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Do sea bass feed constantly?

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This is a difficult question and has a number of answers depending on a number of factors. The short answer has to be NO but most predators are expedient hunters and if a fly is presented to any apex predator at the right time and speed there will more than likely be a predatory reaction. This bodes an interesting analogy when it comes to salmon, as most literature will stipulate that a salmon DOES NOT feed at all in fresh water on return to the spawning redds, but one of the most effective ways to catch a salmon on my beat in Ireland is to trot a prawn which would suggest that they do feed.

Sea bass without a doubt feed aggressively over the lunar cycle and some of the most aggressive feeding in Chichester Harbour occurred this season during intermediate tidal ranges and sometimes on some of the smallest tides of the year (2.2meter LW verses 3.6meter HW). One of the reasons for this maybe that the bait fish are less distributed over the harbour or chosen area as the velocity of water allows them to keep in tightly concentrated shoals, unlike the spring tides which push the bait around more aggressively and distribute the fry all over the harbour and they are, therefore, less tightly packed together and act as a far less attractor to a large sea bass shoal.

Once the bait is concentrated the fun usually begins and the feeding may well continue at certain hours of the tide and over several days. My opinion is that the feeding may well continue until the bait ball is totally annihilated and then the bass may well then rest up.

It's worth noting that pike do exactly this when hunting in brackish river systems which see some tidal drift. You can walk the Pagham Rife and see small jacks (4-5lb class) resting in the margins and they will actually have silt on their backs - these fish are definitely digesting protein and are dormant while doing so which allows the sediment to settle on their backs.

Bass are, however, shoaling fish and less sedentary so the predatory reaction can be far more aggressive and frenetic, as the competition for the food becomes progressive as the bait ball is reduced in size.

So, the answer is a mixture of factors

What is more interesting however is whether or not the bass stop feeding because there is little or no bait to feed on or, do they stop feeding because they are sated?  Maybe a little or both is the answer but they definitely rest up, as we have noticed big differences in catch rates after 4 or 5 days of getting good numbers whilst the feeding bass are very obvious on the surface. These difficult periods this season (2006) are during similar tides and conditions so this would suggest that they do feed aggressively but sporadically - what is not known yet is whether this coincides with the tide pushing NEW bait (herring fry/mullet fry) into the harbour system which allows the bass to feed in this way .

Food for thought...

The RSPB this year commented that a lot of the young broods of terns have suffered because there hasn't been enough sand eels to support both parent and young chicks. If this food chain affects the birds there is no reason why a similar food chain would not affect the bass in the harbour, i.e. bass feed aggressively when the food is there and are maybe not able to feed all the time due to a lack of food.

Justin Anwyl

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