ASSESS, ADAPT AND ACCOMPLISH
Why you should wait, watch and work out what is in front of you to improve your catches
Lure fishing advice from Marc Cowling.
We’re all guilty of it. In our haste to cast a lure we overlook a potentially vital component to becoming a consistently successful bass lure angler – observation. Suppress that urge to attach the lure that worked last time, or your current favourite and instead simply wait, watch and, importantly, assess what is in front of you.
This approach can offer an enlightening insight into what the bass are actually feeding on. Armed with this information, you can then adapt your lure selection and approach accordingly in order to accomplish the objective – to catch one or two of these marvellous sporting creatures.
Bass are renowned for being both predatory and extremely opportunistic. Furthermore, they will quickly switch on to a food source to the extent of becoming fixated on it.
As an angler, if you’ve been unable to ascertain what that food item is, then it could end up being a frustrating day out. Thankfully, more often than not the signs are fairly obvious, and from that point only subtle tweaks to your line of attack may be required (adapting) to keep catching.
“The bait fish have apparently arrived,” I reported via a text to my client. As his guide, the first element I had to decide on was the stretch of coastline to target. Seemingly, the headlands and the associated stronger current were where the majority of the bait balls were forming. Therefore, I hatched a plan that would enable us to move along the coastline quickly (with the fish if required) and fish a number of peninsulas that extended into the tide, in addition to a multitude of adjacent coves, the like of which this fodder are often hounded into.
Within 30 minutes of meeting we had driven, walked and arrived on the first mark – an outcrop that would enable my client to work the lure just inside the fiercest current, and that also happened to flank a tiny bay (15 metres across) where items naturally collect on a flooding tide.
With the flow running parallel to us and from right to left, the slight offshore breeze heralding the dusk period was gently rippling the surface. At that moment I saw the first swirl on the surface as a fish (a bass?) attempted to grab something 40 yards out, in 10ft of water covering a relatively flat expanse of reef with half-a-dozen boulders present – some of which were protruding and some recently submerged.
With predators (mackerel, garfish or bass) visibly rising and willing to take items off the top, attaching a surface lure was evidently my first thought. However, I was really intrigued to find out exactly what it was they were feeding on.
Peering over a ledge, through the crystalclear water over a patch of sand, I could make out literally thousands of sprats/whitebait huddled together, presumably taking
sanctuary. Measuring approximately 8-10cm, their dark backs and glimmering flanks had me scurrying back to the lure box to find a lure as close to the real thing as possible.
I picked a diminutive surface slider called a Bear King Slim Skimmer. Despite weighing only 13g, they cast brilliantly, but it’s their action on the water - a skittish, zig-zagging motion easily performed by rhythmically twitching the rod tip (with the rod held up or down) while retrieving slowly – that matches the scattering effect of the sprats fleeing from the danger below.
First cast, and out the lure flew, landing on the surface just on the edge of the main rip. I was just opening up the net when I saw a splash, and the rod pulled over. At 2lb it wasn’t a monster, but it was both a superb start to the session and confirmation that we’d placed something above the bass that they were tuned into, and this one clearly thought our small fish was the real thing. It looked like we were in for a red-letter day.
When you receive a bite or catch a fish on the first cast, it often turns out to be the only action of the entire session. Yet within minutes of casting out again my client was into another bass that had really whacked the lure from just behind a car-sized rock only inches under the water. At 3lb, it gave a very good account of itself. There is nothing extraordinary about the chain of events so far, but following this capture the pattern of events began to change.
For the next 30 minutes, nearly every cast resulted in a mackerel attacking and becoming foul-hooked on the surface lure. However, on one retrieve a very nice bass was observed following beneath the lure right to the base of our platform – and so it was time for us to assess and adapt again.
We were on the verge of twilight and, with the mackerel seemingly making hay before darkness, I made the decision to change over to a sub-surface lure – a Ryobi Trapper Minnow 125F. The action and finish on these fantastic lures belies their inexpensive price tag. With a diving depth of around 2ft, the plan was to seek out the water column (going deeper with each lure type and changing continually if required) until my client reconnected with a bass.
Around a dozen casts in with the new lure and only three metres out, the rod was practically ripped from his hands. This definitely wasn’t a mackerel. It attempted to head out in the direction of the main flow of current, taking line in the process. After the reel drag was tightened the fish stayed remarkably deep, which made me think it was either a large pollack or a wrasse.
It then swam towards us, which was when I managed to catch a glimpse in the spectacularly clear water. It was a decent bass. Turning, it ran to our left and extremely close to a very jagged section of the rocks, but with severe side strain applied the bass came up to the surface, where I slid my waiting net under it. At well over 4lb, this was a fighting-fit beauty with a big belly, presumably crammed with whitebait.
IN THE DARK
With darkness now upon us and the tide at its peak, I decided on a move to a nearby shingle beach that would allow my client a chance of a bass in darkness. The 2-3ft of water covering the expanse of reef before us was like a millpond. When the conditions are this still (by day or night) I will generally attach a weedless, weightless soft plastic in order to achieve a subtle approach. I settled on a 6in white Senko.
With only one tiny tap on the Senko following 30 minutes of fishing, I began to consider a change of tactics. Could the bass still be tuned into small silvery fish, even in the shallows? A quick rummage through my night-time lure box provided me with the ideal lure – the very shallow-diving (down to 18in) 10g chrome silver Maria Squash F95.
“Just retrieve it fast enough so that you can just feel the rod tip vibrate,” I said, before turning my back to take a drink. I heard a call from out in the gloom. I made my way over the 15 metres of shingle to be greeted by his rod bent well over and line, yet again, being pulled powerfully from the Daiwa reel.
We made out the bass crashing around on the surface some 20 metres out. However, from that point the fish behaved itself impeccable and was soon on the shingle.
This bass measured 60cm (around 5lb) and was clearly the icing on the cake of an unforgettable session, one in which we had accomplished a great deal. First, it goes to show that understanding precisely what bass are feeding on can sometimes offer the lure angler a crucial advantage. Second, you may need to adapt your approach during the session itself to keep catching.
First cast produced this 2lb beauty
A 5lb night bass caught on the Maria Squash F95
The Maria Squash F95
A Bear King Slim Skimmer
Ryobi Trapper Minnow 125F