CHAPTER 5 – GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS
After going to America and Scotland on the last two holidays, my girlfriend Val and I decided to try the island of Jersey in the summer of ’95. It was a great opportunity for me to lure-fish for Jersey bass. I did a lot of homework writing to various people about the best marks to try, and studying maps and local leaflets and other information. Once I had made my mind up all I had to do was pack my clothes and most importantly my tackle and landing net, (I even put a pair of chest waders in my case) and away we went.
We landed at 9.30am, and on leaving the airport we collected our hire car and headed to the north coast, where we were staying. The roads were more like country lanes that twisted and turned all the way to our hotel, and the speed limit in Jersey is 40 mph and in some places it’s 15 mph which all felt a bit strange but we got used to it.
This was primarily a holiday with Val and secondly a fishing trip. The next day we started a tour around the island, stopping at a small bay which wasn’t far from the hotel. There were some local fishermen bait fishing in the bay, and I asked one of them what he was fishing for. He replied, “Black bream”, so Val and I sat down and watched. He was using harbour rag for bait, a small hook, a 4oz weight, a 2 to 4oz bass rod and a multiplier. He was casting out then leaving his reel with the ratchet on. After only 3 minutes the spool started screaming, and he picked up his rod and struck, making contact with the fish. When landed the fish was a 2lb 4oz Black Bream. He had three while I was talking to him, and I asked what it was it like for bass in this area. He said he had taken his biggest bass on crab over this ground. I told him I was going to try this area with lures, but he hadn’t heard of bass taken on lures here. The bay and surrounding ground looked very promising – there was a big kelp bed over to the right, it was very rocky with a strong tidal flow over to the left, and three of my contacts had mentioned this area.
The next morning at 9.30am we went to the small bay we had visited the day before. The time and tide was not perfect, and we only had an hour and a half before another commitment, so we headed over to the kelp bed with my rod, reel and a pocket full of lures, and not forgetting my landing net (you never know). I positioned myself on a small rock ledge over to the right of the bay. I started off using a Dexter Wedge and after a few casts I worked out where the top of the kelp bed was. By casting out and counting to eight, I would start to retrieve my lure, which would be just above the fonds. After a few casts using this method I caught a small pollack of around 2lb. After another half an hour the next fish to fall was a mackerel around 1½ lb. If you’ve never caught a mackerel on light gear it’s like an express train taking your lure, they really are a hard fighting fish; if mackerel could reach 10lb in weight they would be the main fish to fish for in the sea! No more fish were taken within the next half hour, so we put the tackle away and headed back to our hotel to get ready to go out. I decided to fish the next morning, and the break of dawn should hopefully be the most productive time.
At 4.10am my alarm clock went off, and after a quick wash I grabbed my tackle, lures and net, and tried to creep out of the hotel without waking anyone up. I was doing well until I reached the main front door. It was a very heavy door, and I unlocked it and then tried to open it as quietly as possible. My plan failed as I dragged the door open it made enough noise to wake up the dead, never mind a hotel full of guests! I quickly dragged the door closed behind me, locked it, and made my way to the small bay; not daring to look back at the hotel in case lights were being turned on. I parked the car and headed not for the kelp bed, but for the rocky ground over to the left of the bay. Dawn was just breaking – perfect! I tackled up in the dim light, putting on a silver and blue Rebel J30. I was fishing half the flood tide, high tide being around 9.00am. Hoping the bass would be moving in on the flooding tide, I started casting using the clock method. Half an hour went by and there was no sign of any bass; I still had an hour and a half of prime fishing time left, so all was not lost. I changed to a Rapala J13 silver and blue as there was a bit more depth in the water. Ten minutes later I was casting my Rapala up to 20ft, being careful not to snag the lure on the rocks that had been covered by the flooding tide. Suddenly, Bang! A fish took and I struck to make sure it was securely hooked. I could feel the fish tugging as it started taking line. My 2lb T.C. rod was bent hard over, and the 10lb line was holding well as I could see the fish skimming across the top of the water, with the lure in the side of its mouth. After playing the fish for around five minutes I landed it, a beautiful 4lb 2oz bass. After unhooking it I took a couple of scales from its side, then put it back to live another day. No more fish were taken during that morning session.
It was now around 6.30am and the sun was rising, so I started making my way back to the car, just before I reached it I could see a young lad fishing, so I walked over for a chat. I think his name was Peter, he said he was bait fishing for anything. As we were talking his rod tip knocked indicating a bite, he picked up the rod and struck, then started reeling in, definitely with something on but what? When his catch came into view I could see it was a big crab, the ugliest crab I had ever seen. He said that it was a spider crab, which are very good for eating but this one was going back. That was easier said than done! The hook was in the side of the crab’s mouth. First I tried to grab the crab and hold it while he tried to get the hook out. That failed, as the crab was too strong and very hard to handle due to the spines on its carapace. Our next approach was to turn the crab on its back, I then put my foot lightly but firmly on it to hold it down, but that failed as the crab quickly latched its long legs around my Wellington boot. The next problem was how to get the crab off me, as I was hopping around on one foot trying to dislodge the crab from my boot! When we finally got the crab off my boot, we still had the problem of getting the hook out. What we ended up doing was to hold the crab down then snip the hook in half with a pair of pliers. The crab was gently persuaded back into the sea. After a half hour chat to Peter about bass and other things I made my way back to my hotel for breakfast, hoping no-one had heard me in the early hours of the morning.
I told Val about the bass I had caught earlier that morning, but she was more interested in where we were going for our day out! We decided on visiting the living legend, but all the time that we were there my mind was on the mark I had fished that morning. At 7.30 that evening it was a case of something to eat, a couple of beers, then back to the hotel room for 10.00pm to get some sleep, ready for an early rise next morning.
Next morning at 4.30am I was walking to my mark, with that feeling in my body that only us fisherman know. I tackled up using a silver and blue Rebel J30, tested my drag then started casting. Within the first 10 minutes I had a small bass of around 1½ lb which was returned. With my adrenaline still flowing I started casting and retrieving once again. At around 5.20am I was watching the lure manoeuvring through the water close to the surface. Suddenly there was a splash as I saw the tail of a fish sticking out of the water, as it hit my lure. I struck to make sure it was hooked, and the fish started taking line to the beautiful sound of my drag clicking. It started running harder so I let it continue, hoping it would tire itself out but it continued to take line, I knew it was a good fish. It started moving from left to right to make the most of the tidal flow, and I tightened up my drag by one click then started trying to bring the fish back. I had to look down my line to see where the fish was, and the way it was acting I knew it was a bass. I slowly started reclaiming line, and as the fish came into view I could see it was a good bass, and my heart started beating faster. I grabbed the landing net and got ready to net my prize. The first attempt failed as the fish made a sudden run, but on the second attempt I had it securely netted. Clambering up the rocks with my rod in one hand, net and fish in the other, I was careful not to slip on the weed covered rocks. I unhooked the bass and weighed it, 8lb on the dot, a fat healthy Jersey bass, just what I came to catch! My next problem was photographing it because I was alone. I positioned the camera on a rock, set the timer, picked up the bass, looked at the camera and hoped for the best. I did this five times hoping for a good picture – not an easy task. After taking a couple of scales I carried it down to the waters edge to release it, holding it in the water until it had fully recovered, then I watched it swim away and disappear. I carried on for another hour only managing one more small bass, so made my way back.
At the hotel Val and I decided to go for a walk along the cliff path after breakfast. As we made our way up the twisting path getting higher and higher, the views were spectacular, but what was more interesting to me was around 40 Cormorants feeding in one small area. It was a lovely hot sunny day and we sat there for half an hour watching the birds. The thought going through my mind was, if the birds are feeding then the fish maybe feeding to. I was itching to get down there, so that evening Val and I made our way across the rocks towards where the feeding birds were. When we arrived at the spot the Cormorants were still there, diving under the water possibly hunting small fish or maybe sandeels. Once again I tackled up using a Rebel J30, then left Val armed with the camera and made my way to the waters edge. All the birds moved away as I started casting, and on the fourth cast I made contact with a 2lb 4oz bass, which I landed, weighed and released. I caught three more small bass before darkness, and my suspicions were right, where the birds feed, the fish feed.
I only went fishing a couple more times over the last few days of the holiday, which resulted in two small bass and a pollack. Hopefully I’ll return to Jersey or even visit Guernsey or Alderney to hunt those Channel Island bass once again.
Author: Steve Butler
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.82 May 1997.
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008