If you’re an avid bass fisherman and ever wondered what it’s like to spin for bass on the beautiful Iberian coastline, then read on.
With over 25 years experience chasing these exciting predators I hope to give you an insight into what it’s like and what to expect should you decide to venture down in search of Portuguese silver.
Robalo as they are known locally, can be found along the entire Portuguese coastline and are present all year round.
Predicting the best time to fish for seabass is certainly not an easy task. It’s not a simple matter of choosing a time when they are most prevalent, as there are other factors to take into account including conditions, which can make or break a fishing trip.
It’s always hard to make a comparison between fishing in Portugal and other destinations, but from speaking to many people that have fished both Portugal and Ireland it’s fair to say you would have a better chance of catching a bigger bass in Portugal but certainly better numbers of bass can be present in Ireland.
The spectacular Portuguese west coast is an exciting challenge for any bass addict, with endless beaches, reefs, rocky points and headlands to discover.
Here, conditions can change quickly and calm windless days are somewhat of a rarity.
With predominant strong north winds during the summer months, swells average around 1.5 -2 meters, whereas winter swells average around 2-3 meters, but can reach as much as 7 meters with some of the big storms that batter the coastline from November to March.
Fishing gear designed for casting good distances is essential and will certainly help put you in reach of more fish.
Like anywhere else, bass can be found in shallow waters close in, provided the conditions are right, this is especially true during early mornings and evenings, and with smaller swells. On many occasions they can be far out in the breaking waves using the white water to ambush the bait fish, or around deeper ledges when a bigger swell is running.
Most Portuguese lure fishermen will tell you that the ideal wave size for the west coast is between 1 to 1.5 meters. It’s a perfect size for Portugal and will certainly give you your best chances of success.
So although the ideal wave size to fish on the west coast is between 1 and 1.5 meters, that’s not to say bass can’t be caught in much bigger or smaller seas, it’s just a case of finding a spot to fit the conditions. If the waves are big it’s vital to look for deeper channels which will allow the bass to move in closer to feed.
Bringing the right gear is extremely important if you want to stand a chance at catching some fish, as the fishing conditions can be quite different to much of what you would have experienced in the UK.
The north coast of Cornwall would be the most similar in terms of swell and terrain, and will give you some idea of what to expect.
Big swells can mean dirty water, making lure fishing less productive, this can largely depend on a number of factors like run off from rain, tidal sizes where larger swells will pound up against the coastline dirtying the water.
Fortunately, coloured water can clean up pretty quick, especially once the swells start to reduce in size or it stops raining.
Smaller swells under half a meter can also work but generally bass tend to be less active on the west coast during the day time in calmer conditions. In this situation fishing at night would be the most productive.
Estuaries are few and far between, and most of the best bass are taken fishing over rocky reefs, beaches and from ledges. Although I have noticed that Portuguese bass stocks have suffered over the last 25 years as in many other countries, there are still big bass to be had for anglers willing to put in the time in and effort.
Sadly, quite a few lives are taken each year fishing Portugal’s west coast, and I would strongly recommend taking some safety precautions.
For me a simple flotation jacket will not only keep you afloat in rough seas should you get swept off the rocks, but can also offer good protection to your body should you slip and fall on the rocks. Many of the low tides marks can be especially hazardous and caution needs to be taken as it generally means more walking over slippery rocks. Like any rock spot, wearing something on your feet that allows you to walk confidently is one of the most important safety factors. I’ve always found softer rubber soles with a chunky type of tread will help avoid slipping so easily. Like in most fishing it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you are fishing and what time you are expected back.
It’s strange that the west coast works so well in generally stronger swells, whilst the south coast is more suited to smaller waves. The south coast is a very different experience and can really be quite relaxing.
This Coastline is much calmer and less rugged but also holds some lovely bass, often requiring a more subtle approach. The vast majority of the bass I’ve caught on this coastline have been in smaller swells under 1 meter in height. Winds from the south east called ‘levante’ can produce swell throughout the year, but the water colour tends to become quite dirty as soon as the swell size increases. I have found the best swells for fishing the south coast are the larger westerly swells called ‘mar de leve’ that rap around the most westerly point of Cape St Vincent. This swell is generally associated with cleaner conditions and an excellent water clarity! I mostly tend to use smaller profile lures from 15 – 30g to match the conditions. Although my biggest captures and best sessions have been on the west coast, fishing the south coast is a very enjoyable experience and big bass are most certainly possible.
The type of rod most suited to the rough conditions in Portugal will most likely be quite different to what you are accustomed to fishing with in UK waters where rods around 8 feet seem to be around the average length.
In rough seas and often strong winds a longer rod around 11-12 feet, able to cast up to 100g would be necessary to reach distances and cast out heavier lures when required. Not only will a longer rod aid in achieving more distance on your cast, but it will also give you extra reach when playing fish around rocks and guiding lures over the rocky terrain giving you more angle to keep the line away from the rocks.
A rod with a fairly fast action works well for me especially when it comes to working the lures. Rods with a soft rod tip can make working the lure quite difficult. A relatively stiffer rod tip allows me to easily impart action into a lure without the need to use exaggerated movements to get the required action . Another important consideration when fishing from rocky rough marks is the advantage of having a strong rod when landing a fish. A stronger rod will enable you to lift some fish straight from the water or assist in sliding larger heavier bass up the rocks in situations where getting right down to the fish could be unsafe.
When it comes to weight of lures and type, something that is suitable for casting distance will certainly be a big advantage. As a basic guideline, when the sea is under 1 meter I would tend to use smaller profile lures around 7-10cm and around the 15-20g mark which I find most effective. When the seas are between 1-1.5 meters which is the prime lure fishing conditions , 25-50g are most appropriate depending on other factors like wind and distance required. If you are prepared to fish in heavier seas and windier conditions, then lures up to 90g can certainly be necessary at times. I can recall many days when even 50g lures were being blown out of the water and only heavier lures could be worked effectively. When waves are particularly large and maximum distance is required a 90g lure on a 12 ft rod will certainly get you that extra distance and control required.
Portugal’s west coast is home to the now famous big wave surf spot Nazare. I remember around thirty years ago traveling down through Portugal in February time experiencing storm after storm and seeing the power of Nazare and many other spots. Fishing in these locations can be excellent on its day, but if the conditions aren’t right and swells are too strong, then chances of catching a bass can be extremely low.
Summertime bass fishing is the quietest season to fish. You won’t see many anglers over the summers months out lure fishing as fish can be few and far between. However fish are present in the summer months but just not as prolific as other times of the year. Summer bass are also generally smaller in size, but again good sized bass are certainly possible . Due to strong northerly summer winds, swells can still be strong, with weed clogging up many marks which can be a big problem, especially after an especially larger summer swell.
Spotted bass known locally as baia or varia can also be present during the summer months, and average around 1-2lb in weight.
Although the Portuguese summer can be extremely hot, the predominant north wind certainly keeps the temperatures down by the coastline, and the difference between air temperatures between eastern Algarve to the west coast can be quite surprising to say the least, so a good windbreaker and some warm clothing is quite often necessary.
Fishing in autumn time generally sees the start of bigger fish moving in without the huge winter seas. That’s not to say Autumn swells are small, as 2-3 meter waves can be quite common. This time of the year is quite popular with local fishermen who generally start to dust off their rods after the busy summer season.
During the winter months locals wait patiently for the swells to drop and a chance to spin for bass from the rocks and beaches. Heavy winter swells can last for weeks, so when planning a trip it’s important to take this into consideration.
Although bait fishing for bass and bream has been the more traditional method for Portuguese fishermen, over recent years I have noticed a big increase in the younger generation fishing with lures. I can remember around 30 years ago walking past some local fishermen who were certainly amused and chuckling when they noticed I had a hard lure clipped on. I still remember the look on there faces when shortly after I hooked into a 16lb bass. At this time, nearly all lure fishing was done from boats. Fishermen that practiced spinning from the shore, did so from beaches using a rubber lure on a 2-3 meter leader attached to a fairly heavy plastic float, and were generally able to target schools of bass early mornings and evenings.
Much like Autumn, spring has the advantage of smaller waves compared with the winter storms, and generally better weather. May can be pretty warm and a lovely time of the year to fish, with the added incentive of catching a hard fighting bluefish locally known as anchova. Bluefish pass by close to the coastline and can turn up at any time hunting for baitfish. Over 20 years ago bluefish from 8 -15lb were not uncommon and I had some memorable sessions hooking these in the springtime. Their aggressive nature and fighting ability make them a worthy adversary and an excellent bycatch when spinning for bass. Although bluefish have made somewhat of a return over recent years they tend to be caught in a smaller size range than previously. Fortunately they are a fast growing fish so there’s certainly much hope they will continue to pass through and increase in size. This May was my first bluefish in many years, and quite a surprise too as it launched itself out the water.
To fish in Portugal you need a license which can either be obtained at the multibanco if you have access to a local bank card, or also online at https://www.dgrm.mm.gov.pt/en/web/guest/pesca-pl-licenciamento
I’ve noticed marine police and GNR doing more regular checks over the last 2 years so with licenses costing less than €7 for a year it’s really worth making the effort to get one.
Portugal in general is a very safe country to live in or visit, but like everywhere you still need to be careful. I have occasionally seen evidence of cars that have been broken into to up the west coast, so it’s advisable not to leave any valuables visible in the car. With year round comfortable temperatures, good food, friendly locals and the chance to catch a bass of a lifetime, Portugal has always been an exciting destination for me to fish, and will almost certainly leave you thinking about a return trip!