Bass! The very mention of the word in sea angling circles is enough to make many anglers sit up and take notice. Many regard the bass as the salmon of the sea and, as one our most attractive sea fish, it has an almost fanatical following among those who appreciate the sporting and culinary qualities of this fish. Invariably, shore fishing for bass in Cornwall takes place against a backdrop of spectacular coastal and cliff scenery on clean surf beaches warmed by the Gulf Stream. This provides a challenging and exciting backdrop from which to lure a wild and hard fighting fish. In the 1960's and 70's, bass were regarded as common and widespread on the Cornish surf beaches with fish caught from open beach venues averaging 4 lb. However, with the advent and unrestricted use of monofilament gill nets and a market value of up to £6 per lb, the species was steadily and remorsefully exploited wherever it existed. In particular, estuaries supporting large stocks of juvenile and adolescent fish, were targeted by commercial netsmen resulting in the eventual decline of the future breeding stock. As a result, bass stocks declined and the once prolific beaches of Cornwall became a mere shadow of their former glory. However, following the introduction of legally protected bass nursery areas throughout the UK in 1990, the last 6 years has seen a steady increase in the numbers and average size of bass returning to their historic feeding grounds. Fish within the 2-3lb bracket have become common captures with fish of 3-4lb increasingly evident during recent seasons. In addition, there still exists the possibility of capturing larger specimen fish of over 5lb and even the chance of a fish of a lifetime in excess of the magical 10lb barrier.
Surf fishing for bass invariably means seeking the large sandy bays, beaches and coves located on the North and South Cornish coasts. Although it is fair to say that some beaches attract and hold more bass than others and, in some cases a higher than average size, bass can be found on all surf beaches in Cornwall. Bass will show up on any part of the beach at some point during the tidal cycle and, for consistent success, it is imperative to fish different surf conditions and locations on your favoured beach until a successful pattern begins to emerge. Once learnt, it is very often the case that the same set of specific conditions at a given location will produce bass consistently on that beach for years to come. If time is not available, you can help to increase success by learning how to read the beach for specific features that bass find particularly attractive. Rocky outcrops associated with scour holes, rivers or streams running across the beach into the sea, seaward facing sandbars and gullies are all favoured locations because these features attract the food favoured by bass. In addition, the size and volume of the surf itself can affect the way in which these features attract fish. Although it has to be a huge surf to drive fish offshore, bass tend to avoid surf that suspends the sand in cloudy plumes or where loose, decaying seaweed hangs in the water. As a general rule, conditions are likely to be perfect on most beaches when holding 2-3 ft of surf and 3 or 4 lines of surf. In terms of the time to fish for bass, they can be caught during both night and day. However, in the summer months, bathers and surfers can compete for space and at such times it pays to fish either very early or very late in the day. Certainly for consistent success, bass fishing during the hours of darkness is often very productive with the fish venturing very close into the shallows, often into as little as 1 or 2 ft of water. Long casting in the dark is often not necessary for success.
Although it is possible to fish the South Cornish surf beaches with light tackle such as a fixed spool, 10-12 lb line, carp rod and 2 -3 ounce lead weight, the strong lateral tides that exist on the North Cornish coast surf beaches invariably means that heavier rods are often required. Many purists suggest that the rod should be held at all times. However, many Cornish surf bass are feeding on the "hoof" and take the bait aggressively in surf conditions. Fishing with a wired grip lead ensures that the fish is hooked the instant it takes the bait. Many of the most successful Cornish surf bass anglers use multiplier reels loaded with 18lb mainline with a 50lb shockleader, 12' beachcasters with a 5 oz breakaway lead weight and a fixed paternoster rig with a 30 lb. trace line ending in a 5/0 hook. Certainly the numbers and size of fish caught by this method has proved effective over the years.
The choice of bait can vary considerably and, as bass are opportunists, they will take a wide range of food items. For consistency, good quality frozen sandeel, lugworm, Peeler crab, King Ragworm, Squid and Mackerel will all catch fish on a regular basis. However, it is very often worth visiting the local tackle shop to get advice and find out what local anglers are purchasing. On occasions, bass can become pre-occupied with one food item that is locally or seasonally abundant and, at such times the sport can be hectic if the correct bait is selected. Once you have cast into the surf, reel in any available slack line and tighten the line against the lead weight. If you have done your homework and identified a suitable feeding spot with the correct surf conditions at the right state of the tide, it is then simply a case of waiting for a bite. If bites are not forthcoming after several casts it can very often pay to move along the beach and try another feature. For the dedicated bass angler, patience is most definitely the most important attribute that you can have. Sooner or later your patience will be rewarded with success. Bites can vary considerably from a slight rattle on the rod tip to a rod bending pull or slack line bite. Bass of any size can produce any of these bites so always maintain concentration on the rod tip and strike at any indication that a fish might be mouthing the bait. For the holiday angler, it is worth visiting the nearest tackle shop to find out what is happening locally. In terms of well known and proven venues on the North Cornish Coast any of the beaches around Newquay including Fistral, Whipsiderry, Watergate Bay, Crantock, Mawgan Porth, are worth trying. In addition, Portreath, Porthtowan, Chapel Porth, Perranporth, Constantine, Harlyn, Polzeath, Trebarwith strand and Tregardoc are all worth trying. On the South Cornish Coast try Whitsand Bay, Crinnis, Carne, Pendower, Towan, Loe Bar and Praa sands. There are many other small coves and bays around the Cornish coastline and these also offer opportunities to the bass angler. However, always consider safety first and always let someone know where you are fishing and when you are expected to return.
Cornwall, unlike many other areas of the United Kingdom, has a slightly larger minimum size limit for bass of 37 ½ cm (15 inches). This size limit applies in all areas within Cornwall including the estuaries and coastal areas. However, to conserve stocks, it is wise to respect a voluntary size limit of 45 cm (18 inches) which roughly equates to a bass of approximately 2 ½ lb. This ensures that a bass has had at least one opportunity to spawn before being removed from the fishery. This will ultimately contribute to the future of bass stocks and your sport. So, if you want to sample free fishing for hard fighting wild fish in exhilarating surroundings then why not have a try for surf bass in Cornwall. Certainly, the recent increase in bass numbers has encouraged a notable increase in anglers targeting bass. I can guarantee that once you have hooked a big bass in the surf, the thrill and excitement of that experience will stay with you for a lifetime.Good fishing!