Anglers Tips: Understanding Sea-bass

Early sea-fishing writers sometimes differentiated between what they called Channel bass and the ordinary variety. There is no scientific basis for this classification; in British waters we have only one member of the family of sea-perches (Serranidae) commonly distributed, and that is the bass (Dicentrachus labrax) itself, though the stone bass or wreck fish, an allied species, is sometimes taken in deep water off the West Country.

Big bass look a little different from school bass (those up to about 1 kg or 2-1/2 lb); they are proportionately much thicker in the body and the colouration is different. Schoolies are brilliantly silver on the back and sides, white on the belly. The big solitaries are darker with a pronounced black lateral line, and the head has a bronze sheen. Some bass found in deepish water (five fathoms or so) have a brilliant blue colouring along the edges of the tail fin, very like the blue of the pectoral fin of tub gurnard. Presumably this is a variation caused by the depth or by particular diet.

The sharp spines of the front dorsal fin of the bass are well known, and bass fishermen take great care not to have them pierce their hands. Travis Jenkins states that they are nine in number, but I have caught many bass that had eight spines. In the West Country and in Wales bass are often called salmon bass, but there is, of course, no relationship at all with the Salmonidae. The bass is, in fact, a close relative of the PERCH.

 

In the opinion of most saltwater anglers who fish in the south and south-west of Britain, the bass occupies top place in the hierarchy of sporting fish. It is a handsome fish to look at; it fights hard on the hook; it is a fine dish at table; and it can be fished for in a variety of ways, from fly-fishing to legering in the surf with a heavy weight.

Early sea-fishing writers sometimes differentiated between what they called Channel bass and the ordinary variety. There is no scientific basis for this classification; in British waters we have only one member of the family of sea-perches (Serranidae) commonly distributed, and that is the bass (Dicentrachus labrax) itself, though the stone bass or wreck fish, an allied species, is sometimes taken in deep water off the West Country. Big bass look a little different from school bass (those up to about 1 kg or (2-½ lb); they are proportionately much thicker in the body and the colouration is different. Schoolies are brilliantly silver on the back and sides, white on the belly. The big solitaries are darker with a pronounced black lateral line, and the head has a bronze sheen. Some bass found in deepish water (five fathoms or so) have a brilliant blue colouring along the edges of the tail fin, very like the blue of the pectoral fin of tub gurnard. Presumably this is a variation caused by the depth or by particular diet.

The sharp spines of the front dorsal fin of the bass are well known, and bass fishermen take great care not to have them pierce their hands. Travis Jenkins states that they are nine in number, but I have caught many bass that had eight spines. In the West Country and in Wales bass are often called salmon bass, but there is, of course, no relationship at all with the Salmonidae. The bass is, in fact, a close relative of the PERCH.

In the opinion of most saltwater anglers who fish in the south and south-west of Britain, the bass occupies top place in the hierarchy of sporting fish. It is a handsome fish to look at; it fights hard on the hook; it is a fine dish at table; and it can be

Bass are gregarious fish when they are young. When the big spring tides sweep myriads of herring and mackerel fry into the fast tideways, these are harried twenty-four hours a day by huge shoals of school bass which feed on the surface, ripping again and again into the tiny fish. By the time they have reached 2 kg (4-5 lb) in weight, small companies rather than big shoals of bass are the rule; though there are exceptions to this where special circumstances concentrate the bass in a small area, as they do at the Splaugh shoals off Co Wexford, where, on occasion, thousands of bass from 1.5 kg (3 lb) up into double figures combine to harry shoals of fry. Very big bass are usually solitary in habit.

Bass are essentially inshore fish, which is the reason why they are seldom to be seen at the fishmonger’s. Areas of low rock that shelter large numbers of crabs and small fish are a favourite haunt of theirs, as are tideways and tide races wherever there is a fast current. They often haunt the surf of sandy beaches, especially when the sea is dying down after a big blow. Sand and mud estuaries too are visited by bass who show a great tolerance for, indeed are positively attracted by, brackish water. This is clearly indicated by the fact that very often the best spot to fish on a sandy beach is where a stream of fresh water crosses the strand, though it may be the merest trickle. Occasionally bass can be taken by the angler well out to sea when the fish are shoaling after fry or sprat. Usually, however, this will be in comparatively shallow water where there are rock formations which causes tide races and eddies.

Compared with such species as cod, bass are extremely slow-growing fish. Investigations by Dr Kennedy, Chairman of the Irish Inshore Fisheries Trust, showed for instance that a bass of 495 g (1 lb 1-1/2 oz) was five years old. He concluded that it takes about six years for a female bass to reach sexual maturity, by which time it may weigh perhaps 700 g (l-1/2 lb) At the other end of the scale it was found that a 4.8 kg (1 lf lb) fish was twenty-one years old. Thus, as if to make up for the slow growth rate, the bass is a long-living fish compared with most saltwater species.

There is a moral in this, of course. Many inexperienced fishermen make their slaughter among the school bass without ever realizing that even small fish of 500 g (1 lb) or so have taken five years to reach that weight. Bass, I am convinced, can be fished out to some extent by rod and line fishing in a particular locality, and I think angling clubs could do valuable work by suggesting a size and a bag limit to their members. There is no legal sanction to compel them, of course.

The spawning habits of bass remain a mystery. One authority simply says, ‘The bass spawns from May to August either in the sea, brackish, or fresh water’. The consensus of modern scientific opinion is that most bass do their spawning off-shore in deep water. In British waters, only a very few young bass have ever been recorded. These were taken in a tow-net off the Eddystone and measured 4 to 7.5 mm (1/8 to ¼ in) in length. Bass eggs have never been discovered in British waters, and the present assumption is that either they float too high for the naturalist’s tow net, or else bass spawn in a very few restricted areas, the locations of which are unknown. There is no real evidence to support the old and very natural theory that bass come into brackish water to spawn.

The spawning period appears to be March to June. There also seems to be a strong possibility that spawning may be a long-drawn-out process, not being over and done with at once. Thus, fish which appear in estuaries in May after leaving their winter haunts in deep water are not always spawned out, so that while most spawn is cast in the deep-water environment of the bass, individual late spawners come into estuaries and beaches with unspent, or only partially spent roes.

In some favoured areas — the south-west coast of England, west Wales, and the south-west of Ireland — some bass remain close inshore throughout the winter. The general rule, however, is for the fish to move away from the shore in October or November, and not to reappear until the following May. Certain areas have an early run of bass which peters out after a couple of months, one such place being the Sussex coast in the neighbourhood of Beachy Head and Eastbourne.

The best months for the share fishermen seem to be May and June, and September and October. Although there are always a few bass feeding inshore in July and August, it is often the case, particularly in hot weather, that the main body of the bass will be found off-shore chasing the shoals of MACKEREL and herring fry that feed near the surface in this period.

Bass are general predators. Schoolies feed on small crustaceans chiefly, slaters, and fleas, and shrimps, as well as fry. Bigger bass feed on small fishes of all kinds, gobies and blennies and rockling if they are feeding close inshore among the rocks, mackerel and herring fry, sprats, and the young of other species in the tideways. A shoal of big bass may combine to play havoc with a school of mackerel averaging as much as three-quarters of a pound in weight. Crabs are taken in quantity by shore-ranging bass; nearly all the bass I have opened have contained a few. Prawns and sand eels are also taken avidly.

Bass seem also to be very fond of small flatfish of a few inches in length; one fish that a friend caught once contained twenty-two tiny flounders. In some seasons very large quantities of squid are washed inshore, and then bass become preoccupied with feeding upon them.

Bass also take razor-fish and lugworm when used by the angler, though no great quantities of these can be available to the fish in the normal course of events. Ragworms are more easily obtained by the bass; the big variety, known to sea fishermen as king rag, is a particularly killing bait in some localities.

19. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Bass, Fish, Sea Fishing | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Anglers Tips: Understanding Sea-bass

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