As Spring arrives and the inshore waters begin to warm up, my thoughts turn to the prospect of seeking out that game and handsome bar of silver, the Bass (Marone Labrax), that populate our coastline and estuaries on the East Coast during the warmer months. After a hard season of poor cod fishing it is great to have such a worthy adversary to try and catch in really pleasant warm conditions. Bass stocks on the East Coast appear to be relatively stable with large numbers of 30 to 40cm fish showing last year and hopefully enough of these will mature as breeding adults in the future.
It is important that catch and release principles are adhered to with such a slow growing species of fish. The majority of the stock is undersized and must be returned, but it should also be a consideration that bass take a long time to mature and the large fish of seven pounds plus are probably only at the start of their breeding cycle. It makes sense that large fish of a breeding age are returned safely and carefully to the sea, allowing fish time to recover sufficiently to enable them to swim strongly away. This way a healthy stable stock can be sustained.
Bass have not always been as prolific on the East Coast and it took me nearly twenty years of angling to hook and land my first decent bass, which weighed five pounds. It was taken by accident in May 1985, as I was hoping to find a few late season codling feeding. I had always wanted to land one of the silver beauties as one of the great angling books, ‘A Tide of Fish’ that I read as a youngster had captivated me with both the author’s elegant prose and his description of bass fishing in West Wales. The author Clive Gammon was a journalist angler who worked in the United Kingdom and the United States as a sports correspondent. He also wrote articles for the important angling weeklies and periodicals in the United Kingdom. So with that catch of a five pound fish a dream had been fulfilled. My love of angling has been fuelled by such wonderful inspiring books over the years and if my enthusiasm ever flagged I have retired to my well filled book shelves for inspiration.
Before I caught that fish, it seemed to me that regular catches of bass were a fairly rare and random event in my part of North Suffolk. Perhaps, it was a case of angling intuition, but I decided to target bass at the same location, the section of seawall which was overlooked by the Coastguard Station, for several weeks throughout the early summer of 1985. I ended up taking fifteen bass weighing up to just under seven pounds, although the majority of fish were smaller and around the three pound mark. The successful tactic was peeler crab presented on a running leger rig fished at low water in onshore wind conditions, which gave rise to some moderate tables of surf. I would cast cast a maximum thirty yards to the back of the second line of surf as it rolled in. I never caught more than a single fish in a session, but was successful on most occasions fished. The water was really shallow and the instant response from the largest bass as it was hooked was to trash on the surface in fury. The tip of the old fibreglass ABU464 bent over in a fighting curve and I had a few anxious moments as the fish tried to bolt towards sanctuary in the form of a wooden breakwater. I had the foresight to include a carp landing net and long handle with my equipment so I managed to land the fish without fuss once it lay on its side, played out.
Over time our summer fishing has changed and in my early years of angling, it comprised of soles, mullet and eels and not much else apart from the occasional accidental encounter with other exotic species, including the off chance of a bass. In more recent times the bass has become an important viable target and one which is greatly valued.
One of the most prolific venues close to my home is the Lowestoft South Beach where the fish are often found at very short range. It’s a shallow clean beach comprising of sand with patches of shingle where light tackle can be used, although the tidal flow is strong at times. I will often fish classic surf bass style by dispensing with a rest and hold the rod, feeling for bites. A light weight rod is preferred and a carp rod with a two pound test curve will suffice, partnered with a small multiplier or suitable fixed spool. Terminal tackle is simple again, with a running leger using a two ounce bomb lead and a size 1 fine wire hook. I prefer conditions where there is a bit of surf.
The bass can be very prolific here at times if the conditions are right although the majority of fish are school bass, but the larger fish are certainly present at times. There are occasions when conditions dictate that heavier conventional beach fishing tackle has to be used, but to maximise my fun and excitement I always try to fish as light as possible.
My grandchildren do not miss out on the fun and have enjoyed their own bass catches on the South Beach with mainly small fish so far, but I hope to see new personal best fish landed in the coming months from the venue.
Just to the North of Lowestoft sits the holiday village of Corton and it is from the beach here that I believe the best chance of catching a large local bass exists. It came to my attention several years ago that a local fisherman living in the village regularly netted big bass into double figures during the May to June period. This small window of opportunity has yet to be fully exploited by me, but I managed to catch a couple of large fish both in early May, with one at eight pounds twelve ounces and a second one at just a couple of ounces over ten pounds. The former measured 74cm and the later 80cm and both were returned carefully to the sea. The fish were caught about three years apart, but the potential is clearly there. The water is deeper here, the tides run fast and the bottom is rough in places. Offshore is a popular mark for the charter boats who take out parties to fish and good bass often appear in those catches.
There are other locations where bass can be fished for and I will hopefully cover these another time. I will finish with a brief look at float fishing for bass, which is a technique I have neglected for years. This summer past I used a sliding cigar float to some effect amongst the sea defences at Ness Point, the most easterly point in the British Isles. It is a bit of a disappointment to view, as it is heavily industrialised and has not got the natural beauty of other national landmarks.
The local Council has attempted to improve the area, but left it far to late in the day to turn it into a spot that could be remotely described as attractive. But there are fish to be caught and bass have taken up residence amongst the man made granite rock breakwaters, which are never completely uncovered by the tide. The granite boulders provide a rich larder of food for the bass to harvest.
So it’s time to dust off that light tackle and check out those locations close to you in readiness for the return of that truly game fish, the majestic bass.