Category: Shore Fishing Tips

The Angler’s Guide to Handling Fish

This article has been written as a guide and for information purposes only – its not a ‘This is how it should be done’ spiel, as I am sure that many fellow anglers have their own equally safe and respectful ways to handle different fish and disgorge the hook from them. However, for the newer anglers among us that have not handled many fish before, I hope this is of some help.

During this article I am going to cover a few topics including landing the fish, handling the fish to remove the hook, dispatching the fish if you intend to keep it, and returning the fish safely to water for those that you don’t intend to keep.

Whilst we are out fishing we are always in the general publics view and what we do when we catch a fish can affect the way they portray the average fisherperson.  In my time I have (and no doubt others have too) seen some sad behaviour of the minority of anglers that let us all down. I hope here can share some tips to help make us all Ambassadors of our sport.


Catching and Landing Your Fish

On hooking into your fish and reeling in, you will come to the point of removing the fish from the water – and you would be amazed at just how much damage you could do to a fish if it’s carried out in the wrong manner or using the wrong equipment.  So, should you use a gaff, a net, or just to lift it straight out using the line? It depends to a certain extent on whether you are boat, pier or beach fishing, but please be aware there is quite a bit of crossover too!

A gaff is one of the normal instruments used on boats for larger specimens of fish such as massive conger.  I myself have used a homemade gaff on board ship to lift out large stingray onto the deck for hook removal before being returned to swim off happily.  The problem comes when you don’t know where to gaff a fish, although if you are on a reputable charter boat then the skipper of the boat should normally know.  When it comes to conger it is now unacceptable to gaff it in its body where it causes a lot of damage and unnecessary pain to the fish – now the gaff is placed in the underside of the eel’s jaw where there is a soft membrane and nothing else.


For skate and rays, the leading edge of the wing should be used where a small whole caused by the gaff emulates a natural wound that it would receive whilst bottom fishing.  The only other fish that should need to be gaffed is the Angler (or Monk) fish.  No way should sharks be gaffed, they should be lifted out of the water by two people – one at the dorsal, the other at the tail – carefully and securely lifting them out for unhooking etc.  If the shark is too big then leave it in the water and unhook it (or cut the trace near the hook).  Thornback rays (and other rays as well as Huss can be lifted out of the water by the hook trace and by the tail (ensure you use a gloved hand when lifting sting rays).

netA landing net or drop net should be used if there is some distance from the water for larger fish. Either are useful to have and will also help stop the loss of fish when hauling them out of the water.

Using a landing net is easy to use, you simply steer the fish over the landing net and scoop up the fish – it’s easy, quick, efficient and good for the fish.

Just lifting them out by the line is acceptable and is probably the most used technique used by anglers all around the country.


Handling Fish

The main problem when finally landing the fish is to handle it correctly and not let it thrash around and injure itself – whether you are on a boat or shore fishing.

teethyfishThere are many things to look out for before you handle a fish, for example, does it have spines (and if so, where are they located?), has it got teeth etc?  Many fish also have a protective coating of mucus or slime on the body to protect them from infection, and the last thing you want to do is disrupt this before returning it to the water.

When fish are taken out of the water you should handle them with wet hands, because if you do handle them with normal dry hands some of that coating will adhere to your hands and leave the fish open to attack.  Better still, you should handle them with a damp cloth or chamois leather (this will also aid in grip), similarly if you have to put the fish down then place it on a soft wet surface or cloth and not down on tarmac, sand or shingle.  Using a cloth is also good if the fish have spines, as this will give some padding between your skin and the sharp bits.  You should be confident, yet gentle, when picking the fish up – it appals me to see how some people hold fish, squeezing them tightly – so much so you can see their eyes bulging out (I know some people from this site have seen fish literally squeezed to death) due to bad handling.

fishhandlingdiagramRound fish should be gripped between thumb and fingers over the head and just to the rear of the gill plates – this allows the hand gripping the fish full manoeuvrability.


Common and Silver Eels there is no easy way of handling them as they tend to wriggle and squirm all of the time, knotting themselves and your tackle up – the best way to handle these are with a piece of chamois leather as this gives better grip, and by holding the main body and gently grip the head between index, middle finger and third finger you should be able to remove the hook.

Dogfish are another matter, especially with their sandpaper skin that can literally rub your hands etc raw if you are not careful – they should be held by folding the tail round to touch their head and gripped so for unhooking.

Flatfish should be held gently behind the head with your fingers underneath and your thumb on top.

I feel that in this part the mackerel should have its own mention here – the long and short of it is that the heat and oils from our hands damage their skin – which in turn causes them to die from between 3 to 48 hours afterwards.  I have done some research on this and have found many references on websites which have been confirmed by CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science).


The recommendation here is:

1.    Stop catching them once you have reached your personal quota and change rigs to go for other fish like Bass which won’t be far from the shoal.

2.    Use gloves / a cloth whilst unhooking them.

3.    Use barbless hooks and shake them off without touching them.


Removing Hooks

Once you have hold of your fish you will want to get the hook out of it so you can carry on fishing.  There are many tools to help you do this and everyone will have their favourite.  It has been suggested that there are a few ways to subdue a fish and make it easier to remove the hook.  One way is to place a damp cloth over its eyes, and the other is to turn it on its back.  I have not tried the fist but have had some success on the second.  Fish that are going to be returned should be unhooked as quickly as possible.

disgorgersFor smaller fish you can use a disgorger which is a moulded plastic or aluminium tool where the end is slipped over the line and sliding it down to the bend in the hook.  A push is then needed to remove the hook, and under the pressure of the line, the hook will tighten against the end of the disgorger and removed from the mouth.

Bigger fish you can use a set of forceps or long (snipe) nosed pliers to do the job.

For shark, tope, eels and rays etc then a normal set of pliers can sometimes be used at a push – but remember to keep your fingers away from the teeth/grinders – although its much safer and more prefereable to use a heavy disgorger, or T-bar, as they are commonly referred to.

The best place to grip a hook is not on its shank, but in the middle of the bend where gentle, but persistent pressure away from the hook hold will lift the hook point free. Twisting the hook will do no good at all. If a fish has pulled the hook point fully through the lip or any part of the skin, then it’s quicker to snip the hook trace off above the hook, and pull the hook through point first followed by the shank.

The next bit is a bit of a debate, what to do if you can’t get the hook out – do you cut it off and leave the hook in there, or do you try your hardest to get the hook out and possibly end up killing said fish?

I can only offer what I know. If you take what fish eat, broken mussel, razorfish shells and hard backed crab for instance, then you realise just how insignificant a hook can be to a fish. There is evidence to suggest that fish can shed a hook within hours of being hooked, providing it is a bronze pattern and that it will corrode. It is recommended that coated or commercially plated pattern hooks and stainless steel hooks should never be used for this reason.


Returning Fish to Water

dogfishhandlingHow you return a fish to water can make the difference to whether it will live or die.  A lot of anglers tend to just throw the fish back without any consideration (and yes I have been guilty of this one as well) to the fish.  Fish can be damaged this way as well as being killed by shock.  If you have to drop them into the water then reduce the height at which you do to the minimum.  Even better, if you can place them into the water by hand (one hand supporting the stomach and the other at the tail, place in towards oncoming water), or walk them out into deeper water – just watch out for dogfish though as they have a tendency to swim back towards you after release.  Some fish like wrasse and pollack can be left in deeper tidal pools until reclaimed by incoming tides.


Getting the smell of Fish off your hands at the end of the day

Handling fish leaves a less than pleasant smell on your hands (unless you’re into that sort of thing!!!).  Whether you are fishing, gutting, cleaning the fish, the fishy smell remains long after the fun is over.  There are many options to remove the smell off your hands.  Choose whichever one easier for you.

  • Cut a fresh lemon into wedges. After you are finished handling the fish, squeeze the lemon onto your hands, rub your hands together, and rinse with water.
  • Squeeze liquid hand-sanitizer onto your hands. Rub your hands together till dry.
  • Rub your hands with toothpaste, then rub together, and rinse under water.
  • Use soap specifically made for removing fish odors, like De-Fishing Soap.
  • Surgical spirit works well also.
  • Wash your hands with neat Head & Shoulders Intensive Care shampoo and rinse with water.

Float Fishing Tips

Float fishing is an extremely popular way to target certain species, particularly during the summer months.  The main target species to float fishing for around Devon and Cornwall are Mackerel, Garfish, Pollack, Bass and Mullet – although, depending on the depth of water, other species such as Wrasse, Bream and a variety of minis-species can also be caught.

Float fishing is without doubt an exciting and fun way to fish and provides the perfect opportunity to fish with light tackle for some great sport. Another bonus of float fishing is the ability to fish tight to a snaggy sea bed or other feature in shallow water without risking the loss of much gear in the process.


How to Set Up a Float Fishing Rig

Setting up a float fishing rig is easy enough and can be done in several different ways, although using a quick float fishing rig and attaching your desired trace length to the end surely has to be the quickest and easiest in the long run.

For this, the main part of the float fishing rig – the float, the right size ball weight, 2 retaining beads contained between and a swivel and a snap swivel at either end – can be made up before hand which just leaves you to clip on whichever trace length is necessary depending on which species you wish to target during the fishing session.



Quick float fishing set up


As well as the time saving aspect, the other beauty of this float fishing rig is that your pre-made trace lengths can also be used with two other light tackle set up: the free lining rig and the quick ball weight rig.

*TIP* If you want to be extra crafty, the quick float fishing rig can also be adapted to enable you to float fish and bottom fish simultaneously with the same rod. Replacing the standard swivel at the top of the float rig with an American snap swivel (or similar clip swivel) will allow you to cast out a bottom fishing rig such as a Pennel Pulley Rig, Ball Weight Rig or Ledger Rig and then, once its settled on the seabed, clip the float fishing rig onto the mainline and slide it down into the swim (using the mainline like a zip line). Your float will stay put and put you in the running for Mackerel or Garfish while you also target bottom feeders.

It’s great if all of a sudden you see other anglers catching Mackerel etc but you don’t want to take your main rig out of the water to have a punt at another species.

Because different species require slightly different float fishing tactics to catch them, below we’ve put together some quick guides for targeting different fish on the float.


Float Fishing for Mackerel & Garfish

Float Fishing for Pollack

Float Fishing for Wrasse

Float Fishing for Bass

Float Fishing for Mullet

Guide to Bass Fishing in Surf

Bass fihsing in the Surf

Since there are so many surf beaches around the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, particualrly on the northern coasts, surf fishing for Bass is always an option – and a sound one at that. The techniques employed differ a little from those needed for other styles of Bass fishing, which is why we’ve dedicated a page to this, one of the most exciting (and challenging) ways to fish for Bass.

Surf Fishing Gear


Rod – A beach/surf caster is ideal, but a heavier carp/spinning rod of around 12 ft will suffice IF it is able to safely cast around 3 – 4oz of lead. This amount of weight isn’t always required, but since you may be on an exposed beach there may be times where you may need to blast it through an onshore wind or get a little more distance to get into or just behind that patch of rolling surf. In addition, the longer rod will enable you to lift your line higher and clear close in breakers, which means less false bites caused by interference from other waves.

Reel – Common sense dictates that you’ll also need a reel to match the rod, either a medium sized fixed spool reel or multiplier along the lines of an Abu 6500/7000 or Penn 525 loaded with 20lb line. Since distance casting may be necessary from time to time, a shock leader is a must – the rule of thumb being 10lb breaking strain per oz of lead minimum.

Rod Rest – Unlike many other styles of Bass fishing, the chances are you won’t be actively working a bait or lure for the majority of the session. If you’re fishing a big bait on the bottom, a rod rest will give your arms a break, let you brew up and still keep the rod tip high.

Waders – Being able to enter the water makes easier to cast out to where you want to be with more delicate baits, successfully fish for and land Bass, and MUCH easier on the fish both when you land it and return it.

Surf Fishing Rigs


The 2 favoured rigs when surf fishing for Bass in Devon and Cornwall have to be the classics: the running ledger and the flapper (or clip down dependign on how far out the surf is breaking). Depending on the size and type of the bait, size 1/0 to 4/0 are recommended. Hookwise, Kamasan B940s are sharp as balls, perfect for presenting the bigger worm and cocktail baits and are strong enough to deal with a hard hitting Bass.

Longer snoods will allow an otherwise stationary dead bait, such as a sandeel or crab, to move around for a more convincing appearance.

In rougher conditions, stronger tides or bigger surf, gripper leads will enable you to keep your tackle in position whilst still maintaining a taught line to detect bites. In calmer seas and more gentle surf, use a weight that will move with the water, this way your tackle and bait will naturally find the deeper gulleys and likely holding areas for food and therefore Bass.

Bass Baits For Surf Fishing


Peeler Crab – Wherever you fish with peelers in the Southwest, Bass go mad for them. Period. When surf fishing for Bass, it’s no different. Some say that peeling Velvet Swimmer crabs are even better than Green Shore peelers, but I don’t know anyone personally who’s fished with both of them enough to be able to make the comparison.

A couple of small peelers, or one large one, is enough to release an irresistible scent trail. Due to the nature of the bait it’s necessary to whip it onto the hook with thin bait elastic after feeding it through. Peeler crabs also work extremely well as part of a cocktail bait.

Ragworm – For School Bass, or ‘Schoolies’, a few small head hooked ragworm are an absolute killer bait. Alternatively, one large head hooked King Ragworm on a longer snood will still keep you in with a chance of the School Bass, but may also put you into a larger specimen.  Try feeding a section of peeler crab onto the hook before you ‘tip’ it with a head hooked ragworm – the idea behind this is to provide a more enticing scent trail without inhibiting the movement from the ragworm. Ding dong, double whammy.

Lugworm – Lugworm is another firm favourite over soft or sandy ground. Feed several juicy Lugworm onto the hook with a baiting needle and tip it off with either a thin strip of squid or a peeler crab. Not only will this make a cracking cocktail bait for Bass, but the tipping will also help keep the Lugworm up the hook. A one or two lug fed over a hook will almost guarantee you’ll be kept busy with schoolies.

Mackerel and squid – Historically, mackerel head and guts and whole calamari are tried and tested baits for larger specimens, and we’re talking double figures here,  but fishing these baits will dramatically reduce the chances of hooking any of the others. My PB bass (only 5 1/2lb, but still my PB!) fell to mackerel head and guts…and I wasn’t fishing for conger as some might have you believe. Honest.

Live baits – With a running tide and clearish water, it’s possible to freeline live baits such as Sand Eels and other bait fish with devastating results. Hooking a sand eel through the nose or tail will allow for the highest degree of natural movement, and therefore possibly the greatest hit rate, though arguably it’s less likely to hook a Bass this way since its more likely they may take snatch the bait without the hook (or you may even lose your bait during the cast.) Threading the hook and line half way along the eel will improve your chances of getting into a Bass, however the bait will not move as naturally below the water. A live bait can also be bound lightly at one end with bait elastic to improve its security.

Artificial Bait – Plugs, spinners and lures are always worth a try when targeting Bass, wherever you are. Check out our guide to Lure Fishing for Bass for more info.


General Tips when Surf Fishing for Bass


1. Know where to fish – Ideally, check out the mark beforehand on a spring low tide – you may be able to pick out some potential holding grounds, such as normally submerged rocks or deeper channels or gulleys. Make a note of where they lie in relation to landmarks etc and it’ll give you a head start on the Bass! If there happen to be any surfers around, ask where the rip tides are since it is the gulleys and deeper patches of water that cause the rips. Unfortunately, sand channels and soft gullies will move slightly with each tide, so the longer you leave it between the scouting and the session the more you will have to look for them when you fish.

Checking out the coastline from higher ground will often help you work out where to start fishing. From a high vantage point, it’s far easier to pinpoint areas with certain wave patterns than it is from the beach. Larger/more waves denote shoaling banks and smaller/less waves generally signify deeper patches of water. As well as hunting in the surf, Bass will patrol the side of these banks looking to ambush prey. The gulleys (where the rips are) can provide rich pickings for Bass – they experience stronger and greater water movement during the tidal run and therefore are more likely to uncover fishy food.

TIP: Kill 2 birds with one stone during the scouting by doing a bit of bait gathering while you are there. Not only will it cut the costs of your next session, it’ll give you an idea of what marine life is natural to the area – and no bait will appear more natural to a Bass than one of the local inhabitants! Expect to find baits such as Mussels (on rocky outcrops), Razor Clams, Lugworm and Sand Eels (during the summer months.) As ever though, keep one eye on the tide.

2. Walk the beat – Cover several areas during the fishing session. Some patches will be more productive than others. Fishing nearer to a headland at the end of a beach, where there are likely to be more underwater features, should be more productive than smack bang in the middle.

3. Use your swim – Cast near and far. Although Bass can be found ridiculously close in, like even in a few feet of water, it isn’t always the case. If you fish the surf close in to no avail, try also blasting out a few baits and gradually shorten your casts to cover the intermediate ground before upping sticks and moving along the beach.

If you discover an unusual coastal feature, such as a craggy outcrop, a rocky finger jutting out into the sea, a groyne or a small estuary/run off channel, FISH IT!

And one more thing: If you find an unusual coastal feature, such as a craggy outcrop, a rocky finger jutting out into the sea, a groyne or a small estuary/run off channel, FISH IT! …Enough said.

4. Use the Surf – Naturally, after reading this you’ll catch loads of Bass, so it’s worth mentioning that when you land them, the surf is your friend: use it to help you land any hefty fish.

5. Stay Alert – Keep one eye on the rod tip for bites, a second eye on the surf (and just beyond) for fishy activity such as jumping, keep a third eye in the air for birds swooping and other tell tale signs of baitfish activity and a fourth eye up and down the beach making sure you can always get to safety – don’t get caught out by an incoming tide. Also, look out for the small baitfish that get washed up on the shore from time to time. In addition to making a tasty snack for your ever-hungry black Labradorian fishing companion, these little gems make for the best live Bass bait ever!

Lighten Up: Fishing on Light Tackle

Many folks, including myself, rattle on about ‘fishing light’. You only have to read through a handful of catch reports and sea fishing articles to see the phrases ‘with light tackle’ or ‘on light gear’ popping up all the time. So what’s the big deal with fishing light? Surely, the lighter you fish, greater are the chances of losing that prize specimen, right? Possibly…but here’s the thing: although the chances of losing a fish increase slightly, the chances of a hook up in the first place increase dramatically.

Scaling down the terminal tackle helps your bait to blend into the surroundings and gives it a more natural in the water. This is key for catching some of the more wary species (Mullet being the perfect example) which are almost exclusively caught using light line tactics. With such fish being easily spooked, heavier lines and big weights and booms reduce hook up rates significantly. Although the cautious mullet are an extreme example when it comes to proving the effectiveness of light line fishing, adopting these same light line tactics with other species will also bring greater success.

But it’s not just the terminal tackle that needs to be trimmed down – tackle, rod and reel must all complement each other. On light tackle, it takes little for the line to break with a hard fighting fish, consequently, a rod needs to give (to reduce strain on the line) but still retain power enough to successfully play a fish. It’s a fine balancing act, but it is possible.

When all is said and done, switching to lighter tackle will bump up your catch rate for many species around the Devon and Cornwall shores. Not only that, but it’s a whole lot of fun, too.

When fishing as light as you dare, a mackerel becomes a tuna and a mullet a bonefish. It’s true. With lighter line whipping through the water like a knife through butter and less trailing lead, a fish will be able to run – and run they will!

Nothing gets the heart thumping more than a prize Bass stripping line from your multiplier (apart from the chance of losing that prize Bass because you’re fishing light!) But who’s to say that you wouldn’t have got the fish on in the first place if you hadn’t scaled down the tackle? The risk may increase, but so does the fun and excitement. Tenfold.

Who wouldn’t rather skilfully play and land a fish for 10 minutes than tediously winch it in for 2? Where’s the thrill in that? After all, sea angling is a sport, and fishing light keeps so.

Delving Deep into the Addictive World of Lure Fishing

I have been looking on and at times actively participating in a number of forum threads on this site that have covered various aspects of lure fishing, from tackle preferences, lure debates, and most importantly session reports. Although the views are very much varied, the underlying tone has been extremely positive. The sense of excitement and intrigue coming from others is undeniable and I wanted to tap into this. I wanted to find out what it is about lure fishing really draws people in.


Opening the mind and experiencing new things

Although I do occasionally have a go I have never been entirely convinced by the enticements of lure fishing as I have always thought (erroneously as it happens) that I would be limited to targeting a few specific species. I have also always held the slightly cynical view that lure fishing has been a niche playground for tackle tarts, and to certain extent, elitism by those that indulge it over other forms of fishing.  To quote another SWSF stalwart, it’s just fishing with a load of posh string and expensive balsa wood isn’t it?

As I alluded to in a recent blog post, I really do want to open my mind and in return I want to gain an appreciation for other areas of angling that I have previously dismissed. However with this obviously prejudicial mindset I could not simply write this piece from just a first person perspective, I felt I needed to interrogate someone else who has completely caught the bug and tap into the reasons behind it. I could think of no one better to use as a “guinea pig” than one of my regular fishing buddies, Toby Harnett.


The allure of lure fishing

Toby Toby has morphed from a part-time lure dabbler into a full blown addict, complete with his very own dedicated lure drying line (in his kitchen!), over the past few months. He has immersed himself in it, became a local fishing celebrity by getting his picture in a well known blog by a well known fishing photo-journalist, went for a guided session and most importantly he has caught fish and set a personal best for bass. He is the perfect guy to grill for information on why lure fishing is so enticing and what all the fuss is about.


I could not think of a better way to dig a little deeper into the attraction of lure fishing than actually getting out there and seeing this particular breed of angler in the wild so I caught up with Toby on a session to speak to him and get his views on the subject.

As Toby got down to business kitting up, I got the interrogation underway as I was keen to glean as much information from him as possible during this relatively short session. When quizzed why he had taken the step into lure fishing, Toby answered pretty candidly, “I suppose it was initially just curiosity, something different that I had read about and was keen to find out more.”

After taking some time to concentrate on his kit and reflect, he went on to expand his answer and highlighted some of the other attractions he had discovered from getting out on some lure sessions. “Convenience plays a part, not having to worry about bait and not having to pack a 2 ton tackle box is a bonus – it allows you to be spontaneous and nip out for an impromptu session without any real planning.”

As he was obviously eager to get a lure in the water I let Toby get on with it while I observed for a while. Off he went looking for a prime perch to base himself. “It certainly keeps you fit, all this clambering over rocks” he yelled over his shoulder. “Lost nearly a stone in weight since taking this up”, he added with a satisfied smirk on his face.

Looking back up the hill that we had descended to get to the mark, I thought to myself that he had a point as I certainly was not looking forward to the lung busting ascent back up once we were done, especially on a day where it seemed even the mercury in the thermometer might be at risk of freezing.


Second mortgage needed?

As he worked away, I could not help noticing the difference between Toby’s kit and the gear that I use. I generally use my trusty battered old spinning rod, a constant companion for more than a decade, coupled with a decent yet simple spinning reel. Toby, however, had a shiny, relatively new specialist lure rod perfectly matched with a high quality reel. Although he had been fortunate to win the gear in a raffle, it still looked relatively expensive so I thought I would try and be a bit more provocative so I asked Toby what his view was if I said that you had to have state of the art, expensive kit to do it.

“Nonsense!” was his immediate response. “Like with any sort of fishing you can catch on the cheapest or the most expensive of gear. You can get some real bargains out there for quality, specialist gear. What is more important is getting the right advice to ensure that the gear you are buying is exactly what you need and suits the type of lure fishing that you’re planning on doing.”

He went on to highlight that his original Bushwacker lure rod (before he won an AnyFish AnyWhere (AFAW) rod in the raffle at the Art of Fishing shop opening) retails at approximately £60 but had the feel of a far more expensive rod. He did concede that he thought that over time the more expensive gear would shine through, in terms of durability & build quality as much as anything else. He also noted that the level of refinement is very noticeable commenting that the AFAW rod was much lighter than the Bushwacker making for greater comfort on those lengthy sessions.


Controlling the inner tackle tart

Following on with the gear theme I commented that I had the impression that lure angling was an indulgence for the ultimate tackle tart. That got a smile and an unashamed confession, “I freely admit that I’m a tackle tart and that I’ve been sucked in by the glossy pictures and shiny, pretty lures – well they are nice to look at aren’t they?”

We also discussed the various investments that Toby had made in accessorising, from the waders, to the multi pocketed jacket and the lure boxes and it was clear that they all had a purpose. Toby freely admitted that he did not think they were all a critical pre-requisite to taking up lure fishing but they did contribute to the enjoyment of the experience by making it more comfortable. I challenged him to pick a single piece of kit that he would recommend to any perspective new-comer as a “must have” (not including the rod, reel and lures themselves).

The response surprised me as he picked a really functional item forsaking some of the more shiny stuff. He chose his forceps/pliers.

“You’ll need them for anything you do – unhooking fish, cutting line etc.” He advised. “I’ve recently bought some 8” long Rapala pliers with tungsten carbide teeth that can cut braid as well as mono, fit split rings, cut treble hooks and also act as a pair of forceps. It saves carrying multiple different tools around.”

After showing me the pliers he put them back into one of the umpteen pockets in his jacket, another seemingly practical possession. It turned out to be even more functional than I originally thought as it included a self inflating personal flotation device (PFD). Wearing a buoyancy aid whilst shore fishing had never occurred to me but it made perfect sense given the size of the swell coming in and Toby’s position at the end of a rocky outcrop.

He put it into an all too realistic context for me recalling a recent mishap where he ended up in the water after, in his own words, foolishly trying to get back a lure that had snagged. The PFD inflated as it should and would have played an even more important role had he bashed his head and lost consciousness which is an eminent possibility given the rocky terrain.

It really brought home the importance of safety to me and really got me thinking about the times I had been balanced in a precarious position, spinning or float fishing in just shorts, t-shirt and a pair of sandals, and with little regard for the power of the sea. Needless to say, I gave myself a mental clip ‘round the ear for being so irresponsible.


Some useful lessons learned

I knew that Toby had recently fished the Weymouth Bass Festival alongside some long established lure anglers that he had met through various fishing circles and it was clear he had absorbed a huge amount of knowledge on the back of this.

I wanted to tap into this so I asked for a few examples of useful lessons learned. The response was immediate, “To read the water and understand where the fish should be. This is probably the most important thing that I’ve learnt since taking up lure fishing.”

This point was evident from just observing Toby earlier scouting for the optimum spot to fish from, deliberately taking into account the terrain and the swell amongst other things. Everything seemed to be tactical and to a certain extent planned even as far as just retrieving the lure.

Toby elaborated on this, “You can often fish the same lure in a variety of different ways from a straight retrieve, to a retrieve, pause and twitch, popping, and at different depths just by raising or lowering your rod.”

I could tell that Toby’s final tip came from learning the hard way.  “Get control of the fish before trying to unhook it!” he ruefully reflected.  “Not having caught loads of fish before, particularly bass, this was something that was not apparent to me until having to deal with a lively bass with sharp spines in its fins, razor sharp gill plates and 3 treble hooks flying around, all in very close vicinity to your hands.”

Wise words and something I could fully relate to after having my best summer bass season in recent years. Those inevitable cuts and grazes make for a painful experience when combined with lashings of salty water.


Evoking the senses

The fish had evidently not read the script and were conspicuous by their absence so I asked Toby to describe the feeling of hooking into a fish on a lure – what made it so special? I knew straight away that I had asked the right question and had teased out perhaps the biggest draw of lure fishing. The response was full of passion and enthusiasm.

“It’s so sudden. You may have been quietly casting and retrieving your lure for hours and then WHAM!! FISH ON!! Your heart starts pumping and your knees trembling. I reckon that the feeling is emphasised because you’re holding the rod in your hands when the fish smashes the lure.”

I let Toby get on with more of an extended fish and settled back to observe proceedings and was just blown away by the serenity of the scenery. Despite the noise of swell and white water crashing on the rocks it was just so tranquil, positively therapeutic in fact. Watching Toby and a couple of other lure anglers working away, it seemed that they had entered a Zen-like state, completely absorbed in their own world and focused on the area in front of them, feeling every vibration of the lure through the rod as they worked them in a specific, methodical way.

I think it was at this point that it all clicked and I really started to get an appreciation of the draw of lure fishing. It was clear that my outlook on the subject was changing and I was starting to regret my previously reluctant attitude.


Successfully balancing the best of both worlds

One of the reasons for my reluctance to give lure fishing a chance seems to stem from an irrational fear of perhaps liking it so much that I ended up forsaking my fishing roots. Bait fishing has always been my passion and I have so many fond memories of growing up learning to fish with both my father and grandfather. I looked to get Toby’s take on my concerns and stated that a lot of lure anglers seem to move solely to that side and forsake other forms of fishing. I asked him whether he was going to do this and whether he felt that he could combine both.

“No I’m not going to do that, certainly as far as I feel at the moment anyhow and yes I think that I can do both.” Touching on the key reason why, he went on to add, “I’ve met some good friends through SWSF and bait fishing. Many of these people don’t lure fish regularly so to keep in touch with them I will definitely still go bait fishing.”

I must admit I liked his answer as it just summed up the camaraderie and value of friendships within the wider angling world.


Acknowledging the error of my ways

I like to think that I am reasonable enough to admit it when I am wrong and this is one of those cases. I readily dismissed lure fishing for a number of reasons, many of which I outlined at the beginning of this article. However just spending a day getting another person’s perspective blew many of these out of the water. Even if some pre-conceptions remain, rather than just carry them with me I have seen enough of the upside to lure fishing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Toby for taking the time to meet up with me, putting up with my endless questions and for just being so candid with his answers. I have seen Toby’s transition into the world of lure fishing and it seems to have been such a positive experience which fills me with optimism not only for my own foray into the area but also for any other potential fledgling lure anglers. It truly is an area of fishing that is accessible to all.


Barely scratching the surface

Now I have barely scratched the surface here and it was never my intention to try and cover absolutely everything to do with lure fishing. That would be impossible and would quite probably fill quite a hefty book. I wanted to tap into the psyche of a passionate lure angler recently immersed in the discipline as well as sharing the evolution of my own candid views.

If you are interested in finding out more about lure fishing there is plenty of resources out there. From dedicated websites like The Lure Forum, to the opportunity of guided sessions conducted by an experienced lure angler. I would also be remiss if I did not mention that there are a number of dedicated lure angling shops on our doorstep in the south-west. As well as selling all the kit you could possibly need to get into lure fishing, they also throw in perhaps the most important commodity of all – good, solid advice.

How to Float Fish for Bass

bubble floatI must admit, I’m a big fan of float fishing for Bass. Once you’ve established what you think is a ‘Bassy’ area (and there are certainly enough places to catch Bass in Devon and Cornwall!), float fishing allows you to park the bait right on top of it. A float allows an angler to get a bait mid water, tight to an interesting feature, and keep it there.

Since Bass are generally wily old creatures, the use of light fluorocarbon line such as Berkley Vanish is a good bet. 10 – 12 lb should be suitable in most instances. Trace length will depend on the area fished.

A huge brightly coloured float just a few feet above the bait won’t to anyone any favours either – clear plastic bubble floats, like those used when float fishing for Mullet, are recommended.

Many baits can be used when float fishing for Bass, but live baits are the clear favourite (Sand Eel, Prawn, Brit and mini species all work well) and a cruising Bass will also take ragworm, lugworm, Mackerel and Squid (and cocktails of the above) on the float also. Float fished baits should be mounted on anything up to a 3/0 hook – sharp, wide gape hooks such as the Manta 540s are a good bet since once the bait is nicely presented (particularly larger live prawn etc) you can still have a good amount of hook exposed.

Guide to Estuary Bass Fishing

Estuaries can make for a superb Bass fishing session if you just know where to fish and how to fish for them – and with so many estiaries dotted along our Devon and Cornwall coastline, you will never be that far from one. Split into sections, this guide will get you on your way to catching more Bass from our estuaries. Good luck!

Fishing Gear

Rod – A carp rods or medium weight spinning rods are ideal for Bass fishing in estuaries. They provide the necessary sensitivity and will have power enough to cope with a hard running Bass. Not only will the fish generally be working close in around features, negating the need for distance casting, the water will normally be calm and its usually possible to find a sheltered area along one or tother bank, so pumping lead through a headwind is rarely an issue.

Reel – Again, keep it light and match the rod. A smaller baitcaster or fixed spool reel loaded with 15lb nylon is more than enough to successfully play and land many of the fish you will catch. If you’re feeling lucky, punk, drop it down to 10lb braid – but keep that clutch loose…

Rod Rest – For estuary Bass fishing, it’s a ‘nice to have’ for when you opt to bottom fish.

Mobile Phone – Not necessarily fishing gear, but on occasion you may want to venture onto the flats. Some of these areas can be like bloody quicksand so, like when bait digging in estuaries, carrying a phone is never a bad idea (so long as it’s charged!)

Estuary Fishing Rigs

Wembury BassEstuary fishing for Bass is an extremely versatile affair; lure fishing, livebaiting, float fishing and bottom fishing are all valid options.


Lure fishing – Depending on the type lure, there is an option to clip it directly onto an American snap swivel at the end of the main line (for Dexters, Tobys etc), or if small Redgills/Eddystone lures are being used, an ounce or so of weight will be required to flick it out a bit further. In this case, a 1 or 2oz in-line ball weight followed by a 4- 5 ft flowing trace (10lb Amnesia with lure on the end) will see good results.

Livebaiting – Simply free lining a Sand Eel or any mini-species will get a Bass going, and there’s no doubt about it. Keep the clutch loose, though, as they WILL hit hard.

Float fishing – Stealth is the key, so a small bubble float will 10lb trace is the way ahead. Trace length with depend on where you are flicking the float.

Bottom fishing – Running ledger or Pulley rig for the bigger Bass (don’t be afraid of using up to a 4/0 hook – the Sakuma range, especially the 545 ME is strong enough to deal with a hefty Bass and is as sharp as you like.) Sometimes a small floating bead or small piece of polystyrene is needed to keep your bait just off the bottom if the shore crabs are out in force (this does, however, detract from bait presentation somewhat). And for the schoolies, you’ll find using a 2 hook flapper will bring excellent results.


Gripper leads maybe needed to hold your tackle fast on springs or in a bottleneck, but sometimes allowing a rolling lead to be taken with the tide and thus find a deeper channel, a natural food holder, can be worth a shot.

Baits For Estuary Bass Fishing in Devon and Cornwall

Peeler Crab – In our opinion, a big fat juicy Peeler crab is the hands down king of the bait box when it comes to estuary Bass fishing (at least for the better ones.) They may be expensive but by god, they’re worth it. If you can’t get hold of any, softies are the next best thing…and bait elastic is essential for good presentation and preservation of those pricey peelers!

Ragworm – Being a local resident to most estuaries in the Southwest, ragworm are also a great bait for Bass fishing. Head hooking a few Harbour Ragworm, or ‘maddies’, could well hook you a school Bass, at least. A large King Ragworm can also be free lined or bottom fished when head hooked, the natural wriggling movement being the main draw card here.

Lugworm – Lug works extremely well in the estuaries. Don’t leave home without it!

Prawn – Live prawn also has many merits, hooking 2 back to back so the tails still flick can be deadly. Blast frozen prawns can also sometimes do the business, but the hit rate is nowhere near as good – and shore crabs and rays love them too…

Mackerel and squid – Use these as big baits on big hooks for big fish. Enough said.

Live baits – particularly in the mouths of estuaries, Sand Eels can be devastating. Elsewhere, a little time scratching around catching mini-species to use as bait can prove worthwhile.

Artificial Bait – Plugs, spinners and lures are always worth a try when targeting Bass, wherever you are.

General Bassing Tips for Devon and Cornish Estuaries

Scout your proposed mark during spring low tides to locate the main channels and sandbars. Deeper, protected creeks just off the main channel are likely to hold food and/or small fish and will be prime hunting grounds for Bass. And while you are down there, why not dig some Ragworm or hunt for some peelers?

What features should you be looking for? Look for deeper gulleys, the route that the main channel takes, smaller (and normally submerged) offshoots from it, bottlenecks, rocks, boulders, shopping trolleys (!?) and basically any other area that looks different from the norm.

Bass will patrol the slopes of sandbars and shoals also, hoping to ambush prey pushed over the top a strong flood or ebb. They will also hunt for food in smaller, protected creeks.

Bottlenecks are also prime fishing areas, the tidal flow will be stronger here (gripper alert) but it also means a greater concentration of fish in the proximity of your bait. For the same reasons, these bottlenecks are also a great place to flick a lure or two.

The main channels themselves are the fishy equivalent of the M1 – and Bass are renown for patrolling the sides of channels where they have a better chance of finding food such as crabs and small fish etc – consequently, fishing them can prove more fruitful than wellying a lead right into the deepest bit.

Despite estuaries such as, say, The Tamar in south Devon, being known mainly for School Bass, there are some pretty big specimens in there, too. Even if your local estuary generally produces a constant string of Schoolies, you must try that big bait every now and then – it may get you into a double figure fish. It’s not unheard of.

Neaps or springs, it doesn’t matter. The volume of water running through the narrow channel will be strong enough to dislodge food and encourage Bass will work estuaries in all tides.

Generally speaking, a soft muddy or sandy estuary will be much lighter on your tackle that when you are rock hopping, which may encourage anglers to break out their most expensive and fancy rigs with all the bells, buzzers and whistles on. Our advice is not to bother – go with the standard, battle proven rigs and focus more on obtaining the best bait you can lay your hands on.

Guide to Bass Fishing in Harbours

A Bass session in a harbour means a wild day out. Really, it does – or it can, anyway. It’s also one of the safer and less ‘athletic’ styles of Bass fishing, so it’s open to anglers of all ages and abilities. And there’s always the chance of getting into a cracking specimen! It doesn’t get better than this. Once you get the hang of it you’ll be going back for more, time and time again.

So here’s a quick run down with a few tips to give you a head start


Fishing Gear

Rod –Distance casting is rarely a necessity when harbour fishing for Bass, more often than not the fish will be right under your nose, so a light gear setup is more than adequate. A rod capable of flicking out a couple of ounces of lead is enough, but it must also be manly enough to play a large Bass if you get into one. A strong (but not too stiff) 10-12ft carp/Bassing rod is long enough to clear obstructions yet not so big as to become unwieldy if you happen to be fishing alongside other anglers.

Reel – As always, make sure it complements the rod. Smaller bait-casters, fixed spools, or the classic 55 or 65 Abu multiplier are perfect for the task. For harbour fishing, I’d opt for mono over braid – the main reason being the sheer power in a Bass run. When hooked, a Bass will inevitably dart and run for cover which may cause your line to be dragged against, over or around obstacles – something that braid doesn’t really like too much – hence the mono. It’ll be more resilient should this happen. In addition, the extra sensitivity braid gives is of little consequence as you’ll know when you have interest from a Bass at short range! Use 10 – 15lb line and enjoy the ride.

Landing net/drop net – Harbour fishing sometimes means there’ll be a fair distance between you and the water. If fishing light in an area where you can’t play a fish toward steps etc you’ll need one. Remember it’s fishing, not Bass bungy jumping!


Harbour Fishing Rigs

Lure fishing – Castable lures such as Dexters, Tobys, Rapalas etc can be clipped directly onto your mainline via and American snap swivel or, if you like, a lighter lure (like a small Eddystone or Redgill) can be used in conjunction with a small ball weight further up the trace. Artificial eels are extremely popular in Devon and Cornwall, and for good reason.

Livebaiting – Either free line a Sand Eel or another mini-species or weigh your gear down slightly with an in line ball weight of 1 – 2 oz, followed by a flowing trace of 4 – 6ft with the a live bait on. The second method is handy if there are various obstacles nearby, such as pontoons, stanchions, or ropes and chains, since then you can control your bait a little better and stop it from swimming around randomly and wrapping your line around stuff.

Float fishing – use a sneaky little bubble float with a 10lb Vanish trace. Floats fish particularly well with livebaits, and can be flicked out to fish mid-water near otherwise inaccessible pontoons.

Bottom fishing – Use either a Running ledger or Pulley rig with up to a 4/0 hook, and since you will only get the one chance at any particular bass, make it count. The strong and sharp Sakuma 540 Manta or Manta Extra – the heavier guage version – is a sound choice.For the Schoolie Bass, it has to be two hook flappers all the way.


Tidal flow should never be much of an issue in protected marinas or harbours, so avoid sticking a church roof on the end of your gear. If you chuck a big lead out, you’ve only got to crank it back in again. Also, with a lighter lead, what water movement there is may allow your lead to find a natural gulley or depression, both are perfect food holding areas for Bass.


Baits For Harbour Bass Fishing in Devon  & Cornwall

Live baits – In our opinion, for bassing, live baits in harbours are the way ahead for several reasons.

1. You’re targeting an out and out predator.

2. Usually, no manly casting is necessary. In general, you will be fishing right under your nose.

3. It’s using a bait native to that environment – it’s where all the other mini-species, shrimps and small fry hang out too, albeit not with hooks through their backs.Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to catch at least one form of live bait in a harbour, either.

Peeler Crab – We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Bass are quite partial to peelers! Peeler crab makes an excellent bait for bottom fishing, and great in a cocktail, too. (That should read ‘as part of a bait cocktail’!)

Ragworm – The natural wriggling movement from a large, head hooked King Ragworm makes it an ideal bait for this type of fishing. Fishing light or free lining Ragworm near structures (try all different depths) can bring good results. Bottom fishing bunches of smaller ragworm will also tempt a cruising Bass.

Prawn – Fishing a pair of lively prawns in their natural environment, ie alongside a harbour wall or under a pontoon, can have devastating results. If the Bass are there, baiting up 2 of them back to back will have that reel screaming in no time.

Lugworm – A juicy Lugworm cocktail is worth a shot when bottom fishing and its definitely the way to go for schoolies in our estuaries.

Mackerel and squid – Similar with Bass fishing in estuaries, put big baits on big hooks for big fish. However, in an area where scavengers are a plenty, you’re stinky bait may get some unwanted attention from the doggies.

Artificial Bait – Use your plugs, spinners and lures in much the same way you would anywhere else. Try different depths, retrieval rates and cover as much ground as you can. Check out our guide to Lure Fishing for Bass for more info.

Oh, and don’t forget Sandeel – live or frozen, it’s killer for Bass!!


General Bassing Tips for Devon and Cornish Harbours

Fish in and around features. Floating pontoons, for example, are a great place to start. As predators, Bass will lurk around in the shadows waiting for their next meal to swim by. They will also be drawn to these ‘protected’ areas thanks to smaller baitfish trying to use them for cover.

Although free lining your live bait will give it the most natural movement, adding a ball weight farther up the line will allow you not only to control its location (as mentioned earlier) but its depth, too. Try your bait or lure at all depths – one day the bass may be scavenging deep down, another day they may be hunting tight under pontoons etc.

Fish tight to walls – mini species (ie Bass lunch) will be using these for protection. Wherever there is food, the Bass won’t be far away.

Slow vertical retrieves can work much in the same way as trailing bait laterally across an area. Try it and see. On the same note, vary retrieval rates – for whatever reason, different rates can work on different days.

On the few days you are lucky enough to see Bass cruising around from the surface, make the most of it. Chop and change your lures and trace lengths like a madman to see which generates the most interest from the Bass. And even if you catch, keep experimenting – it’ll hold you in good stead for future sessions when the fish aren’t as plentiful.

Be a sneaky stalker. Always be aware of your own position (for example, are you standing in a direct line between a potential fish and a low sun?) and keep low and quiet where possible. Bass have eyes, too.

Note where shadows fall and fish in or on the edge of them. Running a lure or live bait along the line where light meets shade will give you the best of both worlds: your bait will be highly visible yet a bass lurking in the shadows won’t have to run too far to ambush.

Finally, being ever the optimist, prior to getting into a Bass, have a plan of action for when you do.  For example, if you don’t have a landing net, know where the nearest steps are/closest access to the water’s edge so you can play the fish that way from the offset. Also during the quieter times, make yourself aware of any obstacles (above and below water) that may hinder retrieval and plan accordingly – it only takes 1 mooring rope, above or below water, to lose a double figure Bass. And once into a good specimen, you may be too busy to figure these things out!

How to Catch More Bass

What is the best time of year for Bass fishing?

In Devon and Cornwall, Bass can be caught all year round, but April to November will see Bass in higher numbers around our shores. Due to the lower water temperatures, Bass are most scarce around February.

Where are the best Bass fishing spots?

How long have you got? It’s impossible to talk specifics here since there are so many excellent Bass marks in Devon and Cornwall but, generally speaking, there are certain types of ground which hold Bass in greater number than others.

Surf Beaches Check out the Guide to Bass fishing in surf

Estuaries Check out the Guide to estuary Bass fishing

Harbours & Marinas Check out the Guide to harbour Bass fishing

What are the best baits for Bass?

Bass baits fall into 3 main categories: Live baits, dead baits and Lures.


Since Bass are out and out predators many are taken on live baits and lures, but they are also opportunists, never rule out dead baits since they too can be extremely effective on their day. When fishing for Bass, just like most other types of sea fishing, match your bait to the conditions and the environment. For example, during a storm – when the sea is about as clear as custard – a dead bait with a good scent trail may out fish every lure in your box. However, from the same mark on a clear sunny day, with bait fish jumping all around, lures may do the business whereas to the cautious Bass the same dead bait, sitting on the bottom and looking a touch out of place, may look a bit, well, fishy.


Popular baits are as follows:-

Live Baits – Ragworm, Lugworm, Sand Eel, Prawn, baitfish, mini-species (Blennies/Gobies etc). For more in depth info, check out our guide to Livebaiting for Bass.

Dead Baits – Peeler crab (green shore peelers or velvet swimmers if you can get hold of them), Softies, Mackerel, Squid and Prawn.

Lures – All manner of lures will work on their day (even feathers!), but particular styles of popper, plug and spinner are time-honoured favourites. Dexter wedges, Tobys, certain Rapalas and small jelly/sand eel lures regularly do the business. Again, match the lure to the environment. For more in-depth info, check out our guide to Spinning for Bass.


When is the best time to fish for Bass?

Time of Day – You can fish anytime, particularly if the sea is coloured by day, but first and last light are definitely the best times with good Bass also being taken at night. The problem with night fishing for Bass are the limitations: safety will become even more of an issue if you’re thinking of rock hopping, and low light may hinder lure fishing in general. That said, at night, an illuminated patch of swim (from pier lighting, for example, or your own) will bring in the Bass since they use the light to hunt for bait fish/other small species. You may or may not see Bass in the illuminated swim, but you can guarantee that they will be lurking in the shadows waiting for their next meal to swim by!

Night Bass

Weather – During or directly after a patch of bad weather is a good time to fish for Bass. A rough sea is a productive one. Close to the shore, rougher seas will give the sea bed a hearty makeover and dislodge/uncover food. This new abundance of food will encourage the Bass to work further inshore instead of feeding off the sandbanks and offshore reefs. Naturally, in these conditions, safety can be an issue and commonsense prevails.Fishing just after a storm (particularly if its bean an easterly blowing and the fish have been off the feed) can be just as good and it makes for a safer and more comfortable day out. This suits me just fine since one for ‘manning it out’.

Tides – Tides are a key factor when it comes to Bass fishing. Neaps aren’t so good since less food will be dislodged during weaker tidal flows, though in the main channels of estuaries this is less of an issue. By that rationale, you’d think that ripping spring tides are the best times to shore fish for Bass, but that’s not the case. Moderate tides following the neaps are widely recognised as the most productive and best time to fish for Bass.

What is the killer Bass rig?

It all depends on where you choose to fish. Among other things, your choice of rig will depend on both the location and conditions. Check out the individual Bass fishing guides for more information on Bass fishing rigs.

What rod and reel do I need?

Again, it depends on where you are fishing but to cover most of the bases a supple rod around 10 – 12 ft (with a sensitive tip but power enough in the mid section to take charge of a hard fighting Bass). Also, remember you will be working the rod all the time, so something lightweight will make life easier. Generally speaking, look for a rod capable of casting anything between a free lined bait and 3 oz – this sounds a tall order, but some carp rods and larger spinning rods will do this. As a rough guide, a rod with a 2-3oz casting weight should do the job unless you’ve got a penchant for fishing uber-light.

More often than not, Bass will be within easy flicking range (and sometimes right under your nose!) so big leads and manly beach/surfcasters are not always necessary. However, fishing over snaggy ground, or over a sandbar where surf is breaking a long way out, may call for the heavier artillery.

When it comes to the choice of reel and line, fish as light as you can get away with. Not only will it be more fun when you connect with a Bass – or when a Bass connects with YOU in some cases – but you’ll have more of getting into one of these wily, easily spooked creatures. In calmer weather, a light spinning rod with a fixed spool reel loaded with 10lb mono, with 1 or 2oz of lead (max), will provide hours of fun – and the lighter line will open up more swim for your lure. However, as an all rounder and certainly for rougher conditions, a carp rod/heavier spinning rod and medium sized baitcaster reel with 15lb mono, or an Abu 6500 sized multiplier with 10-20lb braid (with shock leader), will hold you in good stead.

Balance your rod and reel and consider where and when you will be fishing. For example, braided line or lighter mono will be more manageable from a beach in ripping currents or at distance, but will not fare as well over rough ground or in gullies where the potential for snagging and abrasion is considerable.


And remember: if you’re fishing ridiculously light but haven’t got easy access to the water’s edge, avert the ‘one that got away’ story with a landing net!


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Mackerel Fishing Techniques

Fishing for mackerel

On days where mackerel are scarce, the main issue is finding them. Nevertheless, with the right gear and terminal tackle, once you’re into them you should be laughing all the way to the BBQ. So here are a few tips on how to avoid a compulsory visit to the chippy on the way home.

In short, cover as much ground as possible. As far it’s possible to do so without pissing off other anglers, make the most of your swim. Repeatedly sweep from one side of your arc to the other and back again. Although mackerel will move with the baitfish etc, you may discover a little holding patch – possibly an underwater pinnacle or gully that proves fruitful.


Try different depths. Some days the mackerel will be shallow, other days they will be deeper. To ‘search’ different depths, one successful technique is to cast out and subsequently count how long it takes from your lead hitting the water for it to reach the seabed. If it takes, say, 20 seconds, then cast a second time in the same area and start your retrieve (at the same rate) after 18 seconds. Continuing this routine almost all the way to the surface will ensure that you’re exploring all depths.

TIP: Take up slack line on impact. Being able to ‘feel’ your trace as it sinks means that if you’re lucky enough to pass through a shoal of mackerel on the drop then you will instantly know their depth – so long as you are counting! Naturally, this works particularly well if you’re loaded with braid.


Regularly change your traces until you find the one that works on the day. If other people are catching, see what they are using and continue to explore with that style of trace – it helps take at least one variable out of the equation.


Retrieve at different speeds. Sometimes cranking your gear back in like a man possessed works wonders, yet other times a snail’s pace hits the spot.


Retrieve using different styles. Everyone has their favourite, be it a steady retrieve, or using the rod tip to help jig it back to the shore, or a combination of the two. Try alternating between them to see which works best. Again, if there are other anglers nearby, keep an eye out to your left and right to see if one method appears to be more successful than another.


As with most sea fishing, external conditions can play a major role in the success of your session, and adapting to these can make all the difference.


Weather/sea conditions – As far as weather is concerned, ambient light and wind strength and direction will all affect you when lure fishing for mackerel. As mentioned in part 1 of this guide, changing your traces to compensate for these can make all the difference.

With regard to sea conditions, since you are solely relying on visual stimulant to catch fish when feathering, clear water/good visibility is preferred – although it could be argued that if it’s too clear then the mackerel will know your gear isn’t real food. I’ll take a chance on that though, since if they can’t see the trace in the first place then they ain’t going to chase it!

Since viz normally plummets right after a storm, a few calm days before your session should ensure decent conditions…unless there’s a bloom in the water.

If you get to the mark only to find crappy viz, fear not. Putting a very thin sliver mackerel on each hook may be enough to provide a little scent trail, tip the balance and land you a few fish.


Tides – Try to plan a session where you will be fishing through different states of tide, not just up or down. Hedge your bets by fishing both a running tide and slack water. Also, you may find mackerel moving closer in as the tide continues to rise, possibly bringing them further into your casting range as water depths increase.


Final note: This article is well worth reading for those previously considering a day of catch and release on feathers.