IFD: Peter Aspinwall is one of Ireland’s top bass angling guides. He specialises in fly and lure fishing and over the years has built up an intimate picture of their movements and behaviours. This is the first installment in a series where Peter will be giving us his advice and tips for catching this beautiful predator. So over to Peter…
Someone once asked me “Do you like fishing?” My reply was “Does the pope wear a funny hat?” I love it! My father took me fishing for the first time to the River Ouse in Cambridgeshire at the age of four and I caught three small gudgeon. I have fished every year since that and intend to until I die or am incapable of it.
My fishing was widespread in the UK. Competition match angling for a while, trout fishing on the large reservoirs in the Midlands, Carp fishing and Pike during the winter months. I moved to Clonakilty in the September of 1996 and the Atlantic blew me away. A whole new playground was on my doorstep with the Bass as the number one quarry.
Twenty years on I still fish for them and guide fellow anglers too. I adore being on the water whether I’m fishing or not and relish the six week period from mid August until the end of September. Prime bass time!
Most of my bass fishing is done from the boat but the tactics and conditions I look for would apply to the shore too. I am asked a lot of questions during a days guiding and they mostly concern tides, weather and time of year. I’ll start with the easy one. Time of year. I have caught bass in every month of the year as I know many bass anglers have too.
Lure fishing can be largely unproductive in the early months of the year and bait fishing will be more successful until things begin to warm up. Lugworm and Razorfish would be my “Go to” baits for the first four months of the year. At the end of April and start of May the bass are coming back from their spawning grounds and are voracious. Lures and fly tactics come into play now, especially if it coincides with a high pressure.
Bait anglers should be utilising the Peeler Crab that are becoming more abundant. June and July brings the lures into play even more and the anglers willing to fish into darkness will get their rewards. Then we come to August, September and October. More fish are caught in these three months than the rest of the year put together so make the most of it.
Why is it so good? The longer evenings signal the onset of winter and the bass are fully aware of it. They need to build body weight and fat reserves to sustain them through the cold months and the mass of sandeels and baitfish is their source of protein.
Shoals of bass combine to form mega shoals giving them the ability to prey on large concentrations of baitfish and get those much needed calories. For the last few years I have witnessed these massive shoals of bass, normally in September and they can be as far as a mile off the shoreline. Shoals the size of multiple football pitches and brutes of fish in them. I had a nine pound fish two years ago on a surface lure close to a mile off the shore and on its return, myself and my boat partner Bat O’Donavan both agreed it was only average compared to the fish that were under the boat.
The bass that day were feeding on small baitfish no longer than two inches and totally preoccupied with them. Where’s the bloody fly rod when you need it? Since that day I always carry a pack of very small baitfish imitations (soft plastic) which I would tie off on the back treble of a popper much the same way as a fly angler would fish the Klink and Dink for trout.
What is also good about this time of year is that you’re more likely to find these fish as the feeding is on the surface. The big shoals have the ability to drive the baitfish to the top and the birds zone in on this free feast.
A flock of birds a thousand in number can be spotted a long way off and is always worth checking out as they are there for a reason. Even a handful of gulls sitting on the water is worth a cast. Quite often they will spot a shoal of resting bass and follow them about until they resume feeding. This has worked for me countless times and let’s face it, you might as well cast to something as nothing.
Surface lures are a must to have in your armoury this time of year. I am so confident with them in September I use little else. The IMA Skimmer is my “go to” lure when I know I’m over fish and I put on a Patchinko or the big Feed popper when I’m searching for them. Make plenty of disturbance and noise with them and stick at it. You can sort out quality fish doing this.
Ideally you are looking for high pressure with light to no winds to fish these methods effectively. Cloud cover is nice but not essential. Broken cloud and blue skies are perfect.
Keep your eyes and more importantly your ears open. In my experience any large fish breaking the water this time of year is a feeding bass. You will hear the splash a few hundred yards away and you can nudge the boat into that area. Don’t cast straight away. If it breaks the water again (or another fish, remember bass are shoaling fish) cast at it and leave the lure a few seconds. The impact of the lure hitting the water should alert the bass and let it find it. A couple of pops and leave it again. There is every chance the fish will hit it static.
Don’t be disheartened with my talk of “a mile offshore” as the fish are in close as well. Evening or early morning would be the time to hit the shoreline for this style of fishing but I do think the bass are likely to move away from angling activity during the day.
Try to fish the less pressurised marks, these are likely to be the ones with a long walk!
Tides spring or neap, flood or ebb? This time of year it really doesn’t bother me. High pressure and light winds are what I look for and a skyline like that at the start of “The Simpsons”…….. Perfect!