Sea Bass Dicentrarchus labrax seem to be Britain's favourite sea fish! So here we define how to catch this top predator and what rod, baits and rigs will tame bigger specimens
Ride of a lifetime!
There is absolutely no mistaking a bass on the end of your line. A long fish with alluring silver metallic scales, a tail like a shovel, sharp gill plates and a spine-loaded dorsal fin – the bass is probably the most attractive of our fish.
Widely spread through our waters, it can be caught in harbours and estuaries, within feet of the coastline and out to sea over deepwater wrecks and reefs, the bass is one of our only species comfortable feeding at all depths in the water column, down to depths of 150ft.
Bass use three methods of targeting their prey
- by sight - they are most prolific in our the shallow waters where the light enables them to see their food most easily.
- by scent using their flared nostrils as receptors across their head – this is how so many bass are caught on static deadbaits like peeler crab and mackerel.
- by feel - bass have a super-sensitive lateral line so can sense the slightest change or movement in the water, which is why they are readily targeted for lure fishing.
Location And Habits
Bass quite happily feed over all manner of sea bed structure including sand, mud, shingle banks, reefs and wreckage but are never far from a bait source. They will take all manner of bait, but their feeding predominantly follows a pattern. Open water bass in the spring and summer will feed on sandeel. In the autumn months they will feed up heavily on mackerel and herring. In the winter months they rely on anchovy and sprat. Inshore bass are somewhat different - all year round they will feed on shellfish, crabs, marine worms and any smaller fishes that happen to be in the wrone place at the right time!
Because bass quite happily frequent inshore marks, they are accessible to small boats as well as bigger charter style vessels, although bass do love tide and this will pose some safety issues for small craft.
Where there is a large tidal range, there will be bass, they even seem to prefer the biggest tides of the month – spring tides, because there will be a greater speed in the run of tide. However, where there is lots of tide there will also be races, overfalls and generally areas of rough water not suited to inexperienced skippers or small boats and kayaks. Never the less, many big bass fall over periods of neap tides, and slack water can be a great time to pick up a rogue big fish. Bass do have a feeding hierarchy and on many occasions the larger adult fish do choose to feed before or after the mass of juvenile fish.
Tackle and Technique
Rods – These days with so many places to fish for bass, each with its own tackle needs and tactics. Therefore, the bass specimen hunter will need a variety of rods in his armoury to be able to fish a variety of locations and conditions. Bass love tide and as with all angling, prevailing conditions, tide and depth will determine what rod is needed. Having said that, all bass rods need to have a suitably sensitive tip to help absorb the fish’s lunges as they approach the boat, ensuring less lost fish!
Surface-caught bass using float, free-line and plug fishing, are best caught on purpose built rods and their are plenty of them these days especially in the SMITH rod range and this style of tackle will only maximize your sport. For bottom fishing, a 12lb class rod is the most commonly used, however there will be days and areas where this can be reduced down to a 6lb class. It will all depend on where, what conditions and what depth you’re fishing at. For those that fancy casting a fly for this species – a progressive 8-weight Marryat Sea Bass Saltwater fly rod will do just the trick.
Reels and Main Lines – When using sporting tackle, it is important to balance the rod with a correctly weighted reel for maximum control. A 5000-7000 sized multiplier will pair nicely with any 6lb to 20lb class outfit, and use fixed spool reels for spinning, which aren’t rung for multiplier use. As for mainline – total control is needed when fishing for bass that are feeding tight to the sea bed over sandbanks, reefs and wrecks, so a good 20-30lb braid will help you keep your gear on the bottom while giving maximum bite detection and a quick strike to hook-set speed. When fishing for bass that are feeding either mid-water or on the surface, clear monofilament between 10-15lb will offer perfect bait presentation without the tangles that are associated with braid fished with slack lines, with one exception – braid suits bass spinning and plug presentation. But beware when using braid, especially if you are using 30lb braid with a stiff rod like a "Red Rod" that you are now now making the hook into the weakest part of your rig if you get hooked into a 10lb fish - don't blame the hook manufacturer if you don't have a progressive enough action in your rod. That's why we recommend SMITH Rods as they have a light yet stiff rod tip to be able to cast small lures or baits bit have a progressive enough action to be able to bully the fish home - this is especially important if you are intending to release the fish!
Rigs – Bass can be caught using many different rig tactics from feathers, jigs, pirks, to long flowing traces with livebaits and pennell rigs for deadbaits – the style of fishing and choice of rig will be very much down to the local preference in the area you fish but there is one rule of thumb… keep it simple and keep it invisible! Of course we are going to recommend that you check out our site and choose the most suitable for your needs - Cox & Rawle are our preferred choice. Well tied on superb materials with top quality components!
Bass are probably the cleverest fish to swim in our waters and on the majority of occasions they won’t offer themselves up for free. Fluorocarbon snoods will increase catches in shallow, light conditions and, because of the way a bass takes a bait in a 'hit and run" fashion, they are a species that suits the use of circle hooks, which will aid catch and release as well as positive "cheeked" hook holds. Before fishing find out what tactics suit your area and remember to keep it simple.
Bait – Bass love livebait and since sandeel, mackerel and sprat and sardine are a big part of their seasonal diet, you can’t go wrong at certain times of the year if you use these and present them correctly. As for lure fishing, bass will take all manner of surface, mid-water and bottom lures including spinners, plugs, jellyworms, shads, eels and small pirks. Lure choice will be again down to local preference, depth, conditions and the baitfish present in your area.
Static bottom baits fished hard on the bottom, using simple running rigs are employed from time to time. Frozen sandeel, lugworm and ragworm, peeler crab and large flapper deadbaits all suit the static-bait way of fishing.
Places to Look – New bass fisheries are popping up all the time and bass can now be caught from around the whole coastline of the UK. The southern counties have had bass fisheries dating back many years, and many south coast ports now have all year round fishing, but each year as spring approaches and the water temperature increases, bass shoals make their way northwards up both our east and west coastlines.
The East coast now has a sustainable summer bass fishery, and South Wales produces bass fishing that can only be described as spectacular! Never the less our most productive bass fishing can be found along the South coast including English Channel ports based in the mid- East-English Channel, and of course around the Channel Islands.
Specimen Sizes – The current British Record is an amazing 19lb 12oz caught recently from Sandown Pier, Isle of Wight, but these days every autumn some staggering fish in excess of 18lb are caught and there is every chance that this record may go in coming years. As for specimen sizes – school bass up to 2lb are great fun to catch on light tackle and should all be returned. Fish from 3-5lb offer a good fight and are a delight to catch. All fish 6lb up to double figures really are a trophy catch.
Please release your larger speciments to ensure that they can spawn and sustain our vital bass fishery!!
Inspired by Dave Barnham of Boat Fishing Monthly