A big sea and a big tide to go with it in South Devon
Feeding frenzy or something else?
Despite thousands of hours of bass fishing, there is only one time in my life when I have witnessed them shoaling up within 50 yds of the shore annihilating bait fish. In this case it was from a very large ledge in Dorset routinely fished by non-other than Mike Ladle where the bass were slashing at, and then smashing into the sandeel shoals.
However, what I have witnessed on countless occasions, are times when there has been a marked increase in the amount of bass that are feeding very close to the shoreline - although they aren't immediately visible. It is within these sometimes short periods, that a bass is simply being what it is - an utterly ruthless, completely adept, outrageously effective, apex predator. Clearly, it is during these times that you can really increase your chances of latching into one. So why do bass act in this way?
We all appreciate the sporting nature of these magnificent creatures, being that they're capable of feeding in a multitude of situations from off-shore sandbanks, estuaries, rocky headlands, quiet bays and catchable on float fished prawns, large chunks of mackerel, surface lures, minnow type plugs etc. However, what I've noticed are 3 things that encourage Bass to be more prominent very close inshore, almost cavalier in their feeding habits and essentially; easier to catch:
Increased concentrations of bait fish.
High water on very high tides.
So let’s take a look at them individually -
Increased concentrations of bait fish
I mentioned above an occasion in Dorset some 10 years ago now, where I witnessed bass slashing on the surface in their pursuit of sandeels. Now this was a very noticeable display however, sometimes bass aren't always so obvious.
Before you even cast your bait or lure into the vicinity of where you hope they are, there are often clues to the potential of bass being in a 'predatory' mood. This could be increased bird activity, dead (but fresh) brit and sandeels washed up on the shoreline or even mackerel shoals hammering the above right into the shallows or even onto the rocks or beach.
In my experience of catching bass in South Devon (and I'm sure this goes for anywhere in the UK), if there is an increased amount of bait fish (and I include the mackerel here) concentrated into a particular area then the bass (and pollack and wrasse, yes wrasse) will be turned onto this.
Coves or small beaches facing the prevailing wind and tide are susceptible to being invaded almost by huge shoals of brit in the late summer. Under these conditions, it can appear that everything swimming in the area is trying to 'have a go' at the small shoaling fish - your only problem here is trying to locate the bass in amongst the other types of fish!
See an occasion here when there were large numbers of bait fish and mackerel around and bass were abundant. Of note, is that sometimes once the carnage is receding, a mackerel head lobbed close in can sometimes be the way ahead.
Please think SAFETY here but rough seas, without doubt, offer the bass lure fisherman an advantage. With rough seas often comes coloured water, but again this isn't necessarily the disadvantage you might initially perceive see here. What is guaranteed is that there will be more bass close inshore when it is rough - created from the swell of a storm hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic, to strong onshore winds.
If there is white water crashing around the rocks or onto beaches, then I would bet that there will be bass around, or certainly more bass around. The reason for this is that it becomes easier for them to feed - all the odds are stacked in their favour!
No other fish is as effective at not only swimming, but hunting in the breaking waves, where the water is only inches deep above reefs or sand for that matter. Bass are brilliant at this and will use it to their advantage against anything that is being washed out of its lair or disoriented by the pounding or churning waves.
One sometimes overlooked way of catching Bass when the sea is rough is to cast lures from beaches or shingle backed coves. You can attack the beaches in the form of bouncing a paddletail lure around in the surf on a shallow sandy beach or indeed focus on fishing the 'gutter' on a deeper or shingle backed cove or beach - the 'gutter' being the area where the waves are turning/breaking onto the shore and/or where the shingle meets a reef.
I absolutely love hooking bass from a beach in rough conditions as they always seem to really smack into the lure and will use the undertow to really power either towards or parallel to you - exhilarating stuff!
Something else that seems to work quite well on steeper beaches in rough conditions, is to try to cast as parallel as possible to the beach, working the lure in the gutter for as long as possible, even holding it there (not winding in) if the undertow allows.
High water on very high tides
Think late summer/autumn when the days are the same length as the nights, when we get the highest spring tides 5.6 - 5.9m here in south Devon, or indeed a spring tide that is larger than it should be due to atmospheric low pressure.
There could be any number of reasons why there are more predatory bass around during these periods (increased current, a swell that goes with the biggest tides perhaps?), but again, in my own experience, there is no doubt that these tides bring bass with them - even in calm conditions it seems.
I have caught them on lures and bait on patches of sand/shingle that are rarely covered by more than a couple of inches, if any water see here on neap tides. If it is really calm, the headlands or promontories of rocks on the edges of beaches can often be the place to lure fish, again possibly due to the increased current?
To ram the point home, there is a mark that really sticks in my head. It is basically a sand/shingle cove, tucked under a cliff, 15 yds across and 3 - 4 ft deep on the very highest spring tides. It links two beaches and is trodden on by hundreds of holiday makers a day in the summer months.
The first time I ever saw a bass caught from here was when I was around 11 years old. I watched a gentleman 'prep' the area by stuffing limpets, crab and fish guts into all the crevices he could find and simply waited for the tide to flood..... I clearly remember thinking he was mad to be even contemplating fishing into such shallow water.... 3 hours later I watched astonished and amazed when he landed a 6lb+ bass caught on... would you believe it, periwinkles!! yes the tiny snail-like creatures that live in shells...he had managed to extract them and place enough on a hook to convince a bass it was worthy of a meal! This was one of first times that I had ever seen a big one caught from the shore and is a mark that still produces in the right conditions.
I don't know if there are simply more bass spread out around the coastline during the big spring tides, or indeed if there is something in residence being washed into the sea such as sand hoppers/sea slaters having to shift higher up the beach/rocks than normal bringing the bass into feed. There is certainly something in it though and maggots being washed out of the rotting seaweed 100% brings them into areas they maybe wouldn't normally frequent.
The 'so what' about the story above is that it highlights the fact that during massive tides, bass are moving into areas that are sometimes devoid of any water on the neaps, let alone fish, crabs or prawns.