Learn how to live the dream and target big bass from the shore.
To catch a 10lb bass is a sea angler’s dream. For the majority, it will remain just that, a dream! It’s a fact that some specimen bass are caught accidentally by anglers targeting other species, often on inappropriate tackle. This is a game of chance that 99 per cent will lose. If your true aim and dream is to catch a big bass, or better still, a specimen bass, then you need to focus and specifically target them.
Statistics tell us that big bass, and by big we mean fish over 8lb, are more commonly caught in the period September through to November when compared to the rest of the year as a whole. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that the bigger fish tend to stay offshore working reefs, wrecks and sandbanks, feeding on sandeels, pouting, poor cod and mackerel during midsummer. The fish diet is the reason they pack that weight on. Big fish learn to be lazy, and ambushing prey fish burns up less energy and calories than grubbing about in the rocks for the odd crab, or working hard against the tide and surf on a beach. September, though, sees the first of the autumnal gales. The small, possibly weak or injured fish that manage to survive during the warm, calm days of summer quickly succumb as their strength fails when the gales and big seas of autumn arrive. This is the reason why big bass move back inshore.
They come to feed on the weak vulnerable and dying, but also to eat worms and shellfish that get washed out of the sand and disturbed from the rougher ground by the savage seas. Monster bass also follow the inward migration of whiting, as these are easy prey and in good numbers. September to November is the time of plenty for big bass!
Where and When to Fish
Without doubt the vast majority of big bass are taken south of a line drawn from North Wales across to Suffolk. It’s not that you don’t have a chance north of this line, but your chances, statistically, are less. In Ireland, look at the Kerry, Cork and Wexford coastline.
Within the southern UK divide there are sectors that stand out as consistently producing big bass. Essex, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Dorset, the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel and the Menai Strait in North Wales all have a solid history of producing specimen sized bass. But big bass are widespread and lesser-known areas will produce big fish, providing you’re in the right place at the right time.
Beaches such as Dungeness and Chesil do carry big bass but are unreliable. Look for smaller beaches with rocky outcrops, especially if they have rocky headlands at each end. The bass work the rough ground, before swinging off along the beach, and baits put close in to the rocks offer a high degree of success. Even rocky patches among sand will be enough to draw in a big fish that will work over this area. Putting a bait directly into a surf over clean sand reduces your chances. Look for areas where bass will concentrate and search, not just travel through.
These areas can be good, but read them carefully. Look for specific areas such as rocky reefs that work inward, which the bass will follow. Deeper gutters that run in towards shore are especially good. Bass use these consistently, as food washed along by the tide falls into these and stays there. Other good spots are deeper pools or bowls formed in the sea bed; scooped out hollows around big breakwaters will always put you in the right territory.
Never ignore piers. Again, smaller species, such as pout, sandeels, poor cod and whiting, use the pier structures and legs as cover to escape the attacks of predators. Baits fished tight in to this structure are in a favoured place.
Bass, without doubt, prefer tides building from mid-size to the highest spring tide. As the tides fall back to neaps, your chances diminish quickly. In fact, many experienced bass anglers prefer the tides up to two days before the highest tide of all and don’t rate the springs as good. Use this only as a guide, though, as some marks will produce out of character. Low water and the first two hours of the flood are good on shallow surf beaches. Deeper beaches tend to fish well during the first two hours of the flood and the hour either side of high water. Rough ground is best over low and either side of high, often producing little in between. Estuaries fish well over low and high but also during the first three hours of the ebb as the fish run back out.
It’s not that big bass are never caught in daylight, but statistically the bigger fish are taken during the hours of darkness, even when fishing coloured water. Time your fishing to coincide with dawn, dusk and darkness.
Fish when it’s a rough sea and with a good wind blowing. This applies to all the suggested marks. The rough water exposes food and makes juvenile fish vulnerable. An 8lb-plus bass has no problem working through the swell, surf and tide, and uses this power to ambush confused prey.
There is no specific casting distance for big bass. Think about the marks we’ve highlighted and put your baits near to or into the feature. This is far more important than casting distance. Yes, bass can be just 20 yards out in the surf, but when it’s very rough they stay well outside the main surf line where the swimming and energy expenditure is less. Think where the bass might be and fish there boulders are generally bigger than those on surrounding ground.
The main channels of estuaries, and especially the mouths of small ones, are excellent. Firstly, they hold lots of food and the bass will travel in to feed each and every tide. Look to pick a stance where the channel narrows and those bass running through stand a better chance of crossing the scent trail of your bait. Again, pick out areas of boulders, seed mussel beds, weed beds and any change in the sand configuration of the channel, such as sandbanks. Other good spots are the sides of main channels where rough ground and weed lays.
These areas produce big bass! Here, food, fish guts and bait get dumped over the side and this brings the big lazy fish in. Equally, lots of small pout, poor cod, pollack, sandeels and flatfish live here, forming an easy, consistent diet for the bass to live on. Fishing down the sides of harbour walls, and dropping baits in off the edges of breakwaters will always put you in the right territory.
For general estuary, rough ground and surf fishing an 11ft 6in to 12ft rod, truly rated to cast 3 to 4oz is ideal. The best rod action is a semi-supple tip, but then with an ultra-fast-taper action that makes the rod tense quickly as power is forced through it. This quick interchange of power aids the setting of the hook in a bass’ tough mouth at long range, but also gives great casting performance, plus has the backbone to bully big fish. Match it to a Penn 515 multiplier, or a similar tough geared Shimano reel. Load these with 18lb line and a 40lb shockleader. For rough ground load with 25lbmain line and, if there’s none alongside and you’re only lobbing baits, dispense with the shockleader.
For big-surf conditions and long-range fishing, move up to a 5 to 6oz beachcaster between 12ft 6in and 14ft. Go for a tough reel such as a Penn 525 or a Shimano Torium loaded with 20lb line and a 60lb shockleader.
Big bass are generally looking for big baits. Make lugworm baits a good six inches or more long and a big, fat sausage shape. Then add a long splint of squid down the side and bind the lot together with bait elastic.
The best bait for big bass is a whole squid, half a body section of bluey – which has proved highly successful over the past few years – or the head and guts from a whole mackerel. The key to big bass baits is size and lots of smell. Crab will still score over rough ground, but not as well as it does in the spring and early summer period. In and around man-made structure, fresh, small whole pout, poor cod and whiting can be deadly.