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!