Bass

The bass is an extremely sought-after fish with the species being an alusive fish that requires significant effort, commitment and of course a good dash of luck to catch a large specimen in British waters.

Seabass
A sea bass caught off the UK shoreline
SEASON
May to October
LOCATION
Common around the Bristol Channel, South-West of England (Cornwall & Devon), South coast of England, River Thames and the west coast of Ireland.
NATURAL DIET:
All bass – Small shrimps, sandeels and crustacians. Large bass – Mackerel, squid and crabs.
RECORD UK SHORE CAUGHT SIZE:
19lb 12oz
FISHING TECHNIQUES:
Spinning with lures, ledgering with bait, float fishing with live sandeel (top technique!) and even fly fishing.
SPECIMEN SIZE:
A fish over 8lb is seen as a specimen size bass
LATIN NAME:
Dicentrarchus labrax

A little information about the Bass

Sea bass that are young and not yet fully developed under around 2lb in weight are known as ‘school bass’. School bass can commonly be caught off surf beaches in relatively shallow depths of water. They travel in shoals for protection and are not too difficult to catch with baits such as sandeels, crab and lures common options to capture this beautiful fish.

Larger bass are a more difficult catch all together though and tend to travel by themselves, surviving and hunting in deeper water usually and coming in closer to shore moving over harder to fish rocky. Local knowledge and commitment to catching this fish is essential. Anglers looking to catch a large specimen will be most likely to land such a target from a boat than from the shore.

Recreational Bass Limitations

Government guidelines on UK recreational bass fishing

2019 Bass Fishing Summary

  • Catch and release from 01/02/2019 to 31/03/2019 and 01/11/2019 and 31/12/2019
  • From 01/04/2019 to 31/10/2019, only one seabass can be taken per fisherman per day

From the UK Government website:

Recreational fisheries, including from shore, in ICES divisions 4b, 4c, 6a, 7a to 7k are limited to catch-and-release only during 01 February to 31 March and 1 November to 31 December 2019. From 1 April to 31 October 2019, not more than one seabass may be retained per fisherman per day.

In recreational fisheries in ICES divisions 8a and 8b, a maximum of three seabass may be retained per recreational fisherman per day.

These rules apply if you are fishing from a boat or from the shore.

More informration on the Bass Fishing Guidelines available on the UK Government website.

The bass fishing regulations continue to change with the UK Government and European Union changing their guidelines for both the domestic angler who has the privilege of catching a bass and the commercial fisherman in recent months. How this will change over the 6 – 12 months again will be interesting and is the overall fishing regulations are something that is up for debate during the Brexit negotiations.

From the UK Government website:

For recreational fishers, from 1 October to 31 December 2018, not more than one specimen of European seabass may be retained and landed per fisherman per day. Any additional bass caught during 2018 must be returned immediately. This applies if you are fishing from a boat or from the shore.

Please note: for recreational bass fishing this also applies to ICES area VIa and not just IVb, IVc, VIIa-k.

For further information, and details on commercial fishing guidelines, please visit the UK Government website.

Where to catch bass?

Large Bass

The best time to target larger bass is definitely dusk and dawn. This size of bass will often be hunting for food around rocky marks and reefs, ambushing smaller fish as they move. Rockier marks are more difficult to fish though and are only really accessible by using rotten-bottom rigs and lures.

After a storm, they often move in shore to feed on crabs and razorfish that have been washed out of their homes after the recent turbulent conditions. This species of fish is not too fussy with baits though and will often hunt around the seabed looking for easy meals that can be gathered whilst minimising energy after a storm.

  • Fish at dusk and dawn
  • Fish over rocky marks
  • Use rottom-bottom rigs / lures
  • Fish during the first few tides after a big storm

Smaller Bass

Younger fish will often be caught from surf beaches whilst they are hunting in the breaking surf for food. Small bass can be caught on both lures and bait, and are much easier to catch than older specimen bass.

  • Can be caught in surf beaches
  • Can be caught on most lures and bait
Bass Lure Fishing off rocks into surf
Bass Lure Fishing off rocks into surf

Fishing steep beaches

Fishing steep beaches Steep beaches such as Chesil Beach and Dungeness do produce large bass but due to the nature of the seabed there, it often proves more difficult to catch a bass in this type of venue than others. Bass often tend to work through rough ground, ambushing bait fish and searching for food to eat in on top of rocks, in gulleys and in the surrounding areas. It often proves to be more successful to fish near or over rough-ground venues where larger bass will often feed, rather than fishing over clean sand where the chances of a big catch are reduced.

Rough ground beaches

Rough ground beaches Beaches that contain rocks and patches of ground can be good areas to try and catch a bass. It is best to identify areas in the venue that have gulleys holding water carved into the face of the rock – bait will often get washed in to these areas and become trapped, tempting fish in to these areas also to feed upon items further down the food chain.

Other areas to look for include pools formed in to the sea bed, which can hold food for bass. For fishing rough ground, we advice to head to the venue over a low tide prior to fishing it when covered by sea water, this allows you to see all of the rock formations and the makeup of the venue before you fish it.

Piers

Piers may not be the quietest places to fish and may often be the location that inexperienced anglers will first try and fish, but they should not be ignored. Piers often are home to smaller fish species including mackerel, whiting and pouting; and these will attract predatory fish including larger bass in to the area.

Top tip: Try fishing in close to pier walls where there may be cover and areas holding bait, drawing fish in close.

Estuaries and River Mouths

Estuaries Estuaries are fantastic places to fish for bass, especially on the mouth of the river. Estuary mouths tend to hold lots of food which attracts both young and older fish to the area to feed during most tides. Get down to an estuary before a high tide so you can assess the venue and identify channels that can be fished in the hunt for a fish.

Channels push fish into a narrower route, forcing them into a certain area, if you can fish a channel then you will increase your chances of a catch rather than having to fish a wide expansive river with no deeper channels.

Lure fishing for bass

Lure fishing for bass has become big business in recent years and is a method of fishing that is extremely popular amongst UK bass anglers. The variety of lures available is incredible, with an option available for every type of water condition (colour of water, choppy or calm, depth of water etc.).

The price of lures ranges any from around £1.00 all the way to approximately £30.00 for a single lure! Of course with the increasing price, comes increasing quality and more features (rattles, options for trebles or single hooks, detailed colour finishes, versatile weights) but you must be in the right place at the right time, with a fair amount of luck to catch on a lure.

Lure fishing for bass in different conditions

This is a really subjective topic amongst anglers and the conditions below are general guides, but different locations have different factors and with experience you will be able to identify what will increase your chances of catching a clonking fish!

For example, the waters around Jersey are usually clearer than the water in the silty Bristol Channel. Fish in Jersey are used to these clear conditions and after a storm, they will go off the feed (not be as active as usual) as they are not used to the murky water conditions caused  by the storm.

Whereas in the Bristol Channel, fish are used to the murky conditions that are present all year round, and as such the fishing is sometimes excellent after a storm as they are used to the colour and conditions of the sea water. Storms will churn up the seabed, waves will bash against the rocks, and the bass will use this to their advantage to get an easy meal.

The Bristol Channel, a place that features murky water, but can produce fantastic bass fishing on it's day.
Photo © Lewis Clarke - geograph.org.uk/p/4912578

Murky Water Conditions

Murky waters provide a certain set of challenges to the British lure fisherman, with these conditions then it is often advantageous to use a lure that has a rattle of some sort to provide added disturbance to the water.

Sea with coloured water (the opposite of the clear water you see in photos of the tropics) will often provide more of an issue to the angler rather than the fish. Fish are used to the conditions and have adapted their predatory techniques to the water.

Anglers fishing in murky water will often be at risk of snagging up in underwater rocks, weed and kelp if the area they are fishing is not known in detail.

Best rigs for catching bass

Running Paternoster Rig

The running paternoster rig allows you to get your bait extremely close to the seabed and a bass can pick up the bait without feeling resistance from the weight. The line from your reel is connected directly through the rig into a hook on the other end of the line, with a weight clipped on to the line used a swivel and kept in place using crimps.

Finding areas that bass love ♥

The best way to find an area that you can fish for bass is to head to the coast on a spring tide when the tide is out. This will expose areas usually covered with sea water and provide you with information that can be used when the tide has flooded.

Visit the beach on a low tide and think about where you would go if you were a hungry fish on the hunt for food!

An ideal area for catching bass on Three Cliffs Bay - Gower Peninsula, South Wales.
Photo courtesy of William Pearce.

What to look for where surveying a beach on a spring low tide:

  • General depressions in the beach where bait will hold up in
  • Sandbars where bait can hold up behind
  • Gulleys and breaks in rock patterns

What to look for in a rocky area that bass will typically be found in:

Fishing in rocky rough ground areas is not everyone’s cup of tea, and the though of loosing new tackle is not ideal, but these are generally the places that bass will live in, ambushing bait fish and getting an easy meal.

Minimising your tackle losses ofcourse is important, but there are a variety of steps that you can take in the future to reduce the chances of losing your tackle when fishing over rough ground locations.

  • A mix of harder 'gravel' like sand which is mixed in with a collection of mussel shells and pockets of seaweed
  • Shallow plateauing formations of rock that fall to a gentle diagonal slope
  • Steep locations of rock that the underside have been worn away by waves eroding them

Large bass are commonly caught around the South of the United Kingdom, from the Thames Estuary around to the South Coast, up past the North Cornwall coast and into the Bristol Channel.

Bristol Channel - Sunrise
A UK sunrise in the summer time, providing the perfect chance to target a predatory bass.

What time of the year to catch bass?

The most popular time of the year for catching seabass is from May through to around mid October, during the late spring, summer and early autumn months. If the winter is relatively mild then it is not uncommon to see good numbers of bass being caught throughout the winter also around Cornwall, Devon and in the Bristol Channel.

In South Wales, larger sea bass are generally caught in the Autumn from the shore before they migrate out in to deeper water for the winter, before returning again when the water conditions inshore begin to warm up again to around 8°C. More information about sea temperatures and how they effect fishing for bass can be found below under the section ‘How do sea temperatures affect bass activity?’

What natural foods do bass feed on?

The typical natural diet of a seabass is as follows:

  • Sandeels
  • Crustaceans
  • Small shrimps
  • Sprats
  • Squid
  • Crab
  • Mackerel

What time of the day is best for bass fishing?

This is entirely dependent on the regional information of the venue that you are fishing. For example, in South Wales fishing the Bristol Channel, it is more important to fish for bass when the tides are more appropriate, rather than depending on what the lighting conditions are like. The tidal range of the Bristol Channel is the second largest in the world, and this is a vastly more important factor to take into account.

On the west coast of Ireland though, the tidal changes are not as great and the water conditions are clearer than the silty Bristol Channel. This has resulted in the time that you are fishing for bass as an important factor in maximising your chances of catching a bass.

Generally speaking, anglers targeting bass will fish for this species at three points: Dawn (when the sun is rising), dusk (when the sun is setting) and during the night.

How do sea temperatures affect bass activity?

It is commonly known and agreed upon in the UK angling community that temperatures are the single most important variable that influences the behaviour of sea bass: spawning, feeding, migration and if they move in shore in distance of the shore angler.

It is thought that bass will tend to come on to the feed when the sea water temperatures reach approximately 8°C. This is said to be the same also for freshwater bass in USA. When the temperature reaches approximately 10°C then this will tend to encourage sea bass to spawn.

As time goes on, and the effects of global warming become more known, a proven theory which is being experienced in colder climates of the world is the increasing sea temperatures. Sea temperatures increasing will most probably have a positive impact on sea bass, with fish encourage to feed and spawn on a more regular basis. But what will happen to the creatures further down the food chain than bass is open for debate.

A bass angler targeting this fish with lures
A bass angler targeting this fish with lures

What are the signs of a bite from a bass?

The bite from a bass differs depending on the conditions that you are fishing in and can generally be narrowed to the following two conditions:

Fishing for bass in surf conditions

Fishing for bass in conditions when there is surf running will see the seabed (sand, silt and rocks) being disturbed which often reveales food for bass to feed on. It is these conditions that typically see the better of bass fishing, with a high likelyhood of a good number of bass patrolling the surf in search of food.

A bite from a bass in these conditions will sea the fish take your bait in an aggresive manor, hitting it out of nowhere and attempting to swallow your lure or bait in a single motion.

Fishing for bass in calm glassy conditions

In complete contrast to fishing for bass when there is a surf running, fishing for this species in calm glassy conditions will often see a bass take a much different approach when they are interested in your bait. Larger bass will typically approach your bait and gently mouth it (you’ll see signs of this on your rod tip or through your sign as slight gentle knocks). Once they have mouthed it and are fairly comfortably, they will gently pick it up and move off at a reasonable rate.

Make sure you are paying attention if fishing in calm conditions as you may miss a bite from a bass!