A year ago I arrived back from my first ever trip to the Isles Scilly and wrote a piece enthusing about the magic of these wonderful islands and the great fishing that is still to be had on Britain’s most southwesterly archipelago. I had never seriously targeted wrasse before and I was blown away by their stunning colours, brutal fighting qualities and the challenging habitat in which they like to live. Having just returned from a second trip I’m pleased to report that my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed one iota. In fact I’m just as keen on both the place and the species as I was when I wrote this eulogy some 12 months ago.
Having learned my angling in a traditional coarse fishing environment I was a late arrival to the world of lure fishing. In fact it wasn’t until I spent some time in Australia that I really started to get to grips with the potential that soft plastics had to offer. And although wrasse have traditionally been pursued with bait, fished either on float gear in amongst the rocks or with a ledger rig incorporating a ‘rotten bottom’, there is now a growing band of enthusiasts who target this great sporting fish with lightish spinning rods and lures.
And make no mistake wrasse really are worth of the ‘sport fish’ title as anyone who has tried to stop a sizeable specimen from reaching the safety of the rocks or the kelp will testify. Luckily wrasse are not line shy, which is just as well as 20lb leaders are needed to provide both abrasion resistance and the necessary strength to counter those first few powerful charges of a hooked fish. In amongst the rocks the fights are not long but they can be dramatic whilst on the shallow beach marks there are reel screaming runs to be had once the fish can be turned into open water. All in all good sized wrasse are a fine fish to target and their stunning colours only add to what can be a really great angling experience in fabulous surroundings.
Once again my wife Natalie and I stayed on the beautiful island of St Martin’s which has both rocky coves and silver sand beaches. There are precious few cars on the island so we walked everywhere, usually with a fishing rod as you never knew if yet another wrasse hotspot might be behind the next corner. In fact, some of my best sessions occurred when Natalie and I spent a few hours taking a leisurely stroll around the north of the island stopping to fish in any likely places that caught my eye.
Last year I pretty much concentrated my efforts on rocky foreshores on the incoming tide. These still proved productive marks, particularly those containing abundant marine life in the form of sea anemones, limpets and other tasty wrasse fare. The usual four inch Hawg worms in brown, green or blue rigged Texas style with a light cone weight did the business. At times it was possible to see several wrasse following a slowly twitched worm from out of their rocky lairs and onto the lighter sandy areas. I learned that stopping all movement at this point for three or four seconds before giving one final twitch sometimes induced a take from fish anxious not to see their food escape from view. Like most anglers I love visual fishing and seeing a wrasse picking up the bait and charging back into cover as the hook goes home remains one of the reasons I find this style of fishing so addictive and intriguing.
However, this year’s trip added another dimension to my wrasse fishing as I discovered how they can be targeted from the beach. The Scillies does not have the huge surf beaches so beloved of bass fisherman to be found in Ireland, Cornwall or West Wales. In fact the Scillies do not have any bass fishing of note but this is due, so I’m told, to a kink in the Gulf Stream which bypasses the islands and drops the water temperature which causes the bass to seek their prey in other spots. The beaches here tend to be smaller with rocky outcrops at either end and usually one or two sizeable boulders in the middle which become exposed at low tide. These I found were the key to catching from the sand.
Whilst rock fishing was most productive over a flooding tide the best action on the beach seemed to come halfway down the ebb. I found that as the water receded pockets of wrasse would take up residence in the vicinity of any structure remaining on the beach. Even in water as shallow as three foot it was surprising how many fish could be found hiding behind a couple of rocks no more than a few yards from the shore. On several occasion I winkled out half a dozen fish from a single hotspot by casting at 45 degree angle behind the structure and twitching the lure back in a series of hops to aggravate the wrasse into taking. This method gave me some memorable sessions with up to 20 fish from a the same beach in a couple of hours fishing with the best pushing five pounds. Inevitably, some big brutes were lost when they either made it into impenetrable cover or when I hung on a bit too hard and bent the hook out. Next year I shall be upgrading the tackle still further as the Scillies have produced wrasse to over nine pounds and I’m keen to see one of the big mommas on the end of my line.
Whilst I would wholeheartedly recommend the Isles of Scilly as an angling destination there are plenty of great wrasse fishing spots to be found on the mainland. Pembrokeshire in particular has a lot going for it as a glance on the website of local bass guide Matt Powell will show.
Mercifully wrasse are considered pretty rubbish to eat which is one of the reasons that the species still survives in reasonable numbers in our overfished seas. Their inquisitive nature means they are vulnerable to lobster pots and far too many of this slow growing species end up as pot bait. So do give wrasse a try on lures but please return them to grow bigger and put a smile on another angler’s face. At the Angling Trust we are working hard to gain greater protection for our inshore waters and retaining top quality wrasse fishing is yet another reason why this work is so important.