This week we welcome south Devon bass guide Marc Cowling to the VMO blog and it looks like Marc is already putting his clients on some great fishing this year!…
In my experience, lure fishing for bass from the shore in the months of March, April and May (spring) is frustrating but also very satisfying. The ‘conditions’ such as the weather and its associated effects on the sea (swell, clarity and amounts of floating weed) appear to have a greater influence on your chances of early season success, than in say July or August – but why is this?
It could be because bass just aren’t inshore in numbers until the sea warms up beyond 10 or even 11 degrees and even then, their willingness to ‘chase down’ any food items present is likely to be somewhat reticent. Other factors such as the fish possibly being preoccupied with the crab moult, sandeel migration and (I hate to say it) stock levels can all make a difference to local catches.
My bass fishing diary, that I have kept religiously after every session for the last 7 – 8 years (detailing components such as tide height, flood/ebb, wind direction and speed, moon phase, sunny/cloudy in addition to the elements already mentioned above) has assisted me to build up a picture of when I’m more likely to encounter bass from my home patch and guiding base here in south Devon.
So how have I managed, in relation to a ‘guiding my client’s’ perspective and ‘my own personal’ lure fishing? Below is a summary of the past 7 weeks.
Bass on lures in March
Following a very pleasant and relatively warm spell of weather in mid – late March, a former client and a Facebook friend respectively had both been pestering (nicely) me for a guided session all winter! Despite my official guiding season being between April and January, the big spring tides and reports of huge bass shoals being reported in the area tempted me into facilitating two sessions in late March.
The first session was conducted in very bright, sunny conditions when the water was crystal clear. My client (George) wanted to learn about the types of marks in which bass could be found, the watercraft involved, lure choices for certain types of venue and to confirm that he was doing the right things. We had a great laugh that day and despite not catching anything, George went away a very happy client indeed.
The following day the conditions were very different. Overcast, drizzly but still mild and with an increasing SW wind creating a 2 -3ft swell and that lovely bass fishing scenario of white, fizzing, aerated waves breaking over the reefs and around the rocks but importantly, still with a modicum of clarity to the water. It took the full 8 hr session and a lot of searching but James ultimately achieved something many lure fisherman haven’t – a 3lb+ lure caught bass in March, on the very first cast into a known bass ‘holding’ area. The successful lure being the Tacklehouse Feedshallow in Ochiayu. As the guide, I was delighted! The client? He was positively ecstatic!
Calm and clear forever!
Bar a couple of short spells when the wind increased from the East, during April/early May we witnessed a spell of very calm, very clear sea conditions when the air temperature seemingly decreased both by night and by day!
With four guided sessions booked in during this 5 week period, at this time of the year I’m usually praying for clear water among the storms and subsequent murkiness! Yet despite landing a couple of small bass myself early in the month, the consistent clarity to the water (and possibly the low temperatures) contributed to a frustrating period of guiding; interspersed with some personal achievements.
The guiding first though – and luck was not on our side! During all of the sessions a bass either ‘followed’ right to rod tip, swirled on the surface right next to us or somehow managed to escape when hooked. The bass were obviously present but being extremely finicky hwoever, the wrasse were obliging! Weedless/weightless soft plastic lures such as the OSP Dolive Stick or Shad, paddletail lures (the 12.5cm Savage Gear Sandeel) and subtle surface lures (IMA Salt Skimmer) were the main weapons of choice.
Night bass and a monster pollack
With the conditions being sluggish by day, I took the opportunity to embark on some serious night lure fishing with a 6” white senko lure. A shallow shingle cove with a flat area of reef that I had identified during the winter saw me land the 4lb bass (below) in mid-April during a night of some savage hits. This is a fantastic way to lure fish as your senses are on overload! Brilliant fun – and something that I’m very eager to explore in relation to my future guiding activities (from beaches only though for safety reasons).
During one very bright afternoon/early evening period, it was obvious that the bass just weren’t around therefore; I decided to concentrate my efforts on a particular area that is very rarely fished. The result was my PB shore caught Pollack measuring 65cm (6lb) caught on a Daiwa Shoreline Shiner 120F Vertice.
Onshore winds make the difference
With two more guided sessions booked in during the second week of May, I was delighted to observe the wind finally veering around to the West and strengthening – subsequently shaking up my marks for the better! My theory was that it would take some movement in the sea to disperse the sandeel shoals; that in turn would see the bass feeding with more vigour.
First up was Rob, an experienced and successful trout fisherman. The wind had been howling the previous evening and I was a little concerned it would be too rough however; upon arrival at the first venue it looked absolutely amazing. However, it once again took the entire session (and a few venue changes and many lure changes) to find the elusive bass – from a beach in very shallow water (1 -2ft). But the smile on his face says it all – his Wife had booked the session for his Birthday present.
Rob’s capture had come right at the end of his guided session but with the bass evidently ‘in the mood’ on this mark I decided to join him once his 8 hrs were officially completed, whereby I managed to land bass of 58cm and 61cm (approx 5lb) as darkness really set in. All three fish were taken on the brilliant Daiwa Shoreline Shiner (An exceptional sandeel imitation as you can see in the photograph below).
Sunny skies and more happy clients
Finally, two friends (Ben and Dave) were my most recent clients (Mid-May) for a 4 hr session encompassing some very tasty ground. With a nice swell creating inviting conditions, and the water clarity excellent (about 18” -2ft of visibility) I was confident of finding them some bass. The small neap tide was being helped to flood by a stiffening onshore wind and it wasn’t long before Ben had this small by wonderfully conditioned fish on a Maria Chase lure (similar to the Maria Fakebait).
Later in the session and on another mark, Dave experienced a bass hitting his surface lure before wriggling off the hooks after being in contact with it for merely a few seconds – a real pity that they both didn’t manage one. But what really struck them both (coming from freshwater predator lure fishing backgrounds) was how close in bass could be caught over shallow, rocky weedy ground in relatively rough seas. But as I explained, these are the ideal conditions for a marauding bass to take full advantage of anything being washed out of its lair.
Overall, it has been a satisfying start to the season – not huge numbers of bass admittedly, but some nice fish all the same. The most important thing for me is that my clients are walking away with their skill levels, learning and understanding greatly enhanced or accelerated – their words not mine. If they haven’t caught a bass, they’ve either caught something else (wrasse) or seen a bass (follows, swirls etc.) in its natural environment during the session.
Early season, they are notoriously difficult to pin down location wise, but it is tremendously enjoyable being out and about along this marvellous stretch of coastline attempting to do so.
If you would like to learn more about Marc Cowling’s guided bass fishing operation then please visit his website/blog at: https://southdevonbassguide.com/