When you think of sea fishing in the North East of England, there’s one species that comes to mind, cod. The species is realistically the only specimen sized fish readily available from our shores for much of the year. However, a gem is present within the surf of many of our beaches, Dicentrarchus labrax or better known as the bass. When you think of bass you don’t immediately think of temperatures south of 0°C on a windswept northern beach, more, pristine Cornish sands and warm extremities. Nevertheless, bass are here in the North East all year, often in decent numbers. 

Unlike the ever-obliging cod that can be plucked from about any mark in the area, the bass take a little more dedication and thought. Hopefully through this article you can find your own silver bars in the latter winter months.

A typical winter schoolie bass for the North East. These plump and energetic individuals are rarely encountered over a couple of pounds in the winter months. Their larger summer counterparts clearly moving out of the area leaving these juvenile fish on patrol.

To consistently catch bass we need to build an understanding of their habits. The more I’ve targeted the species over the last 6 years, the more I believe these creature stick to certain routines. The first protocol, for anyone wanting to cut out those frustrating blanks and wasted hours, is to start a diary. It doesn’t have to be complex; namely surf condition, air pressure, tide state and finally record the times the fish were caught. Each beach has its own traits, the quicker you understand this, the better your fishing will become.

Throughout the summer months bass can be targeted from the rocks along much of our coastline, whether this be on lures or bait. They are in close grubbing around for food such as shore crabs and small fish species. Yet in winter they are mostly found around the surf beaches. During flat conditions I would akin the aquatic environment of a beach to that of a desert, barren with little signs of exposed food. However, add some motion to the sands, in the form of a moderate surf, and you’ll soon wash out a host of small critters from their burrows; worms, shrimp, crabs, sandeels etc. This is when the bass move in to feed. 

 Tackle and tactics

It’s rare to encounter better fish throughout the winter months, realistically the majority of the fish you’ll catch will be 1-2.5lb. Despite this, the shoaling nature of the species means that once the fish are located, you’ll likely have some decent sport for the session. Due to fishing clean ground and the size of the intended targets, light tackle can be used. Light continental rods and fixed spool reels coupled with low diameter braid are ideal. Rig wise I normally opt for a 2-hook clip down consisting of a Gemini Splash Down clip and a cascade swivel, armed with Kamasan B940 size No.2. I use these small hooks as I have had more success with smaller baits. Snoods are around 30cm long and tied out of 15lb Amnesia, whilst the rig body consists of 60lb mono. 

Amnesia is chosen as I prefer its rigidity, I feel as though this makes it less likely to tangle in the turbulent water. I’ve been using Power Swivels for some time now, in everything from Skate fishing to scratching, they are excellent for such small swivels. The 100lb swivel is implemented at the top of the rig for ease of rig changes. I like to have a rig pre-baited, ready to capitalise on the shoaling fish, therefore I’m constantly changing rigs throughout the session. When your fingertips are numb with the cold, I find it difficult to attach small swivels to my quick release clip, a larger swivel helps me do so. I did warn you, this isn’t Cornish bass fishing. Personally, I don’t think a schoolie bass will notice a 5mm, dull-black, swivel amongst the shifting sands; and even if it did, these aren’t carp in a muddy puddle subject to angling pressure, they’re a wild fish that’s likely never interacted with angling.

A Kamasan B940 size 2 baited with a small rag worm. Glow in the dark beads certainly grab the attention of species such as flounder and whiting, I'm undecided whether they stimulate a bass into feeding. The use of a rubber stop prevents the beads from riding up the snood, maintaining a better bait.

When fishing in rougher conditions, as discussed in the following paragraph, I use a pulley rig; again, implementing the Gemini Splash Down Solo clips. For my pulley rig snoods I tend to use 25lb Amnesia and 2/0 Sakuma Manta hooks, tying the snoods around 45cm long. When using Splash Down clips be sure to give them a rinse, making sure they are clean of sand. Sand grains can work their way into the clips, inhibiting their action. You don’t want to cast out a quality bait only to wind in 20 minutes later to find the bait hasn’t been ejected from the clip.

 I’ve played around with glowing vs no-glowing beads on my rigs whilst out targeting bass. Currently, I’m not convinced they have a positive or negative effect. The whiting however are attracted to glowing beads like moths to a lamp.

Lead weight selection is dependable on conditions, but I prefer to use the least possible; dropping to as little as 2oz grippers. Occasionally I will select a plain lead, allowing the bait to trundle into gullies along the beach. If the lead is moving a little too fast, I change to a flattened lead. When fishing this method I will use one rod, holding the rod so I can maintain contact with the lead. 

You’re not aiming to keep the line overly taught; I aim to leave a bit of slack but not so much that a take wont register. I also leave a similar amount of slack when fishing two rods on the tripod. More often that not the initial bite from a bass is 1 violent hit, often the fish isn’t hooked in this instant. I fear that those fish that aren’t hooked in that original hit won’t return to the bait if they have felt a great deal of resistance. Shortly after this initial hit you’ll notice a classic tapping bite develop when the fish has returned. I will however adapt and change my rigs and methods dependent on conditions, as a general rule the rougher the surf the larger the baits and hook will be. For the most part I’m fishing surf from 1ft up to 3ft, any more than 4ft of surf and my local beaches are strewn with weed. If I know there’s a strong 3-4ft of surf running after a large rough up, I’ll opt for the pulley rig approach. I will only take 1 rod and alternate between plain and gripper leads, attempting to search out the patrolling bass. In this instance I’m more likely to use a classic mono-multiplier in conjunction with a beachcaster; my choice rod being the Zziplex Profile GT. The reason being mono and its stretch present the bait better in rougher conditions. This stretch also reduces hook pulls in the surf when a better bass or cod is hooked.

Flatfish species are well known for being attracted by beads and sequins. This particular individual falling for half a frozen black, again note the small rubber stop keeping a neat bait presentation.

Bait Selection

Fresh worm is my top bait, preferably small blow lug and yellow tails but I’ve still had cracking success on small rag worms. I tend to dig my own worm as I find it difficult to purchase smaller worm, diggers can obviously earn better money targeting bigger worm. However, what I find when using larger baits, you get a lot of missed takes and the worms been destroyed. I find this doesn’t happen with a smaller bait, say worms around 3-4 inch. The bass simply engulf the full bait and the hook. I have also had some success on frozen blacks and small, thin strips of mackerel belly, though these aren’t as valued as fresh worm. I use a rubber stopper and incorporate a few beads above my bait for added attraction; though this is mainly with flatfish species in mind. Often when I’m out bass fishing I’m more than happy to catch the other species that frequent the beaches. I don’t feel that these attractors put the bass off.

Location 

As already alluded to, these fish are feeding over sandy beaches, especially when there is a degree of surf present. For my local beaches, weed can become an issue on the larger sets of tides and following a rough spell. For these reasons I avoid these conditions. It’s not that the bass won’t be there, I fully expect they are, just fishing for them is both frustrating and unnecessarily difficult. Once a heavy sea has passed and a steady surf is running, this is the ideal time to target the bass. For the majority of my bass fishing I will fish through the flooding tide, starting 1 hour from bottom. When selecting a place to fish on the beach pay attention at low water, either at the beginning of the session or better still assess the beach in daylight prior to the session. As from the pictures and this comment, I only tend to fish for bass through the night. Believing the fish feed more confidently under the cloak of darkness. Most beaches have some form of feature, whether this be a small collection of boulders, a gully in the sand, or the edge of the sand where it meets rock. All of these features provide shelter for small critters, food for the bass. Not only this, but food transported in the tide will collect in such places, attracting more predators to the area.

Small bass are notorious for shoaling up, hence the nickname schoolies. When you catch one, it's more than likely you'll catch a couple more in quick succession. Double hook-ups are also not uncommon. You’ll also notice the fish on the left has taken the bait with an array of attractors whilst the fish on the right has taken a plain, baited hook.

Presenting your bait into these areas further stacks the odds in your favour. Fishing flat, featureless parts of the beach does produce bass. However I think these are just small schools of fish patrolling through the surf, transiting between feeding areas. Catches in these areas are reduced and much more sporadic, hence my theory about intercepting fish passing between feeding grounds. In order to repeatedly find fish and have more successes than blanks, you need to be aiming for features. Targeting the bass where they are naturally used to feeding and therefore often frequenting. 

One added bonus to using two rods is that more of the beach can be covered. Early on in my session, as with all my beach fishing, I’ll fish one rod at range whilst another in short. My distant rod is usually cast to the back of the surf, this is obviously dependable on conditions. 

The close in rod, if conditions allow, is normally cast 30-40 yards into the surf. If one rod is seeing considerably more action than the other, both will be positioned into the producing area. If you’re only fishing with the 1 rod, I suggest changing your cast distance until the fish are located. You’ll also notice a distinct change in species depending on your cast distance. The furthest positioned baits will tend to pick up more whiting, codling and coalfish, whilst the close in rod will produce more flatfish species. The bass appear to feed confidently throughout the entirety of the surf, without being confined to certain areas. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend constantly wading out into the surf, beaming harsh lights onto the water. Some sessions the bass will be feeding as little as 20-30 yards from the shore in less than 2ft of clear water. Though I don’t have hard evidence to show wading and lamps disrupt the feeding fish, I fear it will.

A simplified beach diagram highlighting a few features of interest to a roving angler. A, a gulley within the beach and B, an outcrop of rock jutting into the sea. Both will be sure to attract bass in certain conditions and tide states, understanding the local bass habits is the key here.

To conclude, I suppose this is more based around light beach fishing and scratching around the North East coast; knowing that bass can be high on the agenda. I’ve stated that many of the fish are small, and that they are, however the specimens that we see throughout the summer months are occasionally encountered. I believe the majority of these larger individuals have moved off to spawn, leaving behind the remaining juvenile fish. However, these smaller individuals shouldn’t be shunned and can provide excellent sport on the appropriate tackle. Using these tactics, or those of a similar nature, in conjunction with fresh worm baits, will produce bass on just about any surf beach in the North East.

Understanding their habits and catching them consistently, in good numbers, is the difficult part. As I enter my 6th season targeting them, I only feel as though I’m scratching the surface, though blanks are increasingly rarer, they remain a part of the story. I hope through reading this article your able to fast-track your own learning curve as you target the species.

Tight lines,

Tom

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