Boat Fishing with Barham
Lure and livebait fishing for summer bass.
Many anglers are gripped by the magic of summer fishing for bass and it is a spell that simply cannot be broken. I’m no different and if I’m fishing for bass I’m happy.
I could easily write this entire piece about fishing with bait, such as crabs, squid and worms, but instead I’ll discuss my real passions of lures and livebaits.
My favourite method of targeting summer bass is with topwater lures. There really is nothing like the sensation of watching a big bass smash your lure right in front of you.
Generally thought of as producing best results in warm, calm, shallow water on overcast days or during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk, in reality bass will hit topwaters at any time of day and under many diverse conditions. Don’t put them out of your mind when conditions don’t meet the traditional expectations because I’ve caught off the top at 1pm on a blazing hot day without a cloud in the sky.
When choosing to fish a topwater lure the first factor to consider is water clarity. All predatory fish are sight feeders. In clear water the look and action of the lure, not the sound, will be the final determining factor if a bass strikes or not.
Clear water is a very good place for fishing stick and pencil baits, like my favourite Lucky Craft Sammy or Heddon Super Spook. In coloured water you should reach for the noisy topwater lures, the true popper styles, such as the Maria Pop Queen, Tronixpro Bass Popper or Tackle House Feed Popper.
Topwater fishing is impacted by the ability of a bass to see the lure, no small consideration when you’re fishing for sight feeders. Too much surface disturbance limits this ability and reduces the effectiveness of your presentation. While a small amount of surface movement is good, too much can be a bad thing. You will catch more bass, or at least have more activity, when the water has a little surface movement to it, especially in clear-water situations. Ideally you want the bass to see your lure, but not so well that the fish rejects it as unnatural.
The market is swamped by thousands upon thousands of minnow-shaped lures, in every possible colour and size. It can be a daunting place for the new lure angler to venture.
The main principle to apply is match the hatch (size, colour, action, speed of the typical prey fish) and then present the lure at the right depth in the water column. Two presentations or retrieves that consistently work for me are the ‘crank and twitch’ and the ‘crank and rise’.
For the ‘crank and twitch’ you need a lure that suspends in the water or has a very slow sink rate, like the Savage Gear Prey. Cast it out and crank it down hard and fast, causing it to send out massive noise, vibration and rattle, and then stop it dead. Take up the slack line, but do not move the lure.
Bass will investigate the heavy commotion just made, so be patient and allow the lure to sit there for the bass to find, which could take 20 seconds or more. At this stage twitch the rod tip once or twice as a bass may be watching or even sucking it into its mouth. Retrieve some more, then repeat the process of stopping and twitching. Always be prepared for the strike as soon as you twitch the lure.
For the ‘crank and rise’ retrieves, you need a diving lure that floats, like the SG Prey, DUO Tide Minnow or Daiwa Shoreline Shiner. The way to fish these types of lures is by cranking hard to pull the lure down quickly in short, sharp, two to five second bursts and then allow it to rise slowly up through the water column. This pull and rise technique is a deadly tactic.
The term soft plastics covers a colossal array of lures, from Savage Gear Sandeels to Red Gills, Eddystone Eels, Fiiish Black Minnows, HTO Sea Minnows, Grauvell Kona Select Kiddy Sidewinders, Lunker City Slug-Go and a load more – I’ve just listed some of the SPs that I like to use.
The tactics and tricks employed when using SPs also warrant a full feature in their own right, so I’ll just touch on the basic techniques that I use.
I love drifting over wrecks, reefs and deepwater offshore sandbanks for bass with the new breed of weighted shad-type lures. I’m talking about the likes of Fiiish Black Minnows, Delalande Shadka II, Kiddy Sidewinders.
I only really use one rig, apart from the occasional use of a Portland rig (shown in last month’s Sea Angler), and that is a fixed lead set-up. Quite often the weight of these lures is not enough to get them down to the feeding bass in 100ft of water, so you need a little extra help, be it 2oz or 10oz of lead.
By far the easiest approach is to tie the top end of a link swivel to the end of your mainline, and then tie a 4-5ft length of 25lb fluorocarbon hooklength to the bottom eye of the link swivel. To the end of this, I add a Breakaway mini link clip, which allows me to change my lure quickly. Then it’s just a case of clipping the required lead weight to the link clip of the link swivel.
Once I’ve dropped my lure to the seabed, depending on the run of tide I do one of two things. If the tide is belting along, I simply bounce my lure along the bottom. To do this, slowly lift the rod tip and lower it, feeling for the lead bouncing on the bottom before lifting the rod slowly again.
If the tide is slacker, drop down and then wind the lure in slowly for say 20 turns of the reel handle, before letting it all back down and repeating the process. Both tactics have their place, and both are equally effective.
When it comes to the worm-type soft plastics, my favourite type are those that are extremely soft and supple – my all time favourite being the Grauvell Kona Select (pictured left),. I like to fish these in shallow water, up to 20ft, and use a small jighead to mount and present the lures.
My most successful approach is to cast the lure across the tide and allow the flow to work the lure for me over a sandbank. I’ve caught loads of bass doing this. The other tactic is to cast and retrieve the lure, and this gives more control over the area covered, which is why I tend to adopt this tactic when there isn’t much tide and the boat remains fairly static.
FISHING WITH LIVEBAITS
Using livebaits can be a very exciting and rewarding approach to bass fishing. If you use balanced tackle, such as a spinning rod and fixed-spool reel loaded with 20lb braid, you can actually feel your live mackerel, launce or sandeel panic as a bass gets close.
The aim of the game when targeting bass with livebaits is to find the fish first. Most bass caught in this manner are either over reefs, wrecks of sandbanks, and in some areas the banks are vast, so locating a shoal of bass is the key to a good day.
When fishing livebaits there are a number of rigs you can try, but I have two that I swear by and they are both pretty simple. The first is the Portland rig (shown in my article in the previous issue), which I tie using 3ft of 30lb fluorocarbon for the rig body, and 5ft of 20lb fluorocarbon for the hooklength. On the business end I usually go for a small treble hook when using mackerel livebaits, or a single size 4/0 for launce or sandeel.
The other rig you can use is a simple running leger. Just thread a link swivel on your line, followed by a bead, Then tie on a decent swivel and a 5ft hooklength as before. This rig works best when you have to use more lead weight, like 6oz and above; the main reason being that you need the weight to tow the mackerel down through sometimes 100ft of water. If the weight is too light, the mackerel can swim off and leave your sinker halfway up your mainline.
If you begin to miss bites, use a fixed Pennell rig set-up on the business end, and pass one hook through the top lip of the launce/mackerel, with the other through the back. That will give you two strike points and a much better hook-up ratio. However, on days when the fish are just scoffing anything you throw at them, a single hook is all that is required.
The other tactic for fishing livebaits is in relatively shallow water under a float. This rig is best fished on the drift when targeting bass, and you can use either a treble, circle or J hook.
To set it up, you need to find out the depth that you are fishing and tie a stop knot on your mainline about 2ft short of the actual depth. If you’re fishing in a strong tide, then you may need to fish the rig a couple of feet over depth, to allow for drag in the water lifting up the bait.
The best tactic when drifting is to motor uptide of your mark and then let the float and bait out immediately after cutting the engine, without sticking the boat into reverse to stop it. This way the boat will still be moving forwards for a few yards, putting some distance between the boat and the float.
There are things you can do to make the rig more effective, and one tip is to use a bomb-type lead weight instead of the traditional drilled bullet. By simply sliding on a link swivel where you would normally put the drilled bullet, you can instantly change your lead weight’s size up or down to coincide with the rise and fall of the tide, which gives far more effective bait presentation.
Of course, you don’t just have to use a mackerel or sandeel under a float. Live prawns, ragworms, pouting and most other small fish will catch you plenty of hungry bass.
This bass took a Lucky Craft Sammy
Another chunky bass caught in over 80ft of water on a Fiiish Black Minnow
This double-figure fish fell to a launce livebait fished in 100ft of water.
Mount your soft plastic lure on a suitable leadhead
You’ll need a 12/20lb outfit for big bass in deep water