Sea Air

A Breath of Sea Air

A breath of sea air an article by Paul Belsten for NACAAfter spending all my summers and autumns from the age of ten trying to catch species of freshwater fish from the many lakes, reservoirs and rivers that grace our countryside, and happy with my results, I decided that a new challenge was required!

'I decided that a new angling challenge was required for Summertime...’I was traveling up to Rutland Reservoir with a life-long friend Nick Amis for a day’s ‘fluff-chucking’ after trout. During the journey I mentioned that I needed a new challenge in the angling department, and I had come to the conclusion that whatever I fished for in August was hard going. The pike fishing was keeping my brain ticking over in winter but summertime angling required freshening up…

Nick started talking about some bass he had caught from the beach the previous summer on lures and that got me thinking; what if I was to have a bash at these, the North Sea being a big enough challenge for any man on a good day! We shared a boat on Rutland, fished through the day, very occasionally getting our string pulled and the conversation kept turning to bass. By the time we reached our Norfolk homes, after an enjoyable day afloat, my mind was made up. Fishing for bass the following summer was on, and it sounded like a breath of fresh (sea) air…

A plan of action was required. When I fish it’s at full tilt, every option looked at, no stone left unturned. Nick might have had some bass off the beach but surely a boat would produce enhanced results. The plan was drawn up and first of all I would have a couple of trips out bass fishing on a charter boat. If all went well, and by that I mean not getting sea-sick, I would purchase a boat and give it a go. Beach fishing would be considered on days when it would be to rough to launch

Two trips were booked, one on the south coast and one on the east. Bass were landed on both trips on a variety of methods. On the second trip it was blowing force five with some left over swell from the day before to contend with, and it wasn’t long before I was chucking up. As the wind eased, I was O.K. but doubt had crept in about me having my own boat; after all, if I was out to sea in charge of a boat and suffering from sea-sickness, the results wouldn’t be favourable. I finished that trip with a 7 lb bass, feeling chuffed and not looking green. I decided to book one more trip; if I were seasick this time I would abort my idea, but if I wasn’t, it would be full steam ahead. That trip ended with a blank; however, I wasn’t ill

My first boat for bass fishing off the Norfolk coast, a 15 foot Sea Hog Sea Jeep, was not really up to the job of tackling the North SeaNow I had to decide on a boat; many were looked at and I settled for a 15-foot Sea Hog Sea Jeep; this craft would double up as a very comfortable pike fishing boat on the Broads in the winter. The trailer was a no-brainer! Rollercoaster was a must. I installed the latest GPS plotter, echo sounder and VHF radio systems and was feeling excited.

I had been sea fishing off the beach many times over the years, belonging to a sea angling club during the seventies, so I had a good understanding of the moon and tides. Having handled many boats on freshwater, angling afloat wasn’t going to be new to me. I had also worked offshore on the gas platforms and oil rigs in the North Sea for seven years so I knew how bad the elements could get. I would, however, be taking no chances and only launching in calm conditions after consulting the weather/shipping forecasts, my motto being:  “I would rather be on the beach wishing I was at sea, than being at sea wishing I was on the beach”.

Bass of 4 lbs 4 ozs and 5 lbs on my maiden voyage, fishing at anchor, using squid for bait. Marine charts, anchor, rods, reels and terminal tackle were all purchased, and a man with a tractor found who would launch my boat as often as I wanted for a small fee. I was ready to go!… I tried the boat out on the Broads first, just in case; however all went well. Another life-long friend of mine, Paul Austin, would join me on the maiden trip out to sea during the last Saturday in April. We spent the first hour cruising around on a flat calm sea looking for something of interest to show on the sounder. Sure enough the information we required came up, in the way of a nice change in depth: fifty feet of water spiking up to thirty foot for a few metres, then back down to fifty feet again. The tide had just started to ebb; we positioned the boat up-tide of the bank, dropped the anchor and cast our squid-baited hooks out… One hour later one of the tips of my uptiders was dancing around like Nobby Stiles in 1966. I picked up the rod and netted a very pleasing bass of 4 lbs 4 ozs. While I was removing the hook, Paul noticed the same jig of joy being performed on my other rod. This fish turned out to weigh 5 lbs; what a fantastic way to start your first-ever bass session in your own boat. I was on cloud nine. I recast and entered the boat position into the GPS for reference. Another bass of three pounds was caught and returned before the tide eased. No more fish forth coming, we pulled the anchor and searched out other likely looking hot-spots.A few were found and recorded, then it was back to the beach. The maiden voyage came to a never-to-be forgotten end. If this was a taste of things to come then bring it on

Nick phoned that evening to enquire how we got on. He was due out with me the following day, and after passing on our results neither of us could wait for Sunday

Second trip out, a bass of 6 lbs 8 ozs - we must have got something right from the start.Time to launch for trip number two: I decided to fish the same swim boating one bass of 6 lbs 8 ozs to the same tactics as the day before. I felt sorry for Nick and Paul: however this was only the start; I was very confident that throughout the season we would have some fantastic times, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. During the next month, when we could get out, we would always manage to catch some bass, fishing the same tactics, however nothing going over 6 lbs 8ozs…

The water had started to clear, out losing its winter tinge; with a visibility of three feet, the squid baits had lost their appeal and a change of tactics beckoned…

We located some structure that was covered at high tide and still had six foot of water around it at low water, with the top protruding. I decided this looked a good location to try out some lure fishing. Positioning the boat up-tide of the structure and casting lures on the drift, I didn’t have to wait too long before the first enquiry, a vicious thump on the rod top that produced a bass of around a couple of pounds. It seemed the fish were tightly packed in one area, and once out of the ‘zone’ no fish were forthcoming. Ten drifts later with nine bass up to four pounds boated, I was happy with my results…

Over the next month Nick and I concentrated our efforts on lure fishing with some fantastic results, ten fish per tide becoming the expected and the norm. Lures were producing fish up to five pounds while the water was clear; however, once the wind had chopped the sea up, the colour returned and it became very hard going - nothing new here then!…

During the last weekend in June, while a new moon graced us with its presence, something strange was about to unfold. Saturday was just a touch too rough to get out; however, Sunday was looking good. I woke up early and couldn’t wait to get out there. The kettle went on, PC booted up, shipping and weather forecasts checked, then the phone rang. It was Nick, his wife had been taken ill and he wouldn’t be able to make it

A 5 lbs 1 oz bass that fell to a lure.When taking my boat out to sea I prefer somebody with me. Several people had asked me if I would take them and had given me their ’phone numbers and said they would be able to go at short notice. But after a couple of ’phone calls, with no joy, I decided to go on my own; not the most sensible decision I have ever made, but one that would turn out a good choice. It had always been my intention to catch some live baits and use these to catch bass during the summer at some stage and for some reason I decided that today would be the day. However, the session would be best described as a reconnaissance. Nick and I had come across a strange-looking feature on the sonar gear a couple of weeks earlier while having a nose about, and I had entered it on the plotter, just in case. The co-ordinates were set on the screen and I headed off into the North Sea on my Jack Jones. Once on location, just on slack water, I dropped a set of small shrimp pattern feathers over the side. Before they had a chance to hit the bottom in thirty foot of water, the whole lot went slack. I cranked on the multiplier and boated five launce…

The live bait pump was turned on and they were soon swimming around in my bucket; more would follow. As the tide started to move, I noticed some surface activity to my right, so swapping the shrimp patterns for larger feathers, I moved the boat over to the affected area. Half an hour later forty mackerel had joined me in the boat. These were most welcome, and would come in handy during the winter in my attempt to catch a pike or two. With the tide now pushing at almost two knots, and not catching any mackerel on my last two drifts, I was beginning to think a change of tactics was called for. Those launce were looking likely candidates for a swim, when all of a sudden the rod yanked round in my hand with some force. After a good scrap, four bass of around two pounds apiece came into view in the clear water, all pulling in different directions. Every drift for the rest of the tide produced bass up to four pounds on the feathers and I ended the trip with forty five bass. Six were taken home, the rest returned for another day. Nick ’phoned up that evening to enquire about the day. When I told him that I had gone out on my own he was surprised. When I told him how many bass I had managed to catch he was lost for word.

My new boat, a Warrior 175 - what a fantastic bit of kit, built with the angler in mindI had promised two lads from work a trip out with me once I had located some fish and they wouldn’t be disappointed. One joined me on the Tuesday evening after work, having never fished at sea before, and we boated eighty four bass up to four pounds. Wednesday night was the other lad’s turn and using the same tactics as Sunday and Tuesday,we boated another seventy-nine bass up to five pounds. Two hundred and eight bass boated in three tides over four days was a really big confidence boost.

The following Saturday, Paul was able to join me after catching up on some home improvements. I told him of the catch rate for the last three trips and he didn’t need much persuading that we should fish the same mark. Expectations were sky high but after two hours of trying our hardest, we had blanked. Ninety per cent of the two hundred and eight fish haul had been returned but they had moved off. We fished another bank for the last hour of the tide and salvaged the trip with twenty-two bass up to four pounds, again using feathers. Change was on the menu. I had decided that while feathers produced plenty of action, with some times fourteen pounds of bass pulling in four different directions, I was possibly missing out on some bigger specimens. From now on live launce would be served up on a nine foot flowing trace. A five ounce lead would take the offering down to the bottom and drifting over banks would be the order of the day, with the odd lure session chucked in for good measure.

Catching some launce at slack water on top of the sand banks - crackin’ livebaits!  Another change in the way of a replacement boat was needed. I felt the Sea Jeep wasn’t up to the job of drifting banks, so I part-exchanged it for a Warrior 175 - what a difference! I would give up before this would!

We were now in July; the colour had dropped out of the water with a visibility of twelve feet over the features, with a hard bottom and eight feet over the sand banks when the tide was running at full tilt…

The procedure for the days ahead was simple; get out on the banks at slack water to catch the launce. When the tide started running, drift the live launce over the banks until the tide was at a speed of two knots. If the bass were going to arrive they would be here by now. Bass present, then I would fish the tide out. If they failed to show, move on to the areas that suited lure fishing and finish the tide off there. We stuck with the procedure and it served us well. By the end of July until the first week in September we would end up spending a lot of time casting lures about, but it wasn’t just lakes, rivers and reservoirs I found hard going in August.

The lure fishing was a refreshing change and over a five week period, mostly from my boat, over one hundred bass up to 7 lbs 2 ozs graced the landing net. The fish didn’t seem fussy about the type of lures, provided they were fished at the correct depth. One pattern did emerge! The harder the tide was running the better the results, providing the clarity was correct. The August bank holiday weekend arrived and I decided to have another change. Over this period I would try to locate some wrecks and see if I could manage to tempt some of its marine residents to leave their accommodation. The first two wrecks produced very little and I was beginning to ask myself questions: after all, I had never attempted this type of angling before. John Wilson made it look easy on the television. I decided to have another nose about; fortunately the sonar had picked up a piece of structure Swinging in something to tempt the palate, in the way of a 6 lb codling lying in fifty feet of water, protruding fourteen feet off the seabed. I entered it on the plotter and positioned the boat uptide, ready for a drift. Lowering a live launce down to the unidentified structure, with the aid of a five-ounce lead, some one must have hit the dinner gong. The rod tip knocked and a 6 lb codling was tempted away from its home. Twenty-two codling later, Nick and I decided we had enough for the freezer and headed in. September was upon us now; the bass were back on the banks and all trips this month were spent drifting live launce over these marine food havens with some fantastic and often frantic action. These fish seem to swim around in year classes, the size of the first almost confirming the size of the followers. The majority of the fish this month weighed in the five to six pound bracket with the best going 8 lbs 7ozs…

A bass of 8 lbs 7 ozs, caught on a live launce drifted over a bank, off the Norfolk coast.A strong North wind had stirred up the sea at the back end of the month, the water had coloured up,with no chance of lure fishing on our shallow marks, and clarity down to three feet over the banks, when we eventually managed to get back out. For the first time since trying back in the spring,we failed to catch any launce at slack water. We had banked on this happening and filled the bait bucket up with frozen launce and squid before setting off.

 We started off the season fishing at anchor; after sampling the ‘drift’ method I decided to stick with it and not look back. Bass were becoming scarce. What fish we managed to catch were of a good stamp, Nick managing a personal best weighing 9 lbs 12 ozs.We managed to get back out the following day, the water now looking like soup, and we fished our frozen offerings for a full tide,managing to catch a four-pounder, the only fish of the day.

During the journey back in, we decided this would be our last trip of the season. Forty-five trips had returned four hundred and thirty five bass; this being our first attempt, we were well chuffed.

We were now in late October, time to put those frozen mackerel to good use. Roll on next season.....!

Paul Belston