Lure fishing for bass in the UK | 30 tips
You can spend a lifetime mastering the art of bass fishing with lures until you’re buried 6ft under, bass rod in hand… But this guide might get us there a little faster! First, we’ll explain why people get addicted to lure fishing for bass, what you need to do it and what the law is on minimum size.
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Do you remember the first bass you caught?
As you pulled it from the water you would have seen pristine perfection. A predator – with a thickness to its body like a homeless man’s dog. Its gaping mouth the last thing many creatures have seen, after a flash of silver armoured gill plates in the corner of their eye, or the emergence of a blueish-green shadow in the moonlight.
Bass roam the seas, following patterns in behaviour we don’t understand. Moving through swaying kelp forests and lingering around the roots beneath that grip the kelp to the rocks. Hunting over boulder fields and in gulleys carved out by the waves and following the tide as it pushes over the warm mudflats in summer. Returning always to the familiar grounds in which they reached maturation.
In pursuit of bass while shore fishing, we end up hanging out in some of the UK’s most stunning places, speculating about what is happening in the unimaginable soup with each cast. Fighting this fish on light spinning / modern lure fishing gear is the height of the UK lure fishing experience. Let’s dive into the tackle you need to do it.
Complete bass fishing lure set-up
For the best lure presentation and experience, you need a high-quality modern lure rod and a reliable reel. Then, some 20lb braid and 16lb fluorocarbon for your leader attached to the braid mainline. You’ll then need a few hard lures, some weedless soft lures and a surface lure for late summer. You will need disgorgers for your own and the fish’s welfare and potentially a landing net, too. Links to FishMag’s full buyer guides are below.
What is the minimum size for bass fishing UK 2022?
The UK government enforces a minimum legal landing size of 42cm for sea bass caught by recreation anglers. From 1st December through to the end of February, all bass fishing is catch and release. “From 1 March to 30 November, not more than two seabass may be retained per fisherman per day”.
Principle 1: Master Lure Presentation
So, what do sea bass eat?
We have blennies, rockling and gobbies, which sit on rocks and move in fast darting motions when disturbed. We can imitate these with dark-coloured shallow diving plugs or naturally-coloured weedless lures over rough ground in the intertidal zone. Example: The IMA Komomo II or the Albie Snax
Then, there are the small pollack and other white fish, which are often reddish or orangish. These linger motionless over the kelp. They can be imitated with weedless weightless soft plastics very effectively, like the Savage Gear Gravity Stick.
There are glimmering shoals of sandeel, both lesser and greater varieties. Usually, they’re in the mid to upper sections of the water column. These range in size from microwave noodle length to subway footlong length. They can be imitated with white or silver shallow/medium diving plugs with longer bodies. Another option is a or longer-bodied metal lure or slender white/silver-coloured soft plastic.
There are joey mackerel, sprat, smelt and other small, pelagic oily species. They can be imitated with a variety of lures. Thicker-bodied paddle tails like the Fiiish minnow, larger diving plugs or poppers all work.
We have crabs that sit and crawl along the seabed at low speed. We can’t imitate effectively while still covering lots of ground. We also can’t imitate limpets! However, it’s worth remembering that bass do eat static foods and often feed on the seabed. This might explain why they will hit a static Senko (plastic lure) doing nothing on the seabed.
What does this tell us about the diet of a bass?
It consists of an extraordinary variety of sea creatures. It looks like it belongs in the collective unconscious of the Japanese or in a Frenchman’s dreams.
We can also note that what they eat can move fast, slow or not. They can be bright or dark. Colourful or dull. Fat or thin. Generally, though, their prey are long and thin. This is why most of our popular lures are elongated in shape rather than short and fat. This is different from those many lures designed for the US bass scene.
FishMag has a separate in-depth guide on the best bass lures and how and when to use them. This page only deals with lure movement and positioning rather than lure choice.
10) Know what the bass are feeding on
It’s always worth thinking about what the bass are likely to be eating in the location you’re in at the time you’re there. Maybe you’re fishing early in the season with a paddle tail. If the bait fish aren’t in yet, and the bass are all stuffing their face with crab on the seabed, this might change how / where they’re feeding. It may be worth fishing nearer the bottom with more of a dead-sticking approach. You cast out a straight lure on a jig head and leave it on the bottom. Then, you slowly and patiently twitching it back in, lifting it a few feet off the sea bed with occasional twitches.
9) Bass FOMO – why bass grab your lure at the last second
Bass feeding behaviour is not consistent. They do enter different states, some which seem more restful, some more active. Crucially, some are impulsive, some are cautious.
Consider how the bass will often grab your lure just before you lift it from the water. It’s been following you the whole way in. Why didn’t it hit you until the last minute? Because the bass had FOMO – fear of missing out. It was suspicious of your lure. Maybe it swiped it and noticed that the baitfish didn’t get disoriented. Hmm, odd – maybe I’ll just keep following this baitfish… Then you give it an ultimatum – now or never. It thinks the baitfish is about to leap from the water – a normal baitfish behaviour. A familiar sight for a bass. The bass knows this is its last chance to strike. It does, just as you go to pull your lure from the water.
8) When to use aggressive plugs
When bass are impulsive and feeding actively, such as when there are lots of baitfish around, they will smash lures unreservedly. Reach for bigger plugs with bigger actions to make your lure stand out.
If you ever find yourself fishing into a huge ball of bait fish for instance, it’s likely you will have smaller bass and mackerel intercepting your lure as soon as it hits the water. The key is to fish bigger and heavier lures to target the big bass that linger beneath the bait balls, waiting for easy meals to sink below the carnage above. Bigger lures will capture attention and won’t intimidate a feeding bass. Smaller, more subtle lures won’t stand out.
7) When to use soft plastic straight tails when bass fishing
If impulsivity is low and feeding is more passive, many will reach for soft plastics and fish them slower, with twitching and falling movements to attempt to trigger a reflex response.
Bear in mind that if water is murky, a twitchy retrieve may not infer many advantages. The bass will only see your lure for a short while before it goes out of view anyway. That provides incentive enough of its own to act fast and strike. In these cases, opt for a steady retrieve first to give the bass more of a chance at catching up!
What we think of as cautious behaviour from bass – such as bumping lures but not engulfing them – is caused by bass trying to immobilise prey. They hit them with their head in a sideways motion rather than going for a bite. If you’ve ever seen footage of a cheetah or lion hunt, they will try to hit the animal with their paw to destabilise it. Then, when their prey trips and slows down, then they go for the bite. The bass are doing the same thing, trying to immobilise the fish before swallowing it.
We all ultimately experiment with the type of lure and style of retrieval. We aim to match what we think the bass will want that day. The concept of impulsive versus passive feeding proves useful. It helps to avoid presenting lures in a certain way repeatedly when the bass just aren’t interested.
6) Notice how your lures move in the water
Pay attention to how your lures move. What do they do on a steady retrieve? When you pause? When you twitch them slightly or with a long sweeping motion? This will help you have more control over how your lure behaves. Lure fishing for bass successfully requires considering how your lures look to the fish.
If you go snorkelling or have been diving, freediving or spearfishing, you will have a better understanding of fish behaviour.
This can help you think about how lures should be presented. You have seen how the sandeel chase through the mid-section and around the surface, changing direction rapidly. How the pollack linger lazily around the devil’s hair and how fish dart like lightning when threatened.
5) Pay attention to the direction of water movement
Pay attention also to the direction of water movement. Many soft plastics are effective precisely because they don’t have big movements. They just get pushed around the current and hover and sink slowly. If your lures are swimming fast against the current, this can make for a poor lure presentation. However, the impact of this factor is negligible if bass are feeding aggressively. It’s just worth bearing in mind, since generally baitfish move with the current.
Also, if you’re fishing in surf and you can feel the pull of a wave sucking up water where your lure is, why should your lure be swimming at the same speed through that? No baitfish would. Your retrieve should probably slow down at this point to take into account the fact that baitfish would slow down.
4) Fish with diving plugs in rougher conditions and keep your rod tip high
If the sea is choppy, shallow diving plugs may not hold their depth. A lot of people go lure fishing for bass exclusively on surfy beaches. In this case, it may be worth switching to a medium diving plug and holding your rod tip high to keep the lure from diving to its maximum depth. When fishing with shallow diving plugs, you might need to keep your rod tip pointed down towards the water so they hold their depth. You can fish medium diving plugs shallower by doing the opposite.
Deep diving plugs hold their depth easily and can be fished much more slowly. You can leave them static or retrieve very, very slowly and they will still be low in the water column. This is useful for imitating demersal species. Fishing plugs almost static is counterintuitive to many. But many fish in the sea spend a lot of their lives lingering and mooching around!
3) Practice casting accuracy when shore fishing near bass-holding features
Casting accuracy is a skill that develops naturally from practice. I never tried to learn how to cast accurately. One day, you go fishing at a freshwater lake, where you need to cast within an inch or two of bushes that border the water and you find you can do it almost every time. It’s a nice feeling when you get to this point. Casting accuracy is important because you will want to be able to cast into a particular area of a gulley, for instance, or onto a section where, you know, a sand bank gives way into a pit. Higher quality kit – especially better lines – makes this way easier. Admittedly, a lot of successful lure fishing for bass is related to using the proper kit. No amount of skill will help you cast accurately if your line is shoddy, etc.
2) Retrieval styles for shore fishing with bass lures
Everything you need to know about how you should retrieve your lure can be summarised like this: search the whole water column for fish, reel in at different speeds and sometimes pause and let your lure do nothing. That’s it.
Once you get a response from a fish you can try to repeat the retrieval type that seems to be working that day.
In practice, ‘searching the water column’ just means fishing with a shallow diving lure first, then putting on a Fiish minnow or another weighted paddle tail or hard lure to fish deeper in the water. Or, bounce your lure along the sea bed with a sink and draw approach. It’s important to work out the depth the fish are feeding at.
Sea Bass vs T Rex?
As for lure action – it used to be thought that bass are like T-Rex in the movie, Jurassic Park. They can only see their prey while their prey is moving. A lure that isn’t being twitched and retrieved by the angler was thought to be invisible to fish. With this in mind, a lot of early bass lures had aggressive actions compared to some more modern lures. Some modern lures don’t do much at all (think of a straight soft plastic).
The truth is, bass do respond to movement, but you as the angler are not the only thing that can make a lure move. Current can make a lure move, as can gravity! This means that a lure which you cast out and leave to do nothing is actually doing quite a lot. It’s dropping through the water column, and drifting in the direction of any current.
Bass Fishing OTD
A falling lure looks like an easy meal for a bass. Exactly the kind of energy expenditure to calorie trade-off a predator wants. A falling lure or bait allows bass to conserve energy while feeding, compared to a lure which moves quickly. It’s the same logic behind bass (and trout) sitting just outside of the current. They can feed on what floats past without having to move very much.
If you don’t already fish OTD (on the drop) try experimenting with allowing your lures to fall and drift. A ‘sink and draw’ approach is one way of doing this. Your lures is retrieved in a zigzag pattern, rising up before dropping back down again, like an injured baitfish. This is a popular method when rock fishing with weedless soft plastics as well as with casting jigs.
A straight retrieve with a bass plug is fine. They are designed to swim at a certain depth and move in a certain way. You don’t need to do anything extra unless you think it advantageous on the day.
1) How to avoid spooking bass (yes, bass can hear)
Yes. When you arrive at a bass mark you should keep the noise down and cast close in to search the area at your feet. If you’re fishing at night or in calm conditions, being noisy or having bright lights with you can spook bass. Light can also attract bass but more so if it’s consistent in one area. This way it attracts baitfish and squid. It’s worth bringing a head torch but keeping it off the water.
Final comments on lure presentation
I’d strongly recommend removing treble hooks from lures where possible. Many of the hard lures I recommend work well with the middle treble removed. This reduces damage to sea bass being returned. Soft plastics are a better choice for pure catch-and-release anglers as they come with one hook.
Principle 2: Where to fish for bass
Build a mental map of your bass fishing marks. Fishing is mostly about the map you have in your head, your imagined version of the underwater world in various locations and various times.
Bass are adept hunters across the full range of shore fishing environments. You’ll catch them amongst the kelp on rocky coastlines, hunting over sandbars, loitering in the space just beyond the breakers and cruising up estuaries. They’ll push all the way into fresh water. You will catch bass in very shallow water 1ft deep. Even when they’re in deeper water offshore, they are attracted to shallow reefs. Despite their huge range of coastal habitats, you can’t just go to any old location. Most of bass fishing comes down to knowing your spots and knowing when they work.
Marks can even become ruined if they get too popular. Exploring new places means putting in the hours and looking for places that seem promising on Google maps. The rewards from exploring new ground and then catching dream fish from them are unmatched in angling. Lure fishing for bass in gives you the mobility to easily get to marks. You can take a shortcut through a forest to reach a secret estuary spot or fish from a new rock mark. The main takeaway from this section is to get out and enjoy exploring the coast looking for bass. But to help you look for promising bass fishing spots – let’s consider how we locate and catch a human…
How to catch a human: ASDA on the weekend vs. an empty field
Imagine you were trying to catch a human. Where would you look? They could be anywhere. Most of the UK is made up of empty fields. Should you go and wait in one of those?
No. You want to wait in ASDA car park on a weekend. That’s where humans congregate because they need food and aren’t organised enough to go on weekday evenings. If you hang around outside Asda, you will find more people than if you hang out in open fields.
If you go bass fishing from the shore in a place you don’t know, it’s like casting into a field. You have no clue where fish are likely to be. This is why it pays to research marks on Google Earth or visit on a spring low tide to look at the ground you’re fishing. Then, you can cast directly into areas likely to hold fish.
1) Therefore, look for underwater structures on Navionics & Google earth – the ASDA’s of the marine world
Bass will be found in higher numbers where there is underwater structure. That’s where the smaller fish hang out, so it’s where they can get food easily. Structure is an underwater feature that provides cover and shelter from currents.
For instance, a shipwreck is structure. A gulley in a reef. A sand bank meeting open sea. A kelp forest meeting sand or a ridge cut into a wave-cut platform. You can use the Navionics web app to find areas of coast with rough ground. Structure attracts small fish because it gives them a home and hiding place. Bass come for the smaller fish. Bass also seek out structure because it gives them places to hide to ambush prey. For example, consider a beach that has a steep drop-off where the bass hang out. You could try fishing parallel to the beach along that drop-off, rather than casting straight out.
2) Identify areas with lots of water movement and cast on their edges
Bass live and hunt where the water moves. Moving water is a conveyor belt of food. Waves churn up the bottom, lifting crabs up into the air where they are suspended fast food for bass. Tidal currents in estuaries can do the same, and bring tasty morsels from upriver downstream into their open gobs. Whether you’re on a boat fishing off an offshore reef or you’re in a brackish water up some estuary, look for water movement. Put your lure into it.
However, the bass like movement mainly because it disadvantages their prey, not because they like working hard swimming. They like areas where they are protected from the current themselves but still have access to moving water.
This is why, like trout in a river, you will see bass lingering in the shallows of estuaries, out of the current, like this fish.
3) Beach fishing for bass
Shingle beaches with steep drop-offs into deeper water are popular hunting grounds for bass. They linger just below the drop off, where they are hidden from fish and can swim with ease. Other good places to fish are on the extremities of beaches where the sand meets rough ground. Areas, where a river or stream meets the sea, can also be good spots. If you’re bass fishing from a beach that has calm water, it’s likely you’ll catch more fish at night. In darkness, bass will move into very shallow water without fear. Daytime and clear seas are not good for beach fishing for bass at all. White water helps to provide them with cover and confidence.
4) Estuary fishing for bass
Rivers that lead into estuaries can be great for bass, and these may have no structure at all. The bass are there because there is water movement which is bringing them a load of tasty morsels from upstream. Bass will swim up estuaries into the rivers at low tide and high water, depending on the estuary. You have to work these places out like a clock. The mouths of estuaries where they meet the sea are also hotspots for lure fishing for bass. Tree-lined estuaries and expansive mudflats are also beautiful places to fish. They mix things up and can be good on windier days when you can’t face the coast.
5) Rock fishing for bass
You can spot gulleys and gorges on Google Earth. They appear as strips of deeper water between rocks that form a channel. At low tide, they look like channels carved into the rocks. These locations are excellent for lure fishing for bass. They serve as funnels for the food that bass enjoy, attracting numerous smaller fish. Bass use these channels like roads, following the tide in and out. It’s beneficial to fish in gulleys like these at various tide states. This helps to determine when the bass tend to move through them.
Gulleys that align with the water movement, for example, pointing straight out to sea rather than running parallel with the coastline, offer an added advantage. They serve as routes for bass following the tide. They are also more likely to act as funnels for various food sources. Keep an eye out for these spots and target them more than you would fish over regular rough ground.
6) Surf fishing for bass
Surf fishing for bass can be dangerous, but swell and white water provide cover for bass. They froth over the froth. Turbulent areas of water allow bass to feed on disoriented fry. If you cast just behind the breakers and just in front of them, you’re fishing in prime bass ground. This is especially true of surfy beaches with rough ground that are hugged by rocks on either side. This is why bass fishing in North Cornwall is known for its excellent bass fishing.
If you want specific advice on choosing bass lures for fishing in surf / rough water, check out FishMag’s bass lures guide.
Boat fishing for bass with lures
Boat fishing for bass has a huge advantage over shore fishing. You can cover a lot of ground and have access to hyper-productive offshore reefs. It’s possible to fish with surface lures and shallow diving plugs in just the same way you would from shore. You don’t need to use boat rods or anything like that. The kit is all the same, but shorter rods of 7.5ft are better than longer options.
What if you don’t have a friend silly enough to own a boat? A good option is a private fishing charter. The bass you catch this way are 90% caught by the skipper, but it’s a great way to experience how good boat fishing can be. You’ll familiarise yourself with techniques for drifting over reefs, sand banks and wrecks. Having your own boat does allow you to develop a whole new and potentially rewarding skill set, though…
Summary of where to catch bass
There are so many areas you can catch sea bass in the UK it’s easier to state where not to look for them. Do not fish for bass in featureless, motionless bodies of water. In my opinion, this applies much less at night time. But generally, you want structure – a drop-off, a gulley, an area where a kelp forest borders the sand, a wreck or reef and ideally you want water movement: chop, tidal movement, currents. When these two things combine, water movement and structure, you have found prime ground for lure fishing for bass.
Principle 3: Understand bass fishing season & timing
Decipher the bass clock. It runs on lunar cycles, movements of the Gulf Stream and simple seasonal changes, among other things unknown to us.
When is the best time to catch bass in the UK?
The best time to catch bass is at dusk or dawn in summer. As for tide times, this varied a lot by location. Some places fish best at low water, others high, and others mid-water. Some places fish best on a neap tide, others on a spring tide. Part of the fun of bass fishing is trying out your spots at different times. You can work out when the bass move through like clockwork—for instance, fishing a particular section of an estuary at different states of tide, or fishing a gulley at different times. Once you’ve cracked it, bass can be highly predictable. The sea is chaotic, but in some ways, it’s like clockwork.
When is the sea bass fishing season in the UK?
The bass fishing season runs from April through November. No fish can legally be taken in the UK between December and the end of February, to protect breeding stock. There will be regional variation depending on exposure to the Gulf Stream and the North Sea. The south and west coasts of the UK have better bass fishing. The range of European sea bass is increasing as the water warms with global warming, just as the range of the winter cod is decreasing. If you’re a member of bass lure fishing Facebook groups, you will see when the bass are inshore because people start posting pictures of them pretty much as soon as they arrive. It’s often around April-May time that the bass fishing kicks off.
Can you catch bass in the winter in the UK?
Fishing for bass in the British winter is tough and not many will bother. Bass go offshore in the winter months before coming back inshore as the water warms. When they do return inshore, they return to the grounds where they reached maturity. Down in Cornwall where the weather is mild we get bass all year. The fish that do stick around are likely to be larger. There are still bass present inshore, it’s just you have to work that much harder to find them. For the die-hard enthusiast, winter can still be a stunningly beautiful time to fish. But most of us will turn our eye to other species like freshwater perch, pike and trout or else lure fish with lighter LRF rods and target flounder.
Summertime bass fishing and how it’s different
In summer the water is warmer, there are more bait fish around, way more bass around, and the metabolisms of the bass speed up. This makes them more active and impulsive feeders. They are more likely to hit surface lures in late summer for this reason. They are also more likely to actively chase fast-moving plugs and come into the shallowest of waters to feed.
Is nighttime the best time to catch bass?
At night, bass are hunting actively and feed over ground, which would be too dangerous for them in the daytime. They are especially active when the water is stiller – for instance, at slack water. This may be because, at slack water, species like crabs and small species like Scorpionfish come out to hunt. Neap tides can be productive, so even if, like many anglers, you prefer fishing spring tides, give neaps a go at night, and you’ll likely get different results. The knee-deep waters off clear beaches would be dangerous for them in the bright of day. An ambitious cormorant could have them. Lure fishing for bass at night; I think fish will come closer in and feed over areas that offer less structure than they prefer during day time.
Perfect timing: the birds are crash-diving and there are no seals
Crash diving birds are an exciting sight when you’re lure fishing for bass. You might have had the luck to be on a boat with birds crashing all around you. Fish leap in a huge spray from the water, chased up into a ball. Seeing gannets and gulls crash-diving means FISH. If you ever find yourself in the middle of this action, with birds crashing everywhere and shoals of fish jumping around you, remember this: Bass often linger lower down in the water column. They wait for injured fish that sink down. That is, if you can achieve this before the head of a seal pops up…