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.

Grayling on the Fly: Patterns and Tactics for Autumn Fishing

With busy lives, not to mention a summer of weird weather, it’s not always easy to get as much time on the river as you’d like. What a godsend grayling are, therefore, to take fly fishing into “extra time” on running waters everywhere! Dominic Garnett reports on a session of contrasting flies and tactics, with the Turrall gang and the Westcountry Angling Passport‘s Bruno Vincent.

River Tamar fly fishing grayling

“Although Devon and Cornwall are not exactly synonymous with grayling, there’s a surprisingly good selection of rivers where you can find the species. Nor is it all private, “members only” water. In fact, the excellent Westcountry Angling Passport scheme provides excellent fishing from as little as £6 a day.

Perhaps the first priority for our trip, given unusual current conditions (still very low water, after the bizarre summer of 2018), was to get some local advice. So I was quickly in touch with Bruno Vincent, who is a fellow writer for Fallon’s Angler as well as the current manager of the scheme, for some up to date information. Not only was he incredibly helpful, but we managed to tempt him out for a couple of hours on the water. Also joining me were Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson.

Instant grayling fishing with the FishPass App…

Fish Pass App fly fishing day ticket Devon Cornwall

In an angling world that isn’t always tech savvy, it’s great to see day ticket fly fishing  moving with the times under the Westcountry Angling Passport. Today, I’m able to download the app, pay for tokens and digitally deposit these within minutes. Job done!

With water levels still low, Bruno’s advice is to fish Beat 22 (Ham Mill), near Launceston, which has a stretch of the Tamar, along with water on the Ottery, a lovely tributary.

“The Tamar always has a bit of colour, as do it’s main feeder streams the Ottery, Cary and Kensey” he advises. The Launceston area in general is excellent, with a cluster of beats all quite nearby (20, 21 and 25), for anyone in East Cornwall or West Devon.

“If the rivers are filling with rain, though, the Rivers Lyd and Inny are moorland fed and tend to colour up less- although that seems wishful thinking at present!” adds Bruno. “For those nearer Exeter, Tiverton and Barnstaple,  Westons (beat 1) offers lovely grayling fishing too, on a tributary of the River Exe on Exmoor, and is well worth a visit.”

Install the free app for yourself or find out more at westcountryangling.com and there are stacks of waters to go at, with several open well into the colder months for grayling fishing.

Grayling leaders and flies for small river fishing

While long rods and even longer leaders are all the rage these days for grayling, I must admit that I’m a relative latecomer to such antics. Part of it is the fishing on my typical home patch; Devon and Cornwall have lots of diddy little streams with clear, shallow water. Beanpole anglers, such as yours truly, scare fish easily at short range here, while beanpole rods can be more of a danger to trees than trout and grayling! Nor have I done too badly with shorter rods and the classic New Zealand duo or nymph plus indicator route.

Today though, there’s a definite argument for mixing and matching. Like several beats, we have the welcome choice of a narrow, bushy tributary along with a larger more open river at Ham Mill. The 7.5ft 4 weight wand I’m rigging up should do for the former, while Gary, Simon and Bruno’s long rods are ideal for the latter. With lots of room to play with, we should all have space to do our thing (well, let’s hope some whipping match doesn’t break out because I’ve got the shortest rod).

Best grayling flies nymphs off bead jigs
Regardless of rods and leaders, though, we’ll all be starting fishing with off-bead nymphs today. Not long released by Turrall, these flies give a jig-style presentation, to get them right down to the take zone without snagging up every other cast (you can find them in a set of six here).

Long leaders and location issues

With Cornwall’s rivers still so low, our initial challenge today is simply locating fish. The shallows are looking bare and often bereft of current, so it seems a safe bet that the fish are less evenly spread out than usual. It quickly becomes apparent that the deeper, faster water is the place to be.

Bruno misses some small early fish in a nice looking steady run with three feet or so of depth, which is encouraging at least. As with so many beats that contain both a main river artery and a smaller tributary, however, the confluence of the two looks especially tempting. In this case, there’s a lovey seam where coloured main river and clearer stream water meet.

Gary is straight in with the long rod. It’s a bit deeper here, but with reduced flows, one of the lighter off-bead nymphs is his pick, coupled with a soft hackle fly on a dropper. With weaker flows, heavier flies just wouldn’t move  through the swim freely enough.

Indeed, the weight of flies you use is important; in deep rushing water you might find two dense bead heads best, but today’s low flows require less mass. Gary uses a 10ft 2wt Cortland Competition series, with an extra long leader (around 20ft) with a section of indicator mono to help spot bites.

Just watching an experienced nymph angler “high sticking” is instructive. I always feel like casting more line out, but this isn’t the right idea. Instead, the fly line stays in the guides and a short, curt flip forward delivers the flies. By holding the rod up and out, with the tip high and the angler really pivoting and reaching (the sequence below gives a better sense), you can cover a surprising amount of water with each cast. You can see why he likes a very light reel for the job, too. My cheapies would give you arm ache:

How to fish french leader czech nymph fly fishing
Getting this right is about good habits and watching an expert always helps. I tend to want to lift the flies out too quickly when they’re heading downstream; whereas if you leave them for longer you’ll be surprised how close to your waders you can catch fish- and how many fish come across the current or even a bit below you. Obviously careful wading helps- and grayling tend not to be as spooky as trout.

Sometimes the bites happen right at the end of a delivery, as the flies start to lift. Again, holding on that extra second, when the flies have passed us, takes a bit of reprograming for those taught the logic of “upstream good, downstream bad”. It’s not rocket science, but it takes poise and control. Watch Gary and it looks easy!

Nor is it all posturing or techny knowlegd, as he shows by striking into something pretty solid early on, a fish that really thumps the light rod. Size of fish is always relative in any angling, but this looks a belting Cornish grayling. Anything of over a pound can be considered an excellent Westcountry specimen. It’s absolutely beautiful and around 15″ long:

Big grayling cornwall Devon fly fishing

Hide and seek

Short fly rods jungle fishing
While some of the more cramped spots on the Ottery look ideal for my short rod approach, it seems that the low water is the killer today. Spots that would usually be nice glides of water have shrunk to scrawny little pockets and at first can only graze a single accidental trout, which is quickly released.

So far, so not going to plan then. Until I join Simon in a slightly deeper, more susbtantial flow on the Ottery. Rather than argue over it we share a rod, which is always a nice way to fish. Here, a longer cast is useful- and the combination of a pink-tailed off bead nymph and an indicator set at around three feet seem to be just right.

River Ottery Cornwall fly fishing trout grayling
In no time, we’re winning some takes. These are quite gentle, but we each manage to connect with fish, including a lovely half-pounder. That’s a bit more like it!

Other than that, the main challenge is not getting your leader ravaged by biting winds or getting hit in the head by acorns. Yes, it sounds harmless but in the bigger gusts they really smash down into the water and could do a man’s face some mischief. Perhaps there’s something unlucky about this stretch for me? One of the few other times I fished it was with a stinking, self-inflicted headache, as recounted in the Crooked Lines story “Hangover Blues”.

Late dry fly fishing

Spurred on by our change of fortunes, we decide to explore further up the tributary after lunch. Bruno takes his leave, although not before kindly earmarking a couple of deeper runs and pools. Again, the low levels have rendered some of the sections between these areas a bit thin. Gary keeps saying just what I’m thinking: “If only there were another six inches of water, this run would be perfect.”

It’s still utterly beautiful though. Well, apart from a dead sheep. Those always give me the heebie jeebies. This is perhaps the price of watching too many low budget horror films.

Baby grayling

As much fun as the afternoon is, we don’t manage to improve on Gary’s earlier net-filler. In fact, Simon’s next grayling is one of the smallest we’ve ever laid eyes on. However, as the afternoon gets milder things pick up nicely. In fact, contrary to expectations, there are odd rises forming in the slower flowing waters.

Casting a dry fly on a 10ft Czech Nymph type rod and ultra long, fine leader isn’t exactly cricket, but is exactly what Gary resorts to. It’s not the most elegant way to fish, but with pretty much no fly line at all on the water, he achieves a very subtle presentation.

The grayling are not window shopping, but buying, anyway. CDC dries down to 18s and 20s get delicate-yet-positive rises, bringing the grayling tally higher still, although no one spot seems to produce bite-a-cast sport. If you do intend to try for some dry fly fishing, though, it certainly seems that afternoon is the time to try, as this is the only time we spot any rises.

I stick to the nymph fishing for grayling. Just out of interest, I compare some of the other, more conventional flies in my box at intervals; there is a definite difference between “point up” designs on jig hooks or off-bead styles, compared to old fashioned nymphs.

How to avoid flies snagging

It’s no rigid survey, but there’s definitely a marked difference, especially with all the autumn debris in the water. With the modern nymphs, I spend more time fishing rather than unhooking twigs and branches.

With summer already feeling like a distant memory, I’m just grateful to have caught grayling as well as unwanted bits and pieces. After all, conditions have been hard: a stiff wind, along with very low water. In fact, the fishing has been just balance of challenge and reward by the time we decide to call it a day.

Further information

Turrall flies are available across many UK retailers, both in stores and online. To order our new Off Bead Nymphs, as used in this feature, CLICK HERE.

Turrall Off Bead Nymphs grayling flies

The Westcountry Angling Passport offers amazing value fly fishing across South West England, for locals and visitors alike. With their excellent new Fish Pass App, you can now buy fishing tokens and get cracking at the touch of your smartphone! Trout season might be done and dusted for now (October 2018), but grayling fishing is still available across several beats to extend the season further. For full details and a list of fishing beats, see: westcountryangling.com

Westcountry Angling logo

 

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