I was talking with some guys yesterday about this bass guiding stuff that John Quinlan and I are getting into together (albeit John is the experienced bass guide and I am the apprentice), and with what we need to do as regards trying to market this "product", it has really required me to stop and think about bass and bass fishing with a bit of a commercial head on I suppose. The title of this blog post "None of our other saltwater species have the appeal that bass do" is not designed to be remotely inflammatory to those saltwater anglers who fish for all manner of fish, rather it seems to be the case that for whatever reasons, bass are perhaps closest to salmon - revered almost across the board by all kinds of anglers.
But is the esteem in which these two fish especially are held remotely justified? Atlantic salmon are an awesome fish, but so are wild brown trout and grayling for example. I understand the appeal of salmon, but I also wonder if perhaps a number of fly anglers chase them almost to the detriment of other great experiences. Bass are an awesome fish, but are they any better than say cod, mullet, rays, wrasse or pollack? Well of course they aren't, but for whatever reason bass are the saltwater fish that transcend the disciplines, as in if you asked a cross section of anglers from game, coarse and salt what was the one species of saltwater fish around our coastline that they most wanted to catch, I bet you anything bass comes out on top.
Being an angler who for years wondered what on earth the fuss was about this bass fishing thing, I think I have got into it with my eyes wide open. Any business ventures I might be trying out aside, it continues to break my heart that around the UK we could have a truly world class sport fishery if only the fish were afforded proper protection. I will argue that Ireland gives a higher average size of bass, but even then there is no getting away from how much better their sometimes spectacular fishery could be with tougher protection. And note the words sport fishery here.
Bass in my opinion are a true sporting fish, and perhaps that is a big part of the reason why they are so universally revered. We can realistically target them with bait, lures and flies. We can fish for them in some outrageously spectacular locations from both shore and boat, and we can fish with relatively light tackle which I suppose is classed as "sporting" - whatever that actually means, because I have zero interest in giving fish a "sporting" chance. I want to land my fish and I don't believe in messing around with them for a more "sporting" experience - but then the fight from a fish is of course a huge part of the thrill of fishing is it not? Bass seem to have a bit of sex appeal if you like. Huss don't for example, however much you or I might think they are cool fish to fish for.
As much as I would champion say cod fishing in a big winter sea for as long as I live, there is not that much appeal outside of our saltwater fishing. It's a great way of fishing that is perhaps the mainstay of UK saltwater angling (albeit we could do with more fish of course), but imagine if you can how it might look to non-UK saltwater anglers - and how "sexy" bass fishing can look. This is nothing to do with what is better or worse, because anglers will forever argue until the cows come home about this fish is better than that fish is better than this method etc. I am thinking about what appeals to other anglers either at home or abroad. What reaches out and speaks to them?
Fishing for big conger eels at 2am. Two 6oz beachcasters laid out on the rocks, a flask of coffee, pretty cold, waiting patiently for a bite. Awesome fishing. But now try and make that appealing to a fly angler who is used to fishing with very light rods during daylight hours. However you might dress up chasing big eels from the shore, it is a kind of fishing that for the most part appeals to dedicated saltwater anglers. Same thing with carp perhaps, although it's interesting to see how sight fishing for carp in the US is steadily growing as a viable freshwater fly fishery. One could also argue that fishing smaller trout lakes for stocked rainbow trout sits in the same group - great fishing for those who do it and know about it, but if you stop and think about it, would you or anybody else spend potentially a fair bit of money to travel and do it?
That perhaps is the crux for what I am looking into. By the simple virtue of having to pay some not inexpensive travel costs to get myself to Kerry and back and also earn some kind of money from it, this bass related stuff I am going to be trying out together with John Quinlan means that we have no choice but to charge prices that could perhaps cause some anglers to think no way, I'm not paying that to go fishing. As much as I love my wrasse fishing and I always wish that more anglers would just give in to their inner-child and almost reconnect with the fun to be had with these perfectly fabulous fish, the simple fact is that wrasse just don't have the kind of appeal that bass do. The gamble I suppose we are taking is firstly if there is a market out there for John Quinlan/Henry Gilbey bass fishing trips, and secondly whether bass really do have such appeal that enough people are prepared to pay what it takes to do this - to travel and spend more money than they might on their regular fishing.
John and I are close to sorting out these August and October trips to Kerry for our joint venture, and I suppose the proof will be in the pudding so to speak. I think I understand a lot of what makes bass fishing so appealing, and I feel confident that they are a fish which stands there as a kind of figurehead (rightly or wrongly of course). The last time I spoke about this "guiding" stuff on here I got all kinds of feedback, including some pretty unpleasant stuff - one guy even emailed me to tell me that I was the sole reason he is catching less bass along the Copper Coast than he used to! Crumbs. I guess that by sticking my head above the parapet I must attract some criticism, but I do what I do and not for one second can I worry about what people think of me. Is there an uglier human trait than jealousy? Anyway........
You know what would really float my boat? To take some clients out with John, put them onto a few bass and give them a fantastic experience, and then via John's local knowledge offer them some pollack and wrasse fishing on lures (or fly). Something a bit different. You know what will happen. Bass is the fish they come for. Bass are the fish we are trying to sell these trips on, but I bet you any money the smiles would be just as wide when they hooked into a crash-diving Irish pollack or a chunky, colourful wrasse. Bass might well have the universal appeal, but isn't it often the case that one fish can then lead to another kind of fish which might well end up being just as much fun at the end of the day?