Bass are probably the most sought after and prestigious of all species that can be caught from our shores , and despite a decline in their numbers during the late eighties / early nineties due to intense commercial fishing , this hard fighting fish has staged a comeback and numbers have definitely increased over the last few of years.
A large number of bass that are caught ( if their captors were honest) are probably caught by accident rather than intention, this is because bass can turn up almost anywhere at anytime.Although occasional bass can be caught throughout the year, by far the best time is between June and late September .The Clacton/Walton region in Essex has to be the one of the finest Bass areas in the country. The middle of this June saw a magnificent 17lb9oz specimen landed at Hutley’s beach at St Osyth , which was probably in the region of 20 years old as bass are a very slow growing fish. The fish was caught an hour after low water in probably no more than 2-3ft of water , and on a ragworm bait intended for flatties! Other local hotspots include Walton and Clacton piers, Hipkins beach at Walton, Frinton wall and fishing from any one of a number of stone breakwaters between Walton and Clacton.
There isn’t any one bait or method that stands head and shoulders above the rest so I shall go on to detail a couple of popular proven methods.
Many good sized bass up to 10lbs are caught each year from Walton pier, the most successful method is the use of artificial lures in the form of Redgills and large plugs and lures such as those used to catch Pike.
The equipment required is a light beachcaster or a carp rod in the region of at least 3lb test curve , the rod needs to be light as manoeuvring lures over the side of the pier can be quite tiring on the arms after a while. Use a reel loaded with 15lb line and a long shock leader of at least 40lb, the leader is necessary because when a bass is hooked, more often than not they dive under the pier and in between the various piles and inevitably the line makes contact with the barnacle infested piles and becomes chaffed and cut. For the end tackle all that is required is your chosen lure (black redgills work well) which is attached directly to the end of the leader and about 50-75cm above the lure, a spiral or bullet lead in the order of 2oz is fitted. One other essential item that you will need is a dropnet in order to land your fish.
Fishing early morning with an ebbing tide is best , and the bigger the tide the better, reasonably clear water does help but is not essential.Always approach your fishing spot quietly and unobtrusively so as not to spook a fish that may be cruising just beneath the surface. As mentioned earlier the lure is worked just below the surface in and out, and along the piers piles, either from a static position or by holding the rod parallel to the pier whilst walking up and down slowly. The later method is better as it enables you to cover a greater area. The whole point of using a lure is to try and simulate a small fish swimming around naturally, so pay attention to the speed and action you are making your lure work. A word of warning , hold on to your rod tightly. When a bass snatches your lure, if you're not careful your rod will follow close behind. It may be a good idea to make a little strap in a figure eight shape. One half is secured around the rod/reel seat with your hand in the other half - so if you do let go of the rod it will simply dangle from your hand.You should initially set the clutch on your reel fairly tightly so that line can only be taken on a hard run, if you allow a fish to take too much line, it will inevitably swim around a pile and the fish is as good as lost.
The easiest bait method is to fish on the bottom with a conventional rig as figure 1 , using whole calamari squid, a bait that has accounted for many large bass. Using squid has another benefit as other ‘nuisance’ species such as flounders and eels will usually ignore it , so if you get a bite it will usually be a bass.
The best way to present the squid is by employing a ‘Pennel’ arrangement ( one hook is tied to the end of the hook length , the other hook runs free above it ) whereby two hooks are inserted within the bait - thus improving your chances of hooking the fish.Strong hooks should be used, the new Mustad Bass or Viking hooks are ideal with a size 4/0 tied and a 2/0 behind it.To bait up, firstly take the 4/0, insert it in the tail end and push it through the middle of the squid so that the bend of the hook comes out just behind the head. With the shank of the hook still inside the squid, thread the head round the bend of the hook until the point comes through the mouth. The 2/0 hook is then threaded in and out of the tail end three or four times - working towards the middle of the squid - until the entire shank is embedded in it. Ensure that both hook points are clear of the bait and at 90 degrees to it. Finally, to hold the bait in place whip a little fine elastic cotton around both hooks, this is not essential and is only really required if you need to cast the bait a good distance. Clipping the bait down will also prevent the hooks ‘turning’and being obscured by the bait during casting.
Bass can be caught at virtually any distance, a frequent haunt is among the breakers, sometimes as close as 10 yards out.With this in mind, you may like to try fishing your rig baited with squid at a minimum of 30 yards and slide down a float set- baited with a large king ragworm. By using this technique you can fish two different areas with one rod, the only drawback being the possibility of hooking a good fish on both rigs - but I think the chances of this happening are remote. Other good bass baits include peeler and soft-back crab , sandeels and, one of the best baits on the surf beaches and strands in Ireland, fresh blow lugworm. If after a while you have not managed to catch a bass, try casting at varying distances as bass tend to patrol a particular table depth. Care must be taken when handling them as both their dorsal fins and gill covers are very sharp
These strange looking green boned fish invade our shores during May and, if the weather is mild sometimes as early as April. They generally remain until June/early July. The first three or four weeks after they arrive produces the best sport - after this time the shoals disperse and fewer are caught. They primarily visit in order to spawn , the females deposit their eggs on aquatic plants, and because of this the only places worthwhile fishing for them are piers and breakwaters due to the obvious lack of rock marks on this coast, odd ones are caught from the beaches though.
The best spot locally by far is Walton pier, with the life boat staging area being the favourite position (the Frinton side of the pier). The ideal conditions for good garfishing is a high tide around midday, clear water and warm sunny weather with little or no wind. The two hours following high tide is the most productive time and on a good day fifteen or more gars’ can be caught in this time.
The tackle required is a light Carp rod of no more than 2lb test curve , a small fixed spool reel loaded with 6 or 8lb line , and at the business end I use a size 8 Drennan super specialist hook with a small 1oz spiral lead about 30cm above it.Most people bait the hook with a small slither of silver fish, such as herring or mackerel, approximately 2cm long by 0.5cm wide which works fine. I prefer to cut a piece of tin foil 4cm x 2cm which is then put onto the hook as if it were a piece of mackerel . The foil is then moulded onto the hook so that a ‘tail’ about 1cm long comes off the back of the bend.This idea came about one day when I forgot to take any bait with me , but as luck would have it I had a Kit-Kat in my bag, so I used the silver wrapper. I have used foil since then mainly because, unlike fishbait which tends to slip down and mask the hook point, the foil stays exactly where you mould it. It also saves time. Each time you catch a gar on fishbait, you invariably have to re-bait the hook, with foil you simply re-shape it.
Lean over the side of the pier and flick the lead out a little way and slowly bring it back towards the pier just beneath the surface , or let the tide take the weight under the pier and slowly draw it back , these exercises need to be repeated many times. If you have not spotted a gar and haven’t had a bite, the gars may be deeper, so you may have to let a little more line out and allow the lead to sink before bringing it back to the surface . It is just a case of trying to cover all areas and depths from your fishing position until you locate them. Generally, they usually take the hook close to the surface and due to their long narrow beaks/mouths, a short delay is wise before striking and setting the hook. They can be spectacular when hooked and quite often leap out of the water and tail walk. The gars at Walton average at about 12oz-1lb. I have spotted gars that looked to be over the 2lb mark , but it is quite rare to catch one in excess of 1.5lb. Give them a try, they are great fun.