FISH OF A LIFETIME
Henry Gilbey is delighted with his first double-figure bass
Henry Gilbey tells the story of his 10lb bass.
There are certain milestones or goals in fishing, and whether they are numbers or size of fish, or perhaps travelling somewhere new and remote, what I so love about fishing is how there is room for all of us and what we want to get out of it.
When I was heavily into bait fishing, I classed myself as a specimen hunter because I was actively chasing the biggest fish I could find of a particular species. This could be a cod, ray, conger or bull huss for example, but trying to better my heaviest fish was a big part of the drug for me at that time.
Then along came bass fishing, and with it an addiction to lure fishing. For many years I had caught the occasional bass, essentially by mistake when I was out bait fishing for something else. In my ignorance, I never imagined how much there could be to chasing these fine fish. It didn’t take long until lure fishing for bass took over my fishing life, and it has been that way for a number of years.
I defy anybody who saltwater fishes in the UK or Ireland not to know that the ultimate bass for any angler is the magical doublefigure fish. Bass weighing more than 10lb are talked of with reverence, and especially when caught from the shore where I would argue the challenge is always greater than on a boat, and to me, ultimately more satisfying for any number of reasons.
Over a number of years now I have witnessed and photographed a fair few 10lbplus bass from the shore that were caught on lure fishing tackle, and, so far, all but one of those magical double-figure fish have come from various parts of Ireland. I reckon I have hooked and lost two bass over the 10lb mark, but until recently I had never landed that double-figure fish myself, from the shore, and on lure gear.
But I have now, or rather we measured my fish at 79cm, and considering that this bass was in amazing late summer condition and the BASS measuring tape gives a fish of over that size at well over the 10lb mark, I am officially awarding myself my first doublefigure bass. So how do I feel?
Believe it or not, my addiction to bass fishing has changed my outlook on fishing and what floats my boat the most. While a truly big bass would always be more than welcome, never for one second did chasing an elusive 10lb-plus bass consume me like I used to obsess, for example, with trying to land a 40lb-plus conger or a 20lb-plus cod from the shore.
I have been lucky enough to have caught plenty of good bass on lures, and I have been around a good number of double-figure bass, but catching one myself hasn’t been my only goal within lure fishing.
But then it went and happened. In some respects, I am now in some kind of mythical club of UK and Irish anglers who have managed the same feat. It’s obviously not an easy thing to do, otherwise we’d all be landing doubles every time we went out.
While I am delighted with what has happened, it changes nothing for me.
I have come across some anglers who, once they reach their target weight of a certain species, give up fishing for them, but this has never made an ounce of sense to me. I love bass fishing, I love lure fishing and I have been lucky enough to have landed the bass of a lifetime, but all this does is make me want to chase bass even more. I want to get better at doing it. Of course I need to tell you how I landed this double-figure bass though.
If there has been one thing bugging me over the last few years, it’s how when I fish, photograph and indeed guide in Ireland, we lure fish a lot in estuaries.
The majority of the double-figure bass I have seen have come from a few Irish estuaries, yet I have not translated what we do almost so normally over there to my home waters and all those wonderful estuaries in Devon and Cornwall.
I have fished a fair bit in estuaries for bass in the UK, but I can’t pretend that my success levels have been anywhere like on the open coasts of Cornwall for example. I had been determined to change that this year. I would imagine that many anglers think of estuaries as home to shoals of school bass, but this is wrong. Think about how estuaries are so often havens for small fish, and then think about what bigger fish are eating. Estuaries hold big bass. Some anglers know this, but far too many don’t.
Bass like current. They can often be found in areas where the current is broken up for some reason (sandbanks, reefs and channels) and a lot of the time over in Ireland we concentrate on the last few hours of the ebb tide. This is what I started to look for and indeed do right here in the UK. I prefer the bigger neaps or smaller springs in most estuaries I have fished, and it is fascinating to see how much life there can sometimes be when you spend time in these tidal waterways.
I was fishing with my friend Mark Quinton at a location in an estuary in Cornwall where we have been doing well recently. Yes, it was a bit of a drive, a good walk, and very exposed to the elements.
Again, it was those last few hours of the ebb when we were doing the best, and most bass were caught on surface lures and soft plastics like the six-inch OSP DoLive Stick, drifted and twitched in the current.
We were having a fairly quiet session and the first bass I landed was little bigger than my surface lure. As the session continued, I got one of those big, almost lazy swirls on my Whiplash Factory Spittin’ Wire surface lure; I like those hits. The day before I had missed a good hit off the top because I had been that bit too eager to strike, so when I got this big swirl I made sure to wait until my rod banged over hard and then I set the hooks hard.
I can’t tell you that I knew immediately that this particular bass was the fish of a lifetime, but, from the solid resistance I felt, I knew it was a really good fish. Many people know I fight my fish hard and on a tight drag, and although this bass was hooked in a fair bit of current, it took no line and I bullied it hard to pull it away from some structure.
It was actually Mark who first spotted the bass in the water and said that it was really big, but I didn’t quite appreciate the size until I had pulled it into the shallows and attached my fish-grip to its bottom jaw. Wow! Perhaps because it was actually my fish I was in a slight state of denial.
When I’ve seen 10lb-plus bass caught from the shore I have said “that’s a double” almost straight away, but with mine now resting calmly in the water while we measured her, it didn’t quite sink in until Mark told me that at 79cm long and in seriously good condition I was now a bass angler who has been lucky enough to have landed a fish of a lifetime.
Of course, I am more than pleased, and it took a while for my achievement to really sink in, to be honest. Watching it kick its big tail as it swam away is going to live with me forever. A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t get any photos of me with my doublefigure bass, but it just isn’t why I go fishing, and I am the bloke shooting photographs, I know my camera gear, and I like to control what I shoot.
I was so pleased to have been fishing with a good friend when this bass decided to hit my surface lure, and Mark has my eternal thanks for holding my bass so I could shoot some photos. I was lucky enough to have had one hell of an experience, and, while I have actually landed a truly special fish, in reality what it does is make me want to go lure fishing for bass even more.
I want to keep learning, I want to fish in cool places with good friends, I want to shoot photographs of this sport we love, and I want to enjoy any bass that I am lucky enough to catch.
Caught at last... the double-figure bass of my dreams
Cornish estuaries, like this one, are good for bass
Mark Quinton admires Henry’s bass