When most think of Light Rock Fishing (LRF), they think blennies or gobies, or perhaps a scorpion fish. In recent years I’m starting to think another species is more quintessentially ‘Lerfy’ than all of those – the tub gurnard. This mad creature, sporting huge butterfly like fins, bizarre crawling ‘legs’ beneath a large bony head. Considering LRF has its origins in the land of Anime, Sushi and Godzilla, the tub gurnard is the perfect UK poster boy. With that in mind, in early August I joined Richard Salter and Joe Mole on a tub hunt on the Devon coast.
As post work summer evenings go, this one was perfect. The sea was calm with only the occasional lazy swell gently foaming the boulders we stood on. Before us lay the purple blue sky, darkening as the sun sank behind us, mingling with the sea on the horizon. Beneath the silky surface only a couple of metres down was golden sand, the perfect hunting ground for our target species.
I decided to overload my ultralight Majorcraft Aji-Do rod, rated to 3 grams, by casting a 5 gram Chinu Blade. The blade is a vibe style lure and imitates a fleeing prawn but kicks out huge vibrations – perfect for triggering strikes from tubs! The rod coped perfectly as I flung the lure as far as I could. Rich and Joe did the same with other lures and were soon into fish, Joe tempting the target species and Rich into a headshaking schoolie bass. Joe’s fish broke through the not entirely clear water, the bright blue wings of the gurnard cutting through the brown stained sea.
I looked enviously on, even more so as they both followed up the catches with successive fish. The evening was still young though and to our right a float fisherman was pulling in mackerel regularly, so I was sure a fish for me wouldn’t be far away. As I have talked about in previous articles for Hookpoint, my technique for gurnards is simple – keep the lure as close to the bottom and pause a lot. Gurnards are super aggressive and rarely let a lure get away from them. With the Chinu Blade buzzing away through my rod tip, I felt confident.
That confidence was soon to be validated as the pink braid was yanked in the direction of the lure, the tip bouncing with the classic hit of a gurnard! My whispered prayers to the LRF gods answered with the gliding fight and headshakes I desired. The tubs at this mark quite often come in without too much tussling until they see the boulders, then they shoot for cover, feeling twice their size! Knowing how barnacle encrusted these boulders were, and how much ultralight braid parts with ease on touching them, I maneuvered the fish away. With just a couple more lunges the tub was mine and I lifted it up the short distance into my grasp.
The lure hung in it’s mouth like a punk’s lip ring, the spikey triangular dorsal could have been a mohawk. As I gripped the short bottom lip of the gurnard’s overslung mouth (the only way to hold them securely without getting spiked), the fish pumped it’s huge pectorals out, edges of bright blue on orange. This species could be the punk of the fish world – aggressive, edgy and loud, grunting away in it’s displeasure at being caught.
I removed the double hooks from the boney top lip, gave the fish one last look and dropped it gently back in the sea. It’s always a pleasure to see the huge wing like pectoral fins expand as soon as they hit the water, gliding back into the gloom. I hadn’t blanked… Phew!
As is often the way with gurnards, we all were into fish at the same time, I soon had a smaller fish to follow that first one up. These fish are definitely shoaling, patrolling the sand in loose groups. You can cast for half an hour and get nothing, then they turn up and it’s fifteen minutes of joy. I loved the idea of the sand in front of us being briefly invaded by these colourful fish, snapping up anything they can catch, then they disappear only to return again.
I didn’t want to change a winning formula and caught two more fish on the same lure. One of those two lifting it’s wings in a fighter jet style, poised to take off. As lovers of light tackle, admiring the beautiful looks and entertaining fights of this species was absolute perfection. We were definitely enjoying ourselves, but there was more to come, as in my tackle bag lay a treasure trove of shiny lures to try. With that in mind, I joined Richard in trying out the Majorcraft Fighting Claw – a crayfish imitation. Mine was a bright pink version, rigged on a 3g jighead with a small blade on it, Richard’s being far more subtle being dark blue.
It wasn’t going to be a gurnard that took my lure next though, in fact it wasn’t even going to be a fish…
I cast out and bumped the lure back slowly as usual and the rod tip kept bouncing as I missed hit after hit, which was unusual for a gurnard. As I got nearer to the boulders, fishing almost under my feet, I had a more solid bite and stuck into…
A weird weight was the only way I could describe it. Was this weed? I lifted the mass up and it pulsed! I had caught a cephalopod, a small cuttlefish to be precise. The cuttle exploded with ink and water and we all laughed as we couldn’t believe what I had hooked! As I worked out how to handle this alien looking creature, I couldn’t help but be impressed by it’s ever changing colours, alternating in waves across it’s body. The hook was in it’s short tentacles, but I was cautious to avoid the sharp beak hidden beneath them. The impending darkness made it difficult to get a decent photo but I did my best and dropped it back into the sea.
With that flukey catch now returned and the sky darkening above us, we knew we didn’t have long to catch more. Luckily another wave of tubs was patrolling the sand in front of us, with a small fish taking the bright pink Fighting Claw. I then put on one of my favourite soft plastic lures – the Keitech Custom Leech in Morning Dawn. Using the same technique as before, this lure really did the trick, tempting a better gurnard almost as soon as it hit the water.
That gorgeous fish would be my final as it was time to call it a night. A fantastic two hours on the Devon coast with mates, the things August evenings just be made of. If you get a chance to target gurnards on light tackle, I completely recommend it. They are a fish that are simple to catch, great to look at and really reward the light tackle angler.