FISH IN ROUGH SEAS
How to keep catching bass on lures when those autumn storms blow
Are you ready, willing and able?
Deep Atlantic depressions or low pressure systems driven by the jet stream towards our shores are either welcomed or despised, depending on what species of fish you are targeting. Cod anglers, of course, love a turbulent sea and, to a certain extent, so do bass anglers using bait, when all manner of tasty morsels get torn from the seabed and dumped on to the shoreline.
If lure fishing is your thing, then how do you go about coping with large swells, breaking waves and the associated murky, water, along with those dreaded floating weed fragments that can frustratingly hinder a lure’s action?
Consider the lures at your disposal, and then decide if you are ready for the inevitable onshore gales. Are you willing to plan and prepare accordingly so that you are able to carry on catching?
First and foremost , think safety. Sea Angler contributor Henry Gilbey completed some fantastic work with the RNLI, highlighting the virtues of lifejackets and flotation devices that are so light and comfortable you hardly know you’re wearing them. For a number of years, I have been wearing an Airflo Wave Hopper automatic inflatable fly-vest when I am fishing from rocks. Quite simply, you cannot take your eyes off the sea for a second - it is a hazard and it is dangerous.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to plan a week in advance of a fishing session, and sometimes you just have to make do with the set of conditions you’re dealt in conjunction with the spare time you’ve been afforded.
However, if there is one element that you should definitely take the time to scrutinise, either on the day itself or in the 48 to 72 hours prior to a session, it is the wind direction and strength. For me, this is the single most important factor when deciding which stretch of coastline to consider fishing or guiding my clients, before narrowing down the options even further by examining my diary entries to find out how a specific mark has historically reacted to a similar set of parameters.
After considering safety, I analyse the mark or a cluster of marks, taking into account those regions more susceptible to weed accumulations heaped up on the shore and in the margins, and how quickly and for how long the area ‘murks up’.
My decision-making can be influenced by heavy rain (or recent heavy rain) and where flood water is running out of streams, an estuary or off chalk or slate cliffs.
Once I’m actually out fishing, the type of lure that I will use when the sea is rough or there is a continual swell running is vast and varied. It will range from floating, suspending to fast-sinking patterns.
Ultimately, in tumultuous seas don’t fish too light because you’ll need to maintain a modicum of contact with the lure in order to ensure it is doing what it is designed to do.
For example, attempting to work a 8-13g weightless soft plastic or diminutive topwater lure that is being swept and tumbled around like a piece of flotsam, or blown quickly across the frothing surface layer is unlikely to tempt a bass into chasing it. Furthermore, a very shallow-diving hard minnow will often end up being tossed around and effectively spat out by the crests of the waves.
SPOLIT FOR CHOICE
To alleviate the situation, you can look to use medium or deeper-diving floating minnows because they have the ability to dig, grip or burrow into the volumes of water being shifted.
Alongside their increased stability underwater, these lures offer you the overall control and ability to drift and float them around or above any structure. The suspending versions are a useful option if rocky terrain and snagging the seabed isn’t an obvious issue.
Next, medium-to-large (130-150mm) surface lures, such as the sliders and poppers, will often be deployed. Think Xorus Patchinko, HTO Canine, Rapala Skitterpop and my old faithful, the Storm Rattling Chugbug.
This lure choice may come as a surprise to some, particularly those who enjoy ‘walking the dog’ with smaller and similar lure types when the sea is flat calm. However, I can assure you that the larger bass (that are more likely to be close inshore in rough sea conditions) will always be on the lookout for an easy and substantial meal. They don’t get much easier than a decent-sized fish (imitation) spluttering on the surface and being washed above them in the melee.
Finally, it may not appear fashionable, but there is always a place in my lure box for a sinking metal or jig that can be cast a good distance when baitfish are being harassed, or, more likely when the wind, allied with the spray, is stinging my face. Indeed, many a first bass has been caught in this way.
Rough seas actually present the lure angler with several advantages over their quarry. You certainly don’t need to worry about stealth, and the fact that a hungry bass will adopt somewhat of an ‘attack first, ask questions later’ approach in these circumstances means that anything that splashes or flashes could be taken with velocity and ferocity.
When the storm has blown through and the seas are subsiding, once you are able to gain safe access to a favoured section of coastline chances are the churned-up sea will be full of displaced sediment and organic material.
In this murky and cloudy scenario, my attention will be drawn towards the use of lures with an accentuated action and vibration, such as a jointed diving lure. Think old school, such as the Rapala J11, J13 and Abu Terminator, in deeper water.
You can also use sinking lures incorporating a jig-head and a paddletail, such as the Fiiish Black Minnow, Illex Nitro Sprat and HTO Artic Eel in shallow water.
My choice of lure and the depth of water I’m using them in may appear contradictory for some, but my logic relates to two factors – a fish’s lateral line and the light levels.
In deeper water I believe the pulsating, throbbing action of a jointed minnow will assist to ‘ring the dinner bell’ to a hungry bass that may be swimming anywhere within the water column.
With regard to jig-heads and paddletails, it is the wriggling tail and the knocking and bumping effect of the lure along a clean seabed in very shallow water, in conjunction with an increased amount of any natural light penetrating even exceptionally murky water, that has brought me results.
As an aside, if there is a zone of clearer water present, the boundary between this and the cloudy water could well be where the bass are holding up and waiting to ambush their prey – obviously, this is where to work that lure.
WEEDLESS AND WEIGHTLESS
In the previous difficult angling scenarios, any adjacent sand or shingle beaches can be an excellent back-up plan to fishing from rocks because they clearly offer far safer fishing. This, alongside the likelihood that weed deposits could be more localised or condensed into a particular zone can also serve to attract and concentrate bass into that precise area.
If you’re able to tuck in out of the wind (beneath high cliffs, for example) or find a section of beach where the waves aren’t
smashing up the shoreline, then this is where a prominent weedless and weightless soft plastic such as five-inch Albie Snax or seveninch Lunker City Slug-Go gently twitched in the margins could prove irresistible.
Even if there are floating weed fragments everywhere in front of you, then thanks to the rigidity of the former and the concave back (where the hook point sits), and the suppleness of the latter, relatively hassle-free fishing is attainable and productive.
Moreover, slender weedless soft plastic lures with a paddletail trailing, such as the excellent Red Gill Evo-Stix, Gary Yamamoto Swim Senko – or indeed a curly tail worked excruciatingly slowly, parallel to and very close to the beach, is another excellent tactic. It is important to fish these lures weightless, otherwise you increase the risk of weed gathering on the line and lure.
Unquestionably, it takes a bite or a fish hooked or landed before anyone can have genuine confidence in a method, but the next time you despair at the ‘spider’s web’ of a low pressure synoptic chart on the TV, or a sea that may at first glance appear unfishable with a lure, consider giving it a go with the techniques and lures mentioned above.
Good luck, and stay safe this autumn.
Dig in – the lip or vane on deep, medium and shallow diving lures
Accentuated action – Illex Nitro Sprat and Fiiish Minnow
Great in the margins - the 5in Albie Snax
Ideal for casting into the wind – a sinking metal
Persevere for rewards like this
Grips into waves – the Xorus Patchinko
Use in weed – the Lunker City Slug-Go