Improve Your Wrasse Fishing

Improve Your Wrasse Fishing
There are over six hundred species of Wrasse throughout the world. Most are on the smaller side but some – such as the Humphead Wrasse (found only in the Pacific and Indian Oceans) – can grow to eight feet in length. There are two main species of Wrasse which are of interest to the UK sea angler: the Ballan Wrasse and the Cuckoo Wrasse, however there are several other smaller Wrasse which are often classed as mini-species.

All Wrasse species live in rocky areas and are adapted to feed on animals found in this environment such as shellfish and crustaceans. They also tend to live in relatively shallow water and are rarely found offshore, meaning they can be easily targeted at the shore by sea anglers. Wrasse also have a highly unusual life cycle as they are all born female and remain this way until the fish is between 4-14 years old and then some of the fish will become male. This is determined by the group’s need to increase its numbers.

Their numbers have exploded and while global warming is the popular theory behind their push northwards, it is more likely their hunt for food that has encouraged them to spread their fins. The decline of several of the important commercial species, like Cod, has resulted in an untapped supply of food inshore. This has enabled many species to thrive with Pouting, Whiting and Dabs among the small fish that have enjoyed the windfall.

Wrasse have cashed in on the benefits of the natural food mountain, while also exploiting the maze of coastal protection boulder structures erected by man to buffer the coast from storms and erosion.

The toothy and not unattractive Wrasse have become far more common all around our coastline and their occupation of the large rock groynes, piers and reefs have provided them with stepping stones into and up the North Sea.

Some anglers believe that only one species of Wrasse warrants serious angling attention and that is the largest, the Ballan Wrasse. The Ballan Wrasse is equipped to survive in the most hostile sea environment with its broad tail and long dorsal fins giving it great manoeuvrability and power in a confined area, even in a heaving swell.

The Ballan Wrasse’s normal colour matches the surrounding sea bed and kelp, so expect some rich brown and greens, while some mature fish, usually those that have changed sex to males, take on a range of bright reds and oranges, some with white spots, all aiding camouflage.

Its tough rubbery lips and impressive dentistry betrays a lifestyle among rough rock terrain where it chisels and wrenches shellfish off the rocks or crunches crabs, shrimps and small fish.

Small Wrasse are a great starter species for youngsters because most piers, harbours and breakwaters hold a population, so there is no casting required. Simply lower your bait down.

Find one Wrasse and you will always find more. Unfortunately, this also means that easily-reached Wrasse marks get exploited with the bigger fish getting caught and only tiddlers remaining.

Best venues to find the largest specimens are remote rugged cliff faces and rich kelp reefs with specimen Wrasse fishing rather specialised and, in some cases, dangerous. On some rugged coasts the bigger fish are found just feet under the surface so beware of fishing too deep for them. You can also catch them extremely close to where you are standing.

Wrasse will fight hard and dirty, and they will do all they can to break you over the rocks, so you wantto be giving them as little chance of doing this as possible, and you can fight them like this
without breaking rods, lines and reels.

Wrasse usually feed best on a flooding tide, but if you are fishing over shallow, boulder-strewn ground, you are going to have to wait for the water to flood back over. When fishing this kind of terrain, wait until an hour after low water for the wrasse to move in and start feeding, but over ground that does not dry out over low. Do not be put off trying to catch Wrasse on the ebb tide because they can, and do, feed right through a tide cycle.

They live in tight groups around a particular bolthole and casting accurately can make a difference. Look for these holes in the rock face. Wrasse take advantage of the swell and feed where marine life may be dislodged by the wave action.

A great tactic for catching big wrasse from a cliff edge is to fish the bait away from the rock face. Hold the rod out and draw the fish away from its bolthole where you have a better chance of stopping the fish snagging you up.
HTO Hyper Sniper Rod

Strike, pump and reel quickly to get the fish away from the rocks. In a casting situation bites will be similar, but you must react quickly, pump the rod and reel at the first sign of a bite. Stopping to feel if the fish is hooked is inviting trouble as Wrasse are adept at chewing baits to shreds.

Due to most Wrasse catches only being a few feet in front of you, you can afford to leave your beachcaster at home and pick up a modern, fast-action spinning, LRF or lighter lure rods. Don’t worry about a lack of lifting power because you’ll soon find you can pile on all the pressure you need to subdue 4lb-plus Wrasse.
Savage Gear Salt CCS Lure Rod
Shimano Nasci Front Drag Spinning Reel
Most modern spinning reels sport a drag system, and this is vital when playing a bigger Wrasse. Try to set the drag so it gives line a little under the breaking strain of the main line. If you really need extra drag, then you can brake the line by placing your fore finger on the spool.

Berkley Whiplash 8 Strand Braid
Landing big fish on light tackle is nothing new and a combination of the rod’s action and a correctly set drag will see very few fish able to snap your line. However, it makes sense that when targeting bigger fish, you should increase your breaking strain. Any fraying of the line must be noticed, and the line cut and retied above this point. Fluffing of the line weakens it considerably and this weakness will be found when you hook a good fish! A high vis braid will help you see the direction a fish is travelling and by keeping an eye on where the braid is going you can apply the necessary evasive action when fish are heading towards snags.

Using a fluorocarbon or mono leader when using braid as mainline is a must. It allows you to incorporate abrasion resistance into a braid set up as well as making your sea rigs less visible to fish.

Soft Plastic Caught Bass
Wrasse will happily chase lures, and bigger Wrasse will swim and feed in shallow water. Deep water might work well when you are dropping a crab bait down with a 4oz lead, but for lure fishing use a little bullet lead that weighs around 10g. In deep water you simply lose that vital ‘feel’ of the lure, whereas shallower water demonstrates to you how awesome the tactic can be.

When bumping soft plastics along the bottom, the more you can feel, the more you will catch. A braid mainline is so much better in this respect than mono.

Ecogear Rock Claw
Almost any lure will catch Wrasse. Soft plastics like paddletails, craws, curly tails and jerk baits. Experiment with your lure colours. Wrasse can be fickle about what colour lure they attack. Bear this in mind if you are convinced there should be fish there, but you are not getting any bites.

A change of colour can sometimes be just what is needed, yet at other times they will hit any colour lure you happen to put in front of them. It’s always good practice to carry soft plastics in at least a dark green, brown, black and a darkish purple or blue. Use this as a rough guide and then move on from there.

When it comes to bait it is important to remember that all Wrasse have relatively small mouths, but they have powerful jaws and strong teeth. They will scour and scavenge on the seabed and can therefore be caught with baits presented on conventional sea rigs such as a single hook flapper rig or double hook flapper rig. Bottom fishing is best with hooks which are around size 1/0 or thereabouts. Wrasse attack baits aggressively and if hooks are too small wrasse can take them.

1 Hook Flapper Rig
2 Hook Flapper Rig
All Wrasse feed on shellfish and crustaceans and have thick lips to pull shellfish from rocks and use their powerful teeth and jaws to crunch through the shells of these creatures. Despite shellfish making up the bulk of the diet of the Wrasse they will take a wide range of baits. Lugworm and Ragworm works extremely well. Shellfish of all types will be taken, as well as fish baits such as Mackerel strip. Wrasse will take Peeler Crab, with Cuckoos in particular being partial to a small section of Peeler. Ballan wrasse are one of the few species which will take hardback crab, but it is usually best to add a little piece of Mackerel to this bait to add some scent.

Baitbox Peeler Crab
The more rugged and inaccessible the rocks and cliffs the more likely you are to encounter big Wrasse, but this does involve danger and there are a few sensible precautions must be taken. It is advisable to wear a life jacket and don’t fish alone in dangerous places. Wear decent footwear and safety clothing and beware when walking over wet rocks, which can be extremely slippery. Don’t rely on a mobile telephone because a signal is not always ensured under steep cliffs or remote places. Beware of the swell, especially on Atlantic coastlines where rogue waves are a real danger.

Despite their rugged looks wrasse are a delicate species so return them at water level if possible. They will not survive a long drop from a cliff top.

In most cases they stick close to any rock ledge or cave, pier edge or weed fringe. So potentially any underwater feature will have a family of Wrasse. The exciting thing to remember, from an angler’s point of view, is the Wrasse’s ability to power-dive. Wrasse rarely roam far from a bolthole and when danger threatens they head for the nastiest snag they can find and it’s your job to stop that happening.

One last piece of advice is when it comes to hooking and landing a Wrasse is to get above them. The higher above a fish you can get the more control you will have. It is much easier to control a fish that is directly beneath you than it is playing a fish at range. By being above the fish you can let the full bend of the rod take the strain. This technique works very well for close range big fish like Wrasse. When you hook a big Wrasse at close range the fight can be brutal. As soon as the fish is hooked apply maximum pressure and pump the fish up off the bottom.

This is where the powerful elastic bend of an LRF rod comes into play and although the rod will bend it will stop the fish. Keep applying the pressure and you should be able to gain ground on the fish by keeping the rod high and not giving it line, let that rod bend and do the work. It will quickly tire the Wrasse and enable you to get it to the surface quickly where you can slip a net under it and land the fish. It is a brutal fight and the rod will bend in an eye bulging hoop, but that is what LRF rods are designed to do and once you realise how much abuse a standard LRF rod will take you can approach these big fish situations with confidence.

Goldsinny Wrasse

If you would like more information regarding Wrasse fishing visit us in store at either the Glasgow Angling Centre or the Edinburgh Angling Centre. Or call us on 0141 212 8880 and our expert staff will be happy to help.

This article was brought to you in association with Sea Angler magazine.