Finding Fish - It works
Derek's Fishing Pages
Memorable Fishing Trips
Returning to Fishing
Bait & Groundbait
Presents for Anglers
I've just caught my best fly-fished bass of the year. It's less than a month until Christmas and the general run of shoal fish have left the cooling water of the beaches and headed for deeper water. There are a few larger fish left behind mopping up stragglers and foraging for the bodies of creatures killed by excessive freshwater or nipped by frost when exposed by low night tides.
So how did you find it?
I went down to one of my usual fishing haunts where, in season, I would expect to find two or three shoals of feeding fish. Instead, as I expected, the water was apparently deserted.
'Apparently' is a carefully chosen word. I was expecting to see few of the usual fishy signs but I already knew that the venue, a fast tide-run upstream of a bridge, was a bottleneck through which a large area of shallow water funnelled and which therefore concentrated fish food into a narrow zone. If any large fish were about this is the type of place in which they would lurk.
It was dark. Not so dark though that I could not spot a grey heron stalking the shallows two hundred yards uptide of the bridge. The heron is an expert and he would not be working the shallows if there was nothing for him to find. Every now and then, as the tide dropped and his search area dried, he would give a squawk of 'Frank', his local nickname, and fly to a newly exposed section of sandbank in a foraging pattern that he must have perfected over hundreds of night tides.
If the heron is about, then there is food for fish to find.
But what food? I moved into the light from the lamps on the bridge and looked down at my shadow in the weed at the water's edge. Here and there, close to the shadow of my head were pairs of bright dots. The reflective eyes of shrimps were betrayed by their reflection, just like cat's eyes they boost their efficiency in low light by reflecting the image back through the retina a second time and so glow in a lamp beam.
A long way away in the darkness uptide I heard a fish. Yes, it is possible to hear fish. This time it was the surge and sploosh of a heavy fish thrashing the surface in pursuit of another, smaller, fish.
The sounds of feeding fish are always an important clue in the dark, it might be the splish-zzzzz-splosh of a big seatrout leaping in the black-dark of a tree-shadowed river pool on a moonless night, the flurry as a group of running fish force themselves over the shallow into the bottom of that same pool. You might hear the quick sip of a surface feeding dace, the confident 'cloop' of a sizeable trout, the slower slurp of a chub or the prolonged sucking of a carp as they feed at the surface. At sea there are fish that make their own underwater sounds but it's usually their interaction with the surface you hear, it is possible to distinguish small pollack attacking fry from mackerel or bass doing the same and mullet sometimes sound like marine chub, listen next time you spot feeding fish.
I had heard a heavy fish, feeding at the surface. I had found my fish and I knew how it was feeding and I was pretty sure it was a bass. I knew that as the water level fell the fish would drop back on the tide and, eventually, pass my position.
I also knew that there was another source of fish-food, shrimp, and that some of the shrimp would head for the bottom as they were swept along by the tide.
The big fish would not be with me for a while and so I put up a sinking line and a shrimp imitation and fished it deep. In the next two hours I heard the big fish three or four times more but I caught just one fish, a pollack of just under two pounds which I decided would be my supper. I gutted the fish in the shallows and found it had eaten a couple of prawns and a smallish sandeel.
The only other angler out that night had left after catching a similar pollack just before I took mine so I was on my own when another loud sploosh, much closer this time, reminded me why I had stayed out for so little return.
The shrimp pattern was replaced by a sandeel imitation on a #2/0 hook, big enough to suggest the one the pollack had eaten, and I continued to fish across the channel. Some ten minutes later, just as my lure hit the water twenty yards away a bathtub sized area of water erupted five yards from my feet. Naturally my lure was in the wrong place and there was no way to bring it up against the tide, which although moderating was still moving at a fast walking pace so the lure swung by well downstream of the fish. I was pretty sure I had glimpsed a flicker in the edge of the weeds even closer to my feet so it was likely the fish had missed its meal and was looking for a second chance so:( Let me remind you of basic rule #1: Find a fish. Put something the fish will eat on a hook. Place it in front of the fish. Don't scare it. )
Rather than cast over the fish I flicked out some eight yards of line well uptide and let it sink as it swept down to the point where I thought the fish was lurking on the steep drop-off at the edge of the channel. I tightened the line and began to strip it back over the position. No more than thirty seconds after the fish had showed itself the lure stopped dead as if it had hit a brick wall suspended three feet below the surface.
It is pointless attempting to set a large hook with my light, #5 rod, so I pointed the rod at the fish and punched backwards with my line hand. I raised the rod and the fish, well hooked, ran out into the tide.
After a satisfactory scrap which thoroughly tested my tackle I beached a 6¾lb bass in perfect condition.
2011 was, in terms of numbers, a reasonably good bass year for me but they were mostly smallish fish. I hadn't had a fish over 3lb on the fly so to finish the season with this beauty transformed the year.
Particularly satisfying was the way in which, once again, it underlined the importance of location. If they're not there you'll never catch them but if they are there and you pay attention to detail then it's not unusual to hook them first cast.
Unless stated otherwise: Everything in this site refers to fishing in the British Isles and similar northern European waters.