Bass fishing with Dr Mike Ladle

Catching Bass

Its all about the CONFIDENCE!

It’s always tricky when I’m asked to write a piece about bass fishing. After fifty years of catching (and frequently not catching) these fish, it is a bit of a nightmare trying to condense it into a few paragraphs. Bass are pretty widely distributed round our coasts so finding them shouldn’t be a problem but when you’ve done that perhaps the most important ingredient is confidence. Years ago I was contacted by a local chap, Keith. The root of his problem was that, although he enjoyed spinning and caught plenty of pike, perch, chub and even mullet (on rag baited spinners) he had, for years, been struggling to catch any bass on plugs. He simply wanted to know whether he was doing anything wrong.

Now – we all know the feeling! You read about a technique, set yourself up with the gear and try it out but nothing happens. You soon begin to wonder whether you have missed some critical point about the method. Are you casting far enough? Are you retrieving at the right speed? Are your lures the right type/colour/shape/ size etc. etc.? There are a-hundred-and-one doubts that can assail your mind. In fact most of the ‘experts’ writing in magazines play on these doubts to pad out their features.

Anyway, I suggested that he should join me for a dabble and we fixed up an evening session on a big spring tide. I decided to visit a spot where bass and mullet often congregate on the evening high water (something you only learn from lots of fishing). As we drove to the shore we chatted and it was soon clear that he had a pretty fair idea of how to use a rod and reel. He was equipped with more than adequate spinning tackle and his basic set of lures was almost identical to the ones I used myself.

There was no sign of fish when we first arrived at the appointed spot but the tide was rising quickly. We tackled up with buoyant plugs and began to spin. Keith’s outfit consisted of a carp rod, a reasonable fixed spool reel and twelve-pound nylon, perhaps a bit heavier than I would use but certainly not enough to prevent him catching bass. I watched as he cast and retrieved his little plug – no problems with distance, lure control or speed of retrieve – in fact his technique was almost faultless.

After fifteen or twenty minutes the mullet began to arrive. I pointed out how the fish moved up against the tide – guzzling maggots from the surface as they came. We ignored them and kept on spinning, knowing that bass are often mixed in with the mullet shoals. Soon there were groups of good-sized thick lips feeding as though there was no tomorrow. Keith was clearly impressed but was not distracted from his objective of taking a bass on the plug. I was less strong willed and could not resist having a go with the fly rod. I tied on a poly-fly and baited it with three maggots. Within a couple of casts I was into a fish which tore out to sea. He put down his rod and came to help me but as he arrived on the scene the mullet came unstuck.

9 Fly fishing does catch bass
Fly fishing does catch bass!

We returned to our fishing and it was not long before another mullet took the fly. This time the fish was well hooked and as Keith arrived at my side I stuck the fly rod in his hand. Despite the fact that he had never fly fished before he played the lively fish like an expert, retrieving line when the mullet stopped and letting go of the fly-reel handle when the bend in the rod showed that tension on the four-pound nylon was becoming critical. After a few minutes he slid the mullet into the waiting net. It was a decent fish and I took a few pictures to remind him of the event. Shortly after returning the mullet Keith hooked and landed a bass on his own gear – one of each – success! The two big mullet which followed were a bonus and we both agreed it had been a good evening’s fishing. It seems that in this case all that was needed was a bit of reassurance. The first fish is always the hardest. He rang me later that week to tell me that he had landed several bass on his plugs. That’s what it is all about – confidence!

5 Popping is fun
Bass caught on plugs

Having decided where you are going to fish you’ll need to pick a time. Since it’s not likely that you will be able to fish 24-7 you’ll have to choose your times. Every venue will be different but high water, low water ebb or flow for sure, the bass are likely to be feeding somewhere. One or two tips are worth having. The fish like to follow the tide in and are often very close (a few metres or less) to the water’s edge. On the flood large bass may occupy quite small territories between the tide marks but will leave as soon as the ebb starts. If you can find areas with a strong tidal run (tide races) they may feed any time that there is a decent flow. Wherever you choose to fish the dawn and dusk periods can be hot.

7 Surface feeding mullet (1)
What lies beneath…surface feeding mullet

I still live and fish on the same stretch of coast that I did in the 1970s. My sessions usually last an hour or two and If I spend longer getting to and from a venue than fishing I rarely bother. There are less big bass about than there used to be but they are still there and they haven’t changed their habits. I’m a good deal older and I probably don’t fish as “hard” as I used to but I think I’m more open minded and my tackle has certainly changed.

4 The good old Redgill worked too
Bass caught on a good old redgill

When I first got into bassing a twelve foot, 13/4 lb TC carp rod, fixed spool reel and eight pound nylon mono was the ideal spinning gear. Of course it would still work, but now there is a vast range of spinning rods available, mostly shorter and lighter. Fixed spool reels haven’t really changed much but we load them with twenty or thirty pound BS braid which certainly rescues a few snagged lures and should never be broken by any bass that swims. I guess I’m old fashioned but I still favour a ten or eleven foot rod casting up to 50g. This is simply because I can remove the lure and lob out a mackerel head and shoulders or dangle a livebait without lugging extra rods and reels along.

12 -- and live mackerel also tempt good fish

Plugs, spoons and simple plastic eels were the only bass lures in use until almost the end of the 20th century and here in Dorset buoyant, shallow-diving plugs were the business. Nowadays the range of lure types available is mind boggling. However, you don’t need a suitcase full of wood, metal and plastic to catch bass. In fact it’s quite the reverse. Some of my pals probably use only one type of lure for 95% of their fishing and they catch more than most. I’d go as far as saying that a modern, weedless, soft lure will suffice for most fishingJust consider:- Distance – ample, weed and snags – no problem, shallow or deep water – sorted, bass attraction – excellent. What more could you want? Well, for a start there’s the incredible excitement of seeing a bass smash at a surface popper or slider; there’s the pleasure of working a plug through the foaming surf and feeling that fierce yank on the rod as a bass side-swipes it; there’s the ease of unhooking fish after fish from a single-hooked plastic eel, there’s the confidence of slinging a big weedless soft-bait into the dark and not worrying about snags and there’s the pleasure of playing a big bass on a hooped over fly rod with a fast ‘zuzzing’ reel. I enjoy them all.

2 This small(ish) bass took a Rapala
Bass caught on a Rapala

As I’ve suggested there are many ways of catching bass on artificials – all of them are fun and will at times produce the goods. However, if it’s big fish you want you might be well advised to consider a LARGE natural bait. Soft crab, squid, and fish are all acceptable to the bass but some are cheaper and easier to get hold of than others.

14 --- but it's ALWAYS exciting
That feeling of  excitement when you hook into a big one..

I’m constantly surprised by the size of fish which I catch on bait from places where hours of lure casting generally tempts schoolies.   A freelined size 6/0 or 8/0 circle hook and half a good sized mackerel is my usual approach. Generally, if you’ve picked your time and place well, there’s no need to cast more than a few metres out. There are few thrills to compare with the tug, tug followed by the line accelerating through your fingers as a bass picks up the bait. How long should you wait? Will it be hooked? How big will it be?

The ultimate attractor for sizeable fish is of course a livebait. Sandeels, sandsmelt, pouting, mackerel, pollack – you name it the bass will eat it. Some are easier to use than others. My own favourite is a live mackerel (any size) hooked through the top lip (again on a big circle hook) and allowed to swim free. These fish will search acres of water for you and the bass love them. One thing is certain, whatever tactics you enjoy most, the bass is the fish for you and nothing can compare with the sight of that big, spiky finned, silver flanked beauty sliding ashore from the breaking waves.

Satisfaction as a good bass slides ashore!

Dr Mike ladle is the foremost authority on bass fishing in the country, with more than fifty years at the top of the sport, he has a vast catalogue of experience and skills to draw down upon. He is also an expert at Bass on the fly, mullet on the fly and fresh water fishing . He contributes regularly to the UKs top fishing magazines, has multiple best selling books on Bass Fishing, Mullet fishing and freshwater fishing (available in the links below)- he is commonly found fishing in his home town in Dorset, as well as vacation fishing with his family across the world. You can follow his exploits on his blog linked below..

His website, and articles :

His books :
Hooked on Bass – the book that inspired a generation of bass fishermen!
Operation Sea Angler,  The second wave.
Fishing for ghosts- successful mullet angling
Lure fishing, a new approach to spinning
Tactical pike fishing

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