UK bass, okay!
Justin Anwyl's name crops up regularly when discussing the UK saltwater bass scene and we're delighted that he's going to be a regular member of our contributing team at Fish & Fly.
Justin works out of Chichester and he's built up a massive reputation. Here, to get you started he looks at some of the most commonly asked questions from those new to this hot form of fishing.
Am I up to it?
Justin: Well, to be honest, the majority of my clients are between twenty-eight and mid to late forties. That doesn't mean to say, though, I don't get plenty of people younger and older. The main criteria are that you must be fit and able, have a certain amount of resilience and, perhaps above all, the will to stick at it if the weather turns against us. This can be extreme fishing. Of course, it's not always like that, only sometimes, but if a force eight blows up you'll have some pretty scary waves in front of you and it will call for serious casting. My advice is don't be scared of this. Just go for it and unless the weather's really foul, even if you're eighty, you'll be okay.
Why should I employ you or any other guide come to that? After all, fishing in the sea is free and it's good to keep costs down.
Justin: I see where you're coming from of course but I'd hardly agree. I'd go along with you to a large extent if you really know the ropes and are truly experienced but if you're anything like a beginner on the sea bass scene then a guide, whoever it is, really can help. Why? Well, above all, the sea is dangerous and you've got to take your safety seriously. Even in the summer, I've seen people out on their own fall in and witnessed their body temperatures plummet to critical levels in only five or ten minutes. If you value your life I guess we guides are a small price to pay.
But above all, if you've got a guide, you can build up your confidence. With me there, you can concentrate on your fishing without constantly looking around you, worrying about the tides. And believe me, the sea is a big place and a fly looks pretty small when you drop it into miles and miles of water. That's why you need me too, because location is the key and I can take you to places where you just know you will be in amongst fish. On your own, inexperienced, and you simply won't know really where to start. You might hit lucky one trip in ten but if you're like most people, your time is tight too.
And above all, there's just so much to learn about the sea and the bass in it. I believe that time is very precious and the knowledge I have gained by experimenting on these waters over many years will only benefit you in the longer term
So what will you teach me?
Justin: I'll be teaching you exactly how the tides behave and how they affect where the bass will be and what they're doing. I'll be showing you exactly the features that attract bass and precisely where they'll be feeding so you can take this knowledge back to your local waters. And I'll be showing you how to fish, how to use the tides to your best advantage. I'll be showing you how to mend the line, how to get the fly down, how to use poppers. The real A-Z of a fishing scene that's probably wildly different to anything that you're used to.
What gear will I need?
Justin: I nearly always recommend eight-weight rods. For beginners out on the sea I'd go for mid-action. If you're experienced, you can plump for fast-action. I generally team an eight-weight rod up with a nine-weight line - nearly always a weight-forward floater. This helps load the rod and cast through the wind. A line with multi tips is good because it allows you to work the depths more efficiently. As far as tippets go, I'm not keen on fluorocarbon. It gets very brittle under the bright light that you find out to sea. And anyway, the diameter of line is not really the key. Remember that bass aren't particularly educated! I choose twelve pound maxima because it's forgiving and has the stretch that you often need if you hook up to a big fish. Generally, nine-foot leaders are as much as most casters can manage. If you're fishing with a sunken line, you can cut that down by virtually half.
Justin: personally, I nearly always go for clousers of one sort or another. I tend to tie on brighter larger ones in the early part of the day when the sun is not really up. At the height of the day, I'll go darker and smaller before going back to the original flies as the sun begins to sink. Also, if fish are following and attacking and I'm not hooking up, I'll cut them down a bit to up my catch rate.
Will my fishing style be up to the job?
Justin: You tell me! I'm happiest when I've got reservoir guys with me. Most of them can double haul and get a line out thirty metres or so. Covering the water like this is important and certainly ups the catch rate. Many times I have chalkstream guys with me and they're shocked at how hard they have to work. They're used to stalking, to watching for rises and then casting to them close up. Here, in the sea, you've really got to cover the water. If you're casting ten metres shorter than all the rest, your catch rates will plummet. So, if you are a chalkstream fisher, it probably pays to do a bit of practising before you come out so you can maximise the time with me.
Any tips I should get my head round before coming out?
Justin: Location, location, location. That's why you're paying me. I know where the fish are and I'll show you how to find the fish when you leave me and get back to your own patch. Once you've found the fish, then providing you get your presentation right you'll get takes. Sea bass are wild and they're generally hungry and there's often a lot of competition for food so they're not going to be as scary as a chalkstream brown.
But you've got to get your retrieve right, like you have in any form of fishing. A busy, hard-working erratic retrieve is what it's all about. Start with a big pull. Stop. Jig it. Draw it. Remember that you'll be casting hundreds of times in the six hours, so keep experimenting constantly with your retrieve until you are happy you're getting it right.
Can I expect big fish?
Justin: It's not really the attitude that I'd encourage. Remember you're here to learn and build up your confidence. That way anything I teach you will stick with you and you can make use of it in the future. Accept a big fish, if it comes along, as a bonus and remember that anywhere around the UK, smaller school fish are the norm. Remember, too, that a five pound bass can easily be twelve or thirteen years old because they're very slow-growing indeed. Bass are sociable creatures and swim in shoals but obviously the older the shoal the more members are picked off by predation of one sort or another.
However, even big, old bass will still swim with what is left of the shoal. So this is an important tip - if someone hooks into a biggie don't just stand and watch. Get casting, keep working the area and the chances are you will pick up another big one from the same shoal.
Will I get seasick?
Justin: No. What I'm doing is putting you in a boat and then taking you quickly out to the sand spits where you will walk or wade so you're not fishing from a boat at all. So you won't need wristbands or pills or anything like that but you will need serious sun protection, a hat and really good Polaroids. Regarding food, I don't go for anything that slows you down like sandwiches. I prefer water, orange juice, high-energy bars and anything that can give you a bit of a rush. An apple is good. Perhaps some chocolate. Remember, this is tough work and if you want to get the best out of the day, you'll keep your energy levels high.
Welcome to the world of sea bass but a warning - it can be addictive. See you there soon.
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