Sea Fishing for Wrasse: Bait, Tackle and Fishing Techniques
There are seven species of this fish and all are found round rocky coasts. Some of them are rare in British waters. The ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta) and the cuckoo or striped wrasse (Labrus mixtus) are the main members of the tribe to interest the angler. The other better-known species are the cork-wing (Crenilabrus melops) and the rainbow (Coris julis). All are beautifully coloured, with an almost tropical look. The rainbow is predominantly greenish with lighter diamond markings along its lateral line and an enormously long dorsal fin. The cuckoo is a splendid creature with yellow and blue stripes. The cork-wing is greenish again, with rudimentary stripes on its upper half, and a stubby appearance. The ballan wrasse is a good thick fish with a long dorsal fin ending in an up-sweep at its rear end, and a rounded tail. The overall colouring is greeny blue and the fins have orange bands.
All wrasse have large scales, spiny dorsals, and thick lips.
Wrasse have a bad name with some anglers, because they are not good eating; they have a nasty habit of taking on the flavour of their current food. Their thick lips, ‘too, are related to their diet, for they are great browsers and masticators of tough, rock-living molluscs. Thick and protruding lips enable them to suck these off rocks and out of crevices.
Although any rocky coast will produce wrasse, they are most plentiful and grow to specimen size mainly round the west coasts. South Devon, Cornwall, and west Wales are the places to look for big fish.
In these areas the ballan ranges from 500 g-2.5 kg (1-5 lb). A fish of 5.3 kg (124 lb) was caught off Looe in 1912, together with several others of 4.5 kg (10 lb). These, however, were exceptional, not only in their size, but also in being taken from a boat, for most wrasse, big ones included, are taken from the shore, usually from rocks running into deeper water.
Wrasse are warm-water fish, and are to be taken between April and the end of October. They are seldom seen in winter.
The best time to look for them is on a sunny day, with a calm sea, and at low tide. On these days favourite spots such as deep coves and gullies can often produce a dozen or so fish ranging up to 2 kg (4 lb) or more. As the tide rises they move in and search for food among the weeds and rocks which were previously uncovered.
The favourite bait is live prawn, but crab and ragworm can also account for many fish. Although the limpet is a major item of diet, it does not seem to work very well as a hook-bait.
Tackle and Fishing Methods
As the ground fished over is likely to be rough, float tackle is preferable to bottom gear.gear does very well. The float should be adjusted so that the bait hangs a foot or so off the bottom.
The most suitable tackle is that normally used for float- fishing for bass, mackerel, pollack, etc. The rod should be of light sea or salmontype, 2.7-2.85 m (9 – 9-1/2 ft) in length. Glass rods, either solid or tubular, are now quite popular; they combine lightness with strength. The solid glass type are cheaper than either tubular glass or split-cane, and do very well for this kind of fishing.
Of the variety of line materials to choose from, monofilament and Terylene are now the most popular. Monofilament has the advantage of being cheap, but against this must be weighed its tendency to stretch. Terylene is expensive in comparison but it has all the other advantages without the drawbacks. It is very strong, does not stretch, is rot-proof, and, if greased, will float. At one time reels for this type of shore fishing were of the Nottingham type, but today the fixed-spool or the multiplier has taken its place. Terylene is by far the best line for use with a multiplier. For float-fishing, lines should be around 3.5-4.5 kg (8-10 lb) b.s.
Unlike most sea fish, wrasse have small mouths, and a No. 1 or 2 hook is quite large enough for them.
Wrasse are not quite so easy to catch as many imagine. Their powerful dives down under a rock often mean a lost fish. Although poor to eat (this, by the way, is a judgement with which not all anglers would agree) they are certainly capable of giving good sport.