Prevalent around the British coastline Sea Bass
are fast becoming one of the UK’s premier saltwater predators. Venturing close inshore to predate mainly on crab, shrimp and small fry, bass that forage in water often less than knee deep offer the fly fisher tremendous sight fishing and stalking opportunities.
Prime season runs parallel with our Spring, Summer and Autumn months and, whilst sea bass are present the year round, summer is by far the most productive period as mature, migrating fish venture inshore. This generally coincides with July on the South coast of England and arguable a little earlier in the West Country. Probably due to their deep water diet of fish and crab these bass are usually much darker in their appearance than the resident fish, which sport a more sandy/lighter livery.
It’s vital to posses in depth knowledge of the area you aim to fish, not only to ensure success, but more importantly, safety. Always let someone know where you intend to fish or better still use the services of a local guide to get you familiar with a certain area. The tide rises and ebbs twice daily (12 hours apart) and it’s essential that you know the state of tide prior to venturing forth. Check the tidal range of the area you wish to fish, this being the difference between Low water and High water. Pay particular attention near estuary mouths, shingle/sandy spits or creeks. Whilst these are key fish holding areas they are often the first to submerge during a rising tide.
Bass are invariably located where tidal flows occur; these fish are consummate predators and will follow food sources in and out with the tide. Traditionally, you will need to fish a rising tide when the bait fish are being ushered into the foreshore. If combined with a spring tide, the fly fisher has the luxury of covering a vast area of oxygenated beach. Then, bass can be observed patrolling right on the tidal edge chasing crustacea back to their burrows as flooding occurs. Bass are known for moving quickly between feeding areas, so, travelling light, the fly fisher is often able to intercept a hungry shoal.
At an entry level price, I equip my clients with the Clearwater 9’ 8-weight and 9’ 9-weight, 4 piece rods, matched with Battenkill Mid Arbor reels. Clearwater rods stand up well to a lot of use. Almost daily from April to the end of October these rods, in the hands of my clients, are loaded for 6 hours per day (estimated up to three thousand times per trip). They catch their fair share of fish and are often complemented by those who use them. For the price, these outfits offer a very good entry platform into saltwater fly-fishing.
As to fly patterns, be sure to carry a range of clousers, deceivers and sandeel patterns in various sizes and colours. Although impressive, it’s not always the largest fly that generates a response from sea bass. My preference would be a size 4 hook with a hackle or tail that extends no longer than two inches.
This of course can be scaled up as the season progresses in a bid to accommodate the larger fish that are present from July onwards. Although fly colour varies with water clarity, in my experience chartreuse seems to set the benchmark. Strangely, black can be extremely effective during hot conditions when the water clarity can be in excess of 15 feet. A good blow will stir up inshore sand and sediment, rendering the water cloudy. Because Bass hunt
chiefly by sight, in poor visibility their lateral line plays an important role. Creating more disturbance, at such times a lighter, larger fly will often prove its worth.
Justin Anwyl fishing for Sea Bass near Chichester Harbour.
Once a suitable area has been selected, aim to cover the water systematically, Bass found on a mark yesterday may well have moved overnight. Therefore finding the shoal is the key to success. Try to get in tune with your surroundings. Often, common terns and gulls will use the high, midday sun to locate then pillage fry and small sandeels. It’s the reflective qualities of these small fish that gives them away to watchful gulls and the like. Find some terns working and the Bass won’t be far away!
Remember, unlike on the banks of a stream, you have precious little cover to use when saltwater fishing. With no canopy of leaves to help you, it’s best to assume a crouched attitude and keep movement to a minimum. As sea bass are renowned for being nervous, be cautious in your approach and keep your rod low when retrieving. When stalking along gravel bars all day, you will need a supportive wading boot—the Orvis Ultra Light wading boots are brilliant. I don’t even notice they are on, yet they provide plenty of support.
Stalking sea bass in the heat of the day.
Finally, impart an erratic retrieve to the fly, as bait fish move randomly, not at a constant pace. Occasionally, when slamming into baitfish, sea bass may be observed in an aggressive mood which calls for a fly to be stripped back quickly. During colder conditions, a slowly worked fly has the edge, and always remember to explore the depths. Bass are shoal fish that move consistently with their year class—find the fish and you won’t catch just one.
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