disaster struck. On arriving home I found myself having to look after my son Daniel and I finally got away from the house at 6.00pm. I agonised about going, because by the time I would get to the mark I would be looking at less than two hours fishing. Sod it! I’m going.
Halfway there and the rain started – that incessant, soft, gentle rain that you only seem to find in Wales and Ireland; I swear it could penetrate the armour on a Chieftain tank. There was no going back – I was going to fish come hell or high water (rather appropriate as it turned out).
I started fishing about 7.15pm, choosing a bay where I’ve caught fish in the past. I gradually worked my way along, thankful that at least I’d packed a waterproof overcoat if not the leggings. Sadly even that proved not to be enough, as I fell victim to one of the basic laws of physics – ‘what goes up must come down’. A large swell hit the base of the sheer rock I was on, and the water was forced upwards, straight past my nose, then curved over and crashed back down right on top of my uncovered head – was I wet?
Undeterred I carried on fishing. A largish channel/gully containing very choppy water attracted my attention. I used a Bomber Long A and took two fish in about seven casts (1lb 4oz & 1lb 12oz – both returned). I then decided to change to a Rapala Magnum, as the Bomber wasn’t fishing properly in the choppy conditions and surface weed. First cast – five turns of the handle and everything went solid – the line sang and the rod shuddered – once, twice, three times the tip thumped ever downward. In the confines of the gully I had to stop the fish getting seaward and veering around the ends of the rock outcrops. The 13foot, 4lb TC carp rod creaked ominously in my imagination as it bent further and further, I could feel the butt flexing in my hands … I hung on for grim death – the line was good as it was new on last week, so I piled on the pressure. THIS IS A GOOD FISH!
But to no avail – everything suddenly went slack – that empty, sick feeling manifested itself in my innards. I reeled in the plug, and it revealed a possible cause for the lost fish – corroded hooks with dubious points. My own fault?
Having thought about the circumstances of the lost fish I’m not altogether convinced it was just a matter of ‘dubious points’. The lure was an unjointed Magnum. Had the fish grabbed the lure across the back away from the trebles? Possibly, but then surely it would not have stayed on for so long and would have managed to eject the lure earlier. The only other explanation is the ‘grapnel’ construction of the trebles. The Magnums and the Slivers are both fitted with very substantial trebles a combination of this fact, a soft-actioned rod and light line may have all contributed to the hooks not going in past the barbs.
The fish was certainly a good one. Over 6lb? I could feel the weight and power – tremendous. I could have cried.
I’ve changed the hooks on all my suspect plugs now but I’m a little concerned that on the Magnums and very big Bombers the new hooks are lighter than the old. The hooking potential is better, but will the decrease in weight affect the action?
But I digress …. you’ll no doubt have noticed that the title refers to two bass. The story continues.
It had been a fair weekend so far on the October Cornish Fish-In. Admittedly the exceedingly large groundswell had more than dampened our efforts at fishing the north Cornish coast, but the weather itself had been fine; no lashing rain and howling winds, but then you can’t have everything I suppose. We’d had a few light-hearted moments as well, especially in the pub on the Friday night.
Now I found myself on a south coast beach, at about 7.30am. On arrival I’d moved off to the left with my trusty carp rod and a few plugs. There was some very interesting bouldery ground that looked eminently suitable for plugging. However, I encountered problems; not from the boulders but the long thick wrack that seemed to cover them all. I gave it a good try as best as I could but found no bass. Mike had picked a short concrete breakwater to fly-fish from. As I went back towards it, Mike moved off onto the beach. I reached the spot where Mike had been fishing and tossed a plug along its length, it looked a likely looking spot, perhaps there was a bass there which hadn’t fancied Mike’s fly. Nothing responded. I crossed onto the beach side and tried that as well … Nothing. I sat on a rock and leaned back against the cold concrete, not yet warmed by early morning sun. Mike had started to wade into the milky surf; and between that surf, the golden sand and the bright sunlight I almost imagined myself on some tropical beach watching someone after bonefish …. but the temperature was the giveaway!
As I watched I smiled to myself as I remembered one of the classics of the weekend, Mike demonstrating his knowledge of the local characters. In the Treadrea Inn there were numerous photographs behind the bar, and Mike had leant on the bar and quizzed the barmaid:
“He was an interesting bloke … used to drive lorries. Is he still driving them?”
“No” says she.
“Oh” says Mike, “Retired is he?”
“No” replied the barmaid. “He died”.
There was a silence.
“Oh sorry” Mike muttered embarrassingly “I didn’t know’.
“Well, what about So & So?” questioned Mike, pointing at a photo of a balding chap in a short sleeved shirt, with a Sherlock Holmes style pipe.
“He was a good laugh, always in the corner over there”, indicating the crook of the bar and the wall.
“He’s gone” the barmaid said quietly.
“What … moved” retorted Mike in a disbelieving tone.
“No, he’s dead too”.
Paul, Robin and I struggled to restrain our laughter … and failed miserably. We spluttered and coughed into our beers. Mike’s face was a picture. His eyes scanned the remaining photos desperately. I could almost see him wondering if he should chance another go. We dragged him away from the bar. The wall of photos was quickly nicknamed Death Row.
For a minute or two I sat contemplating on the rock. I had a cigar left and so lit up and enjoyed the sight of Mike Oliver risking, nay, guaranteeing himself a wet crotch and a couple of bootfulls of sea water, as he fly-fished a large lure for that ultimate angling experience – a bass on a fly. It was quite breezy, but the sun was warm on my back and on the steep beach the surf hit with a supremely satisfying ‘Crump … swish … Crump … swish’. It was odd sitting there appreciating that. On my native South Wales beaches I’d never noticed it. I wondered why, and reasoned that it was to do with the angle of the beach. Virtually all of my beaches are very shallow, and when there is a surf, the breakers break quite far out and hit the water as they collapse; here I watched the backwash disappear under the breaker, as it curled over and came down fully onto virtually bare sand … ‘Crump … swish’.
I considered my next move, the cigar being almost finished, I didn’t really fancy the beach … she wasn’t my type! Nevertheless I was fairly certain I’d exhausted the possibilities of the rough ground. I decided to move slowly along the beach, detour around Mike, and move onto a large outcrop of rock I could see in the distance. On the way I started plugging but there was quite a bit of loose weed close-in, and after the fourth time I’d picked some off the plug I was even more unhappy with the beach; something wasn’t right. I moved closer to Mike. That sound, was it the surf? I watched Mike. I swear I could hear him talking as he let the line fly out … “Take that”, … cast “And that”, … cast “Swine”; surely it was my imagination! (There again he was wearing those black thigh boots he likes so much).
My eyebrows rose quizzically I took a wide berth around him, only to avoid his backcast you understand. The outcrop of rock looked even more inviting. It wasn’t actually part of the beach but a fair way out. I moved along.
‘Crump … swish’. Once on the rougher ground I tried a Shad Rap, with a thirty degree angled cast of about 25yds along the shoreline into an area of shallow water, where I could see the darker masses of boulders encrusted with wrack and interspersed with sandy areas. ‘Crump … swish’. The take was more of a solid stop than a crashing hit, one second a quiet retrieve the next and I was winding the rod top round towards the lure. I stopped retrieving. For a microsecond the bladder wrack flashed into my mind, but then the rod shuddered and the top half continued an inexorable curve towards the lure, the clutch popped and started to give line, and the fish immediately made for a massive mountain of rock, almost totally submerged, some forty yards away. With over thirty yards of line already out, my fingers on the spool exerted some extra pressure, as I transferred the angle of the rod to pull the fish’s head round to my side of the rock. At the same time I crabbed my way to the opposite side of the gully I was in. It worked. I was able to exert a better sideways pull on the fish. Five minutes later – it seemed an eternity – and a broad green back swirled at the surface. For a moment I thought I had a big wrasse, and then the tail broke the surface and she turned sideways only fifteen yards out. A slab side of silver gleamed at me from within a greenish opalescent swell as the sun struck the surface of the sea. The tension raised a few notches, ‘Crump … swish’. The surf was going to create problems. No easy surge up this beach. This fish had to be well beaten before I could land it. The bass must have agreed with me, because the rod lunged over as it powered off towards the outcrop again. There was no problem stopping it this time, I had the advantage now, but this wasn’t going to be over until the fish was on dry sand. Several lunges later and I was starting to sweat; as soon as the fish got into the short sea and big wave at the shoreline the advantages were all hers; ‘Crump … swish’. The waves were chopping down onto the line as the backwash sucked the fish back as the swell tried to raise the fish … It was becoming a nightmare. Four or five times I had to release line rapidly to take the pressure off a short line. I was down to a light drag with the anti-reverse off. Panic was setting in; thoughts of worn or light hookholds throbbed at the back of my mind, whilst overall hung the spectre of that lost Gower fish. ‘Crump … swish’. I decided it was a matter of timing, the next swell … wait for it … here it is … tight line … constant pressure and … she was on the beach with my hand carefully under her gill cover. Success!
A wave of euphoria and relief washed over me. I scooted up a steep bank to catch Mike’s attention. I indicated a decent fish to him, not realising that as soon as my attention turned to come back down the bank, Mike had to set off on a good 200-yard run through soft sand for his gear. He arrived at my side a while later, flushed and breathing hard, his distress soon abated though when he saw the fish. He grabbed my hand, congratulated me heartily, took a few photos then disappeared at a fair rate of knots babbling something about, “There might be another one around”. For my own part I chucked the plug for about another twenty minutes with a less focused air. I’d caught a good fish, I was happy; there was no need to spoil the moment by getting worked up about getting a second. I savoured the morning, the atmosphere, the fact that I’d had a decent fish, and the satisfying sound of the surf … ‘Crump … swish’.
Back at the chalet as I displayed my catch, something gave me the impression that Bob Spurgeon was ever so slightly put out. I think it may have been the rather tight aside which he let slip as he weighed the fish at 7lb 7oz. “It’s a bit thin though, isn’t it” he grated between clenched teeth.
I couldn’t help comparing the fight of this bass with the one I’d lost on the Gower. The Gower fish was certainly as least as big. I consoled myself that at least there was a good chance of that fish being back next year – and so would I.
Author: John Morgan
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.73 Winter 1994.
Photo: Keir Simms
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008