It was a warm day and I was fishing a mark I’d never fished before, an estuary and a big one. I was looking forward to it but in reality I knew I was too late, work had kept me occupied and then I hadn’t a clue where to park up for the best spot so by the time I was at the water and ready to go I had missed the high tide by a good few hours. Indeed it was getting closer to low tide and as I wanted to fish it down, I pretty much knew I would struggle.

The cloudless sky was a delight for anyone not trying to catch bass. With hardly any wind however, at least I would be allowed to present the lure in the manner that I wanted. Fishing a run of tide, or an estuary involves using the water to move the lure. Cast it up, let it come down. Repeat. I could think of worse ways to spend an afternoon, and of course I was checking out a new mark and low water is always a good time to do that.

I waded through gin clear sea onto a finger of rock that approached a shallow area, casting and skipping the soft plastic over the top of the water trying to think like a fish. I failed. No bass were present, or if they were they refused my paltry effort. I moved on back to the running tide of water.

A small open boat passed by moving quickly with the current. It hugged the far bank its speed belying the small outboard motor as it looked to be going about 20 knots. There were four people in it and they looked like they knew what they were doing, but it was hard to tell. Going down tide they obviously were going to come back up on the rising tide as there was no way that engine would push them up current as soon as the tide had turned.

I carried on. Cast up, wait, reel in, repeat.

After a good long walk I neared what was clearly the channel close to the ocean. In fact the ocean was a good half mile away but the sand stretched out like only a sandy beach can and as I’d caught no fish with a long drive back home ahead of me I knew that this was the end of the line. The channel was reasonably wide forming a good sized sea pool, and beached on the other bank was the craft I’d seen earlier. Only then did I realise why they were there.

Removing the engine one man proceeded to row out; one other fed the net to trail behind it whilst two others on the bank walked alongside to create a purse. Of course it was all clear to me now. The fish would come to rest up here waiting for the flooding tide.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter one unsuccessful haul, they moved over to ‘my’ bank. I sat down to watch, quietly fuming. They hauled the net twice before I’d seen enough, catching a nice bass and what I presumed was a sea trout. They were, apparently, just outside the bass nursery area. Why it ends where it does I don’t know considering it’s a good mile to the open sea – but perhaps I now know what contributed to me not catching any.

‘Lovely day’ I said as I trudged past.

Their surly faces said it all. ‘It is, pity there aren’t any fish about’ one said

‘I wonder why’ I sarcastically questioned; the blazing sun making my already red neck a deeper shade of crimson.

Words and picture: Julian Fox

  1. I wasn’t expecting that – it really impacted on me a bit and left me feeling angry too.
    An eloquent reason why we need to stand up against this sort of practice. Perhaps it was possible to justify it years ago when bass stocks were higher and did not have such a gastronomic value. Given the current state of bass stocks there is no way anyone can justify it, including commercial fishermen and politicians.
    A good final retort which was probably wasted on its target.

  2. We have to get the Bass Nursery areas extended to at least 1 mile beyond the mouth of our estuaries , In falmouth one licensed commercial ring nets fish at 20 knots using side imaging fish finder to spot the shoals. All within the confines of the estuary but often an arms length from the BNA, likewise they net high up in the creeks under the guise of Mullet and Gilthead bream fishing. Large numbers of school bass have recently been found dumped on public footpaths inside the BNA areas. Cornwall IFCA promised me they would have new signage on the Cornish estuaries by Spring . As I half expected this has turned out to be a pathetic watered down example of hopeless Marine managment as small posters were apparently put in the information boxes , i have yet to see one so they don’t stand out . I was gutted as i actually felt that I may have made a difference following the relentless harassment I dispense . I don’t blame the CIFCA patrol guys , they are on our side , you need to go further up the ladder to fish the rot and apathy .

  3. EDIT

    Find the rot , not fish the rot

  4. As long time commercial fisherman in other sections of the industry I totally understand your dispair, but your problem doesn’t lie with small boat, two men and a beach sein that probably only take a box or two each year. The main culprit for the lack of bass is the fact that during the winter months hundreds of tonnes of large breeding fish are caught by French, Scottish and Spanish pair trawlers mid channel. If they were protected while they were breeding then it would make a huge difference to inshore stocks.
    Also there is a large number of unlicensed and unregulated angling boats around the coast that are between them taking tonnes of bass on rod and line to sell privately . ” It pays for the petrol” is not a valid reason not to have a licence.!!!

  5. I fish N.Cornwall most of the time. I have noticed nets tied to the rocks off Porteath beach. Not 200mtrs from high tide. When this was reported to DEFRA, their answer :- Sorry cannot do anything. No wonder Bass stocks are down. Very few Bass have been cought this or last year in the area, I wonder why.

  6. Typical commercial viewpoint Chris Oakes, blaming the big players in the pair trawlers for the bulk of the demise. Sure they take a massive amount and absolutely need to be regulated, but please do not discount the damage multiple so called small time inshore netting operations can do to local bass populations – if they were only in it for a couple of boxes of bass a year the four of them would not be out there. If they could remove 10 times that amount…a week… they would still be out there catching as many as they could sell to make as much profit as they could. The difference between the catch and kill for profit fishers and sporting recreational outlook is that they would be happilly be out there netting whats left and still myopically blaming the big boys (or anyone else but themselves) if that one bass they throw into the bottom of the boat was the very last one left in the estuary. I do agree with you on your last point, as would the majority of sporting bass anglers, but anyone and everyone who fishes for bass using whatever methods, need to accept responsibility. The way things stand, there is way too little protection for bass against people who are too dumb to understand, are greedy, have their heads in the sand, or who quite simple dont give ashit.

  7. I think I know where you are, and historically the boats net for salmon and sea trout if I remember rightly. I’ve seen them catch these and occasionaly mullet, but rarely have I seen them catch bass. Not far from your spot you’ll find plenty of schoolies on the ebb or flood! Better fish not far away either…

  8. this is rubbish bass are not in ddecline evryone banging on about bass being scarse listen if ish for bass for the sport so i always return to the water i never take one for the table i fish a welsh estuary at least once a month and always catch at least /7 bass over one weekend how can they be in decline impossible

  9. I also think I recognise the location in the photo as a well known Devon estuary.
    Indeed I was lure fishing along the same bank as the photo shows, my first session at this particular mark.
    It was Saturday 26th July the day of the new moon.
    Conditions were encouraging, slightly overcast and cooler than of late,though not a big tide.I fished the ebb tide right down until one hour before low and blanked. Not even a follow as far as I could tell.
    I saw plenty of what I assumed to be mullet breaking the surface and the unmistakable spikey back of what appeared to be a good sized Bass (maybe 5-7Ib ) judging by the distance between dorsal fins at about 20m from the shore 12m from my position.
    There were three others fishing the same stretch of shoreline. I know at least one of them blanked as I was within earshot of the ribbing he got from his mates. I don,t think the others had more than a schoolie or two.
    As I made my way along the beach heading inland I saw a couple of small boats with some people preparing nets. I then got talking with two bait fishers about the fact that the area was a Bass nursery and they absolutely agreed.
    As I continued to check out the moonscape riverbed on my way back to the carpark I followed the shoreline though my binoculars about half a mile distant by now, back to where I was plugging and the two bait fishers had just set up. I watched with interest as two men in a small boat started shooting their nets not more than 15m along from the bait fishers in readiness for the flooding tide. To my delight, one of the bait fishers looked to be remonstrating with the netters but they only moved another 10 or 15m seaward. More Signs – More Enforcement – More Fines
    As for the previous comment 0n 30th July, Gross Ignorance is obviously bliss.

  10. For the benefit of Chris Oakes and others of similar mind, “boats around the coast that are between them taking tonnes of bass on rod and line to sell privately” are unlicensed commercial fishing vessels, NOT anglers. It’s YOUR problem – deal with it

  11. I now live in the middle of England but having left the Cornwall 25 + years ago I hope to move back to the same Devon estuary as detailed above. And to fish bass once again. I don’t know how long is the memory of you guys but I fished Ireland at the end of the great days, I have caught bass in all 4 countries of the UK, I first joined BASS in 1978 then let it lapse when I left Cornwall. The arguments above are exactly the same as 40 years ago, the blame game goes on. It is time to break the cycle. More and bigger bass means more for all, commercial or sportfishing. Neither have the exclusive right to this fine fish, both have a responsibility for its conservation. To add the weight of responsible commercial fishermen to our voice would double our clout, Govt would listen more, the cowboys and maybe even the devilish foreigners would be reined in. Is this possible? Don’t know but if it is it is way overdue to try it.

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