As anglers we are all different. Some of us consider it pointless going fishing unless you can fish for the table and feed the family. Others just want to go and have a relaxed day catching whatever comes along and then there are those who want to only fish for species that push the scales over the 10lb mark. There are many reasons and that what makes every trip different and exciting.
For me, fishing is the thrill of the chase, not just the size of catch or whether edible or not. It is generally agreed that the stocks in our seas are sadly much depleted, a lot poorer than what it was twenty or thirty years ago. I’m not talking about just one species either but all-round fishing whether you consider it to be climate influenced or due to the intervention of man, once popular marks are now void of fish and successful fishing is becoming a lot harder from either the shore or boat.
What does appear to be on the increase is ‘species’ hunting! More and more anglers are tasking themselves to catch as many species as possible within a set timescale. It may be on one trip and in competition with mates or a combined total through their angling season or as is the case with the majority through a complete twelve month period. I too enjoy species hunting and love the trips where we need to seek out as many different fish from small mini species to large fish such as tope and conger eels that you need a bear hug to lift successfully. It takes a little bit of planning and set times on each mark, but it is always worth the effort.
Species hunting takes time, effort, and a small amount of good fortune along the way to bring the rewards home, but most of all it takes dedication. There will be many blanks when targeting a specific species and even a good number of overall blanks where you may have a successful day catching but sadly fail to add anything new to your list, it is though the possibility of success that keeps us coming back for more!
Mini species are those fish that do not exceed 1lb in weight. At my last time of looking the British record fish list contained 48 mini species that had been caught on rod and line around the UK. It is fair to say though that some of these are far more common than others. Wrasse such as corkwings and goldsinneys along with the poor cod for example appear often on many trip reports but the likes of red band fish, yarrels blenny and my personal nemesis the baillons wrasse have kept eluding many anglers over the years.
Owing to the immense publicity it has received for over a decade now the U.K. has seen an upsurge in LRF ‘light rock fishing’. Many different species can be caught fishing this style; however, the capture of mini species, including sea scorpions, blennies and gobies that thrive over broken rocky ground has found new kudos and become far more respectable a past time than in previous years!
My best tope is a 50lb’er caught with Mike Jones aboard Greyhound in Barmouth over twenty years ago, but my best species and most memorable catch that same year was a small rock goby of barely an ounce in weight. Despite many attempts, I’d only ever caught rock gobies previously from the shore. Having seen a few come aboard a boat earlier that year I vowed I’d get one! Later that season, whilst fishing a late autumn trip on the Menai Strait, I finally managed to pull one to the boat.
On that trip, I wasn’t using a general boat fishing set up, I had purposely scaled down the end tackle to target mini species, and the rock goby was my challenge for that trip. 10lb rig body and snood line tied with size 16 freshwater hooks and the tiniest piece of ragworm you could see!
To set out and target mini species when afloat, bite detection is important, and rods need to be far lighter with a great deal more sensitivity than we are accustomed to using when boat fishing.
For a long time now, this type of rod known as Bolo or Bolognese was more often found in fresh water angling. They are telescopic and can reach up to 8 or 9 meters in length, all with an extremely sensitive tip action. However, they are also available on the UK sea fishing scene. Boat match anglers have for over twenty years advocated this style of rod for certain boat angling situations with 5 and 6 meter rods from manufacturers such as Tubertini, Grauvel, and Artico often being used when targeting certain species of fish, the likes of bream, gurnard, whiting etc. Sensitivity and the ability to cover more ground with the larger rods proving invaluable in some matches.
But they do come at a price that is often too high for a rod that will only get used pleasure fishing on the odd occasion. The need for a similar rod, lighter on the pocket yet retaining the positive bite indication of the smaller species is slowly being addressed by many tackle manufacturers.
PENN for example recently brought out the Wrath Bolescopic rods. These new lightweight telescopic rods are available in 2 different sizes; a light 7ft version rated for leads up to 110g and a larger 8ft rod capable of handling weights up to 250g. Both rods are fast action made up of five graphite blanks and benefiting from titanium oxide LS guides. Sensitive tips that offer great bite detection and exceptional value for money with RRP prices of £39.99 and £49.99 respectively.
Aboard My Way 2 they are available to trial with either a 4000 sized PENN Battle or Slammer Fixed Spool 4000 reel. Another option is the new PENN Low Profile baitcast reels, either Squall or Fathom versions that are perfectly suited to the rod and offer a light, well balanced set up.
The PENN Squall Low Profile baitcast reels have the durability you would expect from PENN products. A full metal body, 5+1 stainless steel bearing system, and machined brass gears that give the Squall durability at its core. Available in 200, 300 and 400 sizes with both standard and high-speed gear ratio.
As with most forms of angling, one rig won’t suit all. Whereby some mini species may happen along to a general scratch rig, to be more successful a targeted approach is a better idea. Most mini species can be caught with simple baited sabiki paternoster style rigs, whilst others will prefer a ledgered bait, with another quickly tied alternative being a 2 or 3 hook simple drop shot rig.
Most of all, boat anglers must remember to scale down their gear. Targeting small fish calls for light and less intrusive end tackle. 10lb fluorocarbon for the rig body, snood and small freshwater hooks. There are plenty on the market, however Kamasan B980 size 16 work perfectly for small mouths.
Most baits work, but generally mackerel and ragworm out fish others for small, predatory mini species but remember to match the bait to the hook – tiny little pieces often no bigger than a sunflower seed ensuring the hook point is clear and proud of the bait.
Moving back to the rod and reel set up briefly… not everyone has a selection to choose from and often we need to make do with one or two different rods for most of our angling adventures. If this is the case, but we still want to try and catch more mini species a good method, especially at anchor in light tides or still waters when fishing close inshore or over slack water for example is to watch your line! Let slightly more line out than what is required and look for movement from the line itself, be it on the surface or small movements to the rod tip. A method I often see when drifting are anglers favouring to hold the line between the reel and first guide, feeling for the bites of not only the smaller species, but ballans, cuckoos and pollack etc too. However, whether at anchor or drift, don’t be too eager to strike, just lift the rod and reel in remembering that despite their size, mini species are quite territorial and predatory and when feeding tend to hit a bait well.
Our mini species boated over the years is respectable for the area and includes the likes of 5 bearded rocklings, common blennies, tompots, black & rock gobies plus many more including the awesome looking leopard spotted gobies. They are caught often at anchor on rocky or broken ground where there tends to be a good mix of fish of all sizes to target and including mini species as the tide slackens off and they come out of their nests to feed. Alternatively you can pick them up when drifting close inshore around local marks such as the aptly named Rocky Coast, or the broken ground off South Stack and Abrahams Bosom.
These areas hold a plentiful amount of ballan and cuckoo wrasse but also a good number of mini species for those happy to scale down their end tackle.
At the crews request or on specific trips when tide and conditions allow, we will run a part of a day targeting these small species of fish. We have a few trips already planned for 2022. One trip from last season stands out. The afternoon was set aside for rays, tope and huss but for a couple hours in the morning it was decided to fish a mark down on the Llyn Peninsular called Trefor.
Trefor has a stone breakwater that was constructed in 1870 for the export of stone from a quarry on the slopes of Yr Eifl. It was extended in the early 1900s to include a wooden pier for ships to come alongside; however this has sadly been demolished since falling into a state of disrepair.
We arrived at the mark at low water and with gin clear seas and no wind it was ideal conditions for us to fish alongside the seaward facing part of the jetty. The lads onboard were geared up with small hooks, sabikis and tiny slithers of bait. Dropping the baits to the bottom being in only eight foot of water you could watch the swarms of mini species leaving the safety of the kelp on the hunt for food. Corkwing wrasse, rock gobies and lesser weavers were being caught one after the other… plenty to keep us entertained and enjoying this frantic style of fishing.
As the tide flooded and more water filled the small drying harbour, we were able to slip the boat around the corner of the jetty in search of other species. Now in just four foot of water we were catching shannys, one after the other! Common Blennies to give them their true name started to hit the hooks from small one inch specimens to a hefty size of six inches.
I never get tired of watching them swim out of the nooks and crannies of the old stone jetty and chase your baits, appearing to walk up the stone wall following sabikis and the tiniest of mackerel strip until they hit the hook. On this trip we had only intended to stay an hour or maybe two but ended up enjoying over three hours of mini fishing with the anglers often peering down the wall and choosing the fish they wanted to try and catch.
As alluded to earlier in the article, fishing for such small species, maybe just a foot or so from a breakwater or jetty wall when you could be twenty miles offshore is not for everyone. It takes a little bit of dedication. What it does happen to be is an exciting change to the norm. Watching your prey for example, targeting a particular fish and adding an all-time new specie, or just new for that year is a great feeling and enjoyed by many.