Guest blog post - Marc Cowling - How to find and fish bass marks part 4 - Patrolling bass

Big thanks again Marc for kindly doing these fascinating and seriously helpful guest blog posts for me, much appreciated and I hope a load of you reading these are learning as much as me. Take it away Marc………….

"This is part 4 of a 6 part series of how to find your own bass marks and how to fish them. In the next month I will also cover the following:

Part 5 - Positioning Bass

Part 6 - Predatory Bass

All photos here are kindly provided by Marc

All photos here are kindly provided by Marc

What are patrolling bass?

Patrolling bass are what I would describe as fish that are swimming with the tide, along natural, almost predetermined routes between one feeding area and another. The bass are therefore, extremely catchable as they move through your chosen mark.

The same fish?

If like me, you like reading about bass fishing and their habits, then you've probably come across an article where the author describes losing a bass (when the trace has snapped) in a specific spot, be it a gully, small reef or similar, only to go back the next day, hook a bass in the exact position, only to find the lost hook/trace from the previous day in that fish’s mouth? Was this sheer coincidence or could that fish be moving around the coastline to a set pattern, route or timetable of its own? Let nature take its course!

No I'm not talking about getting onto the beach at dawn, fishing for a few hours and then suddenly realising at 7am that you haven't had your usual morning constitutional :-D What I'm describing is that when you're looking for a potential bass mark, it pays to be on the lookout for a 'natural route' that a 'patrolling bass' may follow.

A common approach of mine, and many others I suspect, is to try 3 methods when lure fishing for bass:

  1. To try specific marks at predetermined states of the tide, for periods of say 10 - 30 minutes.
  2. To continually keep moving, making 2 or 3 casts into lots of different areas - or the same areas but from different angles.
  3. To remain in one spot for a long time (1 - 6 hours), trying different lures and lure types, but ultimately waiting for the bass to move through and come to you.

We all like to be successful therefore, when it comes to trying to suss out the natural movements of bass, I also attempt to try to 'work out' the following 5 types of marks:

  1. Natural gorges or gullies set within large platforms of rock or reef systems.
  2. Reefs comprising weed and low rocks (only 6 inches - 1ft above the sand) on an otherwise featureless sandy beach.
  3. Fishing stances above and adjacent to small, yet exposed (to wind and tide) coves.
  4. Headlands where there is large rock (island) between 30 - 100 yds off of the most exposed point.
  5. Extremities of beaches.

Let’s cover them separately -

1.     Natural gorges or gullies set within large platforms of rock/reefs - In the picture below you will see a defined gully that leads from one reef to another. It seems logical to presume that a Bass would take the 'natural' road/route when moving with the tide. Indeed, as the tide floods or ebbs this 'link' from the open sea to another feeding zone would be a good starting point to try to find some kind of pattern - you might find that bass move through once the gully has a certain depth of water for instance.

2.    Reefs comprising weed and low rocks (only 6 inches - 1ft above the sand) on an otherwise featureless sandy beach - Any natural structure on an otherwise featureless expanse of sand will attract all sorts of fish (particularly small wrasse and pollack looking for shrimps and crabs). Therefore, it makes sense to consider that if there are small prey items available, then bass will look to capitalise on this. See below the flat-ish reef that is easily within casting range from the beach - it would be worth attempting to fish this type of mark during different sea conditions in order to find the magic formula.

3.    Fishing stances above and adjacent to small, yet exposed (to wind and tide) coves - I really like these kind of marks especially during wild, rough sea conditions out on the open coast (away from the flood water running out of estuaries) where you're likely to still find a certain amount of clarity to the sea - especially if you can find deeper water (like the mark below).

The 'above' element here is that you're looking for 'safe' (a good 10ft higher than the waves although this does admittedly make it tricky to land fish) stances preferably on either side (adjacent) to the cove in order to be able to fish it in all but the worst conditions. Look for somewhere that faces and is exposed to the prevailing wind/tide direction and is a 'dead end ‘or 'collection point' for anything being washed with the current and waves to become trapped. Bass will be attracted to areas where food items are being naturally washed into. If you're positioned 'at the mouth' of these coves then you could reasonably expect to encounter bass that are moving in for the kill (Of note, is that I find big noisy surface lures (120mm+) seem to work very well in rough conditions).

4.    Headlands where there is large rock (island) between 30 - 100 yds off of the most exposed point - Look on Google Maps at the coastline of Devon, Cornwall and Pembrokeshire and you'll find many headlands, some large, some small, where there are 'islands' just beyond the main 'point' to the actual headland (like the one below).

What you're looking for here are areas where the tide is compressed and therefore accelerated between the two. Sandeel shoals for example, will sometimes become disoriented in this kind of scenario and I find surface lures are particularly deadly when worked through these natural passage ways.

Shoals of bass or the big loners will use these headlands due to the increased tidal flow, so I would try these types of marks at every state of the tide (ebb and flood) to see if they are indeed, natural routes.

5.    Extremities of beaches - Another good way to find a nice consistent bass mark, readily fished with either bait, soft plastics, hard sub-surface or surface lures is to think how a bass might access a beach - be it under flat calm or rough conditions.

If you take a beach of between 100 - 1000 yards wide, you would definitely expect a percentage of those fish to swim directly onto it from the open sea. However, bass like to use cover (weed/rocks) in order to hunt therefore, it again seems appropriate to imagine that a bass would use the rocks bordering the beach to travel with the tide - picking off any opportunities (food items) that might present themselves along the way. Additionally, any natural routes (gullies) among these extremities that bass and another species (prey perhaps) could utilise are excellent ambush points, from the lure angler’s perspective.

This isn't essential, but the next trick works for me. Pick a stance where the waves/tide/current 'hit' you first. For example, if the waves/tide/current are/is coming from the right, make sure you are on the right side of the beach in order intercept bass moving up the coast. Try drifting or bouncing a soft plastic around, or crank in a hard sub-surface minnow and just continually cast and retrieve waiting for that hit from the patrolling and foraging bass. Just think - they're bound to access/depart the beach at some stage of the tide so make sure you're there when it occurs…

Conclusion + Remember to take notes!

To conclude - Patrolling Bass are those that come to you - You just need to work out the best time to be on that mark. This can only be achieved through hours and hours of trial and error in lots of differing weather, sea and tidal conditions. Therefore, to maximise your bass fishing for the future, it really does help to make notes.

Favorite SkyLine 862ML (8’6’’, 4-16g) lure rod review - around £270

The price aside, a review of a lure rod rated to cast lures no heavier than 16g which I have been using for some of my early season bass fishing recently raises two questions straight away. Firstly, can a rod rated this light cope with landing potentially big bass, to which I would suggest once again that with our bass it isn’t the size or power of the fish that’s the problem, rather it’s where we might hook them and what might work against us when a fish is hooked - rocks, weed, current, rough conditions etc.

And secondly, would lure anglers who fish for bass think about adding a rod rated “only” 4-16g to their armoury, to which my reply could be that it makes no difference to me because I don’t sell fishing tackle - but in reality it takes a combination of location and conditions to be able to effectively lure fish for bass with a rod this light. If you need to chuck bigger lures into gnarlier conditions then obviously you’re not going to turn to a rod that’s designed to deal with 4-16g lures, but what about those anglers who prowl quiet bays, calm early mornings on the open coast, or estuary edges on the hunt say for moving fish? Crumbs, this Favorite SkyLine 862ML feels like it has been born to do that sort of thing and fish soft plastics like the killer OSP DoLive Stick etc………..

This rod is one of those rather unique lure rods that just makes me smile when I am fishing with it, and that’s because in this case it’s such a pleasure to wind this lightweight wand up and let a lure fly out there, and then working lures with it makes me smile even more. This is the first Favorite rod I have fished with, and whilst they do a huge range of fishing rods at all kinds of prices (I waggled a fantastic feeling 9’ 9-28g Favorite Cobalt the other day and I couldn’t believe it cost a measly £59.99!), I believe that these Fuji Torzite ringed SkyLine rods are some of their highest end products - around £270 is not cheap for a fishing rod, but when I think about other rods I have fished with and how much they cost, personally I think this 8’6’’ 4-16g SkyLine I have been using represents good value for money.

Yes, it’s not as if I have a lot of experience of considerably lighter lure rods for bass fishing, and one could argue that this SkyLine was not actually designed with bass in mind, as per the blurb here from the Favorit website: “The concept of this rod - a long-range shore light jig and rockfishing. The basis of the concept - to cast over the horizon and get the fish from "far edge ". The rod has increased power capacity that allows getting the fish on the shore very fast, even the big ones in difficult conditions. Using high modulus carbon provides the highest sensitivity. Skyline is suitable to use with different kind of rigs, like classic jig-heads as well as line rigs, like Carolina and light drop-shot rig.”

So there you go, but in mind I still think this thing’s an absolute peach for targeting bass with various soft plastics rigged weedless/weightless especially (obviously the DoLive Stick comes into play for me here, not that I am obsessed with this lure or anything!), and then a smaller surface lure like the killer IMA Pugachev’s Cobra is just amazing else to work across the top on this rod, and to be honest it’s not half-bad at working my beloved IMA Salt Skimmer as well. You can bang all manner of smaller minnows out there if needs be, but to me it feels like the rod wants to sit nice and lightly in your hand and be worked (caressed?).

Casting sequence with a 6'' OSP DoLive Stick

The very fast action allied with that light rating gives such a feeling of “crispness” and precision that as much as a rod this light could not be an everyday bass rod for me because of where I often fish and the conditions I often face, it can feel a bit strange initially to go back to the heavier rated rods with how utterly delightful this Favorite SkyLine is to lure fish with. As much as I will err towards a rod around say 10-30g for the bulk of my bass fishing, in reality I could use a rod this light a fair amount. If a fishing rod can be a wonderfully light, sensitive and amazingly precise magic wand then this Favorite SkyLine 862ML (8’6’’, 4-16g) is it. You pick it up and it makes you go looking for those situations when a lure rod this light is going to work for you on the bass fishing front, and then of course there are any number of other saltwater and freshwater scenarios that I have not explored which I am sure would suit this rod perfectly.

I am fine with the cork grips, the handle length works for me and I like Fuji Torzite guides although of course they ramp a rod’s price up, indeed the only thing build wise I would like to change is that bit of the handle where the back of your hand rest on while you cast and work lures - ok, so it’s a bit of a textured kind of hard surface (carbon fibre?) that does the job, but I do prefer cork or duplon. It’s not remotely a deal breaker for me, simply what I prefer.

Shamelessly borrowed from the excellent new Art of Fishing website!

Shamelessly borrowed from the excellent new Art of Fishing website!

I seriously, seriously like the lighter Major Craft Skyroad 9’ 7-23g rod, but this more expensive Favorit SkyLine is that bit lighter rated again and as such I don’t want to compare them because they are not like for like. As I said earlier though, I don’t have a lot of experience with much lighter lure rods for my bass fishing, hence me mentioning that Skyroad. I can push the 7-23g Skyroad conditions wise that bit more than this particular Favorit rod, but that’s pretty obvious when you look at the casting weights. I so like the action on the 4-16g SkyLine that I can’t stop dreaming about how if Favorite could retain the same sort of action then make say a 9’ 5-20g and then a 9’6’’ 6-28g version. I reckon rods like that with this sort of action could be about as good as a bass lure rod could get. Wow this Favorite SkyLine 862ML (8’6’’, 4-16g) is one hell of a lure rod. Oh, and it’s not my rod, so I deliberately overloaded the thing and cast the new Savage Gear Line-Thru Sandeel in the 12.5cm/19g size (which is actually just over 20g when rigged) to see how it did, and to be honest it felt pretty damn good. I am categorically not saying that it’s ok to go and overload the rod, just that I wanted to see what would happen.

And I have found out recently that a new Favorite SkyLine rod is about to hit the market, another 8’6’’ model, but this time rated to cast 6-21g. Crumbs………..

I know of no better place to source such helpful information on so many interesting lure rods as the brand new Art of Fishing website

First off, I don’t work for Ben at the Art of Fishing tackle shop in Wadebridge, but I really like and respect what he does in the lure fishing tackle trade, and I am loving his brand new shop website - obviously it’s a place to go and buy all manner of lure fishing gear, but where you buy your stuff is nothing to do with me. Nope, what I am loving is firstly how seriously the Art of Fishing is doing lure fishing rods these days, and secondly, and indeed the main reason for this blog post - I know of no better (English language) resource to find so much helpful and useful information on lure fishing rods as this brand new Art of Fishing website………

Of course I am lucky in some respects because I get to play with a good number of lure rods, and whilst in some way this can wreck my head with how nice so many of them are, I do of course recognise that a lot of anglers are out there looking for new fishing rods and may not be able to see relevant stuff in a local tackle shop (which is why I try and help out with my blog reviews), and this might mean have no choice but to buy “blind” so to speak - which can be daunting and confusing.

This new website aside, I would urge any of you reading this who are thinking about a new lure fishing rod to do all you can to drop into the Art of Fishing tackle shop in Wadebridge, north Cornwall - seriously, I have been over there a few times recently and the range of lure rods in that shop at all kinds of prices is just frigging amazing. I had to leave my wallet at home because I could not trust myself not to walk out of there with a brand new fishing rod! I was seriously considering clobbering Ben over the head with a packet of DoLive Sticks and running away with APIA’s new version of the Flow Hunt for example, a lure rod that felt about as good as any rod I have ever picked up. Oh, and I’d have taken the DoLive Sticks as well. Obviously!

If you can’t get to the shop itself, have a proper look around the new Art of Fishing website, and especially at the amazing amount of information that Ben has been creating for the rods he is stocking, as per the screenshot above for example. Ben has done all that himself on each and every rod he is stocking, and if you go looking into this information you can really find out a hell of a lot about the rods. Want to know how a rod really bends? Check out the curves that come via hanging weights on the end. For me it’s fascinating to look through there and check the rod curves out especially on rods that I know and see if the information on the website marries up with what I think I know about a particular rod. Whilst fishing rods are such personal things, there is no disputing actual facts.

You’ve got all the diameters for different parts of each and every rod, the casting weights, lengths, ring type, number of sections, transport length, rod weight, and “tip speed” which I believe is Ben trying to arrive at some sort of figure that gives an indication as to how fast a rod is in relation to the tapering in the last metre of the tip section - combine this info with the visual representation of the actual curve of the rod and you should get a pretty good idea of how a rod is going to behave when you cast and fish with it. Granted, in an ideal world you want to at least have a bit of a waggle, but many anglers aren’t going to get this opportunity - I hope that some of my own rod reviews help a bit of course, and now there’s a shop website out there that has really gone to town and done what needed to be done. Bear in mind that all those measurements and rod curve diagrams are Ben’s own work and have not been lifted from some dodgy Google Translate of say a Japanese tackle website!

It interests me how Ben has used the sub-£200 Tailwalk Saltyshape Dash Seabass 90ML as a kind of benchmark rod against which many of the more “regular casting weight” bass lure rods are displayed against, and yes, from the information on the website I can’t help but seriously want to see how that particular rod might stack up against the best sub-£200 9’ lure rod I have fished with so far, the Major Craft Skyroad 9’ 10-30g. We need more choice here in the UK and I take my hat off to shops like the Art of Fishing for going so seriously into this. I understand that reels and everything else will be up on the new website in due course. Obviously my main interest here is in the bass lure rods, but there are of course a stack of other kinds of lure rods up there with the same sort of brilliant information to help the likes of you and I out.

It also interests me to see how the curve of this Favorite SkyLine 862ML (8’6’’, 4-16g) as per above really makes a lot of sense now I have actually fished with this rod and understood how it reacts when casting and retrieving lures - which then makes me like even more what Ben is doing with his new website and the information that is being made available to us. I will get a review of this rather special light lure rod up sometime soon, but for now, have a good weekend, enjoy drooling over all the lure rods on this most excellent new website, and may a bunch of bass be nailing your lures like they are just starting to do around here…………..

Are there any fish in the sea which are immune from being overfished? Holy cow if it isn’t wrasse now……….

Honestly, sometimes I see this stuff that pops into my Inbox and I want to cry at the sheer stupidity of what is being highlighted - and here it’s wrasse and a potential danger these colourful fish are facing that once again revolves around our collective greed and ignorance of the natural world and the damage we seem so determined to reap upon it……….

OK, so wrasse ain’t exactly a “sexy” fish like say bass or Atlantic salmon or striped bass that might inspire a more collective sense of outrage at blatant overfishing, but even if going fishing for wrasse is not remotely your thing (but come on, how many sea anglers’ first fish was a wrasse?), I would ask you to please read this which I copied and pasted from an Angling Trust email - and then tell me that this kind of stuff doesn’t worry you as an angler and a human being. I quote from below: “With no controls on how much can be caught, and very little known about the impact on wrasse stocks and the ecosystem.” Think about that one and I hope you share my sense of outrage at what is going on without most of us even having a clue about it.

“Angling Trust calls for immediate precautionary halt to wrasse ‘cleaner fish' gold rush.

Members of the public fishing recreationally should be extremely concerned over a new and rapidly expanding commercial fishery which threatens the South West’s wrasse populations.

The Angling Trust is calling for an immediate suspension of the fishery supplying live, wild-caught wrasse to the salmon aquaculture market where they are used to remove parasitic sea lice from farmed salmon.

Official government figures from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) show that in 2015 89 tonnes of wrasse species were caught and used as cleaner fish as an alternative to traditional pesticides to manage sea lice numbers.

Many of the wrasse are being taken from the inshore waters of the South West of England. Wrasse are highly important recreational angling species and play an important role in the resident and tourist angling activity which supports thousands of jobs throughout the South West of England and which was valued at £165m to the regional economy back in 2005 (1). Generations of young anglers fish for wrasse as they enter the sport and recent years have seen an exciting new development of specialist lure angling for wrasse.

Landings data from the MMO (2) shows that the value of live, wild-caught wrasse at prices as high as £150 per kilo makes what used to be a ‘trash fish’, or one only used as pot bait, the single most valuable wild capture fishery in the UK compared to wild sea bass and lobster that can fetch as much as £15 -17 per kilo.

With no controls on how much can be caught, and very little known about the impact on wrasse stocks and the ecosystem, sea anglers are hugely concerned that wrasse stocks in English waters could be decimated by the rush to profit from this hugely valuable, yet totally unmanaged, fishery.

Little is known about the sustainability of wrasse populations and what impact commercial scale harvesting will have on marine ecosystems where wrasse play an important role. However, anecdotal evidence suggests the hugely expensive operation of shipping wrasse live from the South West of England to Scotland is only necessary because localised Scottish wrasse stocks have already been depleted by the demand from salmon farms.

Official figures from the MMO add to the confusion about the extent of the wrasse fishery with the aggregated monthly landings for 2015 being reported as 89 tonnes with a value of £5m (3) and the annual statistical report for the same period reporting over 40 tonnes landings valued at £1.1m (4). Yet despite the huge discrepancies in MMO data being drawn to their attention the MMO have not been able to provide any explanation but it is clearly a very significant new fishery. More accurate data at local level are also hard to come by.

The Angling Trust is writing to the MMO, the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) and the Welsh Assembly Government to request immediate measures to stop the live capture of wild wrasse for the aquaculture market using the precautionary approach under section 153 of the Marine & Coastal Access Act until there is sufficient evidence to establish: 1) whether it is sustainable, 2) what impact the removal of wrasse has on the ecosystem, and 3) whether the removal of an important recreational asset for anglers in the South West of England to supply the Scottish aquaculture market is in line with the IFCAs’ obligation to manage sea fishery resources sustainably. In addition, the Angling Trust is calling on the use of wild-caught ‘cleaner’ fish to be included in the environmental impact assessments of any aquaculture operations.

The Angling Trust has repeatedly called on the salmon farming industry to increase the pace of movement towards farming salmon in closed containment systems to keep them away from wild fish and the naturally occurring parasitic sea lice.  The decline of wild sea trout and salmon stocks throughout the West coast of Scotland and beyond has been clearly linked with infestations of sea lice from salmon farms.  Chemical treatments of farmed fish have been increasing rapidly and diversifying in recent years due to resistance building up in sea lice populations.

Attempts are being made to supply the aquaculture market with captive bred wrasse. However, the complicated lifecycle of wrasse means that this is still far from being a reality at a significant scale. The general public should be alarmed that wrasse stocks could be destroyed by uncontrolled commercial fishing pressure and a lack of control measures from fisheries managers.”

David Mitchell, the Angling Trust’s Head of Marine, said; “Members of the public fishing recreationally for publicly-owned wrasse stocks in South West England will be appalled to learn that wrasse, once of no commercial value but a highly valuable species to those fishing recreationally, are now being targeted and transported live up to Scotland to help remove sea lice from the environmentally damaging salmon farming industry. The impact of this rapidly expanding fishery on localised wrasse stocks, and on the functioning of the ecosystem, is currently unknown. Precautionary measures must be taken to stop this emerging and unmanaged fishery from wiping out vulnerable wrasse populations before the impact and sustainability of the fishery can be established.”

Malcolm Gilbert, Conservation Officer for the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers, said; “Alarm bells are already ringing throughout the recreational angling community. Anglers were denied keeping any bass to eat for the first half of 2016 and are again in 2017, with a one bass bag limit for second half of the year. Yet it was anglers who have consistently demanded from government a more restrictive management approach for what was primarily an angling species before the escalation of commercial fishing threatened stocks. Will wrasse be next in line?”

It’s quite something how a good modern lure rod recovers so quickly, and this is a 4-16g rod casting a 14g lure as well

My understanding about the “recovery” of a fishing rod is how quickly it snaps back to straight during the cast - or “recovers” - and a faster recovery in turn I believe can lead to longer and perhaps more precise casts because the rod tip is spending less time bouncing up and down and trying to come back to straight as the lure flies out. Please correct me if I am wrong by the way, but that is my basic understanding of the subject…………

So I thought I’d show you a cast that my friend Mark did over the weekend, using this stunning Favorite SkyLine 862ML lure rod - it’s 8’6’’ long and rated to cast lures of 4-16g - yep, I’m messing around with a somewhat lighter lure rod than I would usually use, and a review will be up in due course. As it stands at the moment, this is the first rod from the Favorite brand that I have used, and whilst I know little about rod design, this thing seems like it was born to fish soft plastics such as the OSP DoLive Stick. It’s a lightweight weapon, it’s very fast, and it’s a frigging delight to fish with.

Anyway, as a photographer working with cameras that can shoot multiple frames per second, I get to really see how these good modern lure rods recover, and it’s noticeable how quickly some of these rods literally snap back to straight so quickly - and what I need to do one day is grab an older style spinning rod that came from say the salmon lure world, photograph that during a good cast, and then show you how different the recovery is. The Favorite rod here bounces down hard for literally a split second and then comes back to straight very, very quickly, whereas a slower rod is going to do more “bouncing” before getting back to straight.  

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There is nothing remotely scientific here, indeed that’s not the point, but I thought it might be of interest to see a light lure rod casting a 14g 6’’ OSP DoLive Stick at 11fps (frames per second). Bear in mind here that Mark is a good caster and he’s using the wind coming from behind him to launch the lure a little higher than usual, hence that slightly higher release angle - which might accentuate the fast recovery a little. I asked him to stand where he was and cast because it gave me a good angle to photograph a simple casting sequence like this. I am not trying to prove anything here and I am obviously not an expert, but I like shooting these casting sequences and I will try to include some with future rod reviews. This is the full sequence, starting from when Mark is about to turn the power on, no frames have been removed, and it's shown up until the rod recovers back to straight.

Shimano Stradic 3000FK spinning reel review - £169.99 catalogue price, but around £140 or less if you look around

Somewhat confusingly there are two models of the Shimano Stradic spinning reel - this one which I will call the Stradic FK, and then the lighter weight Stradic C14+FA which is a tiny bit more expensive. Aside from the slight weight difference - and let’s be honest, it’s hardly as if the already delightfully lightweight Shimano Stradic 3000FK is exactly heavy in the first place - the most obvious difference I can see is the retrieve ratio - 4.8:1 on this Stradic 3000FK I have been using, and 6.0:1 on the Stradic C14+FA. Confused? I do love the logical thinking that goes on behind the scenes at some of these big tackle companies!

Anyway, don’t let that potential confusion detract from the fact that in my opinion it’s close to some kind of joke how much reel you are getting for the money here, and yet again for me this raises the question of what an angler should do if he or she fishes mostly in saltwater - spend less money on a spinning reel like this Shimano Stradic 3000FK and factor in the service costs that will most likely come into play via constant saltwater use taking its toll, or spend a load more money (potentially nearly double the price for say the same sized Shimano Sustain 3000FG) and gamble on whether you are going to actually get a much longer amount of meaningful use from the thing before that thing needs some TLC as well?

I haven’t used this Stradic 3000FK for a long enough period to tell you how for how long you’re going to get that typical Shimano, out of the box feeling of “please pick me up and spin the handle feeling of smoothness”, but I would suggest that a number of factors might come into play here anyway - how often you fish, how well you look after your reel, and of course how much the thing gets drowned in saltwater or not. What I can tell you is that this little Shimano Stradic 3000FK sits on say 9’ and below lure rods just about perfectly and it’s just so damn nice to lure fish with.

You know the line lay is going to be perfect and of course the thing is designed to fish with modern braids. It’s a stunning reel and I don’t really know what more I can say other than this Stradic 3000FK seems to be one hell of a lot of reel for the money. OK, so It niggles me that you don’t get a spare spool in the box, and whilst I don’t know how many reels these days do actually come with spare spools, I do wonder if companies like Shimano are gradually phasing it out? I don’t know about you, but I love opening a reel box and finding a spare spool in there, indeed I have been kind of expecting to find one for years now, hence the niggling feeling when we don’t get one. Does the Sustain FG still come with a spare spool for example?

This minor gripe aside, I can’t really see how an angler with say £140 or so to spend on a spinning reel can go far wrong here. This Stradic 3000FK looks and feels far more expensive than the price would suggest, so whilst that price when compared to say the Sustain or the much more expensive again Vanquish would of course suggest that some stuff has had to give a bit when compared to those far more expensive reels, increasingly I am drawn to these less expensive reels for saltwater use because from my experience the pricier ones aren’t giving me a commensurately much longer “smooth as you like” life. It’s up to each angler what they buy for their fishing, but holy cow this Stradic 3000FK is a peach of a reel. I am not going to have another moan about reel size confusion here, but this Stradic 3000FK I have been fishing with is around the same size as a Daiwa 2500 if that helps.  

And below is a preview of my lure fishing related work in Sea Angler magazine this month. Have a good weekend and I hope you are getting some of this stunning spring weather that we have had down here for a couple of days now. Not great for daytime bass fishing perhaps, but long may it last!

Got my Shimano Sustain 4000 spinning reel serviced and it feels like a brand new reel again

I loved lure fishing with the Shimano Sustain 4000FG spinning reel from the first time I used it, but over time I lost a bit of that love for it when firstly the frigging handle broke on me out of the blue when the bass were on the feed (typical), and subsequently I felt that it went a bit “grindy” feeling that little too quickly for the price. Granted, I have only ever used the reel in saltwater, but I do my best to look after my gear and I do accept that spinning reels simply aren’t going to stay buttery smooth for a long period of time with how we use them. But I really like fishing with this Sustain 4000FG and it just sits right on a number of lure rods I might mess around with (and especially that ridiculously good HTO 9’6’’ Shore Game rod).

Anyway, I think I asked around on Facebook last year about somewhere to send the reel off for a service, and an angler kindly recommended Ron Whittingdon of Unit 5 Reel Servicing & Repair up in Torquay, south Devon. I contacted Ron via his website, sent my Sustain to him, and from memory about a week or two later my reel arrived back here. I got the reel serviced earlier last year, and then apart from spinning the handle a few times I didn’t actually start using the reel again until late last year. I went out fishing (blanking!) with it again the other day and it really struck me just how good the reel felt after that service.

Ron charges £18 for a full spinning reel service, with parts and postage on top of that, and I’ve got a figure of about £40 in my head that I think I paid, and that was the service, a few replacement bearings, plus the postage back to me. I don’t know if the Sustain was designed primarily for saltwater use, but I have a niggling feeling that perhaps that the original Shimano bearings ain’t quite up to the job, and I know that after speaking to Ron the other day and asking him a few questions, he uses only high quality stainless steel bearings as and when a reel needs some replacing - and my Sustain did.

How good does it feel now? Like it’s brand new all over again - damn it’s smooth and lovely to use! How long will it stay like that? I can’t tell you, but I am far happier knowing that there are some high stainless steel bearings inside the reel for starters, and at the end of the day I have dealt with Ron and his Unit 5 Reel Servicing & Repair the one time and I had an excellent experience, so if the reel fails on me in the future I will simply box it up and send it off to Ron for some further TLC. This Sustain 4000FG is a truly stunning spinning reel to lure fish with and to be honest I think us anglers who thrash our gear in and around saltwater perhaps need to factor into our buying decisions the fact that items like spinning reels are going to need to be serviced from time to time - and especially with repeated saltwater use, however well we try and look after them. Many thanks Ron for the excellent service and I shall be digging out a few more spinning reels of mine that could do with some of his skilful care and attention.

Guest blog post - Marc Cowling - How to find and fish bass marks part 3 - Quiet rocky/weedy coves

This is part 3 of a 6 part series of how to find your own Bass marks and how to fish them. In the next month I will also cover the following:

Part 4 - Patrolling Bass

Part 5 - Positioning Bass

Part 6 - Predatory Bass

What is quiet?

When I say 'quiet' what I mean are areas tucked away from most of the population, in a way that it is either relatively inaccessible, cut off by the high tide and/or generally well and truly off the beaten track. These are the types of bass marks that you need to go out and find yourself (in the same way as Part 1 here with the help of Google Earth and the mark 1 eyeball).

This can and will often mean hiking long distances from the car (miles), clambering down paths that are barely there, getting stung, pricked and cut in addition to continually looking out for adders (in the summer anyhow). What is extremely satisfying though, is when you've put in all the homework and legwork into identifying a potential mark (in the depths of winter perhaps?) and then you get to actually fish the venue and ultimately, you hook into and land a nice Bass…

Consider places where you'll get cut off (think safety here though)

Please, please do not attempt to scramble up cliff-edges or stand on your toes on tiny islands where either any loose rocks or increase in wind/swell could see you end up either severely injuring  yourself, or being washed in!

What I'm talking about is a cove or small beach that you can access only up to half-tide, remain on and fish over high tide before returning when the tide drops low enough. Or a large rock, at least the size of a bus and double the height of the expected forecast waves, where you can fish over the high water period before making your escape when the tide retreats.

So why would you bother to do this when there are potentially many other bass marks that are readily available to you? Well, the idea is that you're very likely to be fishing over ground that is rarely, if ever fished - something that definitely appeals to me.

The two images below depict a typical mark (seen here at low tide and 1 hour after on the flood) that is only accessible for the first 2 hours of the tide and is backed by large boulders at the high tide mark. Note the very weedy/rocky snaggy ground that you would be casting a lure into - it literally smells of Bass... and it will of hardly ever been fished...

Low tide

Low tide

1 hour into the flood

1 hour into the flood

So when and how should you approach these marks?

In my experience, the safest and often most productive way to fish these really quiet coves or small beaches is over the high water period in very calm, clear water conditions - the perfect summer’s day perhaps? Furthermore, if you can link this into a session at the crack of dawn, or very late evening then you will increase your chances significantly.

My theory, based on many hours of lure fishing on these types of venues is that the bass will look to move into these areas to 'mooch around' out of the main current, often on the top of the tide, in order to conserve energy whilst remaining on the look-out for an easy meal.

What is even more interesting is that these quiet, weedy, rocky, difficult to get to places are consistent, in that Bass will routinely move into these regions on say, a very high water spring tide, when the sea is absolutely crystal clear when the bass know they are unlikely to be disturbed by boats, swimmers etc.

Imagine you're a hunting Bass

When you're out researching marks like the one in the featured images, if at all possible, try to actually stand exactly where you would aim to cast on the low tide (assuming it dries out of course). Run a small net through the rockpools, lift the odd rock to see what life is underneath it - the chances are it will contain gobies, pipefish and butterfish and the like.

Moreover, if in amongst the broken ground there are sandy or muddy patches you may well find lugworms or ragworms under any rocks that are 'dug' into the seabed. Add into the mix the small wrasse, pollack and sporadic sandeel shoals that will inhabit these intertidal zones and you have a potential bass banquet. I think this is what many authors mean when they say find the roughest, snaggiest, weediest, broken ground imaginable when looking for bass marks - what I am saying is add the quiet into the mix.

Typical bass ground in south Devon

Typical bass ground in south Devon

Lure Types

The types of lures that I would use in the above circumstances/conditions/types of marks in order of choice/success are:

Slow sinking, weightless, weedless worms or shads.

Shallow running, small (100 - 120mm) minnow or jointed lures.

Small (90 - 120mm), subtle surface lures.

My logic/thought process when lure fishing under calm, clear, low light conditions is to try to match what the bass may be looking for, under the circumstances/conditions they may expect to find them. So let’s look at the lure choices above:

1.    A slow sinking, weightless, weedless worm (senko) will be fished in a way so to imitate a 'worm' trying to either dig themselves back into the sand/mud or they may be trying to utilise whatever tidal movement there is present to drift (swim) into an area where they can achieve this. Therefore, I would look to retrrieve the worm excruciatingly slowly, letting it occasionally fade down onto the bottom with the odd enticing slight twitch. Similarly, I would look to fish a shad type lure with a very very slow retrieve so that it almost 'slaloms' its way in - see below the types of lures I use.

2.    Shallow running, small (100 -120mm) minnow or jointed lures (like the ones I use below) can simply be 'wound in' rather than 'worked' like the soft plastics. However, depending on the depth of the water above the mark, or the type of fish that I was looking to imitate, be it a wrasse, pollack or sandeel would depend on which lure I would use, and in what order.

For example, if I had seen or expected to see sandeel shoals then I would be casting out one of the slim, shallow diving lures initially. If the ground was as 'rough as rats' and I had previously caught wrasse here (in the heat of the day perhaps) then I might go for a chunkier, deeper diving plug. If it was late evening when the pollack are more likely to be active then out would go a pollack imitation.  Of note, is the fact that the jointed Rapala J11 or a similar lure will often induce a 'follow' when other lures have failed.

3.    Small (90 - 120mm), subtle surface lures (note the subtle!) can be very effective, particularly when it is oily clam or the light levels are at their lowest. Again, if there had been, or there still were, sandeel shoals skittering on the surface then a more 'sandeel-esque' lure might be the order of the day.  Likewise, if there were presently or there had been brit, small pollack or the like jumping out of the water (predators beneath perhaps?) then I would be looking to cast out a slightly stubbier 'walk the dog or slider' type of surface lure (see below)

Don't just go through the motions!

We've all done it. You're content to be out fishing, taking in the glorious landscape, you're dazzled by the beautiful sunset and just enjoying being 'at one' with nature so to catch a bass would be the cherry on top. However, to become a consistently successful bass lure angler, you shouldn't think in this way.... enjoy it yes, but be ruthless!

What you should be doing is continually re-evaluating your surroundings, the conditions, the lure choice in relation to the circumstances, remaining in the 'zone' mentally - this is what I find the most relaxing as nothing else enters your head (like run of the mill day to day stuff).  All of the above may seem very logical but it is sometimes (particularly during a very long session) easy to get caught in the moment or to momentarily forget the methods or lures that you'd originally planned to use.

You may be pleasantly surprised

In summary, always be on the lookout for these coves/bays/tiny beaches, as there could be a brilliant bass mark tucked away there, or around that next headland that you never even considered attempting to get to. Don't be afraid to fish the very calm conditions on these quiet, hard to get to venues. Also, stay particularly vigilant for those bass that appear out of nowhere it seems and that 'follow' the lure right to your rod tip…

These are the places - quiet, weedy rocky coves where you may be surprised to catch a very big bass.

Go for it!

Big thanks for this post Marc, so much good info here, plenty to digest and learn and I love how you write this “where and when” stuff in such an easy to understand and logical way. More to come, thank you!

Oh, and by the way, my last blog post was NOT an April Fool’s thing. I was speaking to an angler at the BASS AGM yesterday who asked me about the post, and he thought it was a bit of a windup - which it categorically was not! OK, so when I wrote it and then posted it, later on I did think that perhaps because it was so close to 1st April that it might be taken as an April Fool prank post, but no, it genuinely was a top tip post on an easier way to have a pee when wearing waders!

The “how to make it a bit easier to have a pee when you’re wearing waders” trick

I feel a tad stupid here for two reasons - firstly that I am actually blogging about making it a little easier to have a pee when you’re wearing waders, and secondly that I had kind of assumed that loads of anglers were aware of this “trick” as such, when in fact it seems that they (you?) are not. I pointed this trick out to a couple of lads last year who had no idea about it, and after showing it to another lad yesterday who had never heard of it as well, I thought it was about time I did a blog post about it…………..

So let’s imagine it’s bucketing it down with rain and you’re snug as a bug in your breathable waders and waterproof jacket, but like me you’ve drunk a whole heap of coffee, you’re getting older, and now you’re dying for a pee. In a perfect world I don’t want to have to take my jacket off to do so, but you know as well as I do that when you unclip your wader straps that the sodding things tend to disappear over your back as you pull the front of your waders down and grab what needs to be grabbed to have a pee. And because the sodding wader straps have disappeared up and over your back, after your pee you now need to take your wading jacket off to locate them, bring them up over your back, clip them back into place, and then put your jacket back on - and if it’s really lamping it down you get wet for no good reason.

So have you ever wondered why on earth that when you unclip your wader straps, there’s a male and a female clip (as per the photo above), instead of say two male clips on the end of the straps going into two female clips that are attached to your waders? What on earth is the point of this? And if you don’t see this on your waders then this trick ain’t going to work for you.

Anyway, let’s assume that you have unclipped your wader straps and you’re holding a female clip in one hand and a male in the other - and apologies, but I can’t think of better terms for these clip-ends than male and female. A guy showed me this trick many moons ago and I have been doing it ever since - clip your wader straps to each other as per the photo above, and if your wader straps are elasticated (which they should be), now you can pull the front of your waders down, grab what needs to be grabbed to have that pee, and because the straps are secured as per above, the sodding straps ain’t going to ping up and over your back.

OK, so it might not be the most comfortable pee you’ve ever had, and it can require a certain amount of contortion as the straps tighten around your neck as you go go grab what needs to be grabbed, but it bloody works. No more wader straps disappearing over your back though, and no more having to take your wading jacket off just to have a pee when wearing a pair of waders. Finish up, clip your straps back in place, and carry on fishing.

And if this trick doesn’t float your boat then either you are wearing a pair of waders with a zip (smug git!), or you’re bloody well lying about the size of that which needs to be grabbed to have a pee! So there you go - a top tip that will give you easier access to your own top tip. Tee hee. Have a good weekend and I hope to see some of you at the BASS AGM on Sunday where I am doing a talk on fishing photography. Hoping that the people there manage to stay awake………….

 

I wonder how these “inline” style sea trout lures (sandeel lookalikes) might work for our bass?

Whilst I have never actually fished for sea trout in the sea, I am aware of how in some countries such as Denmark and parts of Sweden, coastal based lure and fly fishing for these awesome fish is a serious, serious thing. It seems to be the case that a number of their lures are designed to imitate sandeels, and I can’t help wondering if some of them might be worth a go for our bass which of course rather like to chow down on sandeels……..

My limited understanding of these inline style lures (line through?) is that by having the hook attached directly to the leader rather than the lure (which can slide up and down the leader), the chance of a jumping sea trout throwing the hook is lessened - they are a fish that are well known for unhooking themselves during the fight, and via some magazine work I did a few years ago now, I remember these fish being referred to as a “fish of a thousand casts”, as in it’s not remotely easy to catch big sea trout from the shore on lure and fly gear. Holy cow I’d like to catch or indeed see a big sea trout from the shore on lure gear though!

Anyway, whilst the inline (or line through) principle doesn’t strike me as necessary for bass fishing, I am liking how some of these sea trout lures are some mighty fine sandeel imitations, and I also really like how some of these lures are obviously designed to cover a lot of water and punch really well into headwinds. Do I need another sandeel imitation lure? Quite possibly not, but I am increasingly comfortable with hard lures that don’t actually do a whole heap in the water (to me there’s a connection between these simple lures and the needlefish lures that we seem to be hearing more about), and I am always drawn to lures that will help me cover more water - so in some ways, yes, I like the idea of a sandeel imitation lure that doesn’t cost a bomb and will absolutely fly out there. I can’t tell you if any of the lures here are going to catch bass, but I will certainly be giving these ones a bit of a go this year. Yep, damn right, I love trying stuff out and seeing if it works………...

Westin Sommet 28g

Westin Sommet 28g

Westin Sommet 28g - so damn simple, kinda like a metal spinner sort of sandeel. I am sure it will work by simply whacking it out and winding it back in, but I wonder as well if it can be used as a kind of casting jig in the surf, and then out on the rocks for pollack? I’ve never seen any Westin lures before, but they seem to do some interesting stuff that must surely cross over into our bass fishing.

Savage Gear Line-Thru Sandeel (15cm, 27g)

Savage Gear Line-Thru Sandeel (15cm, 27g)

Savage Gear Line-Thru Sandeel (12.5cm, 19g)

Savage Gear Line-Thru Sandeel (12.5cm, 19g)

Savage Gear Line-Thru Sandeel - brand new on the market and they look incredible. They both fly, but wow could I get the smaller 12.5cm/19g version moving fast on the cast, and it absolutely frigging flew out there. Looks wonderfully realistic.

Westin D360 Distance 28g

Westin D360 Distance 28g

Westin D360 Distance - OK, so it’s not exactly a sandeel imitation, but I kinda like the look of this inline casting jig for want of a better term, and as per a simple spinner, I see no reason why it won’t work just like that as well. What, a metal spinner in a lure box? Damn right!  

Gosen X8 Braid review

It’s thanks to Ben at the Art of Fishing who lent me his own spinning reel loaded up with this lovely looking pink Gosen X8 Braid - and yes, I’m perfectly comfortable with a pink braid (real man!), and this comes from rating the outstanding Sufix Performance Pro 8 braid so highly which I have been using in the pink colour. Does the colour of a braid make a jot of difference? Of course not, but I do like fishing with bright coloured mainlines, and I think that pink might be my thing! Anyway, this Gosen X8 Braid………

It’s the first Gosen braid I have fished with and I note that the retail price here in the UK is £29.99 for a 150m spool of either PE#1.2 or PE#1.5. On the one hand this is an easy review to write, because I can’t find a single thing I don’t like about this excellent 8-strand braid - it’s thin, it’s very smooth and it knots beautifully. It casts really well, I had plenty of bass on it towards the back end of last especially so I trust it from a fishing point of view, and on the little Shimano Stradic FK 3000 spinning reel that Ben lent me, this Gosen X8 Braid in a PE#1.2 has performed absolutely impeccably. Not even a hint of a problem, but then I’d expect that with a modern 8-strand braid that feels as nice as this stuff loaded up on a decent spinning reel.

And then on the other hand this is a bit if a tricky review to finish up, and for that I lay the blame if you like at the door of Daiwa’s newish 8-strand J-Braid especially, and to a lesser extent the just as good but harder to get hold of Sufix Performance Pro 8. We also have the excellent Spiderwire Smooth 8 Braid and now the new Shimano Kairiki 8-strand braid which I have not tried yet. The “problem” is of course that for many of us our expectations have now changed about what we need to pay to get a properly premium mainline for our lure fishing, indeed as much as I love the really high-end stuff because I am of course a proper tackle tart, if you nailed me down then I am at a loss to describe to you what more you might be getting from an 8-strand braid that costs however much more than the sub-£20 8-strands I have mentioned about.

You can’t go wrong with this pink Gosen X8 Braid because it’s bloody brilliant, and yet again I must doff my cap to Ben and his Art of Fishing operation for sourcing so much interesting fishing tackle. Hand on heart though and I can’t tell you that you’re going to get a load more performance from this £29.99 Gosen braid over say the distinctly sub-£20 J-Braid, but I am nothing to do with what anglers choose to buy, and for me this Gosen X8 is another fantastic 8-strand braid that gets added to my mental list of trustworthy mainlines that I am more than happy to lure fish with myself. I don’t know anything else about Gosen lines, but if that’s how good their 8-strand braid is then I wonder what else they do that is worth checking out?

Guest blog post - Marc Cowling - How to find and fish bass marks part 2 - Gullies

What are gullies?

I'm sure that anyone reading this blog article will know what a gully is! However, in relation to my own bass fishing they generally fall into 4 categories.

  1. Gullies carved into the sand (flat beaches or estuaries) by tidal flow.
  2. Natural gullies linking rock pools (similar to depressions talked about in the previous post) within 'pavement' rock formations.
  3. Gullies between larger rock formations where the current is exaggerated or waves are forced to break around - where the water is relatively deep (15 - 25ft) therefore they do not dry out at low tide
  4. Clearly defined 'pathways' linking reefs to beaches or coves - these are generally shallow (1 - 15ft) therefore, they do dry out at low tide.

In this post I am going to concentrate on items 3 and 4.

In Image 1 below, the very obvious gully that has 'dried out' on a low water spring tide is 'open' to the prevailing wind, waves and tide and runs into a small cove - somewhere where sandeels and mackerel shoals can occasionally become trapped.

The broken rocks at the entrance to the gully mean that during any onshore or swell conditions you're very likely to see waves breaking (creating white, foaming water) into this area creating a natural 'zone' for smaller fish to become disoriented. There are a number of stances where you can move with the incoming tide where a weedless soft plastic or precisely positioned minnow lure (cast straight up the sandy gullies) can work really well.

Image 1

Image 1

Image 2 below is a classic (in my neck of the woods) grouping of rocks and gullies that doesn't quite dry out at low tide - often found at the end of long promontories of rock or headlands. I've found these types of marks are very good to fish at the start of the flood or end of the ebb; as the bass move in from, or out to the open sea.

Due to the proximity of the weed and rocks a successful method has been to simply casting and drift soft plastics (particularly OSP Do-Live sticks, Dot Crawlers and Megabass Cattle-tongue lures) into the gullies and literally retrieve them (occasional twitches) up to your feet. This method has been successful during flat calm to slightly rough (1 - 3ft waves) conditions.

Image 2

Image 2

Image 3 is pretty much a myriad of bass venues rolled into one! Look to fish these types of mark during the first 2 hours of the flood or last 2 hours of the ebb when only the slightest amount of movement (breaking waves, swell = turmoil, easy prey) can see the bass feeding in numbers.

Note the arrows (right to left) depicting the flow of the tide on the flood in this instance and the lovely gullies that run at 90 degrees to it. This is exactly the type of ground that bass will seek to follow the tide into and out of. I have found it best to fish it with surface lures such as the Chugbug, Sliders, small Patchinko and the IMA Salt Skimmer or with very shallow diving minnow type plugs such as a Tackle House Feedshallow.

Image 3

Image 3

Image 4 below displays what is my favourite 'type' of bass mark - large rocks at the end of a promontory of rock or headland, where the seabed is mostly sandy, and where, most importantly a very natural gully or 'route' is defined. These types of marks generally 'stick out' in the current and are subjected to the greatest amount of wave/tidal movement.

If you're looking for a good general bass mark then these are the ones that will fish the most consistently in varying weather, wind and tidal conditions. I think the combination of the acceleration of the current between the rocks, the turmoil created by the breaking waves and the number of ambush points available to a hunting bass make these types of marks extremely noteworthy.

Of significance, if you can find a mark like this with a sandy seabed then any prey items (or lure) washed/cast into them massively standout. In parts 4 and 5 of this series, I cover patrolling and positioning bass - the patrolling element here is the bass moving through with the tide but with a successful method being to cast the lures (soft plastics, hard and surface) straight up the gullies, but as close to and as parallel to the rocks as possible.

The positioning element is that I've found during rough conditions bass will wait at the base of the promontory of rocks and wait for items to be swished towards them (circled in the image below). Under these conditions expect to be hit very close to your stance. Indeed, it can often pay to position yourself further down the line of rocks and cast into the gully with a view to the lure moving more naturally into the 'hot zone' so to speak.

Image 4

Image 4

Images 5 and 6 are of the same venue seen during different states of the tide. It is similar to the type of mark above in that the rock formations 'funnel' anything that is being washed with the waves/current towards your stance. The seabed is sandy with the overall depth on a high spring tide being around 15 ft therefore, it does dry up on a very low water spring tide.

Again, these are great types of marks as they can be fished with a high degree of confidence in most (except severe) weather conditions with all types of lures. What more could you ask for!! A 5lb+ Bass nailing you, that's what!

Image 5

Image 5

Image 6

Image 6

Many thanks for this Marc. You all have a good weekend. Still crying after last Saturday’s rugby, but in truth all that seems so insignificant when yet again we are so sadly reminded how much hatred there exists in the world. What can you say to the families so suddenly torn apart like that? There are no easy answers and I guess we pull our children in close and reiterate how hatred is such a pointless narrative by which to live one’s life………….