A general guide to:
Locating and Fishing for Bass
You’ve decided to have a go at Saltwater fly fishing, you’ve bought all the necessary gear and you may have decided to tie your own flies as well. The next step is to go out and try and catch yourself a Bass!
Where do you start?
I see many novice ‘SWFF ‘ers’ asking for help on the Internet and generally more experienced anglers are happy to help, however nothing really beats experience. The only way to catch Bass on the fly or indeed any other salty species is to get out there and start learning. Having said that, there are several things you can do before you venture out that will help.
The first thing is to get yourself a local Tide table. Many Tackle shops will have these or you can have a look on the internet. The next thing to do is to download Google Earth. I have found Google Earth to be an invaluable tool that has helped me in my own fishing no end. Google Earth allows you to look at your local coastline via Satellite imagery in fairly good detail. Sometimes you can clearly see what the sea bed is like if the images were taken on a calm day and the sea was clear. You can identify many features that will help you in your search for likely fish holding spots. If the Tide happened to be running when the image was taken you can often see ‘rip lines’ on the water or cloudy areas where the sea bed is being disturbed and where the rip stops and food is likely to be pushed to and where it drops out. The final thing to do is listen to the local sea fishing grapevine or ask in your local Tackle shop for information on areas that produce Bass to bait anglers, then go home and scan these areas on Google Earth to give you an idea of what is in front of you.
Before I go into more detail about how to locate Bass and fish for them let me talk about the fish themselves, their behaviour and their habits.
Bass are for the most part, ambush predators, especially the older and wiser and of course bigger they get. They would rather lie in wait for the their prey to come along than actively hunt and chase them. That is not to say that they are lazy fish but they would rather not expend unnecessary energy chasing prey if they can wait for it to come to them. There are exceptions to this for instance when there are large numbers of baitfish inshore. Bass will then see an opportunity to maximise on this and will actively herd their prey into certain areas where they are in concentrated numbers and the Bass can feed at will on the bountiful harvest available to them. The calorie reward is worth the energy expenditure…This is when you will see Bass ‘Blitzing’; smashing the surface as they chase the prey into shallow water or to the surface to trap them, engulfing mouthfuls of tiny whitebait as they do. Bass will often regurgitate these meals when you catch them so you can have a look at what they are feeding on and match the hatch. You will often see Gulls joining in this gluttony and working above the surface of the water picking off and injured or dying fish on the surface. Clearly this is a dead giveaway from a locational point of view that there is something going on beneath the surface and should be investigated. Sometimes it can be Mackerel as well as Bass predating so always carry some smaller flashy flies in case because Mackerel make for great sport on the fly and fight miles above their weight on a fly rod! Often the Predators will drive the prey right in against the shoreline well within fly rodding distance, I have hooked fish almost right at my feet as they chase the fly in before hitting it! Sport can be fast and furious and it is possible to catch numerous fish in a short space of time!
In the absence of any obvious signs of predatory activity we have to resort to looking at other clues to help us locate potential fish holding areas.
We know that Bass would rather wait in ambush for the meal to come along but how is it going to find it’s way to them?
The worlds Oceans are subject to a natural phenomenon known as Tidal pull. This is a force exerted upon the Oceans by our neighbouring Moons gravity. As the Earth rotates on it’s axis the gravitational pull created works in conjunction with the Moons gravitational pull to create Tidal flow, causing the Oceans to ebb and flow.
Twice a day we have a flood tide where the sea runs in to land creating deeper water close in and twice a day we have an ebb tide where the water runs outward away from the land creating shallower water close in to shore. Each phase take roughly 6 hours give or take.
As the water ebbs and flows, the fish are forced to move with it, inward and outward. Tides vary in size according to the Moon phase, there will be greater movement of the water at certain times and less movement at others, these are called Spring Tides and Neap Tides. Springs being the larger of the two.
This movement of water is disrupted as it moves around or over any structure, both on the shoreline and beneath the surface, this is what creates ‘rip lines’. Bass will take advantage of this disruption to lie in wait for prey to be caught up in the current created by the rip lines and swept along. They will seek out the slower water next to the rip or at the tail of it where they will lie in wait. The rip will be an obvious crease on the surface of the water, If you have ever fished a river the principle is exactly the same.
Bass congregate around these areas and it is possible several fish can be caught in a session. Visible structure that might disrupt the flow and create a rip line are, points of land jutting out into the sea, Piers and harbour walls, Breakwaters, moored boats.
Subsurface structure normally consists of boulders, weedbeds, underwater ledges, sandbanks.
This is by no means a comprehensive list and just intended as a guide to give you an idea of where to look. Look around your local shoreline and see if you can spot these rips and try and assess what they are created by.
Where I live we have a many varied coastline with all sorts of different ground, from general mixed ground to sandy beaches to boulder strewn rocky coves, and it is possible to catch Bass from virtually all these types of ground. Not all of these actually have visible rip lines nor can you always see water being disrupted by sub surface obstacles but it is possible to catch Bass from these marks with a bit of detective work. If your local beaches seem devoid of any structure above or below the surface, try walking them on a big low tide and noting any deviation in the bottom make up. This could be a gully, a change in the make up of the ground from shingle to mud, or rock to sand, a small ledge or plateau, anything that might be a fish holding area.
Bass will frequent many different areas seeking out opportunities to feed, but almost always with ambush in mind unless as previously mentioned there is a glut of preyfish.
There is not enough space here to write a fully comprehensive guide to locating Bass nor is it the right platform, so the best thing I can do is give you a few examples of some of my local marks and describe how I fish them, hopefully this will convey some ideas for your own coastline and finding the fish that will inhabit it.
Ten minutes from my house is a beach on the north coast of the Island, this is a popular beach with holiday makers and as such is fairly busy during the day. The times to fish here are early morning and evening into dark, when the beach is quieter, which as it happens are the best times to fish for Bass anyway. When the tide recedes on an ebb a small rock ledge is uncovered running for several hundred yards parallel to the shore. It is only a couple of feet high and is practically dry at low tide. As the tide floods, the water comes up and over this small ledge and it is necessary to wade out close to the front of it in order to fish. In a nut shell the fish hunt along this ledge, it is possible to catch fish both as the Tide floods over the ledge and as it ebbs back over it. They use the flood tide to trap any small prey fish up against it and the ebb Tide to lie in wait for prey to be swept back over the ledge and out to sea whereupon they seize them as they wash helpless and disorientated into the Bass that are lying in wait.
After some experimentation I have found that the Bass are more likely to be caught on the Ebb here, with the Flood being erratic in it’s consistency at producing fish. This is simply because it is far easier for the Bass to ambush their meal on the Ebb tide and they have to do little other than lie in wait rather than actively hunting along the ledge seeking out food that way.
Another Mark I have fished, also on the north coast is a beach with soft muddy, clay bottom. To look at this beach at high tide is to think there is not much in the way of structure, or to appeal to Bass, however take another look at low tide and all is revealed..
There are several low lying gravel groins running out from the beach at right angles for 20 or 30 yards, and though they are not much to look at, when the tide is running the flow is disrupted over these stone groins creating only very subtle rip lines. I have found that Bass will lie in wait on the down tide side of these groins waiting for prey to be washed over them. Indeed they have proven to be a very reliable feature.
Another mark I fish is a shallow sandy beach, again on the North coast but there is a small estuary attached to the beach with a narrow boating channel leading to a harbour. I have caught many smaller Bass in this channel with the odd better one but it is always good fun. The Bass run this channel on both the flood and the ebb in search of food washing into and out of the harbour. The shallow sandy beach next door also produces fish and in the warmer months large shoals of schoolies herd that years whitebait in against the small sandbanks of this beach and sport can be fast and furious at times!
On the South Coast of the Island we have many more different areas that I fish and pretty much all of them hold Bass and it is possible to pin the fish down to small areas much as in the above examples, the difference here is that monsters lurk!
All of these venues produce fish at different stages of tide some early in the flood or ebb and some a couple of hours in or even towards the end. No two venues are the same and only by experimenting and fishing either the whole tide or certain stages will you uncover when you are more likely to catch on yours. The one thing they do all have in common is that they have something that is attractive to the fish and will enable them to find food of some sort. By spending time researching these marks I am giving myself the best chance of finding and catching Bass.