At last the day finally came. After many a fruitless pilgrimage to the coast in search of a nice fresh sea bass to cook over a fire on the beach, finally, it’s happened! Its not that I haven’t caught a sea bass before, I just haven’t had the chance to cook it half an hour after its come out of the water, a stones throw from where it came from.
Anyway, this weekend has been a corker in terms of weather, warm and sunny? Maybe the British summer is finally here, I must say my garden has certainly benefited from the recent downpours, but it has dampened one or two spirits amongst my fellow city dwellers I’m sure (no pun intended!). Yesterday I got a phone call I wasn’t expecting, it was from a friend of mine Charlie who had just spent a week in Cornwall and managed to land a few bass off the rocks around Polzeath (due to my personal guidance of course…) I had been planning a BBQ cook off that night at my place, but during the conversation a few details struck a chord, Cuckmere haven, low tide, 6pm. I was sold. So it was a few hours later I stepped off the trai, deep in the Sussex countryside a few miles from the coast. Fresh air, everything green, sun and four hours off plugging away with a spinner for some bass, surely this is what the great British summer is all about?
Location & equipment.
Cuckmere haven, or the Seven sisters as it is more commonly known, is notorious for its stunning views and sea bass shoals and I’ve caught a fair few there before. That said I felt fairly confident about a catch. Fishing for bass is pretty straightforward and involves a basic setup of a 8ft spinning rod, a reel with 8-10lb line and a bunch of silver spinners preferably Toby spoons. Sea bass tend to feed of small fry close to rocks and it is quite common to catch them almost under your feet. The best way to locate a shoal is to watch the surface of the water for any disturbance, which is usually the bass chasing small fish, also keep an eye out for seagulls diving down into the water as they always get involved. Be aware that the bass shoals tend to feature smaller fish and if they are less than 10 inches you must put them back. The larger bass are more solitary but hang on the edges of the shoals, or roam freely.
After an hour and no action I began wandering further along the chalk platform we were fishing off in hope off finding some action, Charlie stayed put and continued casting despite the lack of movement. All of a sudden I heard a muffled “MATE! Mate, mate I got one!” I set off at pace eager to see if the bend in his rod was really a fish. Running along seaweed covered chalk gullies is not the easiest thing to do and I almost wiped out a few times, like being in a room full of ladies in strappy sandals, just watch where the feet go…
Attached to the end of the line was not just a bass, it was a superb sized solid bar of seafood silver. I have a bad habit of saying “Don’t lose it” when someone has a fish on which is the ultimate quarry for the day, which is stupid as I feel Charlie was even more eager to keep it on than myself. After all, this was supper and it was almost in the bag. Five minutes later we were heading back towards the beach with a 3lb sea bass and a very smug Charlie. On the way back we saw the surface disturbance we had been waiting for earlier and couldn’t resist a cast or two, it would have been rude not to. After a small bass and much eager anticipation later, it was time to head to the beach and do this amazing fish the justice it deserved.
I was cunning enough to bring with me a grill, a lime, a few cloves of garlic, some ginger, butter, salt & pepper and a small punchy, red chilli. The next task was to call upon all my Ray Mears skills to muster up a furnace on which to cook our fish. After a bit of beachcombing we had gathered plenty of driftwood, which would be piled high and left to burn down to a nice bed of hot embers.
Beach Bass with Lime, Ginger and Chilli:
Once you have gutted and scaled the fish, cut six vertical lines across the side of the fish. Next, finely chop the ginger and chilli and mix up with lime juice, zest and butter. Sprinkle salt and pepper across the fish and coat with the butter mix. Next, rub it along the flanks to get the butter mix and seasoning into the slits. With the remaining bits of lime and garlic cloves stuff them into the cavity of the fish, this creates a nice infusion into the meat as it slow cooks on the fire.
The next step is easy, flatten the embers down and stick the grill over some carefully selected stones (not flint as these will crack and splinter) then chuck the fish on and grill it for 10 minutes on each side. If you plan your trip better than us, take the fish off and distribute onto plates, otherwise for a truly gleeful caveman experience tear the flesh off the bones with your hands and eat with the crackled skin, like us! Those of you who have eaten bass before are well aware of its reputation as one of the best eating fish available to us in Britain and maybe the world…but when its this fresh, its probably the best fish I have ever had. To buy a bass from the supermarket can cost you anything between 6-12 quid depending on its size, so it was with some consolation we had paid nothing at all for our meal. The only thing that it cost was a couple of pints of Harveys best in the nearest pub as it was 11pm by the time we left. Oh well…