They’re good to look at, fight tremendously well for their size and are enormously difficult to outwit, the all-round fish indeed but you don’t have to trek all the way across the Atlantic to find some superlative black bass sport. No, it’s here in our own European backyard.
The stories go that it was General Franco who introduced the bass into Spain well over half a century ago. Whether that’s true or not I’m not sure but it is a fact that Franco was a mad-keen angler. And what is undeniable is that now black bass are a major part of the Spanish angling scene, arguably the most popular species of all over there. They’re geographically widespread throughout Spain apart from the north. They’ve done particularly well in some of the rivers and most especially the large lakes that frequently act as reservoirs. The Spanish record is just over four kilos and was caught from Guadalcacin Lake in south Andalucia. The general feeling is, however, that many bass of this size or larger are there to be found. Certainly, in my experience, fish of a kilo or more are common. Most of these, again in my experience, you will find are large mouths and often very strikingly coloured indeed. Spanish friends tell me that the best season runs from spring until the early autumn, a period during which the bass are feeding hard.
All this is exciting. Many of you will probably be thinking of going over to Spain to sample the carp fishing or to pursue catfish or perhaps even the various barbel forms. But perhaps you owe it to yourself to stick in some light spinning gear, or even a fly rod, so that you can have a crack at the bass during the long hot days when the ledger lines are hanging limp and idle. Bass, admittedly, do feed better early and late but you can still pick up some specimens when the sun is really on the water. My advice is to give it a go. You won’t regret it.
Chances are that bass fishing techniques will be new to you – they certainly were to me – and a few hints wouldn’t go a miss. As for tackle, you don’t need anything particularly special. A light spinning rod, say eight feet long or so, will do for most circumstances. A small fixed-spool reel or multiplier is ideal, probably filled with six-pound line. If you’re fly fishing, go for a seven-weight outfit, I guess. Floating lines are probably going to be enough but if you’re really trying to get down deep during hot weather then you’ll need different rate sinkers. That’s the basic kit. How about bass fishing in practice?
Well, you can simply fish methodically and mechanically with small Mepps-type spinners. You’ll probably pick up smaller bass, often around half a kilo or so, but it’s rare that you’ll really find the big ones doing this. For fish of one kilo plus then you’ve got to enter into the spirit of the thing and expand your mind.
Watch a Spanish expert and you’ll be amazed at the number and variety of lures he takes out with him. Little surface poppers, small deep divers, every colour, shape and action that can be produced he will have with him. But above all, at some stage in the day, he’ll likely use twisters. By twisters I mean all manner of rubber lures. These, too, come in every shape and size imaginable. Some are like lizards, some crayfish, some wiggly worms, some frogs, some leeches, some even dead mice. The real skill comes in working these creations so realistically that a big, wise bass in clear water is fooled. It’s exciting stuff. I’ll never forget a day I spent with Rafa watching him work his lures in the most magical of fashions.
You cast out and let whatever twister you’re using sink to the bottom. Mind you, you’ve got to watch your line as the lure is going down because takes on the descent are far from unknown. Once the lure hits bottom, tighten up and work it back towards you. Sometimes you’ll flick it. Sometimes you’ll use a slow, careful draw. Other times just leave it resting on the bottom for thirty or forty seconds. Give it a skip. A bounce. Raise it quickly a foot in the water and let it drop again. Sometimes when the lure comes back to you and is caught in the sunlight you’ll see two or three big bass pursuing it hungrily, almost egging one another on into making a mistake.
If one type of lure doesn’t work after a few casts, then Rafa will put on another. And another. And another, until he finds the killing combination for the day. More often than not, once one bass has been taken on a lure, four or five more good fish will also fall. This is a method that demands absolute concentration. Let your imagination wander and your results will plummet. But above all, keep trying every different wheeze and ruse you can think of.
Like bait fishing. If you can find a big, sprightly worm, then hook that up and let it fall into a patch of sand where it can dance around, kicking up the grains, attracting bass in from far and wide. Or try and catch yourself a live minnow perhaps and let it work under a ledge or in amongst marginal growth. Yes, that’s one major point I haven’t mentioned…where do you hunt your bass? Well, in the States, a great deal is made about structure fishing. Structure really is just a pompous term for anything in the water that gives bass shelter. A sunken fridge can be structure, a fallen branch, an underwater ledge, a clump of lilies – anything that breaks the water up and gives the bass an ambush point. You won’t often find bass working big, open areas of water…unless, of course, there are big boulders that they can hide behind. So, if you remember that bass are the big ambushers of the predatorial world then you’re more than halfway to their location.
Bass really do come to the fly and obviously give a tremendous battle on such light gear. The best flies are streamers, those big creations that imitate bait fish or large nymphs. Apart from these, floating ‘bass bugs’ also inspire some really exciting fishing, especially early in the evening and around dusk, when bass can be found feeding in calm shallow water. It even pays to try dry flies on occasion, especially if you’re river fishing. All you do is cast downstream and let the fly drift, skating it over a likely spot. If you can create a wake behind the fly to attract attention all the better – something you’d never think of doing when pursuing a wily, old trout! Always vary your retrieve, just as though you were spinning. Never retrieve steadily, rhythmically but try and make the fly come back erratically, looking every bit like the live insect.
I ought to mention another technique which is popular over in the States and works very well in Spain. This is jigging. There are some bass that ignore plugs altogether but these fish will often strike instead at lures that are jigged vertically, very close to the fish’s hiding place. The most common strategy is to jig a spoon but other lures do work. Jigging is really good if you are fishing very deep water. Carefully lower a jigging spoon near a structure, stopping to jig for a few seconds of varying depths. It pays to stop occasionally so that the spoon hangs idle. Bass sometimes prefer a spoon that isn’t moving at all. You can tip your jigs with a whole variety of plastic attractors to lend them just a little bit more movement and appeal. An inch long piece of bacon rind also can prove a winner.
For me, without any doubt at all, the most exciting way to catch bass is on a surface plug. Four types are good for bass fishing I’ve found – propeller-type plugs which have long, thin bodies; poppers and chuggers which have a concave face that makes a gurgling sound while being retrieved; top water crawlers that have a metal lip which causes the lure to wobble and, lastly, stick baits which look like propeller-type plugs without the propellers! The great thing is to fish these early or late in nice, calm bays, possibly when you see bass hunting. There’s nothing more exciting than watching the wake of the plug being joined by the ‘V’ of a hunting fish! An hour or two of exciting action like this and you’re well prepared for a long night at the optonics waiting for possibly just one run before dawn!
DO’S AND DON’TS OF BASS FISHING
DO always make sure that your licence is in order. Remember that the bureaucratic process in Spain can sometimes be quite confusing.
DO always try to have a boat at your disposal, certainly on large waters. If you’re just fishing small ponds or lakes then it is possible to fish from the bank. But on the best bass waters you really need the opportunity to explore.
DO always take with you a large selection of lures and flies. You’ll find that bass are the pickiest predators you’ve ever come across. When it comes to twisters, my favourite colours are blacks and purples.
DON’T over-fish one area if you’re not getting any action. It’s tempting to hammer an area that looks good potentially but if you’ve made a few casts without so much as a tweak, it pays to move on.
DO watch the water very carefully. Just as if you’re perch or pike fishing, you’ll often see bass breaking the surface as they pursue small prey fish.
DON’T fish too close to either the bank or the boat in crystal-clear water. Long casts will help you avoid scaring the bass. Also on clear water, look for any areas that are murky, perhaps close to in-flowing streams or where waves wash against a shoreline.
DO be able to tell the difference between a large and a small mouth. With a large mouth the hindmost part of the mouth is slightly to the rear of the eye. The jaw of the small mouth does not extend back as far of the eye itself. The first dorsal fin of the large mouth has nine spines and is more arched than the flat profile of the small mouth. The dorsal fins of the small mouth bass are joined whereas there is almost a separation between the two of the black bass. The black bass, too, generally grows much larger than the small mouth.