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COASTAL FLY FISHING FOR BASS: PART 1

by Steven Neely

WITH ITS SPIKED DORSAL FIN AND POWERFUL FORKED TAIL, THIS STREAMLINED FISH DEMANDS YOUR RESPECT!

The opportunities for saltwater fly fishing around the UK & Ireland are endless. So here is your quick-fire guide to chasing bass on the fly, be it a brief summer trip to the coast when the weather is nice or jumping headfirst into the addictive saltwater fly fishing game; here is a guide to the gear we use to do it!

The Challenge

Dicentrarchus labrax, or more simply put, bass in Ireland and the UK, are often considered to be one of the most exciting fish to chase with a fly rod in the inshore coastal environment. With its spiked dorsal fin and powerful forked tail, this streamlined fish demands your respect. Bass forage close to shore and are readily caught from surf beaches, estuaries, and rocky shorelines, which allows us to target them when the tide and time are correct. The open coastline, the salty air, and trying to find these fish gets under your skin. It can be challenging, but it also can be everything you want from a day on the water. Bass are a cryptic species intrinsically linked to weather, moon and tide patterns. The pursuit of bass is nearly all about getting yourself into the right place at the right time, and perhaps it’s the hunt or finding them is the real game here. Bass fishing on an open coastline epitomises the pursuit of wild fish in wild places. Doing this with a fly rod considerably ups the challenge and fun.

Location

A long stretch of open coastline with its wide range of locations might seem daunting, especially if it’s your first time leaving the comforts of a river or lake. However, it is all about covering the ground inch by inch and aiming for structure as bass like the cover! Generally speaking, bass love rough, rocky, shallow shorelines. Add some current, and you are more than halfway there! Understanding tides at your location is vital. Ebb, flood, neaps or springs, rip formations, and wind direction are all important considerations as you begin to learn when the fish might turn up. 

If you are new to bass fly fishing, aim for sandy surf beaches, look for areas where the sand meets the rocks, bait (sandeels etc.) and estuaries where tidal flows are expected. Bass like these transition zones (from rock to sand on a beach and where the river enters the sea) provide likely feeding areas. Keep an eye on tides. Fish can move in on flood tides as new feeding opportunities become available. But they can also take advantage of ebb tides, sitting in wait as bait leaves an area; this approach is particularly effective in estuaries.

Equipment

For those looking to try their hand at bass fishing for the first time and wondering what setup they need, your standard stillwater (10’ #7) or single-hand salmon (10’ #8) rods are a good starting point. Preferably those with a fast action and a line with an aggressive taper will allow you to cast more effectively into onshore winds.

However, if you want to get a little more serious in your pursuit of bass, I have put together a list of some more specialised saltwater fly gear I have been using on the coast the past few seasons.

Rods

Vision Stifu Seatrout 9ft #7 – Estuary, calm weather, open coast conditions, floating line. 

Vision Meri 9ft #8 or #9 – Open coast fishing, rocky shoreline, facing into wind and waves the more powerful rod with help punch into the wind. Intermediate or slow sink lines are good options when fishing into a wave. 

Vision Hero Switch #7 –  This is a set-up I have recently added to the armoury. A switch rod is an alternative option when faced with tight casting situations (at the base of a cliff) or swinging flies in current.

Stripping basket

Don’t leave home without the Vision Stripping Basket! Line management will make your saltwater fly fishing experience much more pleasant. You don’t want your fly line near barnacle-covered rocks, floating weed, or waves.

Other Important Kit

My personal coastal checklist: Staying dry and safe is essential – Watch out for waves!

  • Waders
  • Wading Jacket
  • Boots
  • Polaroid Sunglasses
  • Line snips on a lanyard
  • Fly boxes
  • Lifejacket or buoyancy aid

Conditions, conditions, conditions!

Good bass fishing is closely linked to weather conditions, and it is essential to understand how these weather patterns work to help you find and catch more bass. Wind, tide and water clarity go a long way to dictating your success on the water. So keep a note of the conditions, especially when you catch fish, see baitfish etc. Record everything – wind direction, water clarity; you name it. Piecing together the puzzle and reading the water at your chosen location is part of successfully chasing bass on the fly. (More to come on this in a future blog post).

What can only be described as a wild and sometimes unforgiving type of fly fishing is certainly not for everyone (calm, fair-weather days excluded). However, the appeal and challenge of this environment are what it is all about. So get out there and give it a go!

#passmethesalt

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