With the long Irish West-coast winter finally behind us, a trip down along the rocks during the fine weather was badly wanted. Temperatures are rising, both air and water, shoals of Sandeels are in abundance and all the various sea birds including Gannets, Guillemots and Gulls are on the hunt to feed their young hatchlings. It’s a great time of the year to get out and do some fishing along the rocks with all the visible signs of life typically replicated far beneath the water’s surface. 

The target species for this session was Ballan Wrasse. These fish pack a punch for their size, pumping adrenaline through the anglers’ veins as they hit the baits unexpectedly fast and hard. Big lips, sharp teeth and strong jaws are a perfect combination for smashing shellfish and crabs. These predatory fish, although they may seem hardy, must also be treated with care, as an accidental drop on the rocks may prove to be fatal. The colour variations and patterns on Ballans vary from their habitat ranging from dark green, bright orange, yellows, browns and even some are dashed with spots of white. Wrasse are a nest fish and quite territorial, so it is recommended to practice catch and release for these sporting fish for all ages.

The wild West coast of Ireland is where we would be seeking today's quarry
Wrasse were to be the target, on lures would be nice, but we had rag to use too.

As we trekked through bogland and clambered down the rock face, the clear translucent waters of the wild Atlantic awaited us, with Clare Island sitting picturesque behind us guarding the entrance of Clew Bay. After a sweltering warm day, the evening brought a chill to remind us we are still in Irelands unpredictable climate.

Armed with jelly worms, sandeel imitation soft plastics and a trusty box of rag, we were prepared for whatever was in store for us. One of the most important things when fishing for Ballan Wrasse is the hook. From past heart-breaking experiences, you learn to ensure that your hook is strong enough to hold a fish, yet small enough to suit your bait. 

While the ballan runs for the cover of a snaggy bottom it is in your best interests to hold a firm tension without pulling the hook straight. When it comes to traces, simple is the key word. As you are more than likely going to be fishing over rough ground, the losing of a trace or some hooks will be inevitable. Depending on depth of water, I like to use either a 2oz or 3oz weight on a hand tied trace, with a maximum of 2 hooks presented as a flapper. This way, if you do end up losing gear, it should be minimal and you won’t be losing any beads or attractors on top of the forever occurring fishing equipment costs. In this type of fishing simple is always better.

Have you ever seen such vivid yellow on a scorpion fish?
Not the wrasse species in mind, but corkwing wrasse are a stunning species

After making the long trek across the fields and along the rugged rock ledges we were all set up and ready for action. The first fish of the day fell to my brother Ryan on a ledgered piece of ragworm. A nice sized scorpion fish of 18cm with colours only described as a rhubarb and custard coalition. A nice surprise for him and one to add to the species list for 2021. Although not the target species we were just happy that there was life below the surface.

I wasn’t far behind when a tap tap bang registered on my rod, and as the fish dove below the rockface, it caught me off guard. This meant I had to move about the rocks changing the angles of pressure trying to coax it out of the kelp! Once I had it freed from the kelp forest it didn’t take long to play it and once on the surface it was into the net. Like conger fishing over wrecks, wrasse fishing is all about those first few moments and getting it away from any potential cover… it gets much easier after that.

Rocky outcrops with lots of gulleys for wrasse to hide in is perfect ground, just a little tackle hungry!
38cm... not a bad start!

It was a good fish to start, measuring 38cm on the IFI measure. Then, like a light switch, it was a fish a cast, but not the species we were after unfortunately. Corkwing wrasse swarmed our baits in plague proportion (a good complaint). These fish have beautiful colours, from electric blues along their gill plates on the male to a gentle cream colour on the body of the females. The Corkwing doesn’t tend to grow very big and a fish of 20cm is a noteworthy catch.

To escape the hordes, Ryan switched up to a jelly worm threaded on a leadhead and it worked, as within moments he had hooked and landed a beautiful Ballan once again in the 30cm class. Around now, the Corkwings eased off the feed and all went slack… This is usually the moment to call it and head for home but as we were in no rush, we debated whether to stick it out a while longer. Thankfully we did! 

The corkwing started to come thick and fast!
47cm! A brilliant ballan.

Things were about to seriously improve… I switched back to the ragworm and flicked a bait into a likely looking spot. Before it even hit the bottom a fish raced midwater to meet it. “Ballan on” I shouted, “Big Ballan on!” I corrected myself. As the fish dove and dashed and dipped, with constant synchronised thumping, the rod was under pressure and I was feeling it myself, but the battle was coming to an end. 

Ryan and the net were on point, and with an expert dip, a sigh of relief came over me as the fish was safely in the net and secure. Measuring 47cm and well over 4.5lb I was delighted to have had the better fish that we were sure was lurking below all day! Many people are convinced the better Ballan’s in an area tend to show themselves first, after which the average size of catch will drop, so it was even more of a shock to land this special fish late in the session.

Colours and markings on ballans can vary greatly
We assure you this wrasse is not smoking!

With only two ragworm left, the understanding nod that this was to be the final cast was given, and like a planned display, both rods hooped over and gave a rhythmic show. This left no net man ready, as we both tried to land our fish by ourselves. The untold movie scene of every man for themselves was upon us, there was more than a few choice words as we scrambled along the rocks to try and keep contact with the meaty Ballans. Luck was on our side as the tide had dropped just enough to slide each fish into a tidal rock pool that was now accessible. 

With the light beginning to fade, the bait gone and the midges beginning to swarm it was definitely time for home. The final two fine fish to cap off the evening measured in at 42cm for Ryan and a 46cm fish for myself. A lovely double shot in anyone’s book!

After arriving home and looking at the specimen length required for Ballans, I could hardly talk as I was only 1cm away from claiming a specimen Ballan Wrasse fish for 2021. Were the fish specimen weight? That is unknown but like every sport, there’s always next time.

Another 45cm+ Ballan!
The larger wrasse are fantastic fighters for their size and are great sport for all ages.