European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) is a predatory fish that inhabits Mediterranean Sea, Black sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean; from Norway on north to Senegal and Canary Islands on south (northern coast of Africa).
This sneaky hunter is one of the most attractive fish to catch from the shore, a real adrenaline rush when fishing with a light tackle and topwater lures. To catch a Sea Bass you don’t need a boat or expensive gear.
A bit of practice, patience and the right tackle setup is all you need to start spending days walking by the coast, scouting for spots and outsmarting with this gorgeous fish. So simple yet complicated at the same time. There is so much to learn to be successful against such a worthy opponent on a regular basis and under different conditions, and that’s the beauty of it.
Sea bass can grow up to 15 kg with length up to 1 meter and lives up to 30 years. The problem is it grows really slow, reaches maturity and possibility to reproduce very late. It can take 3-6 years for females and 5-8 years for males to mature and be ready to spawn. At that age it has a length of only around 40 cm so no wonder why its population dropped dramatically in some places. In Mediterranean Sea, Sea Bass reaches maturity between 2-4 years but that doesn’t change things much. Spawning period for a Sea bass in Adriatic sea is winter (December to March) and May to June along the UK coast and Atlantic Ocean.
Main fishing season for a Sea Bass in Croatia is late autumn and winter when they gather close to the shore before spawning period and become an easy catch. There is no closed season during this period, just a regulation of minimum size of 23 cm through the whole year which is a nonsense and ultimate stupidity if you ask me. Summer is also a good period for catching a Sea Bass from the shore, but because of all the sea traffic and tourism it’s much harder to get bigger ones. Night is your best friend to catch a big one during the summer.
Except lack of awareness to protect a Sea Bass during pre and spawning period; uncontrolled commercial fishing, bad fishing practice, illegal fishing techniques, lack of awareness and care of “sports” fisherman where common practice is selling fish to the restaurants and practice and mentality to take as much fish as possible; no matter size, spawning period or limit will sooner or later take its toll if regulations or mentality doesn’t change. Even if there is no problem at the moment, which is probably light years from truth, killing everything that swims like there is no tomorrow approach will return like a boomerang.
The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation, and strong summer site fidelity increase the vulnerability of Seabass to over-exploitation and localized depletion. To make one thing clear, I am not against taking some fish home for dinner, after all Sea Bass is one of the most prized fish, delicacy, but just a small change in our approach and thinking might turn this place in fishing paradise.
Sea Bass is a king of shallow water, a fearsome hunter. With Its powerful muscular body and a big tail it is built for lightning fast attacks from the ambush and will eat any baitfish that comes his way, even crabs.
It can be found on rock and sand terrains, especially in the areas where Posidonia oceanica sea grass, specie that is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea forms large underwater meadows. Another great spot for finding a Sea Bass are harbors, estuaries, places with underwater fresh water springs and faster currents where he has advantage over baitfish. These are all spots where you can find shoal of small fish, and where the small fish is there you can expect this hunter.
Best weather conditions for fishing
Although sometimes unpredictable, usual Sea Bass activity is highest during first hours of dawn and last hours of day into the nights with moon. Tight and south wind that make water blurry and waves that are hitting the shore and bring food to a bait fish by rinsing small creatures living in rocks into the sea will throw Sea Bass into the frenzy. That is a feast time for a Sea Bass and that’s the time I had most success, either spinning or spearfishing. These are the basics, but there is much more to learn how the weather, moon, tides and currents affect his behavior .It’s a lifelong process and not easy to study when you don’t live by the sea.
Sea Bass is like your old neighbor next door, very curios. Has to see has to know everything that is going on around his yard. You will be seen long time before you even know it and if needed he won’t refrain from coming close to see things better. He just can’t resist the temptation. At the same time he is a quick learner, very skeptical, careful and tricky hunter and will turn away from the lure on a slightest sign of danger or something not being right. With that in mind not projecting reflections and be seen or making noise is the first rule when sneaking to a fishing spot.
Except being very effective for a Sea Bass, my go to lures and most fun to fish with are top water lures, so most of the time I will be casting them. Of course I use a shallow runners and subsurface lures, especially under bad weather conditions with a strong winds and waves. I also use deep divers when trolling during paddling to the spot, but there is nothing you can compare with being flooded with adrenaline rush when your top water lure is being chased, jumped at and swallowed in front of your eyes.
For casting and getting most of top water lures, especially walk the dog lures you will need a good spinning rod with a fast action. “Walking” is done from the wrist, by rod twitching and reeling in the slack, so fast responsive rod that will transfer movement of the rod to the lure almost instantly is needed. With fast action you will be in better contact with the lure, be able to set the hook faster and paired with braid (doesn’t stretch) you can walk the lure how it is meant and feel slightest hit and action of the lure.
Casting weight of the rod for this purpose is anything up to 30g. (5-20, 7-28g, 10-30g) depending on personal preferences of the brand and the lures you will be casting. I started with 5-20, but many good lures with tungsten weight system for long casts’ weigh around 20g and I started losing some cast distance with those, so 7-28 or 10-30 might be best. It also varies from manufacturer to manufacturer how the rod will perform with given weight so there is no rule written in stone.
Any of those casting weights that I said will serve you great and from there with some experience you can easily fine tune your gear to your needs. Of course you can use Ultra light gear like I was using this year, which guarantees tons of fun but for someone who just started with this type of fishing from rod from5g up to 30g is the best starting point. Length also matters, lengths between 2,2-2,7 m is recommended. With shorter rod you sacrifice some casting distance, but rod too long will make it difficult to walk the lure. Me being on a short side (171 cm) I feel most comfortable on the low end of that scale size and up to 2,5 m.
Reel and line
Size 2500-4000 higher gear reel (depending on a reel weight, manufacturer and the rod you will be using) with a good reliable drag is what I find more than enough. Landing a big Sea Bass on a thin braid demands reliable and smooth drag system, no room for error as said. 4000 reels can give you some extra casting distance because of wider spool and more strength so you can also use it for other purposes, but it will weigh more, which is something to have in mind, especially after few hours of casting on a daily basis. I find 3000 size reel just perfect to use on a lighter setup.
Line should be braid 6-10 lb (0,10-0,15mm diam.) because of its properties that it doesn’t stretch, comparing to a Mono, thus enabling direct contact and response from the lure. Another really important thing is braid’s thin diameter enables much longer casts than you would have using Mono of same strength. Diameter of 6-10 lb for a braid gives you enough strength to fight big Sea Bass if knots and rest of the gear is fine tuned, maximum casting distance and fun fighting the fish.
Because braid is highly visible fluorocarbon leader is a must. 1 meter of 8 lb (0,20-0,25) leader is sufficient. For connection of braid to fluorocarbon I use double UNI knot and it serves me well, never lost a fish because of line brake on the knot. FG knot is celebrated as toughest knot for tying braid to FC/mono, but I never tried it enough times to tie it in a hurry. For some heavier applications like vertical jigging it would be strongly recommended, but in this case you can feel free to use double UNI knot.
For a braid I prefer Sufix 832 Advanced Superline because its durability and strength for diameter size comparing to most other brands in the price range, thus enabling me to go even lower with diameter if needed or giving me additional strength backbone in case some bigger predator steps in instead of Sea Bass.
Nothing can’t beat the pleasure and excitement of fishing with topwater lures so most of the time “Walk the dog” type of the lures are the first one on a Sea Bass menu. If he is around and active, seductive lure walk will attract him from the deep and then the game starts. Often you will see a small wave or vortex behind the lure followed by water splashes where Sea Bass is trying to hit the lure and this is the fun and tricky part. It’s crucial to stay calm, not to react to set up the hook on false hits and just continue walking cadence until he finally grabs it and you feel its weight on the rod. Slowing down just a bit often helps him to get it, but don’t stop reeling in.
That was a fun part and testing of your patience. The “scary”, charming part, one that makes your heart stop and produces sudden adrenaline surges are times when your lure gets smashed with a bang without a warning, without a miss. This charming ones come when least expected, without a warning. It’s usually big ones that mean business.
Lure sizes 6-10 cm is what I found working best and getting the most strikes, but even 15+ cm lure will be readily accepted by a Sea Bass when timing is right.
For example, using a bigger lure I did have more fish just following the lure or missed strikes from the smaller ones that were more testing the lure instead of a real attack, but usually fish I was getting on big lure were bigger to start with at average. Another thing I noticed is that even when they were not crazy about bigger lures I was able to cast them much further than smaller, lighter lure and to get the attention from the curious Sea Bass lurking from the deep, brining it closer in the range of lighter setup. From there I would just pick it up with the smaller lure on the first cast.
Mentioning that, there was more than one day that looked like a failure after almost two hours of casting along the spot and each time the action started after in despair I started throwing bigger, robust, really aggressive and extremely loud Storm Arashi Topwalker trying to find a Leer fish further in the current.
I didn’t give that lure nearly as much time as I did to other smaller, more subtle lures I always had a great success with because of a belief that its big profile and loudness will be counterproductive. At least experience and reports of other anglers were suggesting that. It turned out that this tactics brought me some nice fish on the day that didn’t look promising. Only conclusion I can think of is that its big profile, big wake and loudness awaken curious nature of a Sea Bass and brought them up from the deep. Few bigger ones that were not intimidated by the lure smashed it like there is no tomorrow and others that were just following the lure undecidedly became an easy prey for smaller lures on the next cast.
As I already said, Sea Bass often misses first strike or even few strikes in a row and just hits the lure without getting hooked or just splashes behind, so you have to learn not to react too fast and pull the lure away from the fish. Just wait until you feel the weight of the fish, instead reacting to the hit or splash behind the lure.
Also don’t set the hook to hard, to nervous because having a thin braid and leader in combination with fast rod and the drag not set properly can snap the line when needed last.
I will probably never forget the scene of beautiful sunrise, with the sun rays feeling so pleasant on my face after a chilly early morning hours spent fishing. Sea surface was like a flat, plate glass window. I was in almost meditative state, taking deep breaths of clean sea air, thinking how beautiful life is.
Lure was gliding over the deep entrance to the harbor, and when least expected kabooooom, explosion, a deep sound of sucking in a lure broke the silence and woke me up from daydreaming. After 2 or 3 hours without any action this came unexpected, when least expected and when I was slowly giving up for that day.
Like I was electrocuted, my reaction and hook set up was way too hard, extreme and the fish too big to allow any error on my side with a 6lb braid and 8 lb leader. Leader probably even had some micro damage from the rocks and previous fish so my extreme reaction was enough to snap it somewhere between the clip and the braid connection.
Even if it wasn’t a Sea Bass, but something bigger despite a thin braid I wasn’t suppose to lose the fish without a fight. It was all my fault. Drag wasn’t set properly for a fish this size and my reaction was out of proportions. I was waiting this fish the whole vacation and blew it. Lesson learned hard. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of vacation.
To prevent this from happening set the drag to soften that hook up and give you an extra cushion with fast rod, but still keep all the benefits of fast responsive rod. After all, after he picks up the lure he is already hooked and setting the hook really hard is not needed, just a confirmation of that hit.
Topwater Sea Bass fishing produces a lot of moments like this one, sudden water explosions that will scare, surprise you and catch you sleeping and that’s the beauty of it.
On a windy days and very choppy sea, which I had a lot this year I like using subsurface sinking pencils.Gliding under the waves, not being disturbed by them and wind and its long casting properties make them deadly under conditions like that. It saved days this year when weather conditions were bad. Especially when you have wind facing you or at angle that makes casting more difficult and shorter.
Choice of topwater lures is huge so finding a right one shouldn’t be a problem. Except Storm’s Z-stick and Pencil’s there is my old favorite Savage Gear Top Pray 80, which is discontinued unfortunately and my stock of this lure fell to only 1 piece. “Walkers” from DUO (Pencil) , Lucky Craft (Sammy) or MegaBass (x-dog) are just some of the lures that you can’t go wrong with.
When trolling to the fishing spot, paddling in my kayak by the coast there is often a Sea Bass that finds Old Storm Thunderstick , Rapala’s Max Rap (both shallow and deep runner, depending on a terrain) or old Jointed Rapala a tasty snack.
Except topwater lures I had good success with Storm SO Run Minnows, Thundersticks, Rapala Max Rap ,X rap series and Originals (which I don’t use much anymore because they are too light to cast far enough in most cases), than classics like Yozuri Pins and Crystal minnow or Megabass minnows , so I always have some of these in my bag.
Every year I like to put new ones to test, but with the flood of new, great lures it is hard to try them all, so I often end up using old proven ones. Besides that, I like topwater fishing a lot, so shallow runners don’t get as nearly as much attention after all, only when topwater doesn’t work or I have some new lure I want to test. Same goes for the soft plastics. For now I only use it when trolling on my way to a fishing sport. It is a never ending process of learning new techniques and water conditions.
After all, the charm lies in discovering new things and challenges on how to trick or find him on a bad day. Being rewarded with a beautiful fish is extra sweet after that. Be patient, learn and don’t forget to enjoy the nature around you. Kayaking or walking by the coast, searching for a Sea Bass guarantees lots of beautiful mornings, evenings and sights. The last, but most important; respect this Sea wolf to make sure you and your kids will be able to enjoy it tomorrow. It all starts with you! As I said starting this article, just a small change in our approach and mentality can make our Sea fishing paradise.
If you haven’t already check some Sea Bass catches
- Stealthy approach to a fishing sport is important with this tricky hunter, even more so because some of the best fishing spots are often in really shallow water not far from the shore.
- Thin braid 0,10-0,15 (6-10lb) will give you better lure control and will enable longer casts than using mono. Covering more ground means a fish more or makes difference between catch and no fish
- Fluorocarbon leader 0,20-0,25mm, 1 meter length or a bit more because its invisibility is strongly recommended.
- Good rod 5-20g (or something in between up to 30g) with fast action, light enough for all day casting paired with 2500 – 4000 reel with a reliable and good drag will ensure long casts and more than enough power to handle almost any Sea Bass.
- Topwater walk the dog lures are most exciting and my proffered way for catching a Seabass, but no matter how easy or fun it might be at times be ready to change your lure selection and adapt to water and weather conditions.
- Respect the fish and pay more attention not to take every Seabass that swims, especially during spawning season.