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
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!