Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Is it as simple as “if the bait fish aren’t around, then the bass won’t be”?

You’ve got ideal conditions, a rather nice set of tides, and you’re running down the cliffs or across the beach because you’re so utterly convinced that there will be a heap of bass just waiting to impale themselves on the various lures you decide to hurl at them - but you draw a big fat blank and you wonder why on earth why when everything looked so damn good. There could be any number of reasons of course, but I wonder if many of us don’t go and overlook what I presume might well often be the most logical explanation - that the bass weren’t there because the food they want to eat wasn’t there either. Or as per the post title, “if the bait fish aren’t around, then the bass won’t be”.

And if there is one thing I simply don’t know enough about, it’s bait fish/predator food source movements and habits. As much as bass are some mighty fine fish, I am pretty sure that charity isn’t at the top of their list. I could be wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they don’t come inshore specifically to please us anglers who are out there trying to catch them. Deep down I am pretty sure that when you catch bass from wherever you are fishing, they were in the vicinity because their food source was - and if that food ain’t there then no amount of willing a nice big predator to jump on the end of your line is going to work………..

Are some of you having a very up and down bass season so far, because it’s been like that around here this year. Not for one second am I saying that it’s all simply a food source thing that the bass fishing hasn’t exactly fired yet, and yes, like any of you I worry greatly about whether there will actually be a viable recreational bass fishery not too many years down the line, but as an angler who is fascinated by his sport, wow would I love to know more about what bass feed on - the when and where if you like, just as with trying to catch fish. I like to think that some bass will come inshore to mooch around for food that is always there in season as such (blennies, prawns, crabs, etc.), but that when you catch a bunch of bass I have to assume that they are in and feeding because a significant amount of food they are hunting is in the area as well - sandeels, mackerel etc. And to me it’s just feeling too barren out on the open coast around where I live so far this year.

One thing that has really, really struck home to me from spending time with John Quinlan down at their Thatch Cottage guided fishing operation is how he is always scanning the water and horizon on the lookout for feeding birds. Granted, it’s somewhat easier to know when there is bait around via such a visible sign as feeding birds, but then that’s the whole point - work with what you can see for starters. As with predatory fish, those birds are there because their food source is, and John is constantly on the lookout for the birds signalling that there is food around, on the basis of course that the bass should be around as well. Now there could be any number of reasons why - a less healthy ecosystem than over in say Kerry for starters? - but I don’t see feeding birds (gannets, terns etc.) around where I live with anything like the frequency I see them over in Kerry or indeed around the Copper Coast, and as such I can’t really use their presence as a food source indicator a lot of the time. Nope, the simple fact is that I don’t know enough about the food sources that bass are coming inshore to feed on, and like many of you here I am sure, we anglers base a lot of what we think we know on assumptions - but then one could argue that the very basis of fishing being our attempt to outwit nature is of course always going to be to a large degree based on our best guesswork. I want to know more, but I will never come anywhere close to knowing it all, and that to be perfectly honest is just fine by me.