Surfers attempting to stay upright on their boards, bikini-clad teenagers tentatively dipping their toes into the chilly Atlantic, screaming kids covered in sand – welcome to summer bass fishing at the height of the Cornish tourist season. The holiday scene above may not be the perfect backdrop when you’re trying to tempt the sea’s most sporting species, but a short cast away from the maddening crowds can bring tremendous rewards – especially when you’re armed with ultra-light gear.
The bass is one of the few species of fish that comes in very close to feed – sometimes even inside the first breaker. On occasions, big double-figure beasts have been caught no more than a couple of rod lengths out! This makes bass, arguably, fish that anyone can catch because, more often than not, there’s no need for casting, which means that even the youngest players stand a chance of catching a huge fish! There are many stories that can be recounted of folks on their holidays who buy a handline, lump on a whole squid and lob it into the surf; you couldn’t get more basic, and the reward has sometimes been a monster bass.
Sandeels were the primary bait for Steve Puckey, my fishing partner for the day, and me – frozen or alive – whichever was working best at the time. So our first stop was to meet up with the Ammo guys at the St Ives factory unit, where we learnt how they catch and process the sandeels – it was very interesting.
Our chosen mark was Porthtowan Beach on the north coast of Cornwall – a surfer’s paradise. This beach produces because of the rock and sand gullies that run parallel to the beach, which are perfect for the bass to race through in search of sandeels and other food such as crabs and small fish when the surf is turning.
We arrived an hour before low water so that we could get a feel for the place before we fished the entire flood. This is when the bass would most likely show – as the water covers over the gullies and holes and releases the feed. The sky was overcast and the surf was pounding – perfect conditions for bass! Before we started, we dug through the sand on this beach and small immature sandeels were just under the surface, so we could see why the bass would feed here.
Then a local angler came over and told us that nighttime is best on this beach for the bass, with fish sizes ranging from schoolies to double-figure fish! There are also turbot, along with small-eyed and spotted rays, to be had, with the best baits for them being sandeels. He said that the fish seem to come closer to the shore at night and heavy beach tackle can be used to target them. Having no heavy gear and with it being daylight, we felt a bit handicapped. “Oh well,” we thought, “we can only do what we can.”
We waded out into the surf and cast into the back of the third breaker. We stood in the surf and held our rods while waiting for them to wrap round as big bass ran with the bait! That was what we hoped for anyway… Steve had the first take after just 10 minutes – a bass, which was giving him a hard time as it used the surf to its advantage. Steve was gaining line, albeit slowly, then started to walk back towards the beach. As the water became shallower, the fish began to dart from side to side – Steve loved every second of the action – and it was a fish of under 2lb, proving that ‘going light improves the fight!’ I hadn’t had a bite and decided to freshen the bait. Steve was already chest deep in the surf and was, once again, into a fish – another bass of a similar size to the first. He was well on song and enjoying the action.
Now the tide was pushing in and I finally had a take, which had bass written all over it! I played the fish into the shallows and into my waiting hand – result! After taking a couple of ‘exciting’ pictures, Steve started to reel in when he had a massive take. Clearly a good bass had shown an interest in the moving sandeel, but his line went slack and, after retrieving his end tackle, he saw that his sandeel had been bitten clean in half!
It was now two hours into the incoming tide and the guys from Team Ammo and some friends, including England Ladies international Rachel Jarman, turned up with some more live sandeels. Rachel wasted no time in rigging up with a three-hook flapper baited with various baits and wading out up to her waist in the surf to achieve some distance on her cast. She is a very organised and formidable angler, and this trip would be good warm-up and practice for the World Shore Fishing Championship in Italy. Sadly, the fishing had gone very quiet and all that was being caught were a few clumps of weed. Maybe there were too many of us tramping in the surf, which might have scared the fish away.
husband, Wayne, ran down the beach winding his reel like crazy. He’d had an almighty pull on his line, which felt like a big bass, but sadly didn’t set the hooks. The sudden death of bites was a mystery and we tried to sum up what had happened – was it too bright, was there not enough surf now or had we put the fish off? The fish would surely return once we had gone and things quietened down – that’s just tough luck. We decided that next time we’d bring out the heavy gear as a backup in a bid to cast further to where the fish may back away to. A heavy drizzle started to fall, casting a rainbow over the area as we made our way back up the beach. But there was no gold at the end of the majestic sight – just bars of silver searching for sandeels beneath the breaking surf.