Last year, I couldn’t have imagined being sat here writing an article for Hookpoint Magazine as a winner of their competition. Fast forward five months and here I am, writing about my first guided fishing session and with more to look forward to. My name is Ollie, I am 23-years old and work as an angling coach for a charity called A4S, based in Bedfordshire. On Christmas Day, I woke up to a notification on Facebook from Hookpoint, announcing me as one of the lucky winners that would get the amazing opportunity to fish with some of the best sea angling guides in the country on a series of guided sessions throughout 2022. Earlier this year I received a message informing me that my first guided session was booked in for the May bank holiday weekend; an evening’s guided bass fishing on the upper Bristol Channel with local angling guide Jansen Teakle. Jansen is an angler with a wealth of experience from many years fishing and guiding on the Bristol Channel and knows it better than most. I couldn’t wait!
The time soon came to set off to the Bristol Channel from my Bedfordshire home, filled with excitement for a new angling adventure. I met Jansen just a short walk away from the mark, he introduced himself and we discussed the plan; fishing into the evening for four hours would allow us to fish the incoming tide. The mark that we would be fishing was a large bay at the mouth of an estuary. Upon arrival, the tide was out and I looked around at the vast expanse of mudflats that lay before me. The tide would soon be on its way in, however, and as the Bristol Channel has the second largest tidal range in the world, Jansen explained it wouldn’t be long before the mudflats were submerged. This soon became apparent as I watched waves roll in the distance as the tide came back in at a rapid pace.
Before we got started, we discussed the tackle that we would be using. Jansen’s setup comprised of two 12-foot rods, he explained that we wouldn’t need anything longer as we wouldn’t be casting far. To my surprise, one of these rods was a carp rod that I am used to using for my freshwater fishing back in Bedfordshire. Jansen explained to me that there was no need to use heavy tackle when targeting bass in the Bristol Channel and that much more fun could be had fishing with lighter tackle. The second rod was specially designed for estuary fishing and had a similar action to the carp rod. This one was capable of casting up to around three ounces, this was the maximum amount of weight that we would need should the tide be really pushing. On the rods, Jansen had two fixed spool reels both loaded with braid; he preferred braid as opposed to monofilament lines as it helps improve bite detection due to its zero stretch properties and thin diameter.
The braid on one of the reels was bright yellow and when I asked if this would spook the bass, Jansen explained that due to the water being so turbid and coloured the bass would not be put off as they would struggle to see it in the murky water. With the bright yellow braid being so visible it would also be easier for us to see when playing in fish later in the evening and watching for bites. Attached to the braid was a tapered shock leader; although there to prevent us cracking off when casting, it also kept the braided mainline away from any sharp rocks that could damage or cut it. The rig comprised of a simple running ledger with a two ounce weight, plenty enough weight to hold bottom on a calm evening with light winds I was told. The hook link was made up of around four feet of twenty pound amnesia mono tied to a pennel rig. The top hook was a 2/0 circle hook and below this, a 2/0 meat hook was tied to hold our crab hook bait.
We were ready, with the tide now flooding over the mudflats and the once narrow estuary mouth increasing in size by the minute with the influx of water, the tackle was assembled and hooks baited. Jansen advised now was the perfect time to get a bait in the water, he explained a lot of the bites come as soon as the first bit of water floods the mudflats and that he has caught bass from as little as a foot of water here in the past. With plenty of crabs residing in the bay, peeler crab were the perfect bait for a hungry bass. Jansen demonstrated how to prepare the crab by removing its legs and outer shell before using bait elastic and a baiting needle to secure this to the bottom hook. We cast out the rods and waited in anticipation for the first bite; I was told this could be anything from a sharp rattle on the rod tip to the rod hooping over and almost being pulled from the tripod. As we were using circle hooks, I was reminded by Jansen not to strike as this would pull the bait from the fish’s mouth and instead to wind down into the fish with the reel to turn the hook into the corner of the mouth ensuring the perfect set; this would also avoid deep hooking our catch. The baits were cast relatively close in, just beyond some rocks and weed that lined the edge of the bay. I was told by Jansen that there was no need to cast far as the bass would be coming in close to feed around the rocks and weed in search of crabs and any other aquatic life on their dinner menu.
Before we knew it, shortly after casting the baits out, one of the rods gave a continued rattle and I picked up the rod hopeful that there would be a fish on the bait. I lowered the rod to give the fish some slack line so it wouldn’t feel any resistance and I felt it moving away with the bait. As instructed by Jansen, I then wound down into the fish to turn the circle hook, lifted the rod and the first fish of the evening was hooked! As I played the fish in, Jansen wasn’t so sure that I had hooked our intended species judging by the way it was fighting and suspected that I may have a ray on the line. After a short but spirited scrap, a snake-like figure appeared from the murky water. Jansen had told me that there were conger eels present at the mark we were fishing and it looked like I had my first one on the line. Jansen went down to the water’s edge and landed it for me before showing me how to safely unhook and handle it for a photo. After finally getting the wriggly eel to stay still, a few photos were taken and we watched as it slithered away into the murky water. With the first fish of the evening caught it was now time to try and catch a bass.
By now the tide was coming in thick and fast, with the land the tripod was stood on now underwater, it was time for a move. After moving further down the estuary and a little further back from the water, the hooks were baited once again and cast out. Jansen explained to me that the plan was to work our way back along the bay as the tide came in and that there was a productive area on top of a grass bank that we would be fishing for the final hour at high tide; Jansen was confident I would hook a bass here if they were nearby and willing to feed. As we fished our way back towards the grass bank, we watched as feeding mullet swirled in front of us as they moved through the weed in search of food. The estuary was beginning to come to life and with high tide approaching, we fished on in anticipation.
It was now our final hour of fishing and we had reached the grass bank. High tide wasn’t far away and until now, the bass had proven elusive with the odd rattle on the rod tip but no rod wrenching bass takes as of yet. The light was now gradually beginning to fade as the evening turned to night and the peeler crab baits were again prepared ready for any awaiting bass. Now on the grass bank, we were slightly higher up from the water so a net was required to make landing the bass safer for both us and the fish. Below us were the pebbles, rocks and aquatic vegetation that we had previously walked across, now submerged. Here, the bass would be coming in to feed, looking for crabs and other tasty morsels amongst the rocks. It wasn’t long after casting out before the rod gave a hard thump and the rod tip began to bend. Unfortunately, before I could get to the rod, the fish had dropped the bait. The rod we received the missed take on was recast with a fresh hook bait and with only an hours fishing time left for the evening the hunt for a Bristol Channel bass continued.
Fifteen minutes passed and suddenly out of nowhere, there was a sharp tap on the rod tip and the rod began to bounce as it hooped over. I quickly grabbed the rod from the tripod and lowered the tip to allow some slack line, I wasn’t letting this one get away! With my finger on the braid, I felt that the fish had the bait in its mouth and was now moving away with it; now was the time to set the hook. I wound down to turn the hook, lifted the rod and to my delight, I felt a solid weight at the end of the line that soon began to kick and fight back in the tidal current. The catch put up a great scrap as I played it towards the awaiting net and with the water being so murky neither myself or Jansen had caught a glimpse of what was hooked. With the fish now plodding around under the rod tip and the lead weight breaking surface I watched in excitement as a bass appeared thrashing around in a desperate attempt to rid the hook. Jansen was quick with the net to scoop up our prize and my first Bristol Channel bass lay in the net. After lifting the bass from the water it was clear by the size of it that it was my new personal best and after removing the hook and taking a few photos the fish was released so that it could continue its life and make another anglers day.
It was now approaching the end of my evenings fishing with Jansen and the rods were cast out one last time in the hope of catching a final bass. We had around fifteen minutes left to fish and with one just landed we were both feeling confident we could catch another. It wasn’t long after recasting before we received another bite; could this be another bass? Picking up the rod, I felt something had hold of the bait and was now making its way off with it. Turning the reel handle as I wound into the fish, I felt a weight on the line when lifting the rod. The drag on the reel began to click as it took line from the spool and ran out into the bay. I could feel every headshake through the braided mainline as it tried to rid the hook and I was praying it wouldn’t come off. This one, like the last fish, had plenty of fight in it and battled hard on the light tackle. After a while I could tell that my catch was beginning to tire and Jansen stood ready with the net, before we watched as another silver flanked bass surfaced. To our surprise this one was actually smaller than the first bass but it certainly had the strength of a larger fish. Once in the net, a quick photograph was taken with my catch before we watched it swim off strongly into its watery home. After a successful evening with our target species caught, we called it a night and headed back to our cars. It had been an amazing night’s guided bass fishing, learning so much from a top angler. Thank you to Jansen for an angling experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Here’s to the next angling adventure.