CHAPTER 5 – GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS

A Week In September

Although I made a promising start that year in the Brighton area with six bass in the boat in late May and early June, by late September I was lamenting the passing of yet another season. I had experienced a truly dismal summer and had stopped counting the consecutive blanks in July and August. At the beginning of the spring tides in September my expectations of catching a few decent fish were low. I had caught significantly fewer fish than in any of the three preceding years.

Almost as if I was going through the motions, I found myself fishing the first evening low water spring tide of the series, and was both delighted and a little surprised to catch four bass of 3lb 4oz, 5lb 4oz, 1lb 6oz and 5lb 8oz. The next two evenings produced two more fish from different venues, of 5lb 12oz and 2lb. All the fish were caught on Kevlar or carbon carp/pike rods of between 2 and 3lb test curve, in gentle to moderate surf, on sandeels or black lug, with worms finding the smaller fish.

Bass at low water generally do not fight particularly hard, as they soon become grounded, and to get fair sport from them I fish light; a 2-pound TC Kevlar carp rod and a 5000 size multiplier filled with 12lb line is perfect. I gently lob up to a 90g lead on this outfit, without a leader and without cracking off. I must emphasise that I am only lobbing 40-50 yards, away from crowded beaches and buildings, and I change my line regularly. In a really violent surf, or if there is much weed about, I use a 3lb TC Kevlar rod with a 6000 size multiplier and 15lb line and up to 110g leads.

The next day the peak of the set of spring tides was unfishable, as the pressure systems generating the wind deepened. The evening was spent studying my fishing diaries trying to decide where to fish if the wind dropped before low water the next morning. I keep a note of any reliable reports of large bass caught from my local beaches, and it is quite obvious that along the five miles or so of seemingly similar sand and shingle, big bass favour certain beaches at particular times of the year. A beach quite near to my home has consistently produced good bass for a friend and I over the last few years; they always arrive well after the start of the flood, on morning spring tides following a strong blow. Early season or night tides seem to be pretty hopeless – though there have been the odd exceptions.

I set the alarm for 06.00, packed my gear into a shoulder bag and took the mackerel out of the freezer to defrost. I had a restless night, listening to the wind howling down the chimney, whilst contemplating the next day. I woke up at 07.15 as my wife’s radio switched onto Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. I had slept through my alarm and frantically hurled myself out of bed and ran to the front room to look at the sea; it was a bright stunning morning with a crashing surf and little wind – perfect! But it was already low water and I desperately needed coffee. Somehow I managed to drink coffee whilst dressing, and was on the beach and fishing within 20 minutes. After 15 minutes I caught a bass of 2lb 10oz on sandeel, and was in the process of returning it to the sea when I saw a small tap on my pike rod, which was fishing mackerel on a long flowing trace. It was definitely a bite – gentle at first and then stronger as the line tightened and the rod tip wound down to full compression. I managed to get the rod just as the fish was about to pull the sand spike over with my pike rod doubled over and seemingly about to catapult itself from the rest (I had given up using a second rod some time ago for exactly this reason, but old habits die hard). This was my first bite on mackerel and I anticipated a good fish. Fortunately luck was with me and the hook had not pulled, but the fish turned out to be rather disappointing and I quickly had it under control at the edge of the undertow. I played it with extraordinary care and soon managed to gill it.

Was it a double? It looked like it might be. The scales I had were from my chub and tench fishing days; they were clearly inadequate, so I took the fish to the local tackle dealer who weighed it at 10lb exactly. I had been lucky enough to catch a 12lb 8oz in 1987 on float fished crab on a 1.25lb TC carp rod and 10lb line, but this was my first double from the surf. The many blanks and dismal season up until now were instantly forgotten as I rushed belatedly to work.

That evening I fished with a friend at a spot that had produced good fish the previous season. Without warning, just as the last of the light began to disappear, a bass took my mackerel bait like a train, which after a reasonable fight weighed 4lb 2oz. I had dec1ded to return all bass unless they were bigger than the one I had caught that morning, but this one was badly hooked so it had to be dispatched. I always use a Pennell rig for bass in the surf, but there were clearly a lot of bass about that were feeding confidently, so a long trace with a Pennell was probably going to result in more throat-hooked fish, so I changed to a fixed paternoster with a much shorter trace.

About 20 minutes later I got a slight tap, followed by a gentle pull and struck into a good bass. I had to give line immediately and the fish tore off against the check of my 6000-size reel. It was about 1.5 hours after the start of the flood, and on this beach there was a good depth of water which was being whipped up against the shingle by a strong onshore wind, enabling the fish to fight well on light tackle. I beached the fish and carefully carried it away from the surf; it was another large bass, thumping the small scales down to the maximum of 8lb. I was now faced with a dilemma – do I kill the fish and weigh it accurately in the morning, or release it and never know what it really weighs? We both took a good look at it, trying to decide if it was another double. Though easily more than twice as big as the one I had just caught, it did not look quite as big as the 10-pounder I had caught that morning. We settled on a least 9lb, but in truth I suspect probably near to but not quite 10lb. I released the fish and watched it disappear in the surf.

Afterwards I vowed to buy a decent set of scales and a large tape measure at the earliest opportunity, but unfortunately that would be 1.25 hours after low water the next morning. Not surprisingly, that particular tide found me on the beach fishing a gentle surf with mackerel fillets on a running leger, rather than in the queue at the local tackle shop! I watched the gill netters shooting their nets 50 yards from my bait, cursing the brief break in the weather that made this possible, and was on the point of reconciling myself to my first blank for a while when I had the gentlest of knocks from a bass of about 6 or 7lb. I say ‘about’ because after lifting it from the edge of the surf I dropped it! Although the fish fell about a foot, it was enough to Spring the hook and allow the fish to regain its freedom without my assistance. Personally I find a large live bass with a Pennell in its mouth; difficult to handle without damaging the fish or my hands; fish that I intend to take home I always gill and then unhook, but gilling is out of the question if I intend to return the fish alive because of the risk of touching the delicate gill rakers. I have yet to perfect a suitable alternative.

I had now caught 11 fish in 6 tides without blanking, and began to realise that I was enjoying a very special run of luck. I was also very satisfied despite being very smelly and having an amazingly understanding wife. I decided to clean up and stay in for the Saturday night.

On the Sunday morning I decided to try a beach that had supposedly produced bass of 13lb 10oz and 12lb 2oz in recent years. Armed with a new set of scales I arrived at low water. It was a wet, grey, windless morning, the water was like soup and the tide was just starting to flood. There were no nets or other anglers, and I quickly caught and returned a spirited 4lb 4oz bass, then hooked and lost another good bass on mackerel after a brief fight at maximum range. It is sometimes rather difficult to set the hook when using a light rod, hence the need for an ultra sharp Pennell rig and the avoidance of any slack line during the fight. I use short shank 1/0 Limericks with sandeel, and 6/0 Spearpoints (or similar nowadays) with mackerel or black lug, all honed needle-sharp at home and whipped onto snoods that finish with a small diamond-eye snap swivel (to allow an easy change of snood). The misery of losing this fish was considerably eased 30 minutes later by a 10lb 6oz bass taken on my very last fillet of mackerel – what a beauty! I dispatched this fish, and for a while felt as if I had shot a Siberian tiger . . . I carried on fishing, this time with sandeel, and to my astonishment hooked and landed a bass of 8lb 2oz. This fish easily fought harder than any of the others I had caught that week, making surging runs parallel to the beach and stripping line off against the check. The fight was so hard that I thought I’d foul-hooked it, but I guess it just had more water to play with. I returned this fish, and watched it accelerate off into deep water. This made me feel a bit better about killing the 10-pounder. As if to gild the lily, I caught two more bass on sandeel during the last hour of the ebb that night, 3lb 2oz and 5lb 4oz.

In just under twenty hours on the beach, I was fortunate enough to catch 16 bass for a total weight of about 83lb. I had missed one bite and dropped one hooked fish. Nine bass went back alive.

Author: Ian Gazeley

Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.57 November 1990.

© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008

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