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Bass plugging basics

by Neil Pead

Sussex angler Neil Pead is a bass fishing fanatic whose particular addiction is casting plugs from the multitude of marks around his home. Plugging tackle and the method basics are simple as Neil explains.

I get more raw enjoyment from flinging hard plastics into the types of places where bass hunt than I do from other fixations. Most of my bass plugging is carried out around where I live in the Sussex area, but the tackle and method essentials stand up countrywide. In this the first of what I hope will be several bass features, I want to introduce you to the core tackle, the best lures, essential methods and where to seek out those broad shouldered silver bombers.

As far as rods go there is essentially nothing wrong with using something like a 1 – 3 oz rated ‘bass’ rod for the occasional chuck of a lure or wedge. However for dedicated plugging the limit of such a rod soon becomes painfully apparent, when after eight hours hopping around a reef or rocks fatigue inevitably sets in and you start to flag. A far better option is to buy a dedicated spinning rod for day-to-day plug slinging, as there is no gain in going heavy in and around Sussex. Most Bass are found close in at the right times, and quality modern spinning rods can happily flick a lure as far, if not further than a light beachcaster, and the right rod is a joy to work and play fish on. You can’t go wrong with some of the Shimano and Mike Ladle range of rods which range from £50 – £120. These are a world apart from the 7-foot ‘toy’ spinning rods that I owned as a boy.

a close up of a bass

Despite changing times and attitudes, rods widely available in the UK are still behind some of the technically superb plugging/spinning rods available in Japan and the USA. Interestingly, dedicated surface lure sea rods have recently become available in the UK. These are specifically designed with ‘popping’ (surface lures) in mind, and for targeting bass in European saltwater.

Reels & lines

I wouldn’t go for anything above a 4000-size fixed spool reel for our inshore plugging. The main requirements to my mind are a smooth handling, light reel with a decent line-lay, and a good bail roller with an excellent drag that won’t seize up after 6 months of hard saltwater use. I have a Twinpower 4000XT-RB which has never let me down and the drag is superb. At under £40 the Shimano Exage is an excellent starter reel. I try and rinse my reels in warm water soon after getting back from trips to dissolve the salt. These 5 minutes of attention are essential if you want your investment to last more than a couple of seasons.

Braid really is a must to get the very best out of the outfits described. I personally use 30lb Berkley Whiplash Pro and Spiderwire Stealth. Both braids are strong yet supple, resist abrasion well, and the fine diameter is great for casting.

Top plugs and other lures

There are many, many types of plugs, spinners, spoons and soft artificial baits available today. The secret of efficient fishing is to whittle those myriad variables down to a concise set of ‘cover all’ options. Plugs can be roughly divided into –

  • Surface
  • Sub-surface
  • Floating divers
  • Sinking or deep diving

Out of the four categories, one to three are most relevant to my regular Sussex shore marks, with one and two being the optimum for reef marks. Here are the plugs/lures that work for me…

Yo-Zuri Mag Popper hard plastic lures for bass Storm Saltwater Chug Bug hard plastic lures

 Surface plugs – Yo-Zuri Mag Popper and Storm Saltwater Chug Bug

a Maria Chase BW plug for bass a Maria Angel Kiss lure for bass

 Sub-surface plugs – Maria Chase BW and Maria Angel Kiss

Dexter Jedi Rattler for bass

Floating Divers – Dexter Jedi Rattler

a DExter wedge for bass fishing

 Spoons – Dexter Wedges and similar

 Artificial Plastics – Red Gills, Delta Eels, Eddystone Eels and similar

Use a leader when using surface lures. This helps prevent overzealous, ‘walk the dog’ actions, which regularly cause the front treble to tangle, damaging the braid. Simply tie around 12 inches of leader material to the braid – I like 18 lb Stren. If you must use Fluorocarbon, step the line strength up as knot strength is often compromised with fluoro. Then tie a Fastlink to the leader to facilitate quick and easy lure changes.

an angler with a nice lure caught bass

 

Areas to investigate

  • Look for likely bass holding ground, this can include…
  • Groynes and breakwaters (both stone & timber)
  • Spits, sand/gravel bars and gullies
  • ‘Rip’ currents, boiling or white water
  • Fast flowing water outfalls
  • River entrances
  • Any diversions or change in river features (including some less than conspicuous structures)
  • Weed beds up the rivers
  • Bridges and similar offerings
  • Reefs and associated gullies
  • Large rock structures
  • Marinas and pier
  • Any obvious concentration of food items (baitfish, crabs, prawns etc)
  • The surf line
  • Above all, keep on the move and look for signs of panic in the water, or sea birds diving

Techniques

Many of the identified features can be successfully fished either with the surface popper or sub-surface lure and it has got to be the most exciting way of catching bass. When a four punder hits your popper, you know about all it! Stealth is the essence of successful bass fishing. I try to approach my chosen venue quietly, which is not always possible when you are in a group. At night there is always the temptation to switch a light on, but this should be avoided if safety allows. As far as possible keep to shadows and out of the skyline, and avoid silhouetting yourself behind ledges etc. Don’t splash around whilst wading, and try to cover the ground out in front of you before moving along the shoreline.

If you can imagine a clock face, always start casting at say 9 o’clock (you might have to adjust that somewhat if wading). Try maybe three or four casts in that area then fan out, working around to 12’oclock and back through to the opposite side from where you started. If using deeper diving or suspending lures you can also go through various different depth levels. The easiest way to do this is to count down until you hit bottom and work back up from there. For instance, a 10 second countdown and work the lure back, then perhaps an 8-seconds fall and retrieve and so forth. Do not be shy of fishing shallow water, and also casting back along the shoreline among gullies and reef structure such as we have east of Brighton Marina to Eastbourne.

Walking the dog

There are plenty of websites detailing variances of ‘walk the dog’ techniques, so I’ll leave that instruction to others. A very good tip however, is to change retrieve speeds. I find a very slow retrieve best with the Mag Popper, interspersed with lots of motionlessness and what I describe as ‘dying’ twitches. You are mimicking a wounded fish, and if the bass are lazy, then it is my interpretation that they are more likely to hit a slow, erratic lure.

Bubble float tactics

Another method worth of mention is the bubble float. Often derided, to some it’s crude. And whether or not it is strictly ‘lure’ fishing is open to debate, but the method works well on the Sussex shingle beaches and many other places beside. A bubble float is a very simple in-line float where the line runs through the middle, and the stoppered body can be filled with water to add weight for casting. The bubble float method works well in the surf in conditions up to around Force 3, or F4 at a push. It works over reefs and in shallow water too, but my preference in these situations is popping, as I find it produces a better average size of bass. Regardless, the bubble float does have its place, and is still great fun.

a diagram of a bubble float rig for bass

 Setting up a bubble float rig

You need some different sized bubble floats to cope with varying conditions (anything up to 1 oz is sufficient in Sussex). Fix the end with the rubber stop facing the rod.

Thread your mainline down through the float, ensuring the ‘rubber’ is as described above. Add a small bead and tie on a small size 4 swivel. I trust to a Palomar knot for this.

Tie anything from 2-5 ft fluorocarbon length of trace. I find 4 foot optimal. Be aware that the longer the trace the more susceptible it is to wrapping around the float. Attach a small snap link to connect the lure – the smaller the better within reason. You can omit this but then it makes changing lures or flies more difficult than needs be.

Next add a small 70mm Red Gill eel, Delta or fly – pearl or white/blue are good starter colours. The fly can be a proper saltwater fly, but I like a small ‘white rabbit’ trout fly.

Get in the habit of feathering the line during the cast, before the rig hits the water. This goes a long way towards preventing the trace from wrapping over the float.

Keep the retrieve rate slow and steady. You want the business end to remain sub-surface. With a Redgill, it can almost just sit in the current with minimal work on the reel. The idea is to minimise disturbance caused by the bulbous bubble, which also gets nudged by inquisitive fish. Expect bass, garfish and sometimes mullet and sea trout to fall to this method.

an angler on a rocky shore bass fishing

There are variations in the bubble float technique: namely specialist ‘dart’ or sbirolino floats that act like fly lines, and there are floating, slowly sinking and suspending types. I have dabbled with these but found they exaggerated the tangling problem, which may have been overcome if I had bothered to refine my rigs. A Bulrag is another option but I dislike that the weighty float held in a fixed position. Drennan surface controllers are less visible than the Bulrags but they can be tarted up and they are easily rigged to slide.

Tides, times and silver ghosts

Bass tend to have defined times when they appear over certain marks and like ghosts, often disappearing almost as soon as they arrive. Some areas may experience as short as a 10-minute window frantic bass activity before the fish have moved on. For this reason it is essential to be mobile and I do try and keep an alert eye for ‘sign’ that might betray moving bass. It could be boulders some 50 metres to the left have drawn the fish, or some other feature or naturally occurring giveaway. Ultimately though, time-served local knowledge and experience plays a big part in any good bass angler’s ability to track there quarry across a particular mark or beat.

a distant angler on a rocky shore bass fishing

Remember, approach the bass mark quietly…sunrise is the prime time. Maintain a smart eye for working sea birds or disturbances in the water, and look for structure or associated fish-holding features. Cover all ground with the lure, including well in to the shoreline, and keep on the move – generally the more ground you can cover the better your chances of bass. I find fishing from low tide and all the way back over the flood most productive. However, some bass anglers do achieve a margin of success during the latter stages of the ebb down to dead low water on some locations.

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