Fishipedia Report: Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

August 22nd, 2011| 2 Comments

Continuing 2011’s tradition of angling enlightenment, Fishipedia packs a fly rod and a spinning outfit and heads off to England’s south coast in search of a new challenge – bass on the fly…

Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

A new obsession is born: bass on the fly

In fishing terms, it’s been a summer of firsts for me. There have been pike on the fly, the revelation that is carp on the fly (more on that at a later date), and then there was the fishery I discovered under my very nose. Then finally, this last weekend, I got round to something I’ve had in mind for the longest time – bass on the fly.

Now, for any stateside readers, I should clarify, these are not like the stripers you’re familiar with. They don’t have the striped pyjamas or the capacity for huge growth, but they do share the iconic spiked dorsal fin, a love of coastal waters, aggressive predatory nature and a weakness for flies and lures.

All of which gives both species the dubious honour of ‘sought-after status’ among fishermen on each side of the Atlantic. That’s certainly the case for me – unfortunately I’d never really gotten round to doing anything about it. In fact, my knowledge of their habits and habitat is such that, were I transplanted instantly to a bonefish flat in the Caribbean, I’m pretty sure I would have more chance of success there than I would in the coastal waters of the UK – even those just an hour or two from my door.

In tune with my 2011 commitment to angling discovery, I recently decided to take a step in the direction of rectifying that. First stage in the process: finding the right guide. A chat with the guys in my local tackle shop produced a recommendation and a business card – Paul Haldenwang of Salty Dog Game Fishing, specialist in guided bass trips out of Chichester Harbour on the south coast of England. A couple of emails later and a date was in the diary. Tricky huh?  No wonder I’d never done it before.

Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

Salty Dog: the perfect bass-fishing boat

Seeing a guide’s boat for the first time can often tell you a lot, and seeing Paul’s instantly put me at ease. A 23’ cathedral-hull craft specifically rigged for fly-fishing, with bags of casting space at either end, and all the requisite safety features, the Salty Dog is perfectly designed for the task in hand.

Like most people, I prefer to use my own gear wherever possible (particularly when you think how much we pay for this stuff), though I would certainly have been fine without it. On board were brand-new Hardy Sintrix and Temple Fork Outiftters fly rods, Quantum reels and spinning rods, boxes full of flies and lures, and everything else necessary for a day on the water.

Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

Choose your weapon...

One of the great things about fishing Chichester Harbour is that you don’t have to travel far to find fish. Actually, you don’t even have to leave the dock – loading up the boat that morning, it was impossible not to notice the school of dozens of bass that had taken up residence under the jetty. Of course, you’re not allowed to break out the fly rod right there, but that didn’t stop me fantasizing about it.

Fortunately, just 20 minutes or so later, we were anchored off a sandbar in the harbour, 8-weights in hand (intermediate lines and clousers at the business end), scanning for the first fish of the day.

The key to successful bass fishing is tidal flow; either incoming or outgoing, it’s all about movement. As the tide moves in, it carries with it a bouillabaisse of tasty treats for the bass (anything from tiny baitfish to crustaceans and mackerel) and with the right conditions, the fishing can be red-hot. Equally, with the slackening of the tide, the fishing can switch off in the time it takes to a throw a lure.


Gradually, we made our way down the sandbar, eyes peeled for signs of fish. To my left, Paul made a cursory cast with the spinning rod, and a couple of seconds later, his rod was bent over and the first bass of the day was well and truly on. I don’t mind admitting I was surprised it came that quickly – I half wondered whether Paul was worried he’d sent the wrong signal about how easy the day’s sport might be. A fish of 3 or 4lbs was the result – the first truly wild bass I’ve ever seen up close. Filled with confidence, I assumed the next fish would be a cast way, but of course, things are seldom that easy…

Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

Paul Haldenwang of Salty Dog Fishing with the day's first bass

“Make sure you watch the fly all the way in, and use a roll cast rather lifting the fly out of the water too early – they’ll follow it all the way in.” Paul’s advice was ringing in my ears a few minutes later. Absent-mindedly, while scanning the water for other fish, I forgot his warning, and quickly picked up the line… cue a flash of silver, a big boil and a fly connected to nothing but fresh air… my head was in my hands.

Unimpressed with fish activity on the sandbar, Paul decided on a change of scene. Off we went, trying a number of spots around the harbour.

Standing on the bow of the boat, fly rod in hand, drifting over clear waters and kelp beds scanning for diving birds and nervous water, I couldn’t help but be reminded of drifting on a skiff in the Florida Keys, scanning for rolling tarpon and tailing permit. A predictably chilly start to this British morning was enough to bring me back into the moment though – and in truth, there was nowhere I’d rather have been.

Not that it’s easy of course. Sometimes bass will strike aggressively, and on other occasions (almost every occasion in my case) they will chase the fly all the way in to the boat before turning away at the last second. The key is to keep the fly or lure moving quickly, not stopping if you get a follow; sometimes it’s actually hard to keep up the required speed to induce a take.

Bass fishing in Chichester HarbourAfter a handful of follows and one solitary mackerel for yours truly we headed to the mouth of the harbour in search of some bigger targets. Taking a break from the fly gear, we picked up spinning rods, armed with a selection of shallow-diving Rapala minnows and got to work. Within minutes we seemed to have found a school of bass – Paul was the first to hook up, with fellow angler Peter following seconds later with a double hook-up. Alas, the triple-header failed to materialise, but no matter – a few minutes later, 4lbs of silver muscle came to the net and Paul had one very happy client on his hands.

A little while later, back in the shallow waters of the harbour, I finally got my first hook-up, as a 2lb bass slammed into the Rapala. Not the biggest bass the world will ever see and not on the fly, but a beautiful little fish all the same, and my account was open.

Bass fishing in Chichester Harbour

Not the biggest bass... but still the first

The best action of the day was yet to come though. As the tide reached its high water mark, we drifted through a shallow pass in the harbour where two rocky groynes jut out beneath the surface. As the tide pushed against the boulders, the upwelling produced an encouraging level of surface disturbance. Sometimes you just look at an area and you can’t imagine there won’t be fish there. This was one of those occasions. Our suspicions were confirmed seconds later, as Paul hooked into what looked like a huge fish. With the clarity of the water it was possible to see this one wasn’t alone – as the fish came towards the boat, we spotted five or six of its friends swimming with it. Despite some frenzied casting and a little begging on my part, none of them would play ball.

Bass fishing in Chichester HarbourAnd with that, the tide slackened, the bite died and the day came to its inevitable conclusion. Equal parts excitement, surprise, frustration and triumph all added up to the perfect introduction to the world of bass fishing. In terms of guiding, I can’t recommend Paul enough – great company with a relaxed, insightful and thoroughly professional approach, he’s a great person to spend a day on the water with. And his knowledge of the nuances that dictate this discipline of fishing is appropriately extensive. If you’re a fly-fisherman and you’ve yet to get out there and try for bass, I would urge you to give it a go.

Taking into account my rather limited success on the day, and the number of close-calls and oh-so-nearly takes, I put it to Paul that he planned this perfectly, just to ensure some repeat business. In truth, I’d be coming back either way – it’s safe to say I’ve just unearthed a new obsession.

A few random observations from the day

  • Wading along an exposed sandbar in Chichester Harbour, scanning for fish breaking the surface, looking to ambush bass hiding in the deeper channels on a rising tide… it’s about as close to wading for bonefish as it’s possible to feel in the UK.
  • Bass fishing is physically demanding – if you’re fly-fishing, you’ll be making A LOT of casts, and you’ll be stripping the fly quickly if you want to induce takes. A faster retrieve means many more casts over the course of a day, and with an 8-weight that can get pretty tiring. You might want to pack a spinning rod too, for a bit of welcome relief.
  • Don’t underestimate how close to the shore the fish will feed. I read somewhere that you should aim for the third breaker as a rule of thumb when fishing from the beach – that doesn’t always seem to be necessary.
  • Respect the ocean at all times – Chichester Harbour Patrol deal with hundreds of incidents every year of people getting themselves into difficulties on the water. The annals of bass fishing are littered with stories of fishermen getting cut off by the tide – make sure you’re not one of them…
  • You might just about get away with shorts and flats booties on a warm(ish) August day, but if you’re going to do this with any regularity, you’re probably better off investing in a pair of waders.


Salty Dog Game Fishing>>Salty Dog Game Fishing are based in Itchenor
and run bass-fishing trips
around Chichester
Harbour from April
to October. Click here for
more info, prices and booking details

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  1. avatar
    Daniel Cooke says

    Chichester Harbour is a bass nursery from 30th April to the 1st November for boat fishing.
    Now it looks like you are using the boat to get to locations and then fish from out of the boat. How can you prove this if questioned when beaching later and you have Bass in your boat? I ask not from a you shouldn’t be doing this perspective but more of a I fish from a Kayak and respect that I cannot target Bass in the nursery period however if I can use the Yak to get to the locations to fish from shore how do I make sure I can prove I am not breaking any bylaws?

  2. avatar
    fishipedia says


    Interesting one – as you point out, there are some strict regulations concerning fishing for bass in Chichester Harbour. And rightly so – it’s all done in the interests of safeguarding the long-term future of the species and there aren’t many of us that would argue with the importance of that.

    As far as I know, the bass nursery regulations state that between 30th April and 1st November, fishing for bass, or fishing for any fish using sand-eels as bait, by boat within the harbour, is prohibited. So, if you’re fishing within that date range, then you need to be outside the harbour. However, the other problem is this – there are a lot of other fish in the harbour, and the fisheries folk are aware of the difficulty in accosting every angler they see and attempting to prove that they’re fishing exclusively for bass.

    The overriding point is that these rules are in place to protect the fish, and to prevent the depletion of bass stocks. If anglers are practising catch & release, they should for the most part be fine.

    From our point of view, we were fishing exclusively C&R. I do so see the difficulty you mention though – you’re essentially using the kayak as a mode of transport to get to otherwise inaccessible areas, not necessarily as a vessel from which to catch them. Personally, in this instance, I think if you stick to catch & release you should be fine.

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