Catch bass on bait
If you want to catch big ones consistently, bait, either live or dead, is still the thing to use
Why it is the key to consistent catches.
When I first started fishing for bass from the shore, most of them used to be caught on baits of various kinds. Since the 1980s, there has been a huge growth in lure and fly-fishing by specialist bass anglers that traditional bait fishing for this popular species has taken a bit of a back seat.
Despite this shift in approach by those specialist bass anglers, there is no doubt, in my mind, that if you want to catch big fish consistently, bait, either live or dead, is still the thing to use.
As I see it, the big question for any bass angler intent on using ‘the natural’ for tempting his or her quarry is…“How should I offer my bait to the fish?” What’s apparent, is that it all depends where you are fishing and what the conditions are like. Let me give you a few examples...
Down in Devon, Kevin Legge and his mates catch lots of very good fish, including some cracking big bass, by beachcasting with large fish baits. When fishing exposed beaches pounded by heavy Atlantic surf, they need lead weights up to 7oz to pin down the size 6/0 Pennell (pictured below) and pulley rigs appropriate to the conditions, the distances they have to cast, and species present. This is probably one extreme of the bait fishing for bass spectrum.
My pal Alan Vaughan, who has caught many large fish, used to fish the rough ground, kelp forests and roaring tidal currents of North Wales. He often required lead weights up to 5oz or 6oz tethering a 5ft trace. He says the only worthwhile bait where he fished was a big chunk of crab.
In the same part of the country, when Alan fished different conditions from a beach of muddy sand near the mouth of a river, he used a much lighter approach – a light leger to cast his large crab baits 70 yards. His baits were generally bound to size 5/0 hooks, opened out a bit to expose more of the point.
Later he moved to the Isle of Wight, where he fished a mark that he called the ‘Sheltered Ledge’. His published description and pictures show a snaggy ledge surrounded by kelp. He fished here at low water, when it was very shallow and, in this case, cast only about 25 yards, with a lead weight of 1oz on a spinning rod. Fishing in the dark, crab was again a good bait, but large squid baits were also effective in daylight.
In ‘BASS and B.A.S.S.’, a book published by the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society, Martin Waller, fishing with his pal Dave Dedman, describes how they used large baits from shingle beaches giving way to sand. After years of experimenting (at one stage Dave apparently had seven months without catching a bass) they came to the conclusion that state of tide and casting distance were the key factors there.
Most of their good fish were taken only two rodlengths out in a shallow gully just beyond the low-water mark. Casting even a little further out was often futile.
Even this close in, the fish hugged structure (beach groynes), and it was essential for baits to be placed close to it – otherwise there were no bites.
Contrary to popular bass lore, these anglers prefer calm conditions for fishing such spots.
Here in South Dorset, bait fishing tactics can be just as varied. Mike Channon, who caught many big bass from the Purbecks, used big calamari or mackerel baits (below).
He often fished in the dark from remote beaches using running leger tackle and a Pennell rig of size 4/0 hooks on 30lb Amnesia. He said that the taking fish ran with the bait. His best fishing was early and late in the season, but less good from June to September. He sometimes used circle hooks and fished with two rods on rests and set up as bolt rigs.
My own approach to bait fishing is quite similar, although I generally freeline, and always use size 4/0 to 8/0 circle hooks (pictured) depending on the size of the large bait.
In the case of deadbaits (mackerel fillets or head and shoulders from my freezer), these can be fished very close in (a metre or two). As Mike Channon says, the fish invariably make long runs after picking up the bait.