The following information is based on personal experience over the last 35 years fishing from various south coast ports from Newhaven to Weymouth and across to the island of Alderney. It is intended to just give a taste of the terrain where I have found Bass and the techniques that I have used to pick up the fish. I have deliberately stuck to bait fishing the different locations as I am in no way qualified to write knowledgeably about lure fishing. However more of my time is being spent on discovering more about lure fishing and I hope to learn much more over the next few years. I would encourage the reader to keep an open mind with your fishing and remember that there are no hard and fast rules when chasing Bass.
Inshore Reef Fishing
by Clive Hodges.
A rocky bottom in depths of 80 foot or less will attract a lot of weed growth during the warmer months. This provides shelter to all sorts of Bass food. Prawns, crabs of multiple species and small fish all abound in amongst the weed and under the rocks. Above the bottom other species come to feed which Bass will also eat. Here I’m thinking of Cuttlefish, Squid, Mackerel, Scad and a myriad of other small fish species.
In short think of a reef as a larder. Any of these natural residents will become food items at some point so you could do worse that use what is available. Back in the 1960s a common bait used by Bass fisherman in Sussex was the Prawn which was available to anyone who cared to put down a baited pot. These will still catch Bass today and you have the choice of either free lining with maybe a split shot to take the bait down through the water layers or fishing with a float which can be set to keep the bait at a set depth but be trotted back in the tide. Keep the bait at least six foot off the bottom to avoid Pout, Wrasse and other small fish.
On my patch of Sussex, crab will still catch Bass but in depths above 20 foot during daylight hours it will be smashed apart by Wrasse, Pout and Bream and after dark it will attract the attention of Smoothounds and yet more Pout. I know that fishing the shallower reefs in ten foot or less will avoid these diversions but to my mind crab is a bait better fished from the shore when targeting Bass.
A better option in the 20 foot plus depths would be to try either live or dead baits of the fishy kind (which includes fresh and frozen Cuttle and Squid). When fishing dead baits I will be looking for uneven ground. I’ve read a lot of articles that recommend fishing the down tide side of a pinnacle or peak in the reef stating that this is where the Bass sit out of the tide waiting for the bait to come to them. However I try to present my bait at the start of an upward slope of rock that faces the tide. My thinking is that any food swept along by the tide will gather in the gaps between the rock at this point and become trapped.
If you fish in an area that is not over run by Dogfish then cut up some of the hook bait into small pieces and drop it over the side as ground bait. You want enough to put a smell in the water but not enough to properly feed the fish. When you do this you should aim to be far enough uptide to allow the free offerings time to reach the bottom. Then either trot or cast your hook bait into the same area. If you can put a distance of around three times the depth or more between you and your hook bait at the start of the rocky upward slope you should be in with a good shout. In shallow water you should aim to be very quiet in the boat so as not to disturb the Bass.
I can clearly recall a trip back in August 2000 when my brother and I fished into the uptide face of a one particular reef for the first time on a really hot and sunny day. Mackerel would gather over this slope and we reasoned that if they were there the Bass should be as well. It was a tide half way between a neap and a spring and we knew we would only have the strong flow of the tide for a couple of hours. The start of the slope was in 40 foot of water and the top of the slope was around 20 feet deep an hour into the tide. We positioned the boat well uptide and then spent ten minutes dropping small squares of cut Mackerel back down the tide before offering any hooks baits. Our rigs at that time were made from 20lb clear Amnesia traces fished on a leger but with the 2oz lead attached via a weak link of 10lb line.
On the spinning rods we were using we could easily cast the 30 yards down the tide to where we hoped the fish would be holding. We started the session by putting the rods down with the drag slackened off and the ratchets on. There was no warning when the first fish hit the bait and screamed off line against the drag. It was to my rod and I thoroughly enjoyed the fight from a fine 3lb 8oz Bass. As I rebaited after dealing with that fish my brother had a screaming run. It was clear that this was a much better fish and it headed for the surface layers of the water well off to the side of the boat. Taking his time my brother applied side strain and he brought the fish closer to the boat. A big fish in clear water never likes it when it spies the hull and this one was no different and it screamed line off the reel with a vertical dive. As each lunge became a little less powerful it became clear that my brother was winning the battle.
At that point in our angling careers a double figure Bass was a very rare beast and it was clear that this is what we had on our hands as I sunk the net under the fish. The Bass weighed 10lb 14oz and scale samples taken on the day revealed it to be one of the 1976 year class which was so prolific. My records show that I had another of 7lb 2oz and my brother had an 8lb 10oz fish before the fish moved off as the tide cut away. All were taken on four to six inch strips of Mackerel cut so they were about half an inch wide. Truly a trip to remember.
Alternative methods on the reefs include free lining or float fishing live fish baits and various lure fishing methods. It seems to me that many serious Bass anglers and I include myself in this, have forgotten the lost art of bait fishing reefs. Perhaps I need to make time for some more of this later in the year.
Coming in Part 2 . . . . ‘Bank fishing’.