Wednesday, 11 October 2017 09:47

The Wonder Of Wrasse

Steve Neely has joined the dark side of lure fishing – wrasse hunting! Even for a diehard bass fanatic he reckons these aggressive fighters have a lot to offer.

If you follow my articles or my adventures on social media, you will know that I am pretty passionate about my bass fishing but, truth be told, over the last year or so the ‘humble’ wrasse is starting to tip the scales a little.

Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than getting up early and hitting a fizzed-up coastline in search of silver bars, but there is something addictive about fishing for wrasse that is starting to get inside my head.

Usually I would delve into the techniques and the technicalities of how to target wrasse but this time I wanted to go a little off-piste and look at why, in my opinion, this species is possibly the best saltwater sport fish in our waters to target on lures.


How I Got Into Wrassing On Lures

I spent all my summers as a child running around the rocks along the northwest coast of Ireland with a simple float setup in hand and either lugworm or limpets as bait. It was more about getting out and having an enjoyable day with my family rather than if we caught or not, but most of the time it was never disappointing and I remember having competitions to see who could catch the most or the biggest wrasse.

Then, as I reached my late teens, my fishing began to get a little more serious and I suppose I was starting to question why things were done in a certain way. Lure fishing had become something I was starting to delve into, and naturally the two most obvious species at hand to target were pollack and wrasse. The pollack wasn’t hard to crack but wrasse, at the start, were proving a real head scratcher.

When I started trying to track them down, there wasn’t a huge amount of information online. There had been some good stuff put together from lads in Jersey and while this gave me a direction, it was hard to get my head around some of the theory. Persistence eventually paid off, though, and all the little bits began to click into place.

Once I nailed my first few wrasse on the lures I was hungry for more, and so it opened up a whole new world of lure fishing, which, since then, has become a never-ending journey of discovery and exploration.

Looking back, my biggest mistake was trying to fish over the same ground where I had been using bait and expecting the same results using lures – it simply wasn’t going to happen… but more on that later!

pic 3

Tube Craw lures are effective – they look a bit like a lazy impression of a crustacean but they represent a big mouthful for little effort to a hungry wrasse.



Accessible Sport

Wrasse are well distributed around the UK coastline and this makes them, in my opinion, one of the go-to sportfish in saltwater. Bass can be a little harder to locate along some stretches, but quite often, if you find rough ground and rocks, you will find wrasse.

In terms of fighting power, most people are amazed at the lack or correlation between size and power; a small 2lb wrasse can scrap just as hard as a 4lb fish, so when you hook into one, you really don’t know sometimes just what the score is.

Genetically they are a very slow-growing fish and probably average the 2lb mark with a fish over 4lb being a cracker and over 5lb a specimen. Of course, this is a general rule as it depends where you are located around the UK and Ireland. For example, the west coast of Ireland and the Channel Islands are simply crawling with wrasse, and some monsters as well. The UK record ballan wrasse currently stands at just over 9lb in weight and I can only imagine what a sight that would be – a proper beast!


Crunch And Chaos

There is nothing like the moment a wrasse hunts your lure through a boulder field before smashing it with serious attitude. You have to have pin-sharp reflexes to ensure you are engaged in the fight to stop that large, square tail from propelling the fish into the sanctuary of the nearest snag!

People ask me all the time which fights better, a bass or wrasse, but to be honest it is like comparing apples and oranges. A bass will provide you with longer, more sustained runs and tend to give more headshakes etc, whereas a wrasse fight will be a high-adrenaline short scrap that usually doesn’t last very long but tends to be a little more chaotic. Which one do I prefer? Hard to say … wrasse fishing generally tends to be a numbers game with action coming thick and fast, but bass sessions can, on a good day, produce good numbers but more often than not, you are working hard to find the fish.

I think bass look stunning - I love the pristine look to their scales, the spikes and just the general sleek appearance and shape. However, when it comes to surprises, the wrasse surely wins hands down? You never really know what sort of colours you are going to come across. Granted, a lot are non-descript browns and greens, but then you get others that are bright red, lime green or have stunning white and blue spots and look like they don’t belong in our waters.


Go Big Or Go Home!

At first my approach was simple – to catch wrasse of any size on a lure. But after a while, I started to try to weed out smaller fish and go for the big bruisers who really put your terminal gear through its paces. To do this my strategy was quite simple; use bigger lures and seek out the more dominant fish, which in the case of wrasse tend to be large males.

Interestingly, many wrasse species are born exclusively female and change sex when they are between four and 14 years old, with most large wrasse over 50 centimetres being almost certainly males.

So after a few years of chucking all sorts of shapes and sizes of plastic, I have whittled down what I carry to a handful of profiles and for me one stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Big craw lures really float my boat when it comes to pulling out big wrasse from a mark, especially when fishing over boulder fields on a flooding tide, where wrasse are often moving in exclusively to feed on crustaceans and small rock pool dwelling critters.

Lures like the Illex Chunk Craw, Molix Caleo Craw and Big Bite Tube Craw are a good place to start, but to be honest any large, chunky, robust creature bait will do the business.

pic 9 Illex Chunk Craw 3

Creature type lures – basically crustacean imitations – can prove irresistible.


Ninja Wrasse Fishing

I alluded earlier on to being misled by trying to target wrasse in water where I previously used to bait fish; this really sent me down the wrong path for the guts of a season before I twigged on.

Fishing for wrasse in deeper water (10 feet or more) really isn’t very effective – I have found they tend to be more responsive to lures in water under 10 feet and often either at the start of the flood or the start of the drop tide. This is when the wrasse are either moving in over fresh ground to hunt, or utilising the dropping tide to pull food out from the boulders and into their path.

Generally I will stay mobile, moving from spot to spot in search of likely looking gulleys or areas of boulders that look as if they will hold a population of wrasse. I really can’t stress enough how shallow you can fish for wrasse; don’t be fooled, as you will end up overlooking and walking past some of the best sport, which for bait anglers is often unfishable. However, for lure anglers it is a perfect paradise for throwing Texas-rigged soft lures and teasing out some rock pigs!

I am prepared to scramble, climb and jump around to get to where I want, and once I have got myself on to the mark, I will pick out the prominent features that I can see either because they are visible above the water (boulders etc) or by using my Costa Del Mar polarised glasses, allowing me to see underwater structure such as gulleys and rocks.

Then I will work these hotspots with, say, half a dozen casts, and if nothing is interested I will start by switching the lure colour and repeat – changing the colour could be the key to getting a hit. By methodically working each area of interest and rotating through the colours you stand the best chance of nailing some fish.

Once you find a pattern to their behaviour on the day, be it a colour, retrieve style or presentation, then you should be into some solid sport. Wrasse often live in little groups and rarely will you just catch one in an area. If the fishing slows down, then move; don’t be tempted to hang around – get on the move and look for more.

It will not be uncommon to end a day’s wrasse fishing with 20 or more fish. To date my best session resulted in over 50 fish between two of us.

pic 8 wrasse colours

Wrasse come in a bewildering array of colours.


Changes In Perception

If you have read my articles or blog posts in the past, you will have heard me tackling the ongoing question, “Are wrasse predatory or simply territorial?” While there will never be a complete concrete answer to this debate, I feel that my view on the subject has most definitely shifted.

I recall a session over in the Channel Islands, where I was plugging for bass using a 140mm sandeel-style lure in some fizzed-up water over boulders. I had just made a cast and was starting to crank the lure back when the rod slammed over and I thought I was into a really nice 6lb-plus bass, but much to my shock when I got the fish closer, it turned out to be a really chunky wrasse. I unhooked the fish, had a laugh about it with my mate and then cast out again… bang – fish on! Yes, you’ve guessed it, another wrasse. In the space of about half an hour I caught about seven wrasse, all on the 140mm hard plug and they had all hit the front treble.

It was pretty clear that these wrasse were going for the kill! Since then I have had similar encounters and in general I have found that anywhere the wrasse have moved in on the flood, over ground which was dry at low water, then it is a fair bet they are there to hunt, be it for gobies, blennies, crab or shrimps.

Some people may disagree and stick to the old theories, but from my experiences fishing along the northwest of Ireland and the Channel Islands, I would confidently say that wrasse are predators. Just look at how they smash into a lure – it isn’t exactly a gentle “please move out of the way”, it’s an “I’m going to destroy you’“ war cry!


Do We Need To Rethink?

With the recent ICES proposals and the dramatic decline in bass stocks, it is looking increasingly like there may be some drastic measures taken to ensure the future survival of our bass stocks. I can’t say I would be content with a complete closure of the bass fishery for RSA, but if it was widespread across both commercial and recreational sectors and would be followed up by a proper, full and well-executed management plan, then I would accept and support it.

If this was the case, then those anglers who target bass on lures or spinning gear don’t need to put the gear away in the closet – why not turn it to wrasse? I know for those diehard bass anglers, as I am a fanatic myself, this wouldn’t be an ideal solution but a cracking wrasse session really isn’t to be sneezed at!

Like I said above, you can’t compare the fight from a bass and a wrasse but they pull like hell, keep you on your toes and can also take you on adventures with scenery equally as stunning as on your normal bass sessions.


Nothing Humble About It!

I’m sure it’s not hard to tell I have a serious thing for my wrasse fishing; the dogged fight, stunning colorations and that little bit of mystery keep drawing me back on to the rocks in search of that monster.

To date I have had a few fish over the 5lb mark and I have seen a fish probably pushing 6lb chase my lure over a ledge before retreating back among the rocks. My personal mission is to tackle a 6lb brute and win – it may never happen, but I know the areas I fish hold some real leviathans!

pic 6 wrasse 6

Even the basically brown coloured wrasse have plenty of markings.


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