Bass Fishing in North Devon

A couple of weeks back, Jay kindly offered to share his knowledge on a superb North Devon mark near Woolacombe and arrange a trip the trip up there via the fishing buddies section of the forum. For several years now, he and Ivan have been fishing this beach regularly (and with much success.)

Since most of my fishing antics occur along the South Devon coast, I found myself replying to the forum post almost before I’d finished reading it. It presented the perfect opportunity to check out a new mark and learn a little about it from those who know, and it gave me the chance to meet fellow anglers whom regularly use, contribute toward, and ensure the continued success of our southwest seafishing network.

I wanted in, and I wasn’t the only one. Late Saturday afternoon, Jay, Ivan, Ben and I set off from Plymouth in Jay and Ivan’s bespoke fishing wagon (thanks for driving, Jay!) and Gary made the trip down from Bristol way and met us in the parking area behind the mark.

With a few hours to kill before the sun dropped away and the surfers cleared out of our swim, Ivan set up his Al Fresco kitchen from a cracking viewpoint overlooking beach and got to work with a frying pan, petrol stove and various bits of dead animal. I tell you, these boys fish in style and comfort. And after seeing Ivan in full swing at the petrol stove, next time I’m definitely bringing pork chops instead of egg banjos!

Gary met us shortly after our arrival (in about the time it took Jay to dispatch 2 Carlsbergs and a beef burger) and, whilst Ivan continued to put Hugh-Fairy-Wots’isface to shame in the field kitchen, the rest of us got to work on setting our gear up for the session ahead. Well, Jay set his gear up whilst we kept our lugholes pinned back for good mark tips and our beady eyes on his rig selections for the night session.

Talking of lugholes, they were notable by their absence at the mark. No holes, no casts, nothing. Consequently, I was surprised to learn that the killer bait at this mark, the one bait that Jay and Ivan swear by, was lugworm. Normally, you’d think that that matching the bait to the mark would be a good thing. You could be forgiven for thinking that fishing local, resident bait from the mark at which it was collected would help it to ‘blend in’, to not set any fishy alarm bells ringing and lead to a better catch rate. Not here, apparently, at least not when Bassing here.

Concerned that the late afternoon sun had brought on an impromptu bout of fishing madness from these two Woolacombe veterans, and wondering whether I’d really wasted my time packing my bait bucket to rafters with mackerel, squid, ragworm, softies and my fresh juicy live peeler crabs (lovingly brought on over the last week or so to pop in time for this fishing trip), I quizzed them again over their choice of bait. “Just Lug” Ivan told me again. “No peelers, no sand eel, no softies, no squid tipping . Just Lug.” In hindsight, collecting £36 worth of top notch Lug for the 3 of us from Tom’s on the way up wholly reflected their belief in this outsider as the killer bait, I guess.

At this particular mark almost all the rules go out the window, it seems. Jay and Ivan, both of whom are extremely up on what goes and what doesn’t go here, gave us one piece of advice: leave the rules in the carpark.

“Any tide – neaps, springs, flood or ebb – you’ll catch Bass here”  Ivan said. “Easterlies, westerlies, it don’t matter, the Bass here don’t care” he continued with an air of reassuring defiance. From listening to what Jay and Ivan had to say, a pair of fisherman whom between them have landed literally hundreds of Bass from this mark, it would seem that whatever the conditions (so long as we had a bit of surf and a lot of darkness) the Bass would be on the feed. It sounded too good to be true, but either way we’d find out for ourselves soon enough. Just to be on the safe side, however, I decided hump the full bait bucket down to the beach anyway.

The boy’s rig selection proved as straightforward as their choice of bait, too. As per usual, they would mount the Lugworm on simple one up one down 2 hook flappers. In their mind, there was no doubt this was the winning combination. Light 12” snoods, 2/0 long shank Aberdeens, it all seemed pretty much set in stone – almost robotic, in fact. Nevertheless, a slight pang of scepticism coerced me into humping all my gear down to the beach along with that potentially redundant bait bucket!

With the sun dropping fast, we got our lines in the water. I was itching to get into the Bass, we all were. After all that had been said on the way up – the tales of 20+ bass in one session and 4 and 5 pounders everywhere – and associating last light with great fishing, I was half expecting the rod tip to give it some proper yee-hah as soon as the bait hit the water.  It didn’t happen. Doubt crept in and I began to think maybe we were in for ‘one of those nights’. “Give it half an hour” Ivan said, “It’ll be quiet now, but you just watch it all kick off when it’s properly dark”. This was the seasoned pro to rookie talk, and with good reason. Ivan and Jay were nodding and grinning, clearly they’d seen this all before.

I looked back over to Ben and Gary, also both intently watching their rod tips for the first thump from a cruising Bass. Jay and Ivan were a little more relaxed than us newbies, paying far more attention to their watches and the dropping sun than their rods and line. In fact, although ready to go, Jay hadn’t even started fishing yet.

Even in this half light though, it didn’t take long before our baits we’re getting a bit of interest. As I neared my rod tip I could see a clear rattle developing. I was in! And with this being the first cast out, I was over the moon! I carefully lifted my rod from the tripod and swept my rod back on the next rattle – I felt another tug – fish on!

Whatever it was (it felt like a flattie) it was small, but I didn’t care – it was still a fish, and 1 fish meant no blank and therefore no sh*t from the others! Retrieving faster as my gear rode in on the last bit of surf, I caught my first glimpse of the fish. A very small Schoolie Bass. At less than a pound it wasn’t exactly a leviathan, but I’ve never been happier to see a fish on the end of my line.

Within moments of watching it scoot back through the shallows and into the big blue, I could see a bit of activity at the other end of the line. Fishing closest to the headland, Ivan added another (more respectable) schoolie to the catch tally. I couldn’t help but think we were going to be in for a busy night!

Ben was next. We could see he was into something too. Rigged similarly with Lug on a 2 hook flapper, we all assumed we’d see another Bass come in. I don’t think anyone was more surprised that Ben to see a Plaice ride in on the surf though! This was fantastic, and particularly good for Ben since it was his first ever Plaice.

The first hour of darkness coincided with the last hour of flood. This made for easy fishing at this mark since we could just wade it, flick out into the surf and walk right back up the beach and wait for the water to come to us before retreating further – however, with such a gently sloping beach, this didn’t take long.

Throughout high slack water and then on the ebb the action didn’t stop. Between the 5 of us, it was Bass after bass after Bass. I’m not joking, between about 10pm and 2 am wherever you looked along the line, one of us would be busy with a fish – either landing, unhooking or returning. I’ve never known a session like it. Although the Bass were pretty much all under 2lb, it was a marvellous sight to see so much going on from a beach.

Whereas Ben, Jay, Ivan (now on about his 6th Bass) and I stuck to the Lug (and the small Schoolies), Gary set his sights on landing fish of the night. Trying all his baits and rigs one after the other, he was going for the specimen. It didn’t appear that night, but that’s fishing. You will never get these cracking fish without putting the time in and trying everything (although I draw the line at baiting up with either Scampi Fries or Limpets.)

At around 2am (and with the tide receding almost as quickly as we could cast) it began to quieten down and thought turned to the journey home.  To be honest, I was a little thankful for this – the tide was racing out and it starting getting a little taxing on the old pins to keep up with it. We would wade in as deep as we dare, welly the gear right out and then have to perch the tripod right on the water’s edge just to keep a bait in the sea for 15 minutes. Then, after each cast, you’d have to walk back up the beach (roughly the distance between Plymouth and Exeter) to collect your gear and lamp and bait etc and bring it back to the newly uncovered shoreline. To help us out next time we plan on fishing the ebb, I’m going to pinch the Burg Island causeway tractor beforehand and take that up there. Either that of fish from the back of a camel.

By 3am things had died completely and none of us had been into a fish for a few casts – a stark contrast to the same session 2 hours ago. We packed up and hiked back up the beach. We’d had a wild session. Between the 5 of us, we’d caught 23 Bass and 1 Plaice in 5 hours. And although Ivan didn’t beat his personal best of 12 Bass from this mark in 1 session, he topped the leader board for the night with a massive 8 bass.

I thought if I mentioned that he might be kind enough to lend me one of his rigs next time ;-)

My thanks go to Jay, Ben, Gary and Ivan for all making the evening a complete success.  With such good company and great fishing, I can’t wait to head out on the next trip.

If you are planning a trip to your favourite mark and want a few other likeminded fishing nuts to come along and share the fun, or fancy going along with others and learning more about marks that you wouldn’t normally visit,  then drop by the Fishing Buddies section of our Forum and see what’s going on.

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