Monday, 23 September 2013

The joys and frustrations of trolling for bass

Start of the autumn bass fishing!

Well it's that time of year again when the 'cod goggles' finally get taken off and I start to focus on sea bass. My sea bass window is surprisingly short, just a few weeks, as bad weather can be a curse at this time of year. You might ask why I wait until now to target them as a species? The reason is that although you can pick up several fish over the course of session during July and August, you only really start to hit the good sessions later in the year.  Besides which, before that there's plenty of great fishing to be had with the cod, pollack and mackerel.

Anyhow, it's late September and now the chances of picking up decent bass starts to increase. I set out yesterday to try some of my favourite marks despite the unpromising forecast. Winds were predicted to be westerlies with gusts to 30mph! However, the average wind speed was meant to be around the 15mph max. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for.

If the winds were a tad on the big side, so was the tide. The two flowing in the same direction made fishing almost impossible in the morning session. With my apologies for the poor quality photographs, you can see the short steep chop making the sea messy and unpredictable. Couple that with the wind knocking off the tops of the waves and you had some pretty challenging conditions.  One factor of the Pro Fisha 575 which is usually a boon worked against me yesterday. The 575 is known to weathercock in strong winds so that you end up with your back to the wind while fishing (this behaviour is due to the classic Stealth yak design of low backside and nose being clear of the water). Generally this is what you want. But yesterday was a strong westerly and as the sun rose bright as a button in the east, I was forced to fish into the dazzle. Even with good sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat, staring into the choppy glitter for several hours was not much fun.
Short chop and strong winds made fishing difficult.
But the water looked good. Reasonably clear, but with a pronounced green, milky tinge to it. Perfect for bass fishing. If I could just get more than three casts in over a drift! It was a case of paddling 10 mins back up to the start of the mark, then hurtling down to the bottom of the mark in about 3 mins! After just a single fish over three hours, and battling almost continuous wind and wave spray, I called it a morning and went on shore to share a sandwich with some fellow kayak fishermen.

Fortified with food, the shifting position of the sun and noticing a slight drop in the wind, I set out again determined to find the bass. The tide had slowed a little as low tide was approaching, and all of a sudden the bass started to appear in numbers. The frustrating thing was that I just couldn't find them while casting! The only way I could catch any was to troll my lure behind the kayak. Inevitably this would result in an immediate hook up. I landed fish after fish, each starting to fish immediately in the area where the fish was hooked, but I couldn't entice a single fish. Eventually I'd give up, cast out and start trolling back up to the start of the mark and bang! Another fish on!

I don't have the explanation why trolling sometimes beats conventional fishing.  It must be something to do the speed, depth of the lure, etc. But it might also have something to do with the rocking action of the kayak imparting just the right movement to the lure. I tried everything I could think of to mimic the trolling action of the kayak, but I could not get a fish to bite. It's bizarre, but it's happened to me before. One of the problems when you try to recreate the action of trolling is that it's very difficult to judge the speed at which your kayak moves through the water when trolling and to then copy that using your reel while trying to counteract the effect of your drift speed. The rod too points upwards in the rod holder, meaning that the lure probably also rides higher up in the water than usual. Then there is the rocking motion of the kayak. Generally it's pretty slight, but yesterday the conditions were as rough as I'm prepared to paddle and the rod tip might have been moving more than usual.
Rare underwater shot that actually worked of a bass coming in!
Whatever the reason, thanks to being able to successfully troll I was soon getting a fish a drift and quickly got into double figures. As I went along I took some for the pot and returned the rest.  Some involuntary - one was just about to get clobbered with my priest when it gave one last wriggle for freedom, got out of my hands, over legs and into the water.  I had to laugh - bass are an aggressive fish with plenty of attitude, one of the reasons they give such good sport.
Black minnow 120 doing what was it was bought for.
Once again the soft lures proved their worth. I still meet with anglers who believe in the hard lure propaganda spread by obsessive tackle tarts on the forums. Most hard lures are an expensive rip off. Yes, I was sponsored by Duo last year. But if I can be converted to soft lures, and I got some of the best hard lures that money can buy for free, then anyone can.  Let's look at the main advantages:

  1. They're cheap and effective.  About three to one against hard lures in terms of their price.
  2. They use a single hook. This is so much safer in a kayak that there shouldn't really be any discussion about the matter. Why risk landing a flapping fish with three sets of trebles in between your legs?  It's bonkers! Stick with single hook lures and let's have no more horror stories of treble hooks embedded in thumbs while at sea and needing to paddle home. It's an accident waiting to happen.
Another slab-sided Yorkshire bass.  Cracking!
So despite the weather, I ended up with a bag of eight fish, with probably double that caught over the day. I've probably one or two more sessions left before the season closes for me personally. You might think that just three bass sessions per year barely counts as fishing, but it's all in the timing. I will catch more in those three sessions than I would have if I'd been ten times earlier in the year. Trust me, I've done it. Fingers crossed that the weather is kinder next time!

Tight lines.


  1. Did you use the black minnow fiiish lures. I have had some great results on them. The smaller ones do get chewed up a bit.

  2. Aye, that's a black minnow you can see in its mouth (click on the photo to enlarge it). Good lures. Wouldn't say they're better than the Savage Gear Sand Eels, but they snag up a bit less and I think they last longer after a few fish.

  3. Great article. How much line do you let out. That is, how far is the line behind you? Thanks in advance - can't wait to give it a go!

  4. I cast out as normal and sometimes even let a bit more line out. You don't want it too short, otherwise your lure will ride up in the water. But if it's too long, then you can lose contact with the lure and miss strikes.

  5. Hi, could you let me know your trolling setup? rod, reel, braid or mono, fluorocarbon leader? etc. Thanks. Great reading by the way..

  6. I use mono (Teklon gold), but that's because I prefer its fishability compared to braid. Don't think there are any advantages to using braid on the yak, but if that's what you've got then just use that. I use a fairly short rod about 7-7.5 feet, you want it fairly stiff /fast action to help with hooking. Then a fixed spool reel with a reasonably light clutch in case you do hit a big fish. Cat out as normal. Stick it in the rod holder behind you, make sure you can't hit with a paddle and set off!

  7. Hi Kester. Very interesting read. I'm just starting out kayak fishing after years of being contented with beachcasting. Any suggestions or pointers on a particular rod, setup or anything else I should know. I have read the above comments, but as I'm a pure novice to this sport any advice or expert knowledge would be extremely helpful. Thanks

  8. Hi - there is a lot to learn if you're just starting out. My advice would be to find a kayak fishing buddy to go with you. Try posting on the anglersafloat forum to ask if there's someone in your area who would take you out and show you the ropes. You need to be fairly fit and understand basic sea safety (and use a vhf radio). It's a fantastic sport, but there's a bit more to it than most forms of fishing. You can also try reading some of the starting out guides on here. Buy cheap to begin with, very easy to lose tackle overboard or on the sea bed when you're starting out!


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