Most anglers these days are well aware that ballan wrasse not only take lures, but that lure fishing can be consistently productive for them. Not only that, the obliging nature of the species offers those new to lure fishing a fun and simple way to get into it without breaking the bank. Maybe you’ve lure fished for other species but have not tried lures for wrasse before? Perhaps you just fancy a break from those early mornings and late nights out on the bass hunt? If so, you won’t go wrong trying to tempt wrasse with soft plastics.
There are several species of wrasse in UK waters with the bold and beautiful ballan being the largest. This species comes in a tremendous variety of colours, designed to conceal the wrasse in its natural habitat. These lovely fish give anglers opting for a balanced tackle approach some top quality sport and real sense of achievement when landing that 5lb+ specimen, although even the juvenile fish can be fantastic fun on an LRF setup. Lately, lure fishing for wrasse here in the Channel Islands has become ever more popular. There’s sport to be had throughout the year, with the summer months offering the optimum time to target the species.
Fishing a soft plastic lure for wrasse is definitely the way forward and rigging the lures in a weedless fashion will give you the best all-round results. Fishing in this way enables you to keep your lure tight to the bottom while reducing tackle loss and increasing your chances of stimulating an attack from a territorial wrasse. My box of tricks usually consists of a handful of senko stick baits (3”-5”), a few Fiiish Black Minnows (or equivalent) and maybe a dozen different sized paddle tail bodies, with the Lunker City range being one of my favourites and always to hand.
There’s no need to spend a fortune on soft lures if you’re on a budget to fill your wrasse lure box. A packet of senko worms and paddle tails can be picked up for a couple of quid online and you’ll be surprised how many softies you’ll end up with sticking to a budget of, let’s say, £20. Texas and Carolina rigs are popular rigging methods that are used when targeting wrasse, clipping on a flexhead jig head is also a great way to rig up your softie as it allows you to interchange between lures, weights and hooks quickly if needed. This has become my preferred way of rigging when I’m targeting wrasse over the last year or so.
When it comes to the best rod and reel to use, it all depends on the ground you’re fishing over and, of course, your personal preferences as an angler. If you’re new to lure fishing for wrasse, however, and looking for a quick and easy solution, you won’t go far wrong with the following.
Adopting an LRF setup for wrasse can be immense fun with some great sport to be had. Holding on for dear life to your 0.5-7g LRF rod while a beefy wrasse makes a bolt for cover makes for thrilling sport and the lighter gear can be a great way to make the most of areas mostly containing smaller fish. It’s also a fun way to get into this style of fishing. While using small soft plastics, bear in mind that the larger fish certainly won’t say no to a snack-sized LRF lure and the chance of hooking a beast is always there.
A 2.4m 7-30g outfit is my setup of choice for general wrassing, however, giving me just about enough backbone to get the hard fighting fish up off the bottom and out of the snags whilst still feeling and enjoying every part of the battle. These rods have just enough bend in the tip section to prevent the hook pulling during the scrap. You won’t be let down by a good ‘all-rounder’ lure rod either, with some great offers often available online and in your local tackle shops, if you’re on a budget.
Reel-wise, I like to use anything in size between a 2500-4000 loaded with braid through to a 3ft rubbing leader. The ground I’m fishing over will almost always dictate my choice of braid breaking strain/diameter and the leader I choose to use. Set that drag on the reel as tight as you dare – you’ll want that fish away from cover as quick as you can or before you know it, you’re snagged up and it’s game over.
I typically go for wide gape weedless hooks in sizes 2/0-3/0. Having them already come with a hitchhiker coil is a welcome bonus: simply tie or clip your hook on and screw your softie onto the coil. The coils keep your lure in place nicely and prevent them being ripped clean off the hook from a hard take.
The big wrasse will often literally leave you with half a lure (or less) if you don’t manage to hook up during the initial take, so a hitchhiker coil is the best approach if you want to see you lure again. Gluing lure bodies to the jig heads is also recommended or they will almost certainly get ripped clean off if you come up against a big angry wrasse.
The nice thing about lure fishing for wrasse is that you can head out with only a couple of items in your rucksack/waist bag and travel as light as you like. A handful (or box) of soft lure bodies, weedless jig heads, spare hooks, a small spool of leader line and a set of scissors/pliers is all you’ll be needing, with a small landing net being optional (but a good choice from a fish care perspective).
Dead sticking is a good technique to try whilst fishing in a light run of tide. This involves casting your lure uptide then allowing it to drift downtide, bumping along the seabed with little action imparted from the rod other than perhaps the odd twitch. Don’t allow for any slack in the line and keep the trotting lure under constant tension to avoid wind knots on the following cast. This is a great way to fish the Senko worms as they present themselves nicely whilst bumping over and through kelp, reefs and boulder formations.
The sink and draw method seems to do well when fishing over heavy rock/boulder formations and kelp beds. When you retrieve, the lure moves up in the water column revealing itself, then stopping the retrieve allows the lure to flutter back down, which can be irresistible to a wrasse laying in ambush. This works really well with paddle tail lures and often wrasse will take the lure on the flutter down. So keep that line tight to ensure that it doesn’t get a head start on you into the snags!
A slow steady retrieve seems to get the wrasse really fired up as your lure cruises carelessly across the rough ground. Adding a few twitches and frequent small pauses to the retrieve is good practice also, as wrasse will often hit a static lure.
Make sure to take care unhooking wrasse. No matter what size they are, their spines make handling awkward and they come fully equipped with a mouth full of sharp pearly whites too. A set of forceps are handy to have with you, although the deep hooking of a wrasse whilst using lures is rare in my experience. Take extra care with handling as wrasse don’t take too kindly to being grasped and will often try to flap out of your hands. Dropping a fish from several feet onto dry rocks will not do much good for its chances of survival.
If I’m lucky enough to catch a wrasse that’s camera worthy, I’ll try to find myself a small rock pool just to keep the fish in, giving it time to recover before and after the photos, prior to the release. The last thing you want is to see a lovely wrasse floating off after release whilst being pecked to oblivion by the marauding gulls.
So while those bright sunny conditions could be slightly off-putting for targeting other species, why not get out there and try your luck on the lures for the wrasse? With bags of power and acceleration, you won’t be disappointed with the exciting sport these rock ruffians can provide to the lure angler.