Bass are predictable, and never more so than in the April to late June
period when they move inshore over the rough ground beaches.
The trigger for this inshore migration is governed by the first flush
of peeling shore crabs. The crabs shed their old shells and are soft
for a short period until their flesh hardens into a new hard
protective coat. This is how they grow and increase in size. The ready
to peel crabs seek shelter during this shell transition period amongst
the rougher ground where there are hidey-holes for them to quietly sit
out there vulnerability. But life is never that straightforward and a
good surf will move the rocks and boulders about exposing some of the
crabs and creating a food supply for the hungry bass.
The first major crab peel begins around the beginning of April in the
southwest and in Wales. It can be more into May along the east coast.
It starts gradually with a few peelers scattered here and there, but
quickly builds up until peelers are shucking their shells en masse. If
it's warm and mild, then there will be a major peeling explosion over
the spring tides in May, and again over the spring tides in June.
It's this April to June period that sees bass become preoccupied with
crab and little attention is paid to other food items.
You need to remember that the crabs need to be getting washed out of
their homes for large numbers of bass to be working inshore. This
tells us that the bigger tides with a faster tide run and disturbed
water are going to be more favourable. Dead right! The best tides are
those over the three or four days prior to the biggest tides of that
cycle and for the two or three days after as the tides start to fall
away towards smaller neaps.
The very biggest tides though, are often disappointing and produce
fewer fish. I think this is because the fish have fed well the
previous days and are digesting their food. By the time the tides
start to drop the bass are getting hungry again and return to feeding.
On some marks, the bigger tides can also be too strong for even bass
to feed in with regard to energy spent and food gained.
Neap tides are much less reliable. Some bass will use the neaps to
come in and feed, but generally the fishing is poor. If you decide to
fish neap tides, concentrate over low water only. It consistently
produces more bass bites than high water during neap tides.
Flood tides are by far the most fruitful. This is when the sea is
generally roughest and new ground is getting covered all the time as
the tide pushes forwards, exposing more food. As the tide retreats, it
often kills the surf, plus the tide is falling back over ground
already fed over. You can find marks that produce ebb tide bass, but
generally these are the exception.
Peak feeding times for bass are the hour either side of low water and
the two hours before high water. Generally speaking, the middle hours
of the flood tide are not productive. Some beaches will produce fish
during the first hour of the ebb tide if the water is deeper than
2-metres. If it's shallower, the fish are nervous of getting cut off
and stranded, so move out quickly. Few bass are caught on outgoing
tides from the rough ground beaches.
Weather is key to the whole equation. Ideally, you need a good surf. Winds
need to be hitting the beach almost straight on and putting a good
surf up for the water to be disturbed enough to wash out the food.
Look for winds between force 2 and force 4 as being about right on
most beaches. If a wind is hitting the beach at more of an angle this
will weaken the surf and affect the way the rollers smash over the
rocks limiting the amount of food washed out. Try to have a few
beaches available to you. Get to know how the wind hits them from
different directions, then choose the beaches where the wind is
blowing directly at the beach head on.
Bass will work the rough ground in daylight if the sea is a little
coloured after storms, but dusk and dawn tides, or tides in complete
darkness are better. By day, heavy overcast cloud cover can bring
enough fish in to make it worthwhile fishing. Drizzly days are quite
Picking a suitable beach needs care. Ideally, the whole beach will be
covered in rock and boulders. Invariably, the typical bass beach is
partially covered with rock and boulders but broken up by sand
patches, areas of weed and even patches of shingle.
Leave your rods at home initially and just walk the beach several
times at the low, mid and high tide marks. Choose the specific areas
where the rock and boulders are densest. Mark them, and any weed beds,
by identifying above high tide features so you can find them again.
Ignore the sand patches.
Now go back to those rough ground areas and really "look" at them.
Pick out any depressions in the overall area, note much bigger than
average rocks and also the edges of the weed beds.
Food gets washed in to the depressions amongst the boulders and rocks
and holds there, bass know this and persistently return to the same
spot to feed. Likewise, food gets lodged against rocks on the uptide
side and washed around the edges of the rock by tidal movement. Again
bass come to feed here regularly. Also remember that bass will work
around the edges of weed beds trying to scare up crabs and small fish
as they swim. Bass love to work right through the middle of weed beds
for the same reason.
You'll also notice definite long gullies and gutters that run through
the areas of rough ground. These are especially useful as bass will
always use these as definitive routes, plus they hold food washed in
via the tide.
Obviously, you've now got several different areas identified that will
hold fish. More importantly, you have areas at low, middle and high
tide marks. Remember that bass are constantly moving. They patrol
definitive routes along the beach taking all the little food-holding
areas. Having located these, you can work back up the beach as the
tide rises moving to each hotspot in turn and maximising your chances
of a catch.
As you get to know your mark, you'll find that bass become very
predictable in their habits. So much so, that you'll get to realise
that you're likely to get maybe two bites from the one spot during a
specific ten-minute period. After that, the bass have gone through and
it's pointless waiting there any longer. You move to a mark elsewhere
and ambush the bass as they switch to another route and feeding area.
Yes, it takes time to understand their habits and movement over a
certain beach, but is worth doing and you'll benefit from consistent
catches and bigger bass.
Much has been written about bass being just 30-metres out from the
shore. If there's food there then they very well may be. If there's no
food, then they won't. Don't believe all you hear about short casts.
On shallow beaches especially, the bass are often a good 70-metres out
where the depth of water has the roll over power to displace food.
Concentrate on casting out to those identified feeding areas and if
takes a long cast, then so be it.
You have the choice between baiting with peeler crab or soft crab. The
peeler remember, is the crab about to pop off its shell to reveal a
soft body underneath. A soft crab is the crab that's shed its shell
and is waiting for it to harden. Both are excellent baits.
With peeler, pinch it between the eyes to kill it, then remove all the
shell from the back and belly and the legs and claws. Cut the body in
half with scissors, slide them lengthways up the hook shank and bind
the two in tandem around the hook to create a large smelly bait. I
like my bass baits to be at least 5cms long. Bass have big mouths and
you're fishing for big fish, so don't be skimpy with the bait. If you
want to attract really big bass, then use up to six halves of crab all
bound on with bait elastic to form a bait a good 15cms long and
mounted on a two-hook pennel rig. They'll eat it!
The soft crab I use whole, immaterial of size. Even crabs 10cms across
the back will be engulfed and crushed by hungry bass. I pass the hook
through one side of the body and out the other. Then use the elastic
thread to secure for light casting. Bass smash a soft crab to pulp and
tend to find the hook providing it's not buried completely.
The best hook for bass fishing is the purposefully designed Mustad
33751BL Bass hook. It has a unique shank bent to both make the crab
bait sit correctly but leave the hook-point well clear, but also has a
hidden cam system to facilitate better hooking. Beware some of the
chemically sharpened needlepoint type hooks. These can bend the point
on the hard mouth of a bass at the strike and you'll lose the fish.
Bass rigs need to be simple. By far the best for rough ground is a
simple sliding ledger system. Get some fine plastic tubing about 1cm
long and push this through one eye of a size 8 rolling swivel. Add
about 45cms of 25lb line to the other eye, which will take the lead
weight, but use a short weak link of lighter mono to allow the lead to
snap off without losing the whole rig. Slide the main line through the
tubing to allow the swivel to move freely on the main line. Tie
another size 8 rolling swivel to the end of the main line, add 25cms
of 20lb clear or black mono line and a size 3/0 or 4/0 Mustad Bass
This rig allows the bass to pull line freely through the sliding
swivel without alarming it, and puts direct pressure via the line on
to the rod tip. This gives you instant indication of movement and
interest at the bait. Also, when you strike, the full power of the rod
being lifting is applied to the hook giving a much improved hook-up
Bass rods suitable for this fishing need not be too heavy. Something
casting 2 to 3ozs is about right. It needs to be 11 to 12ft long and
fast-tapered. Fast-taper rods will hit a fish hard as they bend less
as power is applied. Through action rods lose too much time bending to
their full compression point and lose you strike power at the hook
point by bending too much before the line comes fully tight.
Last but not least, it matters little whether you use a fixed-spool or
multiplier reel. I'd suggest loading it though, with 25lb line. On
some marks I choose to use 30lb line just to combat the snags and the
chance of the line getting nicked on a rock.