Late Season Bass Fishing Tips, with Chris Ogborne

Has the sun already set on your saltwater fly fishing this year? With big bass still a mouthwatering possibility, you might just want to reconsider! Chris Ogborne still finds plenty of encouragement to launch his boat on the Camel Estuary. Here, he tells us the story of an Autumn day’s bass fishing on one of those special rare days between the Autumn storms.
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boat fishing bass Cornwall winter autumn tips
Well, the crazy and ill-advised Bass regulations have at last been relaxed, and from 1st October we leisure anglers can fish again with the option of retaining a Bass for the table.
Or put another way, we can once again exercise our rights as part of our national and marine heritage.  Whether the draconian imposition on our sport for most of 2018 will have had any effect on fish stocks is debatable, and in fact will probably never be proved one way or the other.  With commercially licensed boats taking five tonnes each, I severely doubt that the quantities taken by leisure anglers would  have had any impact at all, but doubtless the  politicians will find a way of making the numbers read the way it suits them.

Regardless of this, at least we still have the rest of this lovely autumn in which to enjoy our fishing. Besides, if things don’t get too cold in a hurry, I’m hoping the back-end sport will be at least as good as it was last year.  These days, of course, you can enjoy fishing bass year round, although timing is key. So what are the best conditions for bass on the fly?

Glorious autumn fly fishing for bass

Bass fishing cornwall fly boat
I took the boat out this week on a glorious day and was reminded for the millionth time why I love living in this special part of the U.K.  The estuary looked stunning.  Autumn colours were blazing in the sunshine, skeins of geese were flying overhead as I left the mooring and a huge mixed flock of Curlews and Oystercatchers exploded from the salt marshes as I cruised past, on route to sea.  I thought, as indeed I think every time I take the boat out, that life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this!
The fish were in a good mood, too. Last week’s storms had  stirred things up nicely – we need a good blow now and then to liven up the water and move the food around for the fish – and the extreme water clarity of summer had changed to a very slight green haze, which is exactly what we want for Bass fishing.

Best fly colours and fly lines for late season bass

Bass fly fishing tips lines colours sandeels
I stopped off at several estuary marks on the way down channel, taking a couple of schoolies at each one on the fly.  The Turrall sand eel patterns in chartreuse and pink are just right in the brackish water, as the fish can see them more clearly than the neutral, grey or blue colours that we use in clearer water.
I tend to use intermediate lines almost exclusively at this time of year, as the fish can be a touch lethargic when the water cools down from summer temperatures.  Retrieve rates are slower too and the ultra fast stripping of high summer is replaced by slower, staccato movements which give you the opportunity for more variety in each cast.
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Conditions were as near flat calm as I’ve seen for a while, so I headed out to sea for a bit of prospecting around the islands.  Sport on the fly was good, but I had to switch to a fast sinker on some of the marks, just to get down quickly.
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Fish were feeding well in the running tide, and I positioned the boat in the down-tide lee of the island to fish the seams effectively. As high tide approached I just let the boat drift off across the rocky reefs that circle the island, taking fish between two and four pounds from around 15 feet of water.  Brilliant sport, made so much better by the near-calm conditions that allowed the rare luxury of perfect control on the fly line.
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Plan B: From fly casting to lure fishing

As often happens a breeze picked up after the tide changed, so I had to adjust  tactics.  For anyone sniffy at doing this, there’s no shame in casting lures when the need arises. As much as we’d love to catch every fish on the fly, lures can be a brilliant backup weapon that could save you a blank afternoon should the fly become difficult or impossible to fish.
On this occasion, a light LRF  spin rod and 25gram soft baits enabled me to find the depth and if anything the sport just got better.  I headed back inside the estuary to explore a couple of favourite marks inside the headland and they didn’t disappoint.  I found a good pod of fish, all in the 3 to 4 pound class that gave a great account of themselves on the LRF tackle.  There were still a few mackerel around too, to I dropped a string of feathers down to pick up a few for supper – the humble mackerel is still one of the most delicious fish to eat when it’s this fresh.

Time and tide…

All too soon it was time for home.  I keep my boat on a mooring that gives me around 3 hours either side of high tide, so I have to make sure I’m back in time  before the water disappears. Get it wrong, and you and your boat are stranded for ten hours or more!! Only once in thirty years have I left it too late to get back on the mooring – lesson learned!  It wasn’t dangerous in any way, but the embarrassment factor was off the scale and I didn’t live it down in the boat club for many seasons!  These days, no matter how good the fishing is, I always err on the side of caution!  Or maybe that’s old age for you!
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As is a part of my boating ritual, I stopped off on a little shingle beach about a mile from the mooring to gut the mackerel.  In the flat water, I couldn’t help but notice a spray of tiny fish (probably baby Mullet) which were obviously being chased by something bigger.
  It happened again about twenty yards away with an accompanying swirl so I quickly dropped the filling knife, reached for the fly rod, and put a fly  down near the last disturbance.  Three seconds later I was into a beautiful bass that must have been close to five pounds and he lead me a right old dance around the beds of wrack before I subdued him in the shallows. A spectacular end to a very special day and I admired him for a few long moments before slipping him back into the water.
Whatever your sport, get out and enjoy these final weeks of the season.  The legacy of the summer heat is that we have a stunning array of autumn colour this year, but all too soon this will turn into the inevitable grey of winter and, as we all know, it’s a long old time till spring!”
Fishing_sunset_cornwall
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For further reading on bass and saltwater fly fishing, check out our blog archives. Previous posts include:
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Bass and Saltwater Fly Fishing Tips

-Beyond Bass: Saltwater Tips from Garfish to Grey Mullet

Perfect fly lines and saltwater fly patterns for bass…

Looking for the best flies to catch bass and other saltwater predators this autumn? Look no further than Turrall’s own range of proven fish catchers. Designed and tested by Chris himself, our various sandeels and baitfish designs are spot on for bass. Chris recommends the brighter colours for later in the year, especially following disturbance and less than gin clear water. Find them at your local Turrall stockist or order online from the likes of Troutcatchers.co.uk or FliesOnline.

Sandeel flies for sea bass

As for fly lines, an intermediate or fast intermediate is perhaps the most useful tool later in the year, with slower retrieves. Tough and long-casting, Cortland Lines come especially well recommended for the job. Find all the best Cortland products from fly stockists across the UK.

Red Letter Fly Fishing for Sea Bass!

In spite of the recent heatwave conditions, there has been some sensational saltwater fly fishing around the English coast so far this year. Chris Ogborne reports on some phenomenal action with sea bass in Cornwall.

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saltwater fly fishing cornwall UK chris ogborne

“It’s not often that I get really excited about fishing these days. At my age, you tend to temper over-enthusiasm with a little reality and there are few things that still get the adrenalin flowing at high speed.

But last week, I ran out of superlatives to describe the sport we had on one of my favourite beaches here in Cornwall. It was, quite simply, off the scale!

Picture the scene: I was hosting two friends for the week. John Pawson (former England International fly fisher and individual World Champion no less!) and Andy Payne, who although relatively new to the game is already a very accomplished angler. I was therefore understandably a little nervous about how good the fishing would be, especially in the light of the current heatwave, and also because the beach fishing in general hasn’t really switched on yet. In the event, I needn’t have worried.

bass fly fishing cornwall uk

For some reason, which I can only try to explain, there was a higher than usual number of very big bass coming in to this particular beach. This doesn’t usually happen until September, when the tourists have gone home and the big solitary bass come close in prowling.The only explanation I’d offer is that the fishing has been poor out at sea because of a lack of wind – we need a good storm every now and then to stir things up – and because of the heat and continued bright conditions.

Whatever the cause, the schoolies we normally play with have headed up into the estuary and the normally elusive big fish were here in numbers. Big numbers. Every ten or fifteen minutes or so we’d see a huge shape moving through the shallows, mopping up the prolific bootlace sand eels that are everywhere at the moment. And if you can spot these feeding fish, you can catch them.

I was using the new Cortland line which is proving a real delight to fish with. Supple in cold water and easy to handle even within the demands of saltwater flyfishing, where you constantly need a mix of long and short casting and lightning quick responses when you see a fish. The water was full of bootlace sandeels so our imitations were simple – the Turralls bootlace eels in pink, chartreuse, and blue, depending on water conditions. To clarify this point, you need the pink and chartreuse in any kind of brackish or ‘low tide’ water, whilst the blue and grey artificials are perfect when there’s a high degree of clarity in the water.

Sandeel flies specially designed by Chris. Find these from various UK suppliers including www.troutcatchers.co.uk

John and Andy were visibly excited when we spotted fish almost immediately, and I have to confess that I was too. If you don’t get a buzz when you see fish up to and beyond double figures in casting range, then you’re in the wrong sport!

John’s very first fish of the trip turned out to be his lifetime best sea fish, a stunning Bass of around 7 1/2 lbs. We spotted it, he covered it perfectly with around 20 feet of forward lead and we both gasped out loud when it turned and surged towards his pink sand eel. With an almighty swirl it took the fly. A full fly line then disappeared in seconds!


Such was the power and pace of the fish that he had to literally run through the waves to keep up with the monster that was heading for the Doom Bar at about thirty knots! Two grown men were giggling like school children – well, why not!! It took nearly twenty minutes to subdue, and a further five minutes to relax the fish before releasing it. The high five was a bit special!

Although I initially thought that this would be the high point of the trip, if anything it just went on getting better. Andy had never caught a Sea Bass before, so his first fish the following day which touched 4lbs or better, was a real moment. The pictures here show the quality of the fish we caught, but of course nothing quite compares with seeing them in real life. The pure silver flanks, the beautiful eye and the sheer power of them, all this makes it a genuine pleasure to release them back to the sea. The Bass is a stunning. fish and arguably the greatest challenge you can get on a fly rod, so these were memorable days.

Whether you fish by bank or boat this summer it certainly bodes well for the summer. Should you want to book your own special trip and make some memories, do take a look at my site.

boat fishing cornish bass on fly

In the end, I guess it’s a combination of factors that makes a top fishing experience. The tackle was perfect and performed faultlessly, the flies were exactly right and we just happened to hit on a unique set of water and weather conditions. Whatever the analysis, these were some red letter days with some special friends in a special place, and they will live in the memory for a very long time.”

guided bass fly fishing cornwall uk

Chris Ogborne
July 2018

It’s not over yet: Making the most of the late season

The evenings may be drawing in and Autumn with us, but as Chris Ogborne expounds, the fishing season is far from over.

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” I feel a bit cheated this year.  My favourite month of September, normally one of the softest in terms of weather and the best in terms of fishing, was a bit of a washout.
I honestly can’t remember a year when Autumn arrived so emphatically. It seemed that in a period of just a few days we went from summer straight into the next season, with scarcely a pause for breath.  One minute the tourists were here in Cornwall and yet in the next the were all gone, seeming to take summer with them and leave behind only falling leaves.
 
It’s been grey, very damp, and not at all like the long Indian Summer days that we normally enjoy in September.  Half of the members of the boat club have taken their boats out of the water into winter lay-up and the last swallows and Martins have left for warmer climes.  The fishing community is bracing itself for what promises to be a long old winter
But it’s not all doom and gloom.  As I write this in the first week in October there is glorious sunshine outside, with enough warmth to get the thermometer in the garden up into the late teens, and the little trout in my stream are feeding avidly on something I’ve yet to identify.  It’s enough to get me thinking that I might take the fly rod down to the beach for a late Bass this afternoon – from a fishing point of view, the season is most definitely not over yet!
Whilst most trout rivers are closed from October 1st, there are still a host of reservoirs and small stillwaters open for business and after a season that can at best be described as ‘patchy’ the fishery managers will be only too pleased to see you.
Open all year: a cool day at Devon’s Bellbrook Valley Trout Fishery.
Most of the big reservoirs stay open at least till the end of the month, and whilst they don’t stock heavily at this time of year you’ll still have the chance of a top quality residential fish. These quality specimens that have survived the summer will be a real challenge, and in the cooling water they are best sought with subtle tactics.
Floating line and slow retrieves with a team of nymphs are the best way, making the most of the last two hours of the day as dusk draws in.  On warmer afternoon you can even get them to rise to a surface dry fly and a big hopper will rarely let you down.  The fish seem to know that winter is just around the corner and will often lose the caution and reserve they display in high summer.
On the coast, there are even more options.  I’m reminded that last year we had an absolute rock-hopping bonanza in November, which actually turned out to be our best month of the entire season. Using fly or LRF, I just love to go stalking individual Bass that come into the rocks in late afternoon, hunting the last of the sandeels or maybe punching through the kelp for prawns or small pollack.
Bass are still about, but you may need to go a bit deeper.
In recent years, another unexpected turn has been a fair run of Shad in the estuary and whether deliberate catches or otherwise, anglers fly fishing the sea later in the year from  are quite likely to be surprised. Harbour walls, boat pontoons or any rocky outcropwill give you access to the deeper water you may still find bass and pollack, and you never know, perhaps one of these beautiful, enigmatic fish.
Generally speaking then, you’re better off on the rocks rather than the beaches in October and November as you can access the deeper water.  The schoolie bass that give such great sport in warmer days have now gone looking for deeper water, so a bit of rock hopping is our preferred method on the estuaries.  Remember to take a line tray with you – nothing cuts through a fly line like mussel shells and the wave action has a nasty habit of washing the line all over the place if it’s not secured in a line tray
You may even be lucky enough to live near one of the rivers enjoying an Autumn salmon run, like my home river the Camel.  Here, we fish on till mid December and whilst the leaves in the water can be intensely frustrating it’s worth it when you latch on to a late run fish. The same is true in parts of Scotland, where there is still some “extra time” to catch that late season winner.
Running late: Can you spot the salmon in this picture, seen earlier this month?
So don’t give in to winter just yet.  We still have the glorious days of Autumn to enjoy and on the occasional balmy afternoon  when the sunlight sets the trees on fire with spectacular colour, the pull of the fishing rod is irresistible.
Grayling are another good reason not to hang up the rods as things cool.
Wherever you decide to fish, stay optimistic, get out there and you may be pleasantly surprised. Keep an eye on the Turrall Facebook page and blog too, as the team will be looking at flies and tips for various species over the cooler months, from grayling to pike. Frost and snow are just around the corner, so let’s get out and enjoy the countryside while we can.”
Chris Ogborne
October 2017

Sandeels, bass and opening time for saltwater fly fishing

Looking to fly fish the sea this year? The right time and tides to give it a try are fast approaching, reports Chris Ogborne, who highlights a key change period in the fly fishing year – when saltwater temperatures hit the magic double figures!

This week saw one of the key milestones in my sea fishing year. Our local weather forecast guru told the West of England that sea temperatures had reached double figures. Knowing that the estuary is always a little bit warmer, I took the thermometer down to the beach and sure enough, the magic 11 degree mark is registering.

sea bass on the fly
Along with the sand eels come the bass. Good news for the fly fisher, but you MUST currently release any you catch under law.

It’s uncanny and just a little bit mysterious, but  for a few years now 11 degrees is and has been for years the signal for the estuary to come to life , marking the ideal time of the year to start thinking about fly fishing in saltwater. To prove it I went up to Wadebridge and yes, there are Grey Mullet under the town bridge.  They weren’t there yesterday but now, as if someone had flicked a switch, here they are.
mullet fishing Devon
Mullet are one thing but Bass are another.  There are early bass in the estuary right now and  the numbers build as they come in hunting sand eels all summer long, but even this predictable behaviour has a cycle.  The first to arrive are the little bootlace sand eels, the ones you see in the their hundreds along the shoreline.  They’re here right now, providing food not just for the fish but also for the myriad of sea birds setting up home along the cliffs.  The arrival couldn’t be better timed.

Next in will be the main run of summer sand eels, the staple food item of so many fish and arguably the ultimate bait for Bass and most sport fish.  These eels are between four and six inches long, packed full of protein, and crucial to the survival and breeding success of most sea birds.  They normally show in Cornwall in early May, although with the mild winter and slightly higher temperatures it looks as though this could  be early this year

Sand eels Devon fishing
Early sandeels tend to be the “bootlace” eels. Imitate these with smaller patterns.

Close on the heels of the summer eels will be the fabled Launce, or Giant Sand Eels.  These guys are huge, often well over a foot in length and regarded by serious sea anglers as the ultimate bait for many specimen fish.  Big Pollack love them, as do so many species, and they are a must-have bait for a days boat fishing.  They’re also fun to catch, and we always have a lot of fun with clients catching a supply on feathers at the start of most days afloat.  It also gives anglers that rather satisfying feeling of catching your own bait – it feels that somehow you’re more deserving of the big fish you catch with them!

But of course, for most of you reading this blog, there is only one way to fish once our saltwater predators are on the chase, and that is to try fly fishing with an imitation sandeel! You could get at the vice with a selection of tinsels and fibres to tie some sandeel patterns, or indeed buy some proven ready made fly patterns. Whichever way suits you, Turrall have an excellent range of saltwater tying materials, as well as a range of deadly sand eel imitations in a wide range of sizes and colours (search for these under the Turrall name, or shop online with one of our recommended retailers HERE):

Sandeel flies for sea bass

My advice would be to use the bootlace patterns in the spring and early summer from beach or rocks, and then move up to the summer sand eel fly patterns in a few weeks time.  If you have the chance of some rock hopping over deeper water then bring out the eight weight sinking line and use the Launce patterns from June onward.

One final word of warning about bass however: Current legislation means that it is currently illegal to kill any bass you catch, even if it is above minimum size. We would always recommend practising catch and release tactics anyway, because bass stocks are precious. But please don’t be tempted to take one for the table until the ban is lifted- because it could be a costly mistake.
Naturally, many other species also eat sand eels and these flies work brilliantly for so many other fish.  Pollack, garfish, mackerel and wrasse have all been caught on these patterns, which are just part of Turrall’s selection of brilliant flies for sea fish, so give them a try this year.  There is fantastic sport to be had!

Mackerel on the fly, saltwater fly fishing UK

Chris Ogborne runs guided saltwater fly fishing sessions in Cornwall throughout the summer. For further info see his website HERE.

For more tips, giveaways and fly patterns for fresh and saltwater fishing alike, keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook page.