Having been what might be referred to as a shore fisherman since my youth, my desire to spend time by the water with traditional beach casting equipment has always been prevalent. Every aspect of fishing holds some kind of appeal, whether it’s the almost athletic performance (not even a bronze medal here mind) of casting a bait seaward, the quiet contemplation one can enjoy whilst waiting for a bite or to simply admire those surroundings that are characteristic of time spent on the coast through the four seasons, many boxes are ticked on the journey to angling based fulfilment.
Although surf/beach-casting tackle has always been my go-to, that’s probably as much to do with the nature of the coast here in the Bristol Channel as much as anything else.
The modern trend for going lighter, especially when it comes to lure fishing, was simply never really something that was practiced here.
In fact, childhood recollections of time spent on the south coast during summer family holidays really did open my eyes to the many lighter aspects of rod and line fishing. New and exciting methods that were a refreshing change and alien to the style of fishing I had adopted as I was growing up.
Owing to the water clarity found on the south coast, lures and float tackle were the main stay of many an angler, though possibly only considered a very casual approach or even one akin to the holidaying angler looking to sneak a few hours in and avoid his tackle spending a week propped up in the ‘ghost’ corner of his caravan or other holiday dwelling. Regardless of how this style of fishing was perceived at the time, it remained an effective method of catching certain species of fish. The clear waters of the English Channel, in comparison to those of the Bristol, were an alluring prospect and when I did make some good acquaintances down south who later became friends, I’m sure they’d laugh heartily when I asked the age old question, “Are the mackerel in yet?”, after putting the phone down.
The fact of the matter is that owing to the coffee like status of the waters of the Bristol Channel, float fishing, which is a method generally applied to sight feeding species such as mackerel, garfish and pollack is rarely if ever put in to practice here. The fish can’t see, so it’s futile.
I dare say that someone, somewhere within the confines of this treacherous and muddied waterway would have tried it, but I would put money on the fact that it has never yielded any consistent results for them. And for exactly the same reason, lure fishing is a method that would be considered a waste of time. Fish have eyes, but if they cannot see through the gloom, they may as well be blind. Besides, the fish here know this and will sooner get their heads down in the silt and amongst the rocks to forage for scraps, shrimps and marine worms.
Writing off two otherwise effective tactics seems a shame, as the lighter tackle associated with each does make for a lot of fun. Stiff rods and powerful fast reels are often required to fish here, but there will be times when they are not. So is there ever a time when you could take a spinning rod (does anyone use the word spinning now or should I be saying ‘lure’ rod?) to a place where you wouldn’t spin and a float rod to a place when you wouldn’t consider using a float?
There certainly is and this year a lot of my guiding work has focussed around the use of tackle that would generally not be considered as suitable for our gargantuan waterway. I have written many times in the past about using lighter tackle to target bass so I won’t be delving too deeply in to the specifics of things this time, but what I would like to do is illustrate just how popular this style of fishing is now.
If one form of angling has boomed in the last decade, it would have to be lure fishing, all day long. It’s such an approachable form of fishing and its extreme simplicity has attracted many a new angler. Add to the mix a global pandemic that saw millions confined to their homes during numerous lockdowns and when we did emerge, there was never a stronger desire to be outdoors. Even those who had little interest in being out in the elements had realised that perhaps they took their freedoms for granted and wanted to start a fresh, embracing what had been there all along.
And fishing, for most, was as fine a place to start as any.
The prospect of starting a new hobby and one that on the face of it might appear huge and daunting is one that might put any prospective angler off, but in actual fact, it’s my belief that the simplicity and accessibility of lure fishing served as a huge attractant.
Think about it- rod, reel, line, lure….. That really is all you need.
Take away the lure and replace it with bait, on the same tackle and you have a light outfit to catch bass, right here on the Bristol Channel.
Without question, as we began to emerge from the pandemic, my number one request from enquiring clients was to fish for bass. A large number of them wanted to use lures, but once I had explained to them why we do not use lures here, they were keen to try the bait approach.
Considering a high proportion of these guys had never fished before, I did find it interesting that bass were so high up on the the wish list. It soon became clear too that even accomplished anglers who had been fishing for some time in the tried and tested manner were taking an interest in lighter tackle. A good number of bookings came from those who had caught a couple of the daft videos I had knocked up earlier in the year and so were inspired to do something a little bit different. I guess when trying to explain a particular concept, a practical demonstration in video form is about as hands on as you can get.
What most interests me here though, is how the bass is never the target of the angler who has come to be known as the ‘specimen Hunter’. At least, not here in the Bristol Channel.
Anglers from as far afield as south Devon and Cornwall will merrily travel to Somerset to fish for rays and smoothhounds, but seldom the bass. It’s as if there is still a mindset that big bass are caught here unintentionally and could turn up anywhere that dissuades anyone from trying. I’m sure that if the same effort was put in to bass fishing here as many of the other popular species, we would see some excellent fish landed.
But above all else, the ease of the venues that can be fished, the lightness of the entire approach and the combination of simple and cheap tackle are what I believe have become a draw for those wanting to target fish with the kind of mindset usually only seen on the south coast.
We might not have clear water here, but we certainly do have the fish and it’s a lot of fun trying for them with that light tackle, just ask some of my clients this year!