15 Rules for Bass Fishing in the UK
“In the imaginations of every angler there are two types of bass. There is the bold predator, aggressively patrolling the white water off rugged beaches and there is the elusive, tentative silver shadow”.
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The first of these detects vibrations caused by movement of baitfish, picks up the scent of amino acids from a struggling bait fish, and then strikes hard and fast to make the kill. This is the prowling Sea Perch, it’s foward-positioned pelvic fins enabling faster movement and generally making it look more badass. When we fish with a fast retrieve and lots of twitching, we’re hoping for an encounter with this fish.
Then, there is the elusive, secretive bass. This is the one that slowly and cautiously cruises just above the sea bed. It has no issue with cruising right up into fresh water, it’s the apex predator and doesn’t need to work too hard to get a meal. It seems to have transcended the food chain and hardly bothers hunting these days. You need all the finesse you can muster to tempt it with your subtly presented lure, which you twitch delicately and patiently. This fish is spooked by the vibrations from passing boats, your footsteps and your voice. Nobody has a fricken’ clue where this fish goes in winter, why this bass appears and disappears as it pleases. It’s almost mythical. It sits on the edges of gulley’s with current, so that it can hunt without even moving.
The truth of course is that bass are both those fish, dependent on conditions, location, timing and factors we’ll never understand. Catching more of these bars of silver means figuring them out. Here are some rules to give us all the upper hand.
1. Location & Timing Are Crucial
“Fishing is mostly about the map you have in your head, your imagined version of the underwater world in various locations and various times.”
Bass spend most of their time inshore. You’ll catch them amongst the kelp on rocky coastlines, hunting over sandbars, loitering in the space just beyond the breakers and cruising around estuaries and harbours. You will catch bass in very shallow water down to 1ft deep over the kind of ground most anglers won’t even attempt to fish. Even when they’re in deeper water offshore, they are attracted to shallow reefs. They often hug the shallow edges of estuaries, particularly in areas where they can move very little while having exposure to the current, which brings food effortlessly their way. They will hunt over sand, kelp, rocky boulders, around wrecks and reefs and in the open water, throughout the water column from the seabed to the surface. They are caught at all stages of the tide, though you’ll have your spots which work at different states of tide.
Way back in 2015 I took a trip to fish for bass from the west coast of France, excited by the possibility of hooking one of the French monsters I’d seen on Facebook. It’s easy to get used to catching fish on your own turf that you know so well, only to be reminded that your success is hugely down to local knowledge, rather than angling skill, when you fish somewhere new. It was obvious I was screwed without a local guide when while fishing from a harbour wall, a trawler boat with its nets out luggered along within meters of the harbour wall. The prime spot I was in turned out to be so overfished that I turned to light game instead, and found that every cast about a thousand gobies were fighting over whatever you threw at them. It was a goby party because there was nothing around to eat them. Lesson learned: Find locations & times that work and make note of them. If you don’t know an area, contact those that do.
Keep an angling journal on your phone of where you fished, when and what you caught. If you like, you could also track tide times, weather, light, water clarity and any wildlife observations.
2. Avoid Overworking Your Lures
It used to be thought that bass were like T-Rex in the movie, Jurassic Park. They can only see their prey while their prey is moving.
A lure that isn’t being twitched and retrieved by the angler was thought to be invisible to fish. With this in mind, a lot of early bass lures had aggressive actions compared to some more modern lures, which sometimes don’t do much at all (think of a straight soft plastic). The truth is, bass do respond to movement, but you as the angler are not the only thing that can make a lure move. Current can make a lure move, as can gravity! This means that a lure which you cast out and leave, is actually doing quite a lot already. It’s dropping through the water column, and drifting in the direction of any current, assuming you have a bit of slack in your line. This turns out to look a lot like an easy meal to a bass. If you lure fish a lot, you already know this, because you hook into a lot of your fish while you’re day dreaming!
When you stop thinking, you stop overworking your lures and let them fall through the water column the way a dying fish falls. Pollack love this too, it’s what you do when you go jigging over a wreck offshore.
A falling lure looks like an easy meal for a bass. Exactly the kind of energy expenditure to calorie trade-off a predator wants. A falling lure or bait allows a bass to conserve energy while feeding, compared to a lure which moves quickly. It’s the same logic behind bass (and trout) sitting just outside of the current, so they can feed on what floats past without having to move very much.
If you don’t already fish OTD (on the drop) try experimenting with allowing your lures to fall and drift as part of your retrieve. A ‘sink and draw’ approach is one way of doing this, whereby your lures is retrieved in a zigzag pattern, rising up before dropping back down again, like an injured baitfish.
Of course, sometimes a fast, twitchy retrieve is exactly what the bass want. Especially for schoolies. But, very often, a bass will strike the moment you stop working the lure. If you’re fishing in a feeding frenzy, you won’t be trying to fish on the drop, but overworking your lures is certainly more common than underworking them.
3. Learn from other local anglers
“When it comes to bass fishing the greatest barrier to catching more fish is often being too proud to learn something from everyone.”
The fact is if you’re not learning from everyone, you’re going to be stuck in the pool of regular blankers and pollack fiddlers (a term which I don’t think has ever been used before but is intended to be derogatory).
There is more to learn than we can ever learn, especially given that locations and timings do not stay the same forever. If you stop fishing for three years and go fishing again, you won’t be half as good. You’ve got to stay tuned in with other anglers to keep learning and share marks with others that are serious about catching bass.
One of the secrets of a lot of great anglers – apart from simply putting in the hours religiously and exploring new marks – is asking questions and listening to answers from other people. Most of us are only lucky enough to fit angling in the gaps in-between. We can accelerate our learning by learning from each other.
4. Explore New Marks
“Given that bass fishing is hugely about finding the best locations and figuring out when they work, exploring new marks is essential.”
What’s more, if you don’t explore your own turf, you’ll tend to fish in areas that are already somewhat exploited. Marks can even become ruined if they get too popular. Exploring new places means putting in the hours and looking for places that seem promising on Google maps. The rewards from exploring new ground and then catching dream fish from them are unmatched in angling. Lure fishing for bass in particular gives you the mobility to easily get to marks, whether that means taking a short cut through a forest to reach a secret estuary spot, or fishing from a new rock mark. Get out there and explore. Don’t rely on other people’s angling spots. Discover your own and trade secrets with others that have put in the hours. Then you’re away.
5. Avoid Death
Unfortunately, we can’t swim like bass. Fishing alone from rugged coastline near choppy seas is inherently dangerous.
Don’t wear waders near deep water, as they can fill with water causing you to sink. Bring your phone. Tell a mate exactly where you’re going. If you fish solo from rock marks in choppy seas you could check out one of these life jackets from Amazon. Ultimately, if the waters rough or if you’ve hit your head, the sea is going to do whatever it wants to you and you may not like what it does.
6. Go on boat trips
A boat allows you to cover more ground and fish from wrecks. This is a humungous advantage when bass fishing.
Of course, you could pay for private fishing boat hire with a skipper included and do this every month and still save money over a boat (don’t tell your wife this when trying to persuade her you need a bass boat).
For most people, a good option is to go on private fishing charters with friends on occasion. However, the bass you catch this way are 75% caught by the skipper, because they are sorting the locations and timings out for you. Having your own boat allows you to develop a whole new and potentially rewarding skillset. Bass fishing from a boat it a whole different world to shore fishing.
7. Go Stealth Mode
Making noise can certainly spook bass, especially larger ones.
Light at night can attract certain species but for bass it’s a no go. If you’re fishing on a quiet estuary, it’s worth keeping the noise way down, especially for those first few casts at the spot when you may be about to hook one that’s a few metres from you.
8. Know What Bass Are Feeding On
When you fillet a bass, you’ll find they are mostly stuffed with crab, sandeel and a mixture of shrimp, whitebait and limpets – with the shells often still on!
This obviously varies a lot, but it’s useful if you can find out what they’re feeding on. For instance, maybe you’re fishing early on in the season with a paddle tail but the bait fish aren’t in yet and the bass are all stuffing their face with crab on the seabed. In that case, maybe you should be fishing nearer to the bottom with more of a dead sticking approach (casting out a straight lure for instance on a jig head and leaving it on the bottom, slowly and painfully twitching it back in, lifting it a few feet of the sea bed with each occasional twitch.
9. Crash Diving Birds Mean Fish
“Gannets, cormorants and gulls are fishing too.”
Crash diving birds are an exciting thing to see when you’re out fishing. You may have been lucky enough before to experience being on a boat with birds crashing all around you and fish leaping in a huge spray from the water being chased up into a ball. If you see Ganets and Gulls crash diving, it means there are fish about. If you do ever find yourself smack bam in the middle of the action with birds crashing everywhere and shoals of fish jumping around you, bass often linger lower down in the water column waiting for injured fish that sink down.
10. Work With Currents For Natural Presentation
Bass live and hunt where the water moves. Movement is life to bass.
Waves churn up the bottom, lifting crabs up into the air where they are suspended fastfood for a bass. Tidal currents in estuaries can do the same, and bring tasty morsels from who knows where down stream into their open gobs. Whether you’re on a boat fishing off an offshore reef or you’re in a brackish water up some estuary, look for water movement. Put your lure into it.
Having said this, bass sometimes favour the places they can have access to water movement without having to swim too hard. The edges of estuaries are on such place. Just look at this bass below up the river Fowey in Cornwall spotted by a friend on a kayak trip. Another good place to consider are the places where the seabed drops off dramatically. Bass love to sit just under these drop offs for the same reason.
11. Fish With Reasonably Priced Soft Plastics
If you don’t have a pachenko already or a fish minnow, perhaps you should buy one just so you always have that trusty lure to fall back on. However, it’s not financially viable to use these all the time for a lot of people, and you don’t need to. Experiment with a variety of soft plastics, make your own fish minnow imitations or consider using cheaper alternatives.
This will help you catch more fish, because you have to be willing to cast your lure exactly where you’re going to get snagged.
12. Forget Lure Colour, Remember Lure Contrast
Bass apparently can see a variety of colours. However, the primary factor I consider when fishing for bass is contrast.
Bass are pretty darn good at honing in on prey. They can find a black lure in murky water near the seabed, and in fact may locate the lure more easily if it stands in stark contrast with the murk around it.
Play around with different colours, and if you aren’t catching on one, change things up. But, remember that contrast is probably far more significant a factor for bass than your rhubarb and custard (red and yellow) lure, the red of which the bass can’t even see past the shallows, where red light wavelengths won’t penetrate.
13. Buy a Surface Lure and Relax.
“Catching bass from the surface is the possibly the most thrilling way to fish.”
The top water lure is cast out, and it sits there sending ripples and vibrations through the water for a few moments. Bass pick up on this and swim over to investigate, especially in calmer waters where the ripples really stand out. The predators sees an injured fish, spitting water on the surface like injured fish do. Then, they slam into it, either leaving a swirl on the surface before taking your lure under, or flinging themselves into the air with force. Either way, this is the most visual way to fish, as you can literally watch the fish smash your lure. Extraordinary.
The Patchinko has achieved soaring popularity, with a design that has been proven in all conditions, except perhaps in rough seas with too much surface action. This lure is typically retrieved in a ‘walk the dog’ pattern, whereby the lure is twitched to the left and then the right in quick succession, with pauses after each burst of movement. The bass will typically hit the lure just after one of these bursts of movement, when the lure is sat still and helpless.
You see the fish sniff your lure, follow it, refuse to take it and tease you. Top water fishing is tantalizing, exciting and accessible, because you don’t have to worry so much about snags!
14. Know Your Seasons
“Bass can be caught throughout the year, but most of us only bother from late April through to late November.”
In the coldest darkest winter days, it’s often a lot more rewarding to target Wrasse instead! Later in the season the frequency of Atlantic depressions goes up, which makes for more more of the surf that the bass love.
15. Get Your Tackle Right
Most lure anglers use reels around size 3000-4000, depending on the brand as sizes are not consistent across brands. It’s common to use 20lb braid with a lighter fluorocarbon leader around 12-16lb connected with an FC knot or another strong knot. Rods are 7-9ft and cast around 1oz (28g). Rods this light provide the best sport, but also allow you to detect subtle bites and figure out what the structure is like over the ground your fishing. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir because lighter rods are normally these days, but once you’ve tried fishing with rods that cast under 28g you probably aren’t ever going back.
If you’re totally new to angling a lighter monofilament (10lb) is easier to use as it doesn’t require you to tie this knot and won’t get so damaged rubbing against rocks. However, braid is of course far stronger relative to its thickness and so you can cast significantly further with a heavier line. It also allows for a far superior sense of connection to your lure. The leader is required because braid is visible to fish, direct knots to lures slip and you don’t want to lose your braid every time you get a snag. The lighter leader protects you from that happening. Braided lines are not very abrasion resistant at all, so you need the flouro to protect your line from damage. Flouro is generally preferred over monofilament for its lack of stretch, which makes bites far easier to detect. Anglers that use monofilament while lure fishing are probably either very inexperienced or very very experienced and are using it for its stretch properties, which can be advantageous for some lure presentations and methods (if a fish takes the lure, it may take a millisecond longer for the fish to meet with resistance potentially enabling for better hook ups. This effect would be amplified by an overeager angler that strikes too rapidly, preventing hook ups from a species that gulps its prey using displacement of water). So in other words, if you’re inexperienced you may actually do better having less control of your lure, and therefore benefit from monofilament!