The Bass Mecca

The new Sovereign harbour marina is rammed full of boats. Most of them just sit there eating money. But when you do go, its easy access to the fish outside!

Located on the South Coast the seaside town of Eastbourne is synonymous with beach holidays and oceanfront hotels. I used to beach fish there for winter Cod, often right through the night, so never really got to see what the place looked like in daylight. It was back in Edwardian times when its popularity as a seaside venue blossomed, and this is reflected in the period buildings that share space with the more recent architecture. It’s about midway between Hastings to the East and Brighton to the West, and is overlooked by the South Downs from where settlements dating back to the Bronze Age have been found. The name was founded from the “Burne” which was a stream running through the old Town. During the Middle Ages it flourished as a sheep farming area, but even back then it was fishing that made it a popular place to live.


Tony Kirrage is the bait and bass expert who can put you in the direction of a good fish. Call in to him at “Tony’s Tackle”.

Threats of invasion from the Napoleonic era led to the buildings on the coasts that look like circular forts. These are called “Martello Towers”, and I used to beach fish in the shadow of one at a mark known locally as “The Wall”. Largest Cod I caught off the beach was a 9-plusser, coldest night I fished  ???…11 degrees below freezing, when the lugworm froze to the stones and I had to thaw them over a beach fire to bait up.Aaahh,those were the days ! .Now the area is totally built up, and thousands of people live,work,and holiday there, which of course gave rise to the need for a new marina. Prior to this, the dinghies I used to fish from were all launched straight off the beach into the sea, several people shoving the boat down a row of yellow plastic gas pipes until it hit the water. The return journey was equally exciting. The boat was gunned straight up the shingle beach at power, skidding to a halt dozens of yards up from the water’s edge. The remaining distance was then taken up by a winch and the boats spun round at the top of the shingle in readiness for the next trip. The few times I did get out with Tony Kirrage, Norman Message and the gang, the fishing was outlandish. Some days the boat would barely get up on the plane there was such a weight of Cod in it.


Another big double figure bass from a small boat, you can see Beachy Head in the background.

I had not been to Eastbourne for twenty years, so first port of call was a viewing of the new Sovereign Harbour Marina. Opened in 1993 in the area formerly known as “The Crumbles”, in 2007 it was bought by Premier marinas, which also run Brighton, Chichester and Port Solent marinas along the south coast. There is a need for constant dredging, and I could see the silt build up around the edges, a perfect habitat for truly monster mullet. I saw some cruising under the pontoons that looked every bit of 8lbs.An immense inland harbour system now exists, together with all the upmarket development you would expect to see in somewhere like France or Spain. The Waterfront area of the marina can now be explored with cafes, restaurants, bars and a few shops. The boats exit the marina via a locking system, and by “boats” I mean small day anglers, charter boats like the “Deep Blue”a new Evolution, dozens of yachts, big ocean cruisers and commercials. The marina is split into main inner and outer harbours with luxury flats overlooking the whole area. When I was there it looked like so many other marinas in a recession. Plenty of boats but nobody about as the gas guzzling big engines cost a fortune to fill up. The only people I saw in the entire area were the skipper and crew of “Deep Blue” getting ready for another charter. Yet while it may have been the huge Cod catches that captured my imagination all those years ago, it seems that Eastbourne is now the centre for south coast bassing, and I was fortunate in being able to contact Tony’s Tackle in the same shop I bought lug at nearly thirty years ago. Run by Tony Kirrage, who started in the tackle trade way back in 1975.         

There are several charter boats operating out of Eastbourne, like the new Evolution “Deep Blue”.

Tony started in beach fishing, and in 1981 shot to fame on the front cover of Angling Times with an immense shore-caught haul of bass over 8lbs,the largest 9lbs 2ozs. He then ventured into beach match fishing and won lots of Opens worth £1000,and bought his first boat “GINA”, a Shetland Sheltie 17.But he also got to run out aboard the famous “4 Pints”, run by Norman Message, a 17-foot Pilot that would regularly outfish charter boats of the time. It was then that Tony started picking up pointers from the South’s top sea angler Norman, and recalls getting a double figure bass on consecutive drifts.10-14,and10-9.He moved on to represent England at International level, and in 2004 stormed the Carp World Championship winning a staggering £10,000 !!!In the same year, just two months later he won the World Beach Championships in The Gambia, West Africa, and trousered a majestic £7000 !!!  He has had six 50lb Carp, Catfish to 79lbs, and bass hauls of 200lbs.So with notebook in hand I wondered how far I would get in extracting some top bass marks for the readers. Not surprisingly they gave me five, which together with the tips should stand you in good stead if you decide to visit Eastbourne.

The crew of the “Deep Blue” shows off a fly rod caught mullet of about 4/5lbs.


This is truly a monster bass from a small boat. 14lbs 4 ozs for Norman using a whole squid for bait.

For Eastbourne’s bass shoals Tony favours an outfit like the Daiwa Kenzaki 20/30lb boat rod, coupled to an Abu 7500C3, loaded with 30lb Whiplash braid. Another rod is the Zziplex Sea Raider Mk 2, a 10-foot, two piece all carbon rod. For the budget driven he suggests an Abu 7 with a Fladen Maximus boat rod, rated for 20/40lb line and whiplash braid. He actually is the only person to produce what he calls a “Gilling swivel” that allows you to fish Sidewinders without the need for a boom.


GETTING THERE– This is easy access as you leave via the main  A22 south if you are coming from London, or pick it up from the East/West A27.The A22 goes straight into Eastbourne, and you should follow signs for Sovereign Harbour Marina.

MARK 1)-The Outer Ledge-50 43.123 N by 000 14.731 This is a bank of rocks that rise up from 90 feet of water to 75/80 feet, with broken boulders. It stands right in the path of the strong Channel tides so can throw up a good tide rip on the surface, called locally a “Rabble”, so on a calm day it is easily spotted before you even get there. With such a rise in depth it can be a hairy place when the wind gets up to a 5, particularly if it’s against the tide flow. As most small boaters will be looking at 4 or less, schedule your trip on a charter boat like “Deep Blue” if the weather is iffy. Norman’s advice is to drift it using Sidewinder lures, in the white or pearl, with 6 inch patterns getting the bigger fish. However, in calm conditions you can anchor on either side of the outside edges, fishing big baits on the bottom like mackerel, squid or cuttlefish, or better still trot back a livebait. It runs out off Beachy Head, about 4 miles to the West of Sovereign harbour. Expect an average size bass of 4/5lbs, with the chance of a double figure. Tony’s advice is that it fishes best on the first of the flood or the last of the ebb. Medium tides are better. Now here is Tony and Norman’s hot tackle tip. Redgills are good, Sidewinders are good, but apparently the lure the commercials rate when they can’t fish livebait is called the TAZER. I have yet to see one, but apparently the rubber material is superb and will last several commercial outings, not just a few fish. So even given that you don’t have the time or inclination to fish the bass on livebaits, these three makes of lures, in a selection of colours will put you right up there in pole position. All you need to do is……. ADD WATER!!!!

Artificial eels

MARK 2) – ELPHICK’S TREE-50 45.240 N by 000 21.430 E.This is on the chart. A small section of rock around two miles south of Sovereign marina, it leaps up off the bottom to 30 feet at the top. This means for fast drifting, your lures are straight into the side of the rock if you don’t keep your eye on the sounder. It can be a tackle-hungry spot, but then its also good for the bass, which should be lying right over the top, waiting for small fish and food to be washed down to them on the tidal flow. This spot is the one many of the commercial bass fishermen go to for stocking up on Pouting livebaits, which is their favoured bait. Now here’s Norman’s tip. Get there for slack water, or fish lures until slack water. Then drop down a set of the tiny shrimp rigs, baiting each hook with a piece of lugworm. Make sure you pinch down the barbs on these small hooks to make unhooking easier, as it does less damage to the livebait. Then go on the drift with them, using enough lead on a flowing trace so the Pouting is towed about one third the way off the bottom.


MARK 3)-THE HORSE-50 44.950 N by 000 22.880 E. This mark is just less than 3 miles from Sovereign Marina, and is marked on the chart. These numbers that Norman gave me are for the end of The Horse, to start the drift if the ebb tide is running. Just reverse it to go west for the flood, then you get a drift right over the largest section of it. You can drift anywhere along it as there are loads of rocks, from around 40 feet down, shallowing up to 15/18 feet.3/4 pounders are the norm, but they run up to doubles so don’t let a big one take you back into the rocks. Top lure here is the white Sidewinder, 6 inch size for the bigger fish, 4 inch for the smaller. Second top colour is pearl, third is a blue. You should be able to see the tide rip on the surface in mid tides, but on big springs and high winds keep an eye open for big waves. Fish sensibly. Fish safely.


Tony checks out a special bass outfit ordered by a lure angler. He can advise on all aspects of bass fishing.

MARK 4-THE TOWER.50 43.370 N by 000 26.040 E.This is the Sovereign Light tower, and there is some good fishing around it. Anywhere you can see the water boiling from the East buoy to the Tower or from the base of the Tower running out south for about 150 yards there is a line of rocks that is great for the school size bass if you want some ready action. It fishes well on the drift at either ebb or flood, and Norman says it is all good Cod ground around there, but watch out as tackle losses can be high due to the large number of pots. Keep an eye out for pot buoys and judge for yourself. Sidewinders are good here, but any form of livebait drifting over the rocks will put you in with the chance of an 8-plusser.



One of the biggest rod and line big bass catches of all time. A huge haul of 8lb plus bass taken by Bob Edwards and Norman Message from Eastbourne


MARK 5)-THE INSHORE LEDGE -This is really tight inshore, so tight they don’t want to give numbers, as it can be a place to demand respect with you have wind against a big tide. Look for a tide rip on the surface .Do not ever go there in an Easterly 4 up. Given small tides and good weather quite a few of the bass specialists anchor in here and run back large baits like Cuttlefish, whole Mackerel, or double Squid. You can also get the bigger fish on peeler crab, which you mount on a Kamasan B940 6/0 wide gape hook, tying the crab on with elasticated cotton. There is a very good chance of a double here, but to locate it Tony advises watching the sounder and looking for the tide rip on the surface to find the ledge, then go in slowly, working the sounder until you see a gap in the rocks. This is the gap that the hunting bass travel through, so anchor uptide of that. So there you have 5 good areas to try in the Eastbourne area for quality bass. Both Tony and Norman live there, and Norman in particular fishes lots of days. Tony’s son Chris is a commercial bass fisherman so while they obviously all have their favourite “secret” spots, these are well known, quality bass marks. Thanks to Tony and Norman for the info.



 Accommodation-There are plenty of top class hotels if you are going for a full on holiday with the wife, or unending B&B establishments. Go on the net and search up Bed and Breakfast Eastbourne. You can get an average price of about £30, but there are often offers on with last minute deals being cheaper. 

Launch site– Many locals used to launch/retrieve with winches off the beach to the west, but quite a few now berth in the Marina. No slip in the marina, but you can contact charter boats like the “Deep Blue” on 07549-846998, or try and ask for Steve.

Tackle Shop- The world famous “Tony’s Tackle” owned and run by Tony Kirrage.Its the place to contact for the best bait, and certainly for information on boat catches, where to beach fish, or even a local carp water. All the top information on catches are funnelled through Tony’s shop. Tel –Tony Kirrage on 211 Seaside, Eastbourne.BN22 7NP.01323-731388.What he doesn’t know about the bass isn’t worth knowing.


Safety-There is a huge Lifeboat generally right inside the Sovereign Harbour Marina. 

Weather-Online @http:/ plus any local or regional weather stations.


Location & Travel- *****

Facilities ***

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Location & Safety ****

Fishing quality (Bass) *****

COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.