Monday, 3 October 2011

Sea bass feeding frenzy!

After a few bad trips, and generally poor finish to the season for sea kayak fishing, everything came good.  As so often with memorable trips, the feeding blitz came out of nowhere, totally unexpected and in difficult conditions to boot.  It just goes to show that you can never stop learning when sea bass fishing, and you have to constantly question your assumed knowledge if you want to continue to be successful.

I arrived on what seemed like a windless day as I drove to the coast.  But on the beach itself, a stiff breeze was gusting and white horses were flecking the horizon.  It still looked worth a chance though, as I thought I could make a line of clearer water before the point at which the white horses started, giving me a narrow band to try and find some fish.  I launched and quickly realised the sea was a lot "friskier" than I had thought.  Decidedly lumpy, as kayakers say!  Worse, after a couple of drifts of my initial mark there was no sign of a fish anywhere.  With the tide rapidly going out, I decided to head out to some other marks that generally fish best on low tide.

But everywhere I tried, I faced the same thick cloudy water and not a sign of fish or fish-feeding birds anywhere.  I always keep an eye out for cormorants and guillemots, as these birds are excellent indicators that fry or sandeel are available.  As a rule of thumb, this generally means the bass aren't far behind.  However on this particular day, I could only see cormorants sunning themselves on the rocks - never a good sign to see the professionals are not fishing!

I paddled and paddled, and paddled some more.  Finally, I thought that's it.  There are no fish about.  I'll go to my last mark, put an X-Rap on and troll it back.  If I get nothing I'll just call it a day.  The tide was turning and starting to move at pace as I reached the mark, and I noticed a slight clearing of the water.  And a pair of seals.  Don't generally mind them being around, as I take their presence much the same way as I like to see diving birds.  I stopped and drifted a little while I changed to the X-Rap, and then started to slowly paddle back.  Bang!  Unbelievable!!  My trusty, rusty little X-Rap had found a fish:
First rule of kayaking is find the fish.  Second rule is stay with the fish!
I quickly tried another cast and bang!  Another fish.  Now from past experience I know this means that I've found where the fish are grouped up at this particular point in the tide.  This means you've got a limited window in which to profit.  You must stay with the fish, but that doesn't mean the fish themselves won't start to move as water heights and currents change over the sea bed.

I also know that once you've found them, and they are in a feeding frenzy, you are going to catch a lot.  It really doesn't matter what plug you put on, within reason most plugs will catch.  I repeatedly cast the little X-Rap SXR10 and it caught a fish every cast.  After reaching double figures, I wondered if I might be able to select for slighter bigger fish using a longer minnow type plug.  On went my sponsor's Duo Tide Minnow Slim 120 in J222:
Yep, that worked nicely.  The problem (and it's a nice problem to have) is that when you are catching a fish every cast, you quickly get frustrated at having to waste valuable time unhooking them.  And one of the features of Tide Minnows I don't like (along with many other minnow style plugs) is the fact that they have 3 treble hooks.  I looked for an alternative:
As you can see here, the shape of Daiwa Saltiga Minnow 120 is practically identical to the Duo TMS 120.  The main differences are that the DSM 120 is heavier and has two large trebles.  But the trebles on the DSM 120 are not just larger, they are heavyweight wire hooks that won't bend easily: ideal for a day such as this when I'm expecting to get a lot of fish.  Thin wire hooks, while admittedly being sharper, can quickly get bent out of shape.  Three trebles can cause unnecessary damage to fish, particularly in the situation I was facing in which the fish are competing to get the lure.  In these situations I have hooked two bass at once, not good for either the bass or plug, as it can often get broken or the hooks ruined.

Fish after fish after fish hit the Daiwa Saltiga Minnow 120.
For the next two hours, I probably had just two or three casts in which the plug made it back to the kayak without getting hit by a bass!  The competition between the fish was evident, with sometimes 5 or 6 fish chasing alongside the hooked fish in the water - a fantastic sight.  Quite often my lure would get hit 2 or 3 times, but the bass never gave up.  They repeatedly came back at the lure until they got hooked, and because the leading fish usually caught the lure it would often try and swallow the plug as deeply as it could:
In fact, even changing to a two treble lure didn't mean I could avoid all unnecessary damage to fish.  I like to return everything I don't keep in good condition, with the best chance of survival possible.  On a day like today, with the fish frantic to get to the lure first, there are some that swallow the lure so deep that there's nothing you can do:
If my pliers can't reach the bottom hook, I knock them on the head immediately.
The tide had now swung round and was flowing hard, but by a miracle the wind was gusting in the opposite direction, allowing me to keep the kayak in the hot spot over the fish for 10-15 minutes at a time.  I was incredibly lucky with how the conditions turned out.  The water cleared and now the bigger bass were coming up from the depths to hit that lure hard:
Another fine slab-sided Yorkshire bass.
The photos don't show it, but it was surprisingly choppy out there.  I noticed the average stamp of fish was getting better, and lost a couple around the 6lb mark.  Suddenly I noticed after a couple of smaller fish had thrashed around on the surface that something was wrong with the plug.  Turned out my clip was mangled beyond repair:
Delalande Agrafe Rapide Inox No. 6, as recommended by Henry Gilbey, and as destroyed after 20 plus bass! Personally I find these clips fiddly and won't be using them again.
Suddenly before I knew it, high tide was fast approaching and the fish just vanished.  It was as if they had never been there.  I went ashore to gut my catch.  One day I'll make a proper descaler, as bass scales are a chore to remove before cooking the fish and quickly clog up a sink.  After so many recent trips coming home empty handed, today felt like I had hit the jackpot and I pretty much made up the remainder on my self-imposed yearly quota (~20 sea bass per year).

It was a great day, perhaps my best in 5 years of sea kayaking.  One thing that reminds you constantly that you're dealing with an efficient, well-armoured predator is that your hands get cut to ribbons.  It doesn't help that they are constantly wet from paddling or handling fish, so your skin is soft and more prone to taking the damage that gill spikes and fin spines can cause - but hey, who cares?  It was worth it!
Proof of catching a lot of sea bass!
The end of our season is fast approaching, but if I don't get to go again this year I won't mind.  It was an incredible day, one that will stay in my memory for many years.


  1. These memorable days stay imprinted in your mind for good! Great report! :)

  2. Cheers - good luck to you too on your next trip!

  3. Hola Kester.
    Un buen dia de pesca compañero,ya veo que no te aburriste con tanta lubina.Enhorabuena.
    Un Abrazo.

  4. Thanks Juan - it was an amazing day, I've never known anything like it!

  5. Great fishing kester,,,,can we link blogs


  6. Excellent fishing Kester - great to see them caught in numbers off the kayak like that. How were you staying with the fish in the tide were you just paddling to hold in the current or did you anchor up/use a drogue?

  7. Hi Andy

    I never use a drogue. I've never found my catches suffer as a result, and I think that for sea bass at least, maintaining your mobility on the drift is generally an asset. The longer it takes for you to take up the drogue, start paddling and fishing again, the more chance there is of fish moving off the mark long before you've noticed.

    But I have to admit I got lucky on that occasion, as the wind was against the tide rip. Had it been in the same direction you literally would have had one cast / fish before having to paddle back to where the fish were. At that particular mark, the tide can rip through at a brisk walking pace so a drogue isn't really an advantage in that situation.

    The same goes for anchoring. It's not something I would ever want to do, as I value mobility too highly to want to be fixed in one place. Drifting lets you cover plenty of sea bed, giving you greater chance of catching a fish. Once you've found them, OK you might think about an anchor or a drogue, but personally I don't bother. I just make a rough note of where I hooked up and paddle back over the mark. Quite often I find a productive mark can be several hundreds yards worth of drift - who's to say staying in the same spot would catch you more?

  8. All makes sense Kester. The other advantage of not anchoring or using a drogue of course being you have less to get tangled up when you're bringing in those fish!!

  9. Absolutely. KISS in effect!

    Tight lines.

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