HOW TO APPROACH THE MOST POPULAR TYPE OF BASS MARKS WITH A FLY ROD
In part one of the coastal fly fishing for Bass series, I spoke about how daunting a long stretch of open coastline can be. I also discussed the big part weather and tide can play in successful bass fishing. In this post, we will look in a little more detail at how to approach two of the most popular types of bass marks: 1) An open coast rock mark and 2) A typical estuary mark. But let’s begin by looking at the effects that tide and moon phases have on all coastal fishing.
Time and tide
Getting to grips with neap, spring, ebb and flood tides is vital for success when fishing the coast. Generally, there are two big windows of opportunity in any given month. These occur on the new moon and full moon tidal cycles.
Now let’s be clear, the fishing can be good outside of these windows if you are lucky enough to find hungry bass. But when you’re looking to pencil days into the calendar, in and around these moon phases is a good place to start. Spring tides, i.e. the New moon (orange) and full moon (red), are when the tides are at their highest. The theory is that the increased water movement increases bass activity, and many fishing logs confirm this with higher catches on these tides. However, don’t discount neap tides (blue); these tides can offer different options to the angler.
Half-moon or neap tides are smaller and therefore create less water movement. This can mean that your favourite shallow reef remains fishable for longer than on a spring tide, sometimes increasing the available fishing window by hours. There will also be less rip in tidal currents, which can often encourage big fish to move into these now less turbulent areas, and why neaps are known locally here as big fish tides. Click Here to see the example of how I mark out a tide book. The new moon cycle is in orange, the Full moon cycle is in red, and the neap tides I target are in blue.
Predatory fish, like bass, love structure. Therefore, rocky shores and shallow reefs, which often hold an abundance of food, also provide plenty of ambush points and can be great locations to target bass.
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but it really does help to visit your intended location at low tide. This reveals gullies where fish will move in when the tide begins to flood or just sit in waiting on an ebbing tide as baitfish drop back with the water level.
While rock marks can fish on both flood and ebb tides, if I had to pick a starting point for a new spot, I would choose high water and then fish the ebb tide back down, already knowing what areas I want to target based on my low water recce.
Generally speaking, bass anglers like “fizz” when fishing rock marks. What I mean by this is white water caused by wind and wave action. The fishing tends to improve in these conditions, with bass feeding more confidently than in calmer, clear conditions. Onshore winds, up to 15mph, work best for the fly rod; stronger than this, things get tricky. Water clarity can also suffer; we need at least a few feet of visibility to ensure the bass can see our fly.
These are a great locations to catch bass on the fly, which like these, transition zones for the rich feeding they provide. Estuaries are often characterised by strong tidal flows, where bass can be expected to hang out, using the current to their advantage. I tend to favour them when conditions are too calm for rocky marks, and I’m in search of alternative water movement.
In the lower reaches of an estuary, bass will take advantage of the flow created by an ebbing tide and wait for bait moving out of the area as the water level drops. Sheltered locations can also offer good fishing on the flood tides and up to high water. This is when I will generally move further up the estuary, still looking for those important features and structure. This is also a good option if you need to seek some shelter from the wind. Once you become more confident, these locations can be very productive into and during the hours of darkness, but get to know your mark first.
Like most anglers, I enjoy fishing for bass in a T-shirt and shorts during the summer months. But the best bass fishing I’ve had in recent years has always been the shoulder seasons, e.g. March-May and October-November. Settled, mild spells at these times of the year when the days grow shorter can lead to some fantastic fishing. The bass seems to move to the fly with real intent. A common misconception is that bass are a summer fish; that’s simply not the case, especially if you want to target the bigger fish that frequent our coastlines.
Match the hatch
Always keep a lookout for bait in the water. If there’s a noticeable lack of bait in the area, you could find the fishing hard going, and it is often an early sign you should start to think about a move. Seeing bait not only gives you confidence in your location but also allows you to match the hatch. Whether it’s a slim sandeel or larger sprat, matching your fly to the available bait can often make the difference between catching or not and shape, size and profile all matter.
The presence of baitfish on a mark forces the bass into what I call ‘hunt mode’ when the fish are actively searching for food. This increases your chances considerably. Rock marks often offer superb locations from which to observe this hunting behaviour. Only this summer, I spotted several good bass moving in front of me quite lethargically, showing no interest in my fly. After around 15 to 20 minutes, a big shoal of baitfish moved through, and the bass followed closely behind, but this time with much more intent and moving much faster. I can’t say if they had seen or sensed the shoal, but something certainly made those fish engage in hunt mode, and the fishing switched on as a consequence.
But it’s not always baitfish; at that same mark in spring, I’d watched bass “head down” rooting around in gullies. I cast various flatwing-style patterns within inches of these feeding fish, all to no avail. Then, finally, it became apparent that they had their heads down, gorging on shrimp or crab, so make sure to carry a few crab and shrimp patterns for those days when there’s not a lot of baitfish around; they can make all the difference.
While being able to double haul and put out a long line can be beneficial when coastal fishing, it’s not always necessary; sometimes, fish can be at your feet. My number one tip to any newcomer would be, by all means, to practice your casting and double haul but to concentrate more on a good presentation. You want the fly to be fishing the moment it touches down and not land in a tangled mess. A disproportionate amount of takes come shortly after your fly hits the water, and you’re not going to feel them unless you are in direct contact with your fly.
I’ve picked up these tips on fly-fishing for bass over time, and they should be considered guidelines rather than hard fast rules. Bass marks will vary widely, as will fish behaviour; all I can do is encourage you to get out there, explore and enjoy learning your marks. Pursuing bass is nearly all about being in the right place at the right time, and the hunt is the real challenge. Tight lines.