Ignoring the brief cold snap we endured in early February which will have no real effect, the winter here in the UK has been especially mild. Possibly the mildest for 30-years. Looking at the sea temperatures currently the English Channel reads about 8C off Kent, 9C off Hampshire and an almost tropical 10C off the Devon and Cornish coast. It’s 9C off Wales, and 10C off Cork and Kerry in Ireland. Normally it’s at least a good 2C colder in February when the sea temperature peaks at its coldest.
With the sea temps so high, it’s been no surprise to me that bass of good size have continued to be caught in some regions throughout the January period. This is significant!
Bigger bass in the 10lb plus size tend to be fish that move north from more southerly climes where their initial growth rate is faster than it would be in UK waters. They then have a decision to make every winter as to how far back south they travel to breed and over winter, this governed by sea temperature to some extent. In colder years they may move well south, but in warmer years they stay close and remain in close proximity to the coast and likely overwinter in the English Channel and Irish Sea.
But there’s a double whammy effect that in warmer winters and higher spring time sea temperatures, that another influx of bass from the Bay of Biscay head further north than usual in to UK waters therefore swelling the numbers of big bass available. Yes its predicting the future, but my guess is that 2012 will be just such a year with more big bass in UK waters than would normally be the case.
I’m also of the opinion that a bass to break the British and Irish records and exceed 20lbs in weight is there to be caught. The proof is in recent catches. The Cork coast of southern Ireland has produced a flurry of big 10lb plus bass over the past few years. In 2011 the biggest Irish bass weighed 16.5lbs, a little over a pound less than the current Irish best.
The biggest UK bass was taken back in December by Tsong Va San from Lewisham and bounced the scales down to 18lbs 15ozs 12dr some three hours or more after capture. To reach this size, these fish would need a fast growth rate, especially in their early years to mid adulthood, and this is where that southern connection comes in.
Having established that the record breakers are there, how do we target bass of this massive size?
Boat anglers need to fish whole mackerel, pouting, or very big launce sandeels. Fish of record size will be predominately eating live fish when offshore. The most likely mark to produce a big offshore bass is a wreck, either an offshore one in the English Channel, or an inshore one off the Kent or Sussex coast with the time period August to December best, though big fish can show at any time of year. Reefs could also produce a biggie and traditional marks such as the Eddystone Reef off Plymouth, the inshore wrecks of Cornwall, and the sand banks off Burry Port and Tenby in South Wales could also be in contention.
In Ireland I’d pick Waterford and Cork Harbour as being the absolute hotpsots for boat anglers, but then this coast is littered with good big bass marks and it’s much harder to be specific.
From the shore there has been a history of big April and May fish, these again probably southern dwellers migrating further north than would be normal. These tend to be fish caught in the smaller estuaries of Devon and Cornwall, or from harbours where food is abundant during the spring period. South Wales can also throw up these early big fish, with anglers looking for the rays inadvertently hitting these fish from the beaches and rocks. The odd one is possible from the small estuaries that litter the Cardigan Bay coastline in mid Wales, also the Menai Straits in North Wales. In Ireland, look to the Wexford shore, Cork and Kerry, though good anglers in Galway also feel they have a run of big bass too, and are slowly gathering information on the migration patterns.
The very best time to go all out for these big bass will be from the same areas, but in September to December when the bass feed heavily prior to spawning. A good time is always just after a good onshore blow which will pull the fish in tight to the shoreline.
Though we all hear stories of huge bass caught on scraps of worm on tiny hooks, the majority of big bass caught by intention fall to big baits. History also tells us that fish baits give you the best chance of success. If I was targeting a record breaker, I’d be fishing a whole large bluey with just the head and tail fin removed, whole mackerel flapper or the head and guts, one or two whole squid depending on their size, or a whole cuttlefish on big hooks size 6/0.
If you’re fishing beaches, especially steep-to deeper beaches, or estuary channels, then keep your casts to sub 50-yards, as the big fish invariably come very close in. I’d also be inclined to concentrate my fishing to the dark hours, or at least fish well coloured water.
The biggest question to ask yourself, is do you have the patience and the drive to specifically target one of these monsters and ignore the general fishing around you? If you have the slightest doubt you can do that, the likelihood is that you’ll fail. The fish are there to be caught, but you literally have to fish for them and the more time you put in, the better the odds climb in your favour. Only a single minded approach will yield success!
In my opinion, the next two to three years offers the best chance of the British and Irish bass records being beaten. Beyond that, logic suggests the opportunity will diminish for some years to come. For many of us in middle age or older, it’s now or never to catch that bass of a lifetime!