A tricky subject I know. This is only my opinion and I know some people will disagree but here goes.
First and foremost I am like a “pig in s##t” with the reformed bass laws brought in earlier this year. About time too! Ireland had the good sense to protect the species a quarter of a century ago and the genius’s in Brussels have finally done something about it.
They are now saying bass stocks have hit critical levels and the UK are considering a total ban (including angling) for the coming year. Don’t you just love them! What I would love to know is…. how do they know?
How would you go about surveying bass stocks? I’ve owned a boat for the last seventeen years and I know the habitat they occupy. You can’t see them most of the time!
They love the cover of the kelp beds and when you catch them from there the colouration of them is starkly different to a bass caught from the sandy areas near the shore. They are nearly black. So I’d love to know how they survey that. Also, bass spawn on the edge of the continental shelf and the offspring end up wherever the tides and wind takes them. My point being? A survey on one particular area has no bearing on overall bass stocks. So how do they get their figures?
My guess is feedback from commercial “line caught” fisherman and anglers. “Line caught” bass in the UK are big bucks and restaurants will pay high end money for them.
Every year I am guessing their catches diminish and they put it down to lack of fish. Anglers too are finding it harder and harder to catch bass as the seasons pass by. But why?
Here’s my theory. I firmly believe European Bass have been around even longer than Cliff Richard. An awful long time. They are supreme predators and most predators are smart. They have to be. On land a rabbit hasn’t got to wrack its brains as to where its next meal from but the wily fox does. The rabbit happily eats away at the grass in front of it (acres of the stuff) whilst the fox works out how he’s going to eat the rabbit. I hope you see where I’m coming from.
So, back to our beloved bass. Anglers have been fishing the surf beaches for many decades now with reasonable success. And then came the Lure Revolution. I know of a couple of people at the forefront of this era, John Hall was one (if you’re out of pocket don’t come crying to me. He owes me too!) and Patrick Gallagher. I wasn’t at the coal front then but pretty close and the fishing was unbelievably good.
Patrick was telling me last year of his pioneering days of lure fishing and his results were nothing short of spectacular. It was like giving an eighty year old man Viagra for the first time! Think about it. Anglers were fishing virgin ground containing one of the most predatory fish Cliff has ever seen! I am talking about the “Rough ground” that covers the majority of our coastline.
Now Cliff has reliably informed me that these fish felt very safe and secure in their environment. It is likely that some marks were fished on occasions by bait anglers losing six rigs in as many casts and walking away saying “F##k this for a game of marbles” but that in all likelihood, was all the pressure they got. All the bass in these areas were supremely confident and would attack anything that moved if they thought it would fit in their gobs.
I could give you loads of analogies to back this up but I’ll pick two. A very good friend, Bat O’Donavan (His father Laurence passed away last Thursday at the age of ninety nine. Laurence may you rest in peace.) went fishing to one of our local rough ground marks, probably in 1999.
Armed with a shitty eleven foot rod, fifteen pound BS monofilament and about ten percent of the finesse he has today (On the lures, Bat is a legend angler) he embarked on his maiden lure fishing expedition. He nailed eight bass to eight pound in just over a couple of hours. On a J13 Rapala. I have never heard of anyone doing better than that from that particular mark and doubt if I ever will.
My other one goes back to my childhood, not bass this time but Pike fishing. We used to fish a small tributary to the River Ouse called Cook’s Backwater. We would buy a pound of Spratt from the fishmongers on the Friday and share it between three of us. We pushed the boundaries one day and fell on a bonanza of Pike (probably fishing places that hadn’t been fished for years) and used all the bait up in two hours.
One of the fish we caught was blind in one eye and we aptly named it “One eyed Jack”. C’mon, a jack pike with one eye. What else are you going to call it? So being young, stupid and craving more Pike action (I’m sure we had a dozen fish in two hours) we bought a pound of Spratt each the following week end. Guess how we got on? We caught one. “One eyed Jack”. That was it.
We went a few more times that winter to that particular spot and old Jack would take our Spratt once more to say “hello”. We never had that bonanza again and I’m sure Jack didn’t want to be surrounded by three spotty twats smoking Picadilly No7 (cheapest fags going then) stinking of Bovril crisps and Irn Bru but the poor bugger only had one eye and was hungry. The rest of the fish with two eyes didn’t have to suffer that humiliation.
So why is it that with our super sophisticated rods, reels, braids and lures we can’t come even close to the action of those early days of lure fishing for bass?
I believe that the bass learned quickly that everything that swims in front of them is not necessarily food and comes with its inherent dangers. They got smart. Of course we can still catch them and have “Red letter days” thrown in there too. I think we use those early days as a benchmark of how bass fishing should be and we are wrong to do so. I was told once “The secret to happiness is to want less.” It’s great advice in all aspects of life, including fishing.
I personally believe our Irish Bass stocks are very healthy and hopefully they will remain that way. During the last few years whilst fishing from the boat the band of water 200 to 400 metres off the shoreline has been the most productive of all. It just happens to be out of casting range from the shore. Coincidence maybe? I don’t think so.
I would like to dedicate this article to “One eyed Jack.” Without his help I’m sure we would have blanked three or four times through the long, cold winter of 1975.