Over the last decade or so there seems to have been a noticeable increase in the number of Bass being caught by offshore anglers aboard charter boats. Perhaps it is me, but twenty years ago it would only be the odd trip when a single Bass came over the side. Today, they have been located on many sandbanks and over wrecks, though nobody seems to know whether they are bunched up for spawning, or are just feeding. My opinion would edge towards spawning, and when you consider the sophisticated electronics now used to pinpoint vast shoals of the species, it might not bode well for the future. Bass, like many species, will always cash in on any easy food source, but I cannot imagine they do so in truly huge numbers. Over the years we must all have read of the occasional massive trawler haul of Bass, probably caught by accident, but nevertheless making vast inroads into any potential spawning stock. Today the wrecks can actually be targeted for bass with rod and line, sidelining the usual Pollack, Coalies and Cod, and generally using live sandeels. Then over gullies and sandbanks they have been “discovered”, and again targeted, using big leads in tide races, and Launce fished live on a long flowing trace. As a guide only this year I know of one small trawler that pulled up ONE TON of the species in a single haul! So with the deepwater bass getting a rare old hammering by the deepwater boats, what chance does the shore angler have?
All beach anglers know they come into surf areas, around rocky headlands, and nose into low water gullies. They are feeding selectively on Sandeels, Crabs and small fish. You only have to see the huge growth in lure fishing from rocks for the species to realise just how close they come. Yet I feel there is an area as yet pretty much unexploited, and that is true skinny water fishing. Off the west coast of Ireland, around thirty years ago when the species were plentiful you could always read the exploits of anglers of the era seeing bass swimming behind them, in water barely deep enough to cover their backs .The old tip of never casting beyond the third breaker was good advice indeed, although many, including yours truly, have trouble in dropping the lead short of the American coastline!
I had been toying with the idea of getting some skinny water bass and last summer managed to get down to the Padstow area. The local tackle shop tipped me off on a wide end of the Camel estuary where the tide slid out quickly to expose vast areas of shallows. It was a popular tourist spot with the families, but on last of the ebb, and first of the flood there would be pools and channels barely inches deep that the bass and mullet swam in. Many in the know would fish there with a flyrod, and fly pattern imitating either immature sandeels or small fish. It was so shallow that you needed a floating line to fish it properly, as a sinker would drag over the sand with the fly picking up debris off the bottom. When I arrived there were indeed several fly fishermen, either wading with just shorts or with thigh waders or chesties. I stood watching for some time to see if they hooked up, and tried my own flyrod. It quickly became apparent how fast the water left the gullies and pools as my flyline pulled round with the current in a huge bow, speeding up the fly so it travelled too fast. As none of the other anglers hooked bass I surmised I might indeed have missed the best part of the tide, and so made the decision to head right out to a point where the river ran into the sea. It was a long hike, well over half a mile, and as a safety factor I timed myself to allow for the long walk back when the tide flooded. There was a good chance of getting cut off, and although I probably would only get wet it was an experience I wished to avoid!
Once at the point I got all excited as a mild surf was kicked up by the onshore breeze, and the last of the ebb tide would be pushing any food over the bar. I tried the flyrod, but even with chest waders the strong breeze prevented me from getting the line out far. In retrospect I should have switched the weight forward 8 flyline for something like a bonefish taper, which was designed in a heavier class for saltwater work. I had some small Ammo sandeels in my pocket, so decided I wanted a terminal rig that would allow me to roll the bait round in the shallowest section of water, barely two feet deep. Shimano reel, 12lb line and a special ball weight I had brought from British Columbia would allow me to cast well across the shallow water and thus avoid spooking any bass. In British Columbia we use a light tackle method affectionately called “ Bottom bouncing”. You stand in a fast, shallow river, and cast slightly upstream with one of the lead balls, using a fly or small piece of wool on a long flowing trace six or eight feet long. The shape of the ball, which is swivelled, allows it to bounce and tumble in even the lightest of current, yet keeping the fly down near the bottom. It is a pleasant way of taking very large Salmon on light tackle and the largest I fought to the guide’s net might have weighed in the region of 70lbs!
With a small sandeel lashed onto a blued Aberdeen hook I cast out and immediately felt the tap-tap on the rod tip indicating the lead ball was doing its job and rolling the sandeel round as though it was struggling to hold against the current in the shallows. The temptation was too great to rig a second rod in a rest, with a grip lead, and while I watched the tip on the casting rod I missed two bites on the static bait! Always the rule. Only concentrate with one rod for bass. I packed the static rig up, and after fifty or sixty casts felt the sandeel intercepted in water barely deep enough to cover a fish’s back. Slamming back the light rod it thumped over to the dogged tugging of a school bass. The method worked! Duly unhooked and returned I set about rigging another sandeel. I took another two fine bass, returning both for another day. In calm conditions I am told you can see the schools of bass intermingling with the mullet, and it is then they make ideal targets for the fly anglers. As the tide flooded I became aware of just how quickly it came in and started the long walk back to base. Several feeder channels had the arrowing wakes of spooked fish but whether they were mullet or bass I didn’t know. I passed the fly anglers, watching as they eased their lines in and out rhythmically.
My reason for leaving was that I wanted to drive right round to the other side of the Camel estuary where I could fish the night tide from some small cliffs that allowed me to fish baits in really shallow water. As I set up that evening it was so shallow a walker with some dogs was splashing through the shallows in front of me. As the tourists left and darkness descended I set up the bottom-bouncing rod and fired a small sandeel out into the water. This time I found a problem. Because I was thirty feet up on a cliff there wasn’t enough water pressure on the line to make the ball roll. I had to drop to a smaller size, which cut down my distance. That meant I was in even shallower water. However, an hour later and the nodding of the rod tip changed to a violent tug and I was into another bass. A second static bait I had out remained fishless, and when I took a second schoolie it became apparent that in shallow water they really do like bait on the move. When you think about it, strong current, even in shallows, is going to move bait around, so it can only seem natural to a predator to see an item of food trundling towards them. I packed up well pleased with my experiment. It meant I could now increase my bassing sessions to take longer periods. While the bigger fish would undoubtedly fall to bigger, static baits in deep water shore marks, I could fill in the time waiting for the tide to flood by getting in some skinny water bassing. After all you are there waiting for the tide to fill your favourite big fish mark, so why not take advantage and get an extra hour or so with a very good chance of a skinny water bass?
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.