Craig Gosling is known for his bass fishing exploits. Those ‘double figure fish of a life time’ that come around once in a blue moon, well, Craig has landed no less than 51 double figure bass from the shore. Let that sink in and read just how he goes about targeting these stunning fish in his warts-and-all guest blog entry. Watercraft is at the forefront of his approach and something that few anglers seem to understand nowadays…
“So, a Veals Mail Order blog. This is my first blog for VMO, though I have plenty of diary entries over the years to refer back on. I’ve got to confess, having read some of the outstanding reports on the Facebook page and blog from some outstanding anglers over the past few months, I was reluctant to pick up the tablet, but big bass are the talking point here in the south east of England and the guys at VMO seem to think I know more than most about how to go about targeting big bass…
Craig with one of countless big bass
I love this game, I really do. I’ve met some great people over the years and some right idiots, or, the “muggles” as i call them. Muggles will ask away all the time and apply none of it, then there’s the actual anglers, the ones that have it in their blood and take notice. I’ve learnt over the years that these are the guys that when you say ‘meet me here at 2am Tuesday’, will actually turn up at 1:30am so as not to miss anything. I’ve all the time in the world for these people!The classic muggle will ask, listen ,apply ,then after 20 minutes retrieve and clip on a two hook flapper baited with ragworm, just because nothing happened. These guys probably shouldn’t read on!
What patience looks like
Over the years I’ve learned many things about bass that I’ll share with you here.
For instance, big bass come from EVERY BEACH and almost every river. If you’ve caught a school bass at a particular venue, at some point a big double would also have passed through there- I can guarantee it. A subject I wrote about years ago remains as relevant today and that is longshore drift. It’s every bass angler’s best friend and a recent trip to the Isle of Wight saw me put this knowledge to good use. Tackling a new venue I encountered neither the water clarity or the tides to see what i was putting a bait into.
A nice force 2-3 ‘surfy’ evening with a sea like chocolate greeted us and I walked the beach around one small headland, then another and there it was. Bingo.
The waiting game
Weed and bloody great rafts of it stretching from the waters edge to some 20 yards out. “That’s me for tonight “, I said to myself.
The reality was, fishing in to it was going to be challenging to say the least. A bigger grip lead than I’d like was selected as it was key to what I had in mind. My plan was to cast a bait out beyond the weed line and retrieve steadily back until it sat right on the edge of it and hopefully hold in place. I opted for 7oz leads and the longest rod I had in order to hold it up high, well above the weed line. I’ve noticed that on both the Sussex and Dorset coastlines, banks of weed are deposited during spring tides that then rot on the beach attracting flies and so maggots. My logic has always been that smaller bass (2-3lb) will work the edge of the weed, but the larger fish I am interested in will stay slightly further out. My approach has always been to give them something a big fish can’t resist such as a nice six inch mackerel section or a whole joey mackerel, fresh as you can get.
Another big bass falls for a joey mackerel bait
Whilst the smaller fish cruise below the surface competing for maggots and larvae, the bigger specimens will go out of their way to hunt on the bottom for that more potent bait and on this and many other occasions, this have proved correct. That night was one of three sessions where we actively hunted the weed line and although it wasn’t comfortable fishing, it was hectic, sweaty fun with fish after fish failing to go below seven or eight pounds.
That first night, when the tide finally ebbed, it revealed a gap in the leading surf, the first ten feet could only of been eighteen inches deep as the tide retreated, but i knew that if it could cover the back of a bass, it’s more than enough depth. I walked to the waters edge, simply plopped a mackerel head a rod length out and no sooner had I done so, it arched over in my arms. Now, I’ll admit there’s not much sport to be had at that kind of range, on that gear, but the weed made it necessary and the approach definitely worked with the target fish landed on consecutive nights.
Patience is crucial. It’s something very few anglers really have and to be fair, once you hone your craft it becomes less essential. I’ve had doubles on the beach in as little as forty-five minutes of rocking up whilst friends have been fishing just along the beach for five hours or more.
They say patience is a virtue- how true with big bass fishing
My record to date is eleven minutes after setting up, so as time goes on it becomes more about fishing two hours in the right place at the right time and less about waiting, watching motionless rods for hours on end. Over the years I’ve taken some flack for fishing with a rod rest and using two rods, but then, I’m used to fishing a Saturday night after a hard week at work and I want maximise the potential of a session. Besides, using two rods has taught me an awful lot over the time I have been fishing. I would always fish one with a squid bait and one with mackerel, one close and one far, with ratchets on each reel set. I soon learned what a “panicking live bait” looked like seconds before it would scream off. I realised that some nights the squid wouldn’t get a touch, whilst the mackerel got hammered and other nights the second rod was simply for live bait catching or “keeping me busy”. Two rods certainly enabled me to try different things.
These days, I don’t use a ratchet and my hook up rates have gone way up.
by using a bolt rig style rotten bottom paternoster or holding the rod, successful hookups dramatically increased. I’ve had a fair few doubles over the years that give me what i call the “50/50”. This refers to your chances of recognising the take and equally hooking up.
It’s when a big girl does just enough to lift the tip a little or cause it to sit up straight in the rest- if you don’t strike these as they happen, they are 50% of the time long-gone. Ratchets, I’ve come to learn, mean missed fish.
I’m 45 years old now but I never stop learning and the big bass never stop teaching. I really do believe once you think you know it all, you’ve lost the reason for going in the first place. So, you fancy targeting one, but you hate bass because they are a pain to catch and there’s better fish to target, better fish to eat and you prefer other fish because they fight harder? I’ve heard and read all of this over the years, but the reality for most is that big bass are around for most of the year now. They are tremendous fighters and probably easier to target nowadays than cod of the same size. And I never thought I’d be saying that. They are possible to catch on dead baits, live baits, lures, float and ledger tactics from rough and glassy calm seas alike. There can’t be many fish you could say that about!
this is just my approach, and its bulletproof for me (disclaimer- other anglers have their own approach that works for them, I respect that, but this is mine).
The first thing I’m often asked is about the right beaches to fish and all areas are different, So let’s start with beaches and then conditions.
Take for example a big sandy bay. If you look out onto a seemingly featureless bay of sand, go out at low water and plumb about with a plain bomb lead for an hour. Try and find some gulleys by casting and slowly retrieving your lead, paying attention to when the lead comes up against resistance and becomes difficult to move (you’ll feel it better on braid). This is your low tide potential hotspot.
Gulleys like this produce bass of the size below (beach double)
Also look out for mussels beds or rocks at low tide, all of which are bass attractors. If you can’t find any potential fish holding features then you’re very much waiting for an onshore blow and a surf. Every sandy beach I know gives up bass in a good surf, and you wont need range if you have no features. If it’s calm and featureless, I would fish it at the point where the sand meets the shingle and there’s usually a slight dip or depression. On a calm night it’s a place the bass will run through.
Most of the push-netters you’ll see fishing for prawns here will work these beaches just a few feet out at low tide and get plenty of prawns. It’s a no brainer where the bass will be.
Alternatively, many bays have a few groynes. Hotspots are the ends of these as they attract crabs, gobies, other small fish and therefore bass.
if it’s blowing a hooley and you have steady sets of surf rolling in, study the length of the beach. Continual drift will show you where the shellfish, lugworm and the food stuffs get washed up. But don’t turn up with a mackerel head bait and wait it out, you’re far more likely to find a bass using what’s local to the beach as this is what the bass will be feeding on. If your beach has a sand and rock mix, find either sand between two rocky areas or the edge of a reef to place your bait. I fish a beach with a two-feet high reef to my right and the tide runs right to left on the flood. It’s not going to produce much on the flood, but as the tide turns and runs left to right, everything leaving the beach is funnelled against that area of reef and this is where I work my baits. Make no mistake, if you are too far off of that edge, it matters. I will often go out at low tide, tie off enough line to the reef and attach a rig winder or float so I can cast to it at high tide. Just being six foot away from this feature can mean the difference between success and failure on the day. If you use this tactic, be sure to pick up the line and float from the reef when the tide goes out.
All rocky beaches rich in crab, prawns and gobies are my favourite bass fishing grounds. I’m a fan of “fishing what you find” and gobies are a great bait. They should be lifted off the bottom somewhat to stop them hiding in weed. A single hook paternoster is the perfect rig for this, with a 3/0 hook through the bottom lip. A goby will withstand just about any cast, but you shouldn’t need distance. Find gulleys- bass use them as roads in and out. I’ve had big bass in water that erupted when I struck, remember, they need enough to cover their backs and that’s it.
Yet another double figure bass
Again, find mussel beds at low tide or shellfish or crabs. It’s seldom any good fishing fresh-outs (fresh lugworm) over rocks, but peeler crab can be highly effective.
Over high tide on rocky marks, bass will be be using gulleys to move around. Remember that a two foot deep gulley with rocks on either side becomes four foot deep when those rocks are lined with weed that rises two feet in the tide. There could be areas of rock that meet shingle and these again are a great place to present a bait.
Time and time again, people simply don’t have the patience to wait two or more hours for a bite, but big bass don’t come easy and so it really is important to BE PATIENT.
if it’s calm and clear over reefs, live baits are second to none, but simply sliding them onto rocks or areas where they are hidden from view is pointless. Pick a patch of chalk, sand or shingle to fish to, put your lead out first (or free-line), then slide your live bait (pouting /goby etc) onto an area where they will stick out from a long way away, then be patient. Some nights it’s crazy from the off, other nights you’ll get nothing, but generally live baiting these areas is deadly. Again, BE PATIENT, it isn’t like ANY other fishing. If you expect a fish a chuck, you’ll be disappointed, but the one that you do get WILL make it worthwhile.
If you take for example somewhere like Seaford, where you are never on the sand as such, and it’s very deep, even at low and it’s blowing hard, then the bass will mooch around in the mele. Casting may be restricted in the wind, but this shouldn’t matter as the fish will be in the trough not too far out.
Over high, the bass will be as close as you can hold bottom, but when it’s calm and clear, again, live baiting is king. Calm and clear conditions are ALWAYS better at night and i will use my red light headlamp and bare minimum movement on the shingle. I will start by fishing for a live bait 30 ft out, and keep moving further out or in, until i find my baits. Whatever range you find your pout is exactly where you should fish it.
I like dusk to catch them before they disappear as the bass come through.
How close is too close to cast a bait?
Well, here’s a clue. YOU CAN NOT BE TOO CLOSE IN. FACT.
It genuinely shocked some anglers when they saw me catch like this a lot last year on the Isle of Wight. Bass will feed incredibly close to the shore.
I’ll use different baits on different venues and for different reasons.
basic breakdown of bait is as follows. Fresh-outs (fresh lugworm) on a sandy storm beach at low tide, big squid baits at high tide. Reefs- I love crab at low tide during a blow, squid or mackerel chunks if it’s calm. It pays to know when crabs are peeling, prawns are about, when mackerel are in etc, so it’s important to be aware of everything happening around you in nature. I fished with Henry last year as bass smashed mackerel to bits in front of us, and the pout didn’t get so much as worried- talk about pre occupied on one food source. So when everyone is feathering up mackerel all around you, don’t sit on a blow lug bait expecting a run, use what is in abundance.
When scad are plentiful, they too make a great bass snack
A basic breakdown
your hooks should be concealed in the bait, but not buried, and always try and tick two out of three of the following criteria
- Correct bait for the conditions.
- Right conditions for the venue.
- Tides- big tides will open up some nice access to features at low tide you can’t normally reach in a bay, but i prefer neaps when fishing over the rough ground.
I have been asked loads about hook over the years. Just use your head.
Bass have huge mouths and will engulf bigger hooks.
I HATE TREBLES they are indiscriminate and often damage middle weight bass, with some doubles taking them right down. A big single hook is my preference because its always in the scissors or lip, and makes releasing them so easy, i find that smaller hooks are far more likely to attract bycatch and if you’ve spent time and effort in your chosen spot, they will spook it for ages. If you’re lucky enough to hook a big bass, take your sweet time, i saw a beast lost last year by a guy cranking like his life depended on it.
Craig’s choice of hook- a single wide gape pattern
If its hooked, nine times out of ten it’ll stay hooked, so take your time, lift the rod tip high and let it have line when it wants it. I would recommend visiting a carp day ticket water during the winter as this will give you experience of playing fish on light-ish tackle. On such gear it gives a novice great experience of playing a fish instead of simply bullying it in, you learn to keep a tight line, apply side strain use the drag.
I hope this helps a few anglers out when we are able to get out fishing again. If you have any questions, please fire away and I’ll do my best to help.