The Jersey Open Shore Bass Festival is an annual event usually taking place during September of October dependent on clashes and favourable tides. It is run locally by the Sinkers Sea Fishing Club. As advertised, the festival is an open, which gives both local and non-local anglers an opportunity to enjoy a competitive and fun weekend of bass fishing whilst visiting anglers have the added bonus of a chance at the visitor prizes.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, it was not likely that the festival would be seeing the same in terms of the numbers of anglers visiting the island to take part in the event and, although the festival was taking place during the tremendous storm Alex, it was great to still see so many entrants taking part with 67 anglers taking to the rocks, beaches and piers.
The Jersey Open Bass festival is on a 100% catch and release basis, with fish being measured, photographed with a festival I.D and released after capture. The angler still has the opportunity to take a fish for the table should they feel it’s necessary and within Jersey’s legal size and bag limit.
Luckily for me, the way my shift pattern at work had aligned itself it just so happened that I was off shift for the competition. That would be a good start and allow me to maximise my time and efforts.
Once my mind had turned to preparation, the last thing I wanted, knowing storm Alex was due to arrive from the Friday at the start of the festival, was to be stuck on a pier trying to get a bucket full of live bait. It just seemed like a waste of time to be sat there on the Friday with a string of baited sabikis knowing I should have my bass baits already out rather then trying to catch my bait. However, with my work shifts having aligned I was off the Thursday evening which gave the the perfect opportunity to get down to the pier and try and get some live pout.
I raided the bait freezer and without wanting to break into some of my best frozen baits I’d found some left over re-frozen mackerel intended for the mincer but would also be perfect to get the tiddlers biting.
With a baited string of sabikis prepared, it wasn’t long to wait. The typical ‘tap tap tap’ on the rod tip was soon present and up they came. There were some nice wriggly pout, a perfect size too for a 3/0 Varivas circle hook through the chops before being clipped onto a slider rigs. This is a deadly method for bass fishing as covered in detail here: Live Bait Sliding for Bass
It was good to get a bucket of pout so quickly and the advantages of owning a quick water change bucket were becoming clear. The way they are designed with the cage bucket inside the actual bucket, allowing for quick water changes is genius and they also come with a slit in the bucket to clip on your aerator. If you intend to do much live bait fishing, such a set up is a must.
I kept the fish inside the cage part of the bucket, sealed the flaps with cable ties and added a 6oz lead on a cable tie to the bottom of the bucket. With a bit of rope added to the handle, thrown into the water and tied upon the pier, that was my mini store box of live bait ready to be collected the next day for the start of the competition.
I was back to the car after an hour of catching bait just in time before I got my first preview of storm Alex. The heavens opened and the wind picked up to gale force 8. This was going to be an interesting weekend I thought to myself!
On collection of the stored live bait the following day I was pleasantly surprised to see that there had been no casualties over night and all the pout were rearing to go.
I’d signed up as a pairs team for the festival with Daniel Ferguson, who had unfortunately broken his toe in the week leading up to the comp, so Alex Plaster stepped in to keep me company on the rocks for the first evening with the chance of Daniel still turning up depending on how his foot was feeling.
Alex and I arrived and on looking down from the cliff the mark looked like it would be fairly sheltered from the wind though there was quite a bit of swell running. It looked really bassy down there and coming up with a Plan B didn’t seem like an option before last light.
We got down on the rocks and got setup before the light started to fade. Live baits went out on the sliders and it was time to sit back and wait. A few minutes later snaps and cracks could be heard from the cliff path foliage. It was Daniel, he had made his way down to us safe and sound and with a slight spring in his step I might add for someone with a broken toe! Once he had set eyes on our live bait bucket he got even more excited! Daniel flicked out a slider rig too and soon after sent a live pout down the line.
Daniel then set up his second rod with a high trace clip down rig with a nice long rotten bottom as he was slightly unsure what ground he’d be fishing over past the obvious rough ground.
Alex and I could not contain our laughter when he whipped out an old manky garfish from his bait bag! It looked like it had been fishing more times this year then I had. Even Daniel was chuckling away as he cut the head and tail ends off and whipped it on the hook. Out it went and all three of us enjoyed the sunset into darkness.
With all our rods out, it got to high tide and I was sitting in anticipation knowing with the conditions at this mark the dropping tide should produce a good fish as it had done during previous sessions. We were all still laughing at Daniel’s manky garfish bait with about an hour or so until the first sign of action. Daniel had a big slack line bite and I got all excited thinking it was his live pout that had been hit.
He wound up and struck into the fish. I was yelling ‘don’t strike on the slider just wind into it!’
His reply had me in disbelief and laughter… “It’s the garfish!” All three of us were laughing as he reeled it up in the swell, though we got a bit more serious when we saw it was a nice sized bass and just what we were after!
With my head torch on full beam and Alex ready with the net, Daniel was timing the fish in the swell. Up it came in a big bit of swell and after a tense moment of suspense the was in the net!
It was bigger then we first thought, a nice long fish that we put around 7-8lbs. We were again laughing about the garfish but also cheering as we admired this fine fish.
The tail unfortunately looked in bad shape and the fish was bleeding heavily from it. It wasn’t looking likely for the fish to survive with the damage it had sustained coming up in the swell and what ever had happened with the tail. I was puzzled and have not seen a bass have a tail like that before.
We jokingly told Daniel he could still make last orders in town. He thought we were being serious and his kit was packed in an instant and off he went to celebrate carrying a battle scared 75cm silver slab over his shoulder!
Alex and I fished on with the live baits and it wasn’t long before the bass came knocking.
In the corner of my eye, whilst sorting out my next rotten bottom, I saw my rod arched right over stripping line off my slosh 30. By the time I got to the rod it was just the reel stopping it going over the tripod.
It felt like another good fish and Alex was ready with the net. Unfortunately the swell had decided to play it’s part again in the landing process and made things really difficult! I saw what looked like a 5-6lb fish come up before crashing down again several feet and before I knew it my rig came flying up the rocks with no bass on the end…
I checked the hook, which was still hooked on the pout and must have turned when the bass had hit it and ended up with the business end of my 3/0 circle back inside the pouts head! I must have been reeling in that bass with the pout down it’s throat choking it. This was a first for me with circle hooks. Usually the hook up rate is seriously impressive, but as with any notable lost fish it is one I won’t let go easy without any analysis and perhaps I’ll have to try semi circles if this becomes a regular occurrence.
Whilst we were both spitting feathers on the rock, Alex’s rod started screaming off on a dead baited joey mackerel he had sent down on his slider rig. Once again the swell made things difficult with landing the fish which was estimated around 4lbs-5lbs.
We almost had the bass up to the net when Alex’s hook-length got wrapped round a limpet and snapped him off, leaving him hookless and fish-less an the pair of us absolutely gutted. The thought of landing them both and getting to the pub before Fergie was too good to be true!
We fished on with the dropping tide until calling it a night looking forward to our wading session the next day where we would once again be using the live baits.
The next day it seemed storm Alex was having a lay in and gave us a break in the weather to get out using live smelt on light ledgering gear. I headed down the town harbour with my little dropnet and live bait bucket, collected some old cooked crab from the fishmongers on the pier and used that to tempt the smelt into the net.
It only took about 10 minutes to get a shoal of smelt over the net and a few hauls later I had a bucket full! As the wind was a westerly we headed out east to a mark I’ve had some good sessions on lures and live sandeels in the past.
With Jersey’s huge tidal ranges it makes for a bass anglers paradise if you can find a safe area to fish from that holds fish 2-3km down the beach on the low tide. It’s a bit of a hike and can be extremely rewarding but, with a fast rising tide on the larger tides, you need to have your wits about you.
We were on the mark after what always feels ages of walking but it looked perfect. Alex, equipped with his light spinning outfit and running ledger, flicked out his live bait and had a take almost instantly! I thought he was winding me up when he said he was in. I was expecting the turn of the tide to bring on the bites and we still had an hour of the drop.
Alex managed to turn his fish away from a few reef heads in front of him just before beaching it onto a nearby exposed sandbar. A nice 54cm for Alex and the session was looking to be a good one. We’d landed a fish without any swell getting the better of us. The conditions were perfect for wading and to get a qualifying fish on the first cast was a big bonus.
It went quiet, but as the flooding tide started I got a take. A schoolie had taken my smelt, being just shy of qualifying length at 41cm. Not the big fish we were after but a blank saver none the less. I guess you can only catch what’s in front of you.
The tide was really starting to race up and we had to head back up the beach. Alex had his stopwatch with him and being the time keeper it was his job to make sure we left just at the right time to prevent us getting cut off walking back up the beach. Its easy to turn into a disaster if you’re not prepared as it can be very dangerous if you don’t know the way back and can be equally disorientating in a panic situation.
My football team, the mighty Leeds United, are finally back in the Premiership and were playing Man City that evening, so I wanted to get home sharpish to watch the game and celebrate Alex’s bass with a nice cold beer.
The following day the weather was looking grim and knowing Daniel had a nice bass for our pairs team I knew I needed to pull my thumb out! I hadn’t yet tried lures and although the wind was blowing a F8 I knew I’d be slightly sheltered at one of my lure marks which in the past at this time of year has had a tendency to throw up a half decent bass on the lures. Even in a big gale with discoloured chop on the water ,they have been known to take surface lures, so I nipped down to check it out.
It looked really good as the tide was approaching low water. Just as I decided to get out my van and grab the gear, just like a switch the gale had gone from what seemed like a F8 to what felt like a F10! To say the least, it wasn’t pleasant with it pretty much shoving me back in the driving seat and the door slamming shut! This was really frustrating, but I decided to wait it out 30 minutes or so and just as quickly as the wind picked up it had completely dropped off again.
Once out on the water, the wind had picked up, but with it now behind me it was enabling me to get my pachinko 140 right out there! I could just about make out it’s disturbance as I worked it along the top but sadly there were no obvious takes at the lure from a bass laying in ambush around the scattered features. I stuck at it for 3hrs of the flood but the fishing was almost impossible and decided to call it a day as another downpour put my waterproofs to the test!
All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of bass fishing as per usual with the festival.
It was a massive shame that the harsh weather conditions had such an impact on the fishing but in some respects in may have made it better. The first mark we tried on the Friday evening certainly never fishes as well during calm settled weather so I guess the adverse weather conditions definitely had their pros and cons during the weekend long event.
I gave Daniel a message to find out the scores on the doors at the final measure presentation and was chuffed to hear back that he had grabbed first place for his 75cm bass that he had during our first evening out closely followed by another nice fish of 70cm.
Regardless of the weather it was a great event to take part in as always and was run extremely well by the Sinkers Club committee. It was just a such shame that due to the current Covid restrictions we couldn’t have a couple of well deserved beers and some hot pub grub together at the end of it to celebrate some great fish in what were some pretty horrendous conditions.