CHAPTER 2 – TECHNIQUES – BAIT FISHING

Boat Fishing For Bass

This is a highly personal view of boat fishing for bass. I do not guarantee success, but by using these methods I guarantee you will catch more of other species that just bass! However, you might be enabled to catch the odd bass or two. The following methods and advice might sometimes be the opposite of what you’ve been told about your own area, but that’s bass fishing. I know that they work for my own area, which is Southwest Wales.

Choice of boat

A boat between 16 and 20 foot is ideal. Above this size and bass can be too easily spooked, and the displacement becomes too deep for drifting over the shallow reefs and rocks where the fish are. Below this size the boat will not be sufficiently seaworthy to seek out the turbulent water and tide rips that bass love.

Safety

Safety is paramount and well-covered in the boat fishing magazines and websites, so I will just summarise here:

  1. Learn from an experienced person before skippering a boat for the first time, and understand seamanship, navigation, rules of passing, first aid, lifesaving, and radio procedures;
  2. Know how to operate the boat and its equipment, and keep within its limitations;
  3. Arrange the boat so that risk of fire is minimised, e.g. separate the battery from the fuel, have ample ventilation around the storage of fuel, and remove all rubbish.
  4. Know the weather forecast, and check it periodically during the trip;
  5. Make sure that somebody ashore knows details of your trip, the boat, and expected time of return;
  6. Ensure that one other person in the boat knows enough to be able to take over if you become ill or have an accident;
  7. Always have a properly functioning compass and a pocket one as a backup;
  8. Always carry a sharp knife;
  9. Have a powerful waterproof torch and a fog horn stored but easily available;
  10. Carry spare anchors, battery, fuel, engine spares, tool kit, and a backup means of propulsion;
  11. Store the following in waterproof coverings: spare warm clothing, first aid kit, flares, and spare means of communication;
  12. Carry a chart and know how to use it;
  13. Wear a lifejacket bearing a CE mark and having a whistle attached, capable of supporting you and your clothing;
  14. Don’t wear waders once in the boat;
  15. Never fish alone;
  16. Understand the types of cloud and sea states, continuously keep a close eye on the weather, and be prepared to move into sheltered waters if conditions deteriorate;
  17. Keep an eye open for other vessels, floating debris and freak waves.

Choosing a mark

Whatever method of fishing you use, it can only be effective if there are bass present, hence the first rule must be to locate the bass. Offshore bass normally favour reefs which come within a few feet of the surface at low tide, where there is a strong run of current. These areas can be seen by boils and ripples on the surface, caused by the submerged rocks restricting the flow and causing turbulence. The following are my favourite methods:

Trolling

I catch most of my bass by trolling with a large Redgill or similar artificial eel, usually in black or plum/dark red, but I experiment to find the most effective colour on a given day. Smaller eels and other lures (Toby, Koster, Krill etc.)do take bass, but schoolies, pollack, coalfish and mackerel can be a nuisance with these lures.

The mainline is attached via a swivel to a trace of around 12 feet of mono, the lead being free to run on the mainline behind the swivel. A leger stop 8 foot back from the swivel acts as a stop for the lead, and it is my means of adjustment should I need a longer trace. When the boat is underway the lure is allowed to pull out about 50 yards of line, depending on the depth of water etc. The weight can be varied according to conditions, (e.g. speed, tide, depth of fish), but I usually use 2 to 6 oz, which means a 20 or 30lb boat rod with 15 to 20lb line to suit. The lure does not have to run deep for bass. Braid can be used because of its sensitivity due to very low stretch, and it is thinner and allows you to be able to use lighter leads and consequently a lighter rod, often 12lb class.

If you are single handed I would advise only one rod for trolling, since if you hook a fish of any size it is necessary to put the engine in neutral while you play the fish. Under these conditions a second set of end tackle is likely to snag. Having said this, I can never resist putting out a second rod if the fish are not very active, with a short line and perhaps a heavier weight than the main rod. If you do use two rods, remember to take a large turning circle if you change direction.

On certain hot spots you might find that bass only take when you troll in a particular direction, usually with the tide. If you catch a bass, go back and troll over the same area again, and you will often catch another, and so on. I have known days when it was possible to troll in a very large circle and the bites (on all rods simultaneously) could be predicted within yards. Very exciting, but these days very infrequent!

Once you have found the areas where bass tend to congregate there are other methods to try:

Drifting

This is trolling with a paternoster instead if the long trace. The chief advantage of this method is that you can use lighter weights and lighter rods, especially if using a livebait instead of a Redgill. I am convinced that it is necessary to keep one’s feet still in the boat to prevent the bass taking fright, because the boat will be much nearer the fish than when trolling. I favour a 7 to 9 foot spinning rod capable of casting 1 oz, and I secure it to the boat if I put it down, because if a bass takes the rod can easily disappear over the side.

Float fishing

This is best on the drift using livebait, but a side of mackerel or mackerel head can be effective. I use the same spinning rod as for drifting, and I fish with the float about 12 feet above the bait. Bass will come up in the water for livebait, whereas other fish such as pollack, coalfish and wrasse are reluctant to do so.

At anchor

You must anchor where the bass are likely to be, and I don’t mean those shallow-water sheltered areas where 6 to 10-inch bass hurl themselves at a ragworm bait with no thought of survival. In an estuary mouth there are likely to be better bass, but they will probably only pass an anchored boat on their way past on the flood. Usually I start at low tide, and when the early flood activity is over I motor uptide and wait for the bass to reappear. Softback crab is my successful bait, although ragworm will take fish. I use a light spinning rod of about 7 foot, with just enough lead to keep the bait on the bottom.

Further out to sea the bass are mainly after fish prey, so I attract them using a fish-based ruby dubby, made up of mashed up mackerel mixed with fish flavoured cat food. This is put in a mesh bag which is attached to the anchor chain, about 10 feet from the anchor. The mixture normally takes about an hour to work, and after two hours it has lost its effectiveness and needs to be replaced.

Uptiding

This method is for where there is a tide run in shallow water and the bass are likely to detour round the boat than swim in underneath it. Each angler in the boat needs to cast uptide with a grip lead, and let out enough slack out so that there is a large bow in the line, with the rod facing slightly downtide. Bites are registered by the fish taking the bait and dislodging the lead, making the tight bowed line go slack and causing the rod tip to spring upwards. There is more to the method than this, and the best way to learn is on a charter boat with a skipper that specialises in it.

Author: Mike Browning

Historical note: This article was published in BASS magazine no.51 May 1989

© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008

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