A 'BASS' Dorset Fish-in
by Steve Binckes
After trying to get the car door open for the third time and tying myself to something heavy it became apparent that flyfishing was going to be a problem! What a difference a day makes. Force 5 to 6 the weatherman reckoned. Seemed more like a minor hurricane on top of the cliff, but it hadnít stopped the die-hards.
Five had already made it and were off down the beach flapping about in the wind. Not for me, I went down to the pub and warmed up, time for a rethink. After a quick phone call to Malcolm Brindle, who assured me that the scad were back in their usual spot and that the tide would be perfect in about two hours. Good enough for me as I ordered another one for the road.
True to Malcolmís prediction the scad were there. Although the wind was still howling, where we were offered some protection and good nights fishing was had, all on fly as well with a couple of stray mackerel thrown in to boot. The following eveningís weather had taken a turn for the better, I finally caught up with the rest of the fish-in.
It seemed to have been a success down at Kimmeridge the following morning, but thatís some one elseís story, after a slow start to the evenings fishing, things started to get going at around 22.00 hrs. Within an hour the water was being whipped to a froth, with fly lines swishing every where. At one stage I think one guy had a cigarette whipped out of his mouth by a stray cast!
Many more scad and a few mackerel were caught, but alas no bass, that evening, for the fly fraternity.
Still I think a good time was had by all and whilst fly-fishing was not the only method used that night, it was by far the most popular and successful. Peter Macconnell mentioned he was short on fly-fishing articles and would I mind.
A Bass Season
My season started in April with the weather-playing ball, lots of high pressure and warm fronts had been with us for a couple of weeks, warming the air and water nicely. I had made a trip to one of my West Sussex beach marks. The spring low tide was at 07.05am, which meant the window was a short one, due to increasing light levels.
But after waiting a winter away I was keen to get out there and just fish. I arrived an hour before dawn but had to wait for the tide to drop, so as to reach the spot I wanted to fish.
I really like being at the water in the pre-dawn, everything is so peaceful as there is a kind of lull between night and day, a twilight time!
I inched my way out into the sea making exploratory casts here and there using a floating line with a sink tip (Incidentally this was to be my main choice of line all that summer due to the fact that I had chosen to fish mainly shallow watermarks, where depth presentation wasnít an issue), the fly was one of my Oceanflies Clouser Minnows with not much weight in the eyes. This fly was about three inches long in olive over white.
By 08.00am the tide had turned, I had reached the fishing spot, but was now being pushed slowly back by the tide. I had not yet seen or heard any sign of a fish.
At 08.10am I was slowly stripping the fly back when a big swirl appeared fifteen yards in front of me. The next instant saw the fly line between my fingers snap tight as a big fish hit the fly. It turned instantly and ran out to sea, but had only gone a couple of yards when I saw the problem. My fly line had looped itself into a large knot and was fast making its way up to the butt ring. I could only stand there and watch helplessly as the inevitable happened. No words can describe the loss, as it felt like a really good fish.
How many times had I cast that morning and had no problem with the fly line twisting. Fate deals some wicked blows and although I carried on fishing for an hour or so, my mind just couldnít shake the image. I wondered if I could have done anything different!
I couldnít seem to get out as much as I would have liked for the remainder of the month, with one thing or another and when May rolled around the weather just seemed to deteriorate. It was all wind, rain and down right cold. June was nearly as bad with only the odd school bass seen but none caught. This was fast becoming a nightmare of a season, it would not have been so bad if I lived near the coast, but a round trip for me entails a journey of around 100 miles and I had made a fair few trips for absolute nothing.
It was with great relief that I finally broke the duck in mid July, but not on a bass. I had cast a small shrimp pattern to some swirls in the flat calm water, which were obviously mullet. To my surprise it was taken almost as soon as it hit the surface. After a short tussle I brought to hand a 1lb golden grey mullet. After returning the fish, I put on chartreuse over white Clouser minnow tied on a size
two stainless hook.
I started to try for the bass, it wasnít long before I took a fish, although only around the pound mark it was a very welcome sight and a good confidence boost, I was still being pushed slowly back by the tide, at around an hour and a half after low water I had a good take from what felt like a slightly better fish. The bass had taken the fly as it sat in the water dead drifting in the now moving current. I had not intentionally fished the dead drift, but was sorting out a tangle in the line. Although not big at 2 and a half pounds, it was my largest fish for the year and caught in a style that I had not before used in the sea.
Once more fate had played a part, but this time it was kind. One more bass was caught that evening, but only a small fish around the pound mark.
On my return home I dug out a copy of inshore fly-fishing by Lou Tabory, and went straight to the section on dead drifting. It seems that this method is over looked by many including myself, but is very popular State side. It is used very effectively whilst salmon, river trout and sea trout fishing. But I had not thought to use it in the sea.
It takes some discipline to get used to, as the norm is to cast out and strip as fast as you can or at least use a fairly aggressive stripping action usually in six to eighteen inch pulls. On my next trip out I fished a different mark, on an in-coming tide.
With high water at around 22.30 hrs this mark can be an excellent spot and is where I have previously caught bass to over 9lb on fly. I arrived with a friend at 17.00hrs, Just as the tide was turning, the idea being to fish the tide up. We started by fishing the flats making odd casts here and there to any thing that moved or swirled. These swirls are usually mullet, and it can be quite easy to get preoccupied with these fish on the off chance they may take a well-presented fly. I normally use a shrimp type pattern in the style of a gotcha/crazy Charlie, that is a bonefish pattern. In the past I have taken golden greys on them. Also as there are thin lipped mullet about as well, it seemed a good compromise of pattern to use.
After a fruitless hour chasing the mullet I finally made a good cast to a surface swirl and got a take immediately. The fish shot off at a rate of knots and I was sure it was a mullet. The fun was short lived though, as the fish threw the hook leaving me cursing the retched thing. They really are the most frustrating of fish to pursue, and my hats off to anyone who tries.
The tide was by now creeping up and I left my friend chasing mullet, I had decided to go to another area further up the beach.
On my arrival I could see some one else fly fishing from the other side of the small estuary. I took this, as a good sign, to theyíre being fish about and immediately began to strip out line, ready to cast.
The tide was really running and I remembered Louís words, I made a cast across current at a 45-degree angle, threw in a quick mend and began to follow the line with the tip of the rod as it swung around in the current. Keeping the line tight so as to feel the fly, the take was un-missable, a sudden thump came up the line and I raised the rod into a fish.
Time and time again this happened with no line being stripped at all, although none of the bass were big they made up for it in their number and the style used to catch them. I even think the type of fly used was irrelevant although a clouser minnow is one of my favourites, especially in blue/white or chartreuse/white, a deceiver would have done the job just as well though.
After my tenth bass, I looked around to see where my friend had got to, with no sign of him anywhere I reached into my chest wader pocket and took out the walkie-talkie.
I know this sounds excessive but these things have changed our fishing immeasurable with one person fishing one area, the other or others can explore another.
The walkie-talkie have a range of approximately 3km, are cheaper than mobiles, in fact once purchased they are free. You also get to hear some juicy conversations on them because of the limited bandwidths, but thatís another story for a different kind of magazine! Any way I called my friend up and told him to get over to me pronto.
He arrived after five minutes and promptly began fishing the normal style, cast and strip. After twenty minutes the comparable catch rate was evident, about three to one in favour of the dead drift and we were both using exactly the same flies.
By now we were three hours off high water, this mark can be extremely dangerous with water getting around the back of you without you seeing it happen, the tide had come up further than we thought, Itís a tough decision to stop fishing when you are catching, but no fish is worth dying for. Needless to say we made it by the skin of our teeth, I think it scared the life out of my friend!
We returned to the same mark two weeks later but this time for a dawn raid, and on a falling tide. The experience from nearly getting caught by the rising tide had really shaken my friend, he felt that a falling tide was safer all round for him, I donít think he trusts me anymore!
We fished from 05.00 hrs until 07.00 hrs with out any sign of a fish and no takes were forth coming. I made a decision to move to a completely different area about ten miles up the coast. If we were quick we could just catch the last of the fishable tide.
The journey made, we rushed down the beach to be greeted by swirling fish everywhere. Some were mullet, but a lot more were bass and it wasnít long before we were into fish. None of them big but there were bigger fish in evidence, as occasionally one would leap out of the water leaving my friend and I open-mouthed.
One in particular looked to be a good double figured fish and unmistakably a bass. The reason these fish were here was obvious. All around were small white bait and young of the year. The water was thick with them. Even the normally shy terns were diving within fifteen feet of us. Looking across the estuary I could see another fly fisherman, it was while I was looking at him I saw the occasional bigger swirl in the main current.
Time for the dead drift again. Once I had found a good-looking spot I made a cast straight out across the falling current. I hardly had time to put in a mend before a savage take came rattling up the line and a fish was on. This one felt a bit better, even more so as it used the current to itís advantage. I looked up at the rod to see the impressive bend the fish was putting into it. After a short but stubborn fight I brought the fish to hand, ashamedly I was a little disappointed that it wasnít bigger. Never the less at around 2 pounds it was a nice looking fish, so I decided to take a picture.
Only then did I realise that in my rush to get down to the beach I had left both camera and scales in the car. Luckily my friend had a disposable camera with him and a few shots were taken before returning the fish.
Once again it was dead drift versus cast and strip, as my friend decided to stick with his style. Just like the last time I was out fishing him three or four to one. Virtually every time the fly drifted through the current it was taken. Although most of the bass were between 1, and 1/ half pounds, it made for a hectic half-hour or so.
Gradually the incoming tide had started to make an impression on the estuary and the water reached a lull, as did the fishing. I looked up to see the angler on the other side departing, time to regroup and compare.
In that mad half-hour the takes had slowed down for me so I had changed flies. If you saw the size of this thing you wouldnít believe a bass could see it in all that water. A small clouser type pattern tied with no more than twenty bucktail fibres top and bottom in blue/white, four strands of flash in the middle, small bead chain eyes, all on a size 8 stainless hook, ridiculously sparse, but the bass certainly liked it for my take rate went right back up.
My friend had stuck to a bigger pattern with heavy eyes and I donít think it represented the food they were on quite well enough. By now the water was rising, we were being slowly pushed back. I decided to change flies once again as takes had begun to dry up on the now in-coming tide.
I put on an "Oceanflies" deceiver in olive/white on a size two hook and reverted back to cast and strip, as the tide wasnít running fast enough to fish the dead drift.
The fishing had really slowed down but the change increased the take rate, but not enough, I felt the increasing light levels were making things hard. That morning a big cloudbank had hung around at horizon level prolonging the dawn, but by now had started to breakdown as the sun was rising higher and gaining heat.
Fish can be unpredictable at the best of times, just as we were thinking of calling it a day I had a take whilst slowly stripping the deceiver. A big swirl appeared where the fish had taken the fly and it powered off at quite a rate taking twenty odd yards of line with it. This was definitely a better fish. The fight lasted a full five minutes, gaining line then losing it. At last I got the fishís head up and drew it towards me. It looked a good size bass, but having forgotten my scales could only guess its weight, I estimated it at about 4 lbs, my friend agreed, quickly we took a few pictures before returning it.
Back to the Fish-in!
Back to the 2002 Dorset fish-in and the scad and mackerel caught there. Most of my fish were caught dead drifting a four-inch yellow/white clouser with fairly heavy eyes, but some times it was necessary to put a little more life into the fly, if takes were not forth coming. An occasional strip or twitch would induce a take, it was also beneficial to leave the fly hanging at the end of drift on a taught line, this would cause the fly to rise in the water and takes would often occur.
At the end of a drift, rather than just strip the line in to recast, try stripping once but without letting go of the fly line, then let your hand return to its original position. This gives the fly a fluttering effect as it falls back through the current, rather like a struggling fish fighting a losing battle with the tide,
even release a yard or two of line then hold, giving a whole new motion to the fly as it falls and tumbles about in the current. All the time your fly is in the water it is in with a chance, the longer you can keep it there the better.
The conclusion to this article is not that, dead drifting, is a better method than conventional cast and strip, or is it that I am a better angler than my friend is, which Iím not, but the insight is to being more flexible.
Had I not had a tangle in my line that fateful day I might still only be fishing the more conventional cast and strip method, missing out on a lot of potential fish.
Every day is different when fishing and so is each fishing venue, along with the fact that bass are a fickle predator at the best of times, but a predator never the less.
They will normally face into the current waiting for their food to be brought to them, picking off the weak as they are washed out by the tide. In these situations, dead drifting is a killing method and will likely out score all other methods of fly presentation.
But bass are also ambush specialists and opportunist, in these situations a well cast fly into a prime spot can take them with a more conventional cast and strip technique. Therefore I have to conclude that no one technique is right all of the time, experiment between the two techniques to enhance your take rate, as the old adage goes itís horses for courses.Copyright Oceanflies 2002