Probably the most popular species of fish to catch in the British Isles, WSF takes a look at rough ground fishing for bass including when, where and how, plus other top tips to catch this prized species.
SPECIMEN TARGET WEIGHT: 10lbs
Bass are one of our most distinctive fish and hard to confuse when an adult with anything else.
The bass sports a round streamlined body covered in big scales, with two dorsal fins, the front one carrying 8 to 9 big sharp spines. The colouration is greeny grey to dark blue on the back with silver sides and a white belly. Some bass also carry a dark blotch on the gill cover. Black bream look a little like bass, but are much more ovalised in body shape and are far less common off the shore.
Bass are commonly found from the Mediterranean and the North African coast in the south to as far north as southern Norway. They are common throughout the southern half of the UK, but during the past 15-years have become more numerous along the east and west coasts of Scotland and are caught as far north as Dunnet and even off the beaches in the Orkney Islands by fly anglers fishing for sea trout. Bass are also common along the southeast, southern and southwestern coasts of Ireland, but again are also caught regularly in the north nowadays.
Their diet consists of pretty much anything they come across as they are both scavenger and predator. They commonly eat crabs, shellfish, shrimps, sandeels, worms and any small fish such as gobies, blennies, pouting, poor cod, rockling, sprat, also squid, and will even scavenge human food waste inside harbours such as bacon and chicken bones.
Bass breed from late February through to late May. This seems to occur in deeper water offshore, though some knowledgeable bass devotees have seen large adult bass behaving in a breeding manner at the heads of estuaries in the mid May period.
WHEN AND WHERE TO FISH
Big bass can show up anywhere, but good areas are the North Foreland of Kent, the Sussex coast, rough ground in Devon and Cornwall, the Bristol Channel and especially the west coast of Wales, and of late marks around Luce Bay have also produced some big fish. The Wexford, Cork and Kerry coasts of Ireland are also a bass mecca.
The season starts at the beginning of April, gets better through May, then peaks in late June. Although some bass will always be present on rough ground beaches, especially during rough seas, their numbers drop dramatically in July through to mid August, but they come back on to the rough ground in late August and feed there until Christmas, possibly later in the low south.
Generally speaking, bass on rough ground prefer the bigger sized spring tides. The peak tides are the three days prior to the very biggest tide. Fish can still be caught on the dropping tides after the highest spring, but overall numbers of fish will decrease as each dropping tide passes.
The rod needs to be between 11ft 6ins and 11ft 9ins ideally with a semi supple tip so that you don’t smash soft crab baits during the cast, but with rapidly increasing power in the mid section and a stiff butt so that you have the power in the upper mid section and butt to bully big fish away from potential snags.
Good reels are the ABU 6500 C3 CT loaded with 20 to 25lb line, or in extreme cases the Penn 515 carrying 25 to 30lb line. You will not be fishing at long range over rough ground with most casts being less than 50yds, so these reels can carry more than enough line in these higher breaking strains.
There is no need for a shock leader when using lines over 20lbs as the lead weights used will be less than 3ozs typically and you’re not power casting. If you do need longer range to reach rough ground, then add a 30 or 40lb leader for leads up to 4ozs.
HOW TO BUILD A ROUGH GROUND BASS RIG
1. On to the main line, slide on a Pulley Rig bead, then a 5mm black bead
2. To the end of the mainline tie on a size 6 swivel.
3. To the end of the tied swivel add an 8-inch to 15-inch length of 20lb Fluoro carbon.
3. The best hook is a Mustad Viking 79515 size 4/0, alternatively the Partridge Uptide Sting Point 4/0. Tie this to the short section of 20lb Fluoro carbon.
4. To the eye of the Pulley Rig Bead tie on an 18-inch length of weaker 18 to 25lb line depending on main line strength to take the weight. This needs to be a dark colour to match the seabed when fishing in daylight. You can use a small link to attach the weight, but most anglers save tackle and just tie the weight to the line as losses will be heavy when fishing in to rough ground, plus you’re casting minimal distance usually.
MAKE A PEELER CRAB BAIT
- Pinch the crab between the eyes to kill it, remove the legs and claws and peel off all the brittle shell to leave just the soft body.
2.Use scissors to cut half way in to the body from the middle front of the crab.
3. Holding the hook in your left hand, starting with one side of the cut body slide the bait over the hook point and round the bend of the hook and up the shank. If the crab is not big enough to fully fill the hook, add another half or whole body.
4. Use bait elastic sparingly to form a rough sausage shape but with lots of juices still able to leak out of the crab body for maximum effect in the tide run.
TOP TIP 1
The best times to fish are the last half hour of the ebb, and especially the first hour to two hours of the new flood tide. Many bass beaches then go quiet, until the hour before high water and the first hour after high water.
These are key times on bass beaches throughout the UK and Ireland, but all beaches fish differently, so use these key times as a basic guide, then experiment outside these times on your selected beaches to find the optimum feeding periods.
TOP TIP 2
It pays to look at the ground you will be fishing on a big spring tide low water. Look for deeper gullies running in towards the beach from the low tide line, areas where the rocks have created small miniature reefs running along the beach and fish the seaward side of these, but especially fish tight in to big rocks and boulders that sit amongst generally small boulders.
Pay particular attention to any depressions or scooped out areas that hold static water when the tide has receded amongst the rocks and boulders. These areas are often tiny, just a few feet or yards across, but they hold food washed down by the tide and are hotspots for bass to feed.
Also check out areas where sand patches are mixed in with rocks and rough ground.
TOP TIP 3
In calm clear seas stand back from the water a little, or better still, use a big boulder to stand behind. Bass will literally feed with a few feet of the tide line over rough ground and it’s common to see their tails break surface as they invert to dig a crab or small fish out of the boulders with their nose and by sucking water and food in to their mouths like a suction pump.
The best conditions over rough ground are a slightly rough sea or a sea fining down after a really strong blow. Bass are powerful fish and if you can keep a bait static on the seabed and contend with the weed in these rough conditions, then you’ll often be rewarded with a good bass
Also don’t keep walking about on the shingle as noise will push close in bass back out to deeper water. This cannot be emphasised enough!
TOP TIP 4
Rough ground bass can be nervous of water less than 6ft deep in daylight, less so if the water carries some colour. However, as with many forms of fishing, bass will feed best over rough ground through the dark hours in shallowish water.
TOP TIP 5
You need to hold your rod all the time you have bait in the water. Bass bite quick and are adept at dropping baits without getting hooked.
The best stance is to face the water, but cradle the rod in the hands with the leading arm extended at an angler to one side and the other hand on the butt. This allows for a quick upward sweep of the arms in conjunction with a backward rotation of the upper torso to quickly tighten the line and set the hook in to a very hard mouth.
This is another reason why soft rods do not work for bass, they limit line pressure to the hook and absorb too much of the physical strike resulting in fewer hooked fish.
When holding the rod, use just enough rod pressure to tighten the line to the lead, but without moving the lead.
TOP TIP 6
Use only enough lead weight to carry the crab to where you need it to go. Top rough ground bass anglers will use leads from just ¾oz up to 2ozs, rarely more than 3ozs. Smaller weights snag less and spook the bass less if they drag them a few inches over the ground as they pick up the bait.
TOP TIP 7
Soft crab can be just as effective as peeler crab, but use them whole, even big crab, as the bass will smash a soft crab to bits as it crunches down it in its mouth and easily find the hook.
On beaches where velvet swimmers soft crab and peelers can be found, a velvet swimmer softie can often be the “hot” bait at the peak time you expect the bass to come through.
Edible soft crab is also a top bass bait, but remember these need to be in size according to commercial regulations applicable to your area.
TOP TIP 8
Keep your tackle to a minimum. Bass move all the time often giving you just 10 minutes and one cast before you need to move again to keep in contact with the fish.
Carry one small rig wallet with a dozen rigs in, bait elastic, scissors and a honing stone, spare hooks and spare leads.
You bait needs to be in a small plastic bucket or better still in a container around your neck so you are fully mobile and have access to fresh bait without moving about to create noise.
TOP TIP 9
Top bass anglers rarely use mono for their hook lengths nowadays for several reasons. Mono can create little light flashes under water as it moves due to wave action and catches the light. This can be enough to spook shy bass working in shallow water. It is also easily abraded and just a single nick in the surface can severely weaken it. Mono also stretches more and can forewarn delicate biting bass that something is amiss as it picks up the bait.
Using Fluoro carbon has several advantages. Firstly it is less likely to be seen by the bass. Secondly it has a higher abrasion resistance than mono, so can cope with minor contact with barnacles and rocks better. It also has minimal stretch so gives better bite detection as a fish picks up the bait, plus helps maintain strike power at the hook point.
The use of a Fluoro carbon main line can also be considered for the same advantages.
TOP TIP 10
Dull off the shine of any newly moulded leads by soaking them in vinegar for a few hours before fishing. Also use brass or galvanized eyes, not stainless wire eyes as these can reflect light in shallow seas. Bass have incredible eyesight and will pick up on foreign objects that stand out from the general sea bed when in close proximity to baits.