An Irish Anglers World

Float Fishing Live Sandeel for Bass

Inside of our fishing location the main estuary channel split into three distinct entities, one running back parallel to the sand and gravel spit John and I were standing on, another disappearing round a bluff opposite while the main channel narrowed and morphed into the vast expanse of mudflats stretching interminably towards a series of distant low hills.

Behind us in the middle distance one could see and hear the crump of Celtic Sea breakers rolling over the estuary bar,”man this is a wild place”. In front of us the flooding tide began to create a slow clockwise eddy to the landward side of the sand and gravel spit, probably exacerbated by the strong south east breeze blowing directly off the sea.

Welsh sea angler John George with a nice estuary caught Wexford bass.

Dropping my rig, a suitably weighted red topped sliding cigar float with a 2/0 circle hook attached into the eddy I fed line and watched it move out and around into the mouth of the back channel. Baited with live sandeel and set with a rubber stop to fish at 10 foot, now thirty meters out in an instant the float slipped under.

Tightening up rather than striking my ten foot pike rod heeled over and a solid thump thump transmitted through the line made visible by the jag jagging of my rod top. Every sense working in unison, sight, sound, touch, the smell, the taste of salt water and iodine infused air all coming together in a moment of shared experience. The bass, around four pound in weight placed a smile on two anglers’ faces, one Welsh, one Irish, a common bond.

Bass fishing in Ireland.

When released the connection was further cemented, a moment summed up by my fishing companion John George, who recently retired does some guiding for bass along the Gower Peninsula, West Glamorgan, Wales. “I’ve had people fish with me who wanted not only to catch a bass for the first time but also bring one home to eat. On seeing their first bass, silver and bristling with attitude many of them say, how could I kill that fish.” For the record if any of you readers are considering visiting South Wales John’s website is

I digressed; my first bass on live sandeel weighed in or around and was more or less a mirror image of the fish John had caught about half an hour previous. Fishing on we had a few instances where the bass won by sucking the snout hooked sandeel off the hook, I suppose you could say honours even. Within an hour everything went quite, most likely the bass had followed the flooding tide into creeks and backwaters scouring for prawns, crab, shrimp and whatever else you are having.

Sea shore view, County Wexford, Ireland.

John and I decided to pack up and make our way back across the low dunes and salt marsh. Chatting about what had transpired within the previous two hours we compared notes and observations. Through conversation our most recent bass fishing experience became rationalised, our collective knowledge of bass angling deepened. In those two hours we had opened ourselves to nature and all its possibilities and the reward, a priceless moment, which is the primary motivation why this angler goes fishing.

Delving deeper, to connect not only with what is truly real but with people of a similar mindset and view of what is important in life, no ego instead just a willingness to learn, assimilate and share. John and I met briefly just once before while I was giving a presentation on sea angling opportunities in south east Ireland to a bunch of Welsh sea anglers in Burry Port, Swansea back in 2009. My words must have struck a chord because six years on he sent me a mail and two weeks later we were catching bass.

Live sandeel for bait.

More to the point we caught bass utilising a method which if one reads the angling press would appear to be completely old hat judging by its relative absence as compared to the amount of copy space devoted to lures and soft plastics. Take my word for it based on the tanks, tubes and pumps sitting in the rear of John’s pick up truck, yes there is a small investment involved in both equipment and time to enable fishing of live sandeel correctly, however on this one showing in the right place with the right conditions the method is both good fun and very productive.

John’s storage set up comprised two milk churn type plastic containers with screw down lids quarter filled with coral sand which John obtained from aquarium suppliers. Each container had a small pump powered by a 12 volt motorcycle battery of which he carried four, used and charged in rotation each battery lasting roughly 24 hours. These churns John filled with sea water changed regularly when in use. His sandeel amazingly in this instance came from Teignmouth, South Devon, England and nearly a week old were as fit as fiddles.

Aerated storage container for live bait.

The sandeel on being introduced to the storage containers would bury themselves in the coral sand so reducing their stress levels. On being required for use John would choose a container, loosen the coral sand with his hand and sift the amount of sandeel he required through a fine mesh net, returning the remainder to the churn. The sandeel John picked were then transferred to a small cool box equipped with two small pumps, quarter filled with coral sand and topped up with sea water.

The sandeel were full of beans when we got to use them. Our traces were simple, a sliding float cocked with the correct weight (drilled bullets) and a 2/0 circle hook. My rod and reel combination was a ten foot pike rod coupled with a 4000FB Shimano fixed spool. The sandeel were nicked through the lower jaw and out through the top jaw, believe me they swam very freely. Dropped or cast into the tidal flow and trotted within the feeding zone, if no “fishy” interest was shown after four or five minutes the rig was reeled in very slowly as the moving sandeel can induce a take.

Sliding cigar float rig suitable for bass, pollack, wrasse and mackerel fishing.

If the sandeel was still present and lively on retrieval the exercise was repeated one more time before the sandeel was discarded for a fresh one, sandeel liveliness being a crucial element of the methods success. I have to say that the approach was very enjoyable and interesting, on a number of occasions the float dipped only for the bass to have gained a free breakfast but when connection did occur, woohoo!!

Life is about learning and everyday brings new opportunities. I am glad John contacted me and most definitely besides enjoying each others company we both learned from the experience. Yes, over the years I have read about fishing live sandeel for bass but this was the first time I had experienced the approach for real. John equally learned that Ireland has good bass fishing directly off the ferry at Rosslare, which now gives him the choice of staying east or travelling west the next time he decides to visit. In his own words, “I’ll be back”. Now where have I heard that before……….?

Ashley Hayden © September 2015