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Freelining for Bass
Written by Mike Thrussell
A forgotten bass tactic is pure and simple freelining. It’s not commonly used even by experienced bass anglers and yet it is the most effective form of fishing at close range over rough ground.
The phrase some carp men use when stalking carp working tight in to the margins is “combat fishing” and this is the perfect description and it applies just as much to close quarter bassing with freelined baits.
Experienced bass anglers will tell you they can often be stood on the tide line and watch bass just a few feet away from them working through the boulders, dorsal or tail fin right out of the water, oblivious to the angler nearby. These are the fish you target with freelined baits.
WHEN & WHERE TO FISH
The best tides will be the bigger spring tides. Always the best fishing will be on the tides that fall in the three days prior to the biggest tide of all. This is when the largest numbers of bass move inshore to feed.
Immediately the tides start to fall back towards neaps the numbers of bass fall inshore and you’re fishing to a much reduced audience.
Dusk and dawn, as ever, are great times to be fishing, especially if it coincides with low or high water. Equally fishing a low or high tide in full darkness can also be very effective under the light of a light sky or moon.
Never rule out full daylight, but ideally you need to be fishing on the more overcast days, better still if it’s drizzling or raining, the water carries just a hint of colour and a light breeze roughens up the seas surface to inhibit light penetration.
Hot spots for bass are areas where the smaller boulders are broken up by any bigger boulders as this will hold the crabs better. Perfect spots are depressions in the boulders that hold water when the tide has receded and you should make special note of where these are for when the tide floods in. Any food pushed along by the tide gets dropped in here and the bass will always work these holes.
Other good spots are the deeper edges of shallow rising finger reefs running shorewards, small patches of sand amongst rough ground and areas of weed.
Freelining also works when casting along the edges of weed covered estuary sides and in to shallow drainage creeks, again during the flooding tide.
TACKLE FOR FREELINING
The only reel for consideration is a fixed spool reel. An 050 size is ideal and light in weight. Choose a model with a good front drag system such as the Penn Captiva 5000, Penn Sargus 4000, ABU Soron or Shimano Exage.
The big debate is mono or braid line. Personally I prefer braid for a couple of reasons. Firstly you’re literally feeling for bites from fish that might be just 10ft away. The braid line is so sensitive that when your instincts become fully attuned to freeline fishing you’ll sense the fish close to the bait before you feel the bite proper. You don’t believe me...well don’t doubt this until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Also the braid catches the tide less and gives a more direct pull of power to the hook point when striking for such close quarter reactive fishing.
When fishing braid, I use Berkley Fireline Braid 20lb or 30lb breaking strains depending on the severity of the ground I’m fishing, I always add a 5ft section of 20lb Fluoro carbon line to minimise visual contact between line and fish and to just give a hint of elasticity when playing big fish right under the rod.
Mono is okay though, but I’d suggest using one of the better quality Fluoro carbon reel lines in 20lb such as the Berkley Trilene as it’s less easy for the fish to see at such close range.
There is only one hook I trust, the Mustad Viking 79515. These have a knife-edge point and can be honed to maximum sharpness easily. The size I use most is the 4/0, but choose the size of the hook to suit the size of the bait.
The only other items I carry are bait elastic, a small pair of scissors, a honing stone and a few spare hooks. I put my spare live crab baits in one of my own MTI Bait Caddies as I prefer the bait on me around my neck to minimise movement when baiting up. The worse thing you can do is to keep walking backwards and forwards up and down the shingle or rocks as the fish will see or hear you and vacate the immediate area.
Other essential items are a baseball cap and a good pair of polarized sunglasses which are essential for helping you spot fish before they spot you when fishing in daylight.
BAITS & PRESENTATION
Don’t be afraid to use big baits. Use one big peeler, or use two smaller ones to form a bait a good 3-inches long. Kill the crab and peel it of all the brittle shell but leaving the legs on both sides. Cut the body half way through then bend the body around the hook and thread the crab fully on to the shank. Use just a few turns of elastic to secure the legs to the shank of the hook. The other legs are left to dangle below the bait to add some movement as the bait washes around.
You can do the same with a couple of smaller soft crab, but you don’t need to cut them as they’ll break up a little when being put on the hook.
Big softies need to have the hook passed through the back and be brought out and upwards through the belly. Use elastic if need be, but I don’t on big softies. Don’t worry too much if the hook point is not fully clear. A hard strike will see the hook come through the softie and in to the mouth of the bass.
This size of bait has the weight in its self to be easily cast 20yds or more.
A tactic I’ve used many times on rough ground backed by shingle is what military snipers call “the grave”. You scoop out a shallow depression in the shingle and literally lay on your side with the rod facing at an angle across the sea. Bass will see up through the water column and at a shallow upward angle beyond that. If you’re below that angle they’ll never see you.
Make the cast and literally let the bait wash around in the swell. Only retrieve a little line if the bait is being washed inshore quickly. If possible just let the bait sit on the seabed and just occasionally twitch it a little by either pulling on the line by hand or slowly moving the rod tip.
Ignore the rod tip as a bite indicator. You will always see the bite via the lift and tightening of the line first. As the line lifts ready yourself and as you feel the weight of the fish come up against the rod tip only then do you strike and strike hard to set the hook.
The first tactic of the bass will be to turn and bore out seawards, then throw its head around a few times, then turn and run again this time with the tide direction and along the surf tables. Big bass over 6lbs will hug the seabed and thump the rod tip hard as they power for the snags. Don’t bully the bass, have faith in the reel drag and drop the rod to the side if the bass tries to run for a known snag out in front of you, which they will try to do, as the sideways rod angle will turn them. You’ll know the fish is beaten only when it wallows and thrashes on the surface.
To lift big bass from the waters edge, I just use my finger and thumb, thumb inside the mouth and index finger under the chin. Grip them hard and lift then from the surf. This is reliable and will not damage the fish in any way prior to unhooking and returning.
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