The bass season has finally started for me. It has been very late coming to the south coast I am led to understand, however there are now fish showing up one by one.
I am progressing with my plan to learn about the south coast fishing as quickly as possible by using the services of Robin Howard, one of the most knowledgeable sea fishing guides I have met. He has knowledge of the south coast that is almost unrivalled, fishing almost every day of a 10 month season and quite often in multiple locations and multiple tides each day.
So it was with excitement, and a feeling that I might find myself on a slippery slope to never really wanting to work again, that I receive a short email from Robin asking if I could make it at 5am on Friday morning. So I duly arranged a working from home day, in the vain hope I might make it to my Haywards Heath desk by 9am.
After a 4am start that I had to lie about to the new Mrs Church (whatever, it was early and she was fast asleep), I was absolutely ready for the Golden Arches drive through start to the day. Robin took me on a magical mystery tour of all the beaches and fishing spots between Brighton and Worthing â€“ some of the Brighton ones ruled out early in the morning because on several occasions he has shared wading space with revellers returning from the night before.
The diversity of the fishing, and the possibilities presenting are just astounding. By the end of the journey I felt like I did when as a ten year old I discovered an Essex river full of huge sunbathing chub â€“ wide eyed and completely overexcited by the prospects.
We passed storm beaches that are some of the best in the right tides, Robin having caught a bass over 12lbs last year, rivers that at low tide hide bass in less than a foot of water and urban sea canal fishing possibilities that are belied by the outdated seaside holiday lets and industrial frontages.
Todayâ€™s lesson was surf casting for bass. There was a strong onshore wind blowing, with a good surf created on the beach near Worthing that we had headed to. The tide had just turned, and the expanse of gulleys and broken rough ground amongst the sand looked really bassy. As Robin explained, all the bass food was being blown to the beach by the onshore wind, and as the tide moves up new ground is covered by the already food laden water. The surf breaks off all sorts of flotsam and jetsam encouraging smaller fish and crabs to nose around, and that the bass like to hunt amongst.
The other feature of this time of year is the crab peel. The little green crabs that you catch when crabbing peel their shells around this time of year, and when naked are seriously sought after prey for bass. Robin was loaded up with peeler crabs caught locally, and it was time for me to learn to fish with them. Had we not had the crab baits, there are plenty of other sources of bait at low tide, including a good supply of lugworms on this beach.
As the fish are hunting close to the shore, short casts are required, and to get to the right depth and keep control over our lines we donned our waders and headed in knee deep. We were fishing pretty simple rigs, a sliding lead (with wire grips) and a flowing fluorocarbon trace. The peeler crab is dismembered and threaded onto the hook, held in place with elastic cotton, and lobbed a matter of 30 yards in front. The rod is held at all times, pointing high into the air to keep the line out of the weed as the fisherman stays in the water, and the line trapped under the forefinger to indicate bites immediately.
As we fished the tide raced in, and retreating a few yards every ten minutes or so was the order of the day. This type of fishing is all about timing. The actual fishing period may only be a couple of hours, as long as the breakers keep breaking whilst the tide runs in. When the breakers calm down due to depth of water, the fish become more disperse and much more difficult to catch. Being prepared, and getting there at the right time is essential, to give yourself the best possible chance of a fish in those two hours.
Still being early this season for south coast bass, it was unsurprising that the first hour or so was relatively quiet. A dogfish for me, and a grunter for Robin was all we could manage. Then a wave of small bass hunted past us, part of their coast-to-coast hunting pattern. We both had a couple of bites, and I connected with a small fish. First of the season for me (and first by surf casting), and first guided bass for Robin this year.
The downside of this type of fishing is the relatively heavy gear required to hold the bottom in the surf really cancels out small fish fights. It is no doubt an awesome method for hunting out the fish though, and when a big fish takes…….
Next on my list is learning how and when to freeline on these bass beaches. Or is it fly fishing for them on the low tide rivers? Or is it soft plastics on a calm day in one of the bays? I think Iâ€™m starting to be at home in Sussex…….