Winter in Dorset traditionally means switching focus to two species, cod and flounders, but less people seem to realise that, if you are going to land a big bass, the winter months can be the best time to locate one of these stunning fish.
Going back a dozen years or more, I remember one winters day, my father and I had ventured down to Chesil in hope of a cod or two. We had the necessary baits, a box of calamari and a bucket full of prime lugworm, along with all the heavy beach casting gear required to tackle the beach in a calming storm.
After only a brief visit to the beach, we had come to the realisation that Chesil was just too rough for us to fish, but it left us with a dilemma. We had a load of bait and an evening to kill, so we quickly racked our brains for a venue which could provide us with some shelter. Many miles and several false ideas later, we found our spot.
We were largely sheltered from the storm, but we had little knowledge of the sea bed features and had no idea whether we would catch anything at all. The session that followed would change the way I viewed winter fishing forever. Within just a few hours we had burned through our bucket of lug, catching countless school bass, as well as a few better fish around 3lb and a 6lber for Dad! We had inadvertently stumbled across a bass feeding frenzy in the middle of December!
The Following winters we continued to seek out venues to target bass, as well as fishing “our” beach with mixed results. In the main, we replaced the heavy beach gear of our first session, with carp and spinning rods. We had some more great sessions, catching hundreds of bass, ranging from just a few ounce, right up to a fish of 85cm (around the double figures) for myself. This was a personal best which took me several years to better. The fact that I barely fished for flounders for a decade was testament to how much I was enjoying this new facet of the sport.
The last few years I have found myself travelling far and wide to chase cod, rays and the still elusive big eels of the Purbecks, and as a result my winter bass fishing has been somewhat neglected. This has sadly meant that we have only done two trips down to our old hunting ground in the last two winters, one of which yielded another lovely bass, around 8lb, last Christmas time. In fact, it took my dad to ask if I fancied a session, and a quick check of tides and weather for us to head down this winter.
As ever, hopes were high as we headed down, although truthfully there are more sessions where there are only small bass present than there are quality fish. As per usual, baits were simple, lug and squid, as despite countless attempts to see what else the bass may prefer, it seems we had stumbled on their favourite winter food on our first attempt!
In the early days we had caught our better fish by purely catching numbers of bass, so worm on 2/0s was the order of the day. We worked on the basis that if we caught enough fish, eventually a better one would come along. This tactic does work and provides great sport and I still fish the light rod in this way, however, we have discovered that by using a much larger bait, made up of squid or a squid and lug wrap, we can single out the better fish. This tactic can lead to long periods of inactivity, but to date my smallest bass using these large squid baits on this venue is 6lb with at least a dozen fish over this size.
First cast on the early flood saw me catch a small bass to the lighter rod, probably only 8-10oz, but it showed there were a few fish about. Strangely it was an hour of inactivity that followed but as the tide rose we were soon getting the regular aggressive takes as small bass were feeding. We had both missed one better take each but just before high Dad connected with a solid bite which was clearly a tidy fish. A spirited scrap and the culprit slid out, a lovely fish around 4lb had picked up his lug bait.
All the while we both had a rod out with big baits, but other than a few rattles, no doubt from overambitious checkers, they had remained inactive throughout the entire flood. Finally, after a dozen or so small bass, and a couple of dogs on the light gear, my big bait went off! The tip was smashed over in the way that only a big bass can and as I set the hooks it was clear I had hooked something decent. Unlike summer fish I have always found winter bass to be a bit slower and more ponderous, but this fish was really shaking its head and kiting across the tide.
As I slid her up, I wondered if I had managed to finally match that fish from so long ago. Was this to be my 4th ever double bass? A quick weigh, measure and photo showed her to be 9lb 6oz of pristine winter silver, and it was with great pleasure that I watched her slowly make her way off into the depths.
That turned out to be the only bite of the night on squid, but showed the value of having a bigger bait out there, just in case.
Next winter after catching your 100th pout whilst chasing cod, or freezing your eyelids feeding crabs chasing Poole’s mythical flounders, maybe it’s worth considering finding a beach somewhere, and seeing if there are any bass about!