22lb 4oz’s… That’s one almighty great big bull huss! It is the current British boat caught record in fact. Caught in 1986 by M. Hall sailing from the West Somerset harbour of Minehead. The Bristol Channel is teeming with fish and one particular fish that commonly sees visiting anglers beat their personal best when visiting the area is the bull huss (Scyliorhinus stellaris).
There is no such thing as a guarantee when fishing and I talk so often with anglers who have booked a day out with myself aboard the ‘Lorna Doone’ that it’s about giving yourself the best chance, but I guarantee that should you spend two or three sessions targeting the bull huss in the Bristol Channel along the stretch of water where the wonderful Exmoor coastline tumbles into the sea you WILL catch a ‘mid double’ bull huss. For most anglers this is going to be a new personal best and with some of the species reaching the upper teens and knocking on that magical 20lb mark during the year, there is a real chance of seeing a very special fish.
Known also as the nursehound, greater spotted dogfish and large spotted dogfish the bull huss is a species of catshark. Generally speaking, it will be found amongst rocks, a seabed with a stony nature or where weed and algae is present. Most commonly bull huss will be found in the Bristol Channel between depths of 10 and 30 metres although sizeable specimens can be caught in much shallower water. With its sandy colouration, patterned with an array of dark spots and sometimes dark saddles, a broad head and a mouth full of teeth the bull huss can be quite a striking fish to behold and a pretty cool capture well worthy of a picture or two. Just by way of a little bit of added value it’s worth noting that a small bull huss closely resembles the dogfish and I’m often asked how to tell the difference. As a very general first observation a bull huss has larger spots than its smaller cousin, but the best visually distinguishing difference is that the nasal skin flaps on the bull huss do not extend to the mouth whereas they do on the dogfish.
Early spring through to autumn is the time of year where the species are most prevalent and it’s at this time of the year when the females stay inshore to lay their egg cases by way of attaching them to weed and other marine fauna. Known also as mermaids’ purses, the egg cases will take between 8 and 12 months to hatch. In the Bristol Channel we are lucky if not spoilt to have an abundance of bull huss and locally you’d be forgiven for being unaware that the bull huss has been classified by The International Union for Conservation of Nature as ‘Vulnerable’.
Diet wise…bull huss are not fussy. Small fish, crabs, shrimps, and worms are all on the menu and it’s this trait that gives us as anglers quite the advantage, for the bull huss will readily take a variety of baits that we offer to them. From personal experience you can’t go wrong with a good squid bait or a fish and squid cocktail but as mentioned before… they don’t turn their noses up to much!
Tide state, location, sea conditions, time of year, rigs and bait. It all matters if you’re going to bag up on big Bristol Channel huss. Sure, you can fluke one at anytime, anywhere and with any bait but that pretty much can be said for sea fishing in general. We’re talking about the information needed to set out and succeed by design.
Starting with tide state, Bull Huss do not favour a ripping tide. Instead, a much steadier flow of water and also the period of slack water at either the top or bottom of the tide can be a prime time for them to feed. So, we’re already beginning to form our plan of where to head to when we start our day. If the tide state is dictating that the tide run is fast, then picking a mark inshore is the place to be and any productive marks that are further offshore can be fished for a couple of hours over the period of the change of the tide. Knowing the state of the tide we now need to consider the mark to head for. As previously mentioned, bull huss prefer ground with stone and if it also has any weed or algae then that is a bonus.
So, we’re looking to choose an area with such a sea bed in a steady speed of tide and we’re now highlighting some likely spots. Indeed, my favourite mark inshore is an area where large boulders line the shoreline and extend out into the sea for a bit before being interspersed with smaller stones, shells and also present is a light covering of weed… perfect bull huss territory! Sea conditions aren’t under our control by any means but it’s worth being aware that bull huss prefer calmer conditions. If we’re blessed with a beautifully calm day all over then we have our full range of marks to consider but let’s say we have a day where it may be more choppy offshore, as much as there might be some fantastic marks a few miles out, it might be better to remain in calmer, more sheltered waters close to shore when specifically on the hunt for them. Finally, when targeting these wonderful fish, the time of year to fish on these marks is between spring and autumn. Bull Huss do get caught in the winter but not so prolifically by any means.
Bull Huss are probably one of the least fussy of species you could target when it comes to selecting a bait to use. They will take all manner of baits but if I was to lean towards anything, I would suggest some sort of fish bait such as mackerel, bluey or sardine (I’ve also seen trout used to great affect) or alternatively squid. If you are on a mark with bull huss present, they will take these baits. More often than not we see quite a few three-bearded rockling caught on the same grounds. This is not a coincidence either as they are very appealing to the bull huss.
If you should manage to catch one of these beautiful little fish then you face the dilemma… do you release it to where it came from or do you send it down attached to your hook? Whatever bait you go with on the day the rig to use couldn’t be more simple. Bull huss feed on the bottom so a basic running ledger is my rig of choice with a trace length of around 4ft connected to a strong single hook of any size from 3/0 up to 7/0. Bull huss do have quite an array of small but very sharp teeth, so the trace needs to be fairly heavy just to be on the safe side. 80lb mono will do the job perfectly.
Bull huss can give shy, gentle bites. They are rarely smash and grab merchants, so give the bite a chance to develop before winding in any slack and striking. Once hooked you will get the majority of bull huss to the surface fairly easily but it’s at this point that it is well worth being aware that their shy biting nature often means that a bull huss may only be lightly hooked and I’ve seen so many anglers loose a fish as a result of a hook pull as they do the naturally inherent thing of giving it a heave when they get sight of a good fish as it breaks the surface in an attempt to quickly drag the fish to the net. Try and keep a bit calm at this point (not always easy to do when a personal best breaks the surface) and don’t pull the bull huss’ head clear of the water. Take a few seconds longer and tease the fish slowly towards the net. This way you will prevent hook pulls and land the fish.
Once safely netted and aboard a big bull huss is very worthy of a photo or two to remember the moment and celebrate such a fish. Bull huss love to twist, turn and make it very awkward to capture a decent picture. Take your time, don’t rush, and don’t grab the fish in an attempt to make it pose nicely. Instead, just support it calmly with one hand to the fore of the fish and the bull huss is far more likely to relax and provide you with the best opportunity to preserve the memory of a big Bristol Channel bull huss!