Have you ever wondered just how many species it’s possible to catch on rod and line in UK saltwater? It’s staggering! There are over 90 major species and some 40 mini-species on the UK record list. With a hint of imagination, you could add a few more as potentials that have been taken commercially but not yet on rod and line.
In addition, species hunts are now featuring more and more in angling club competition calendars, both boat and shore. The modern thinking clubs now give awards for the most species caught within the year, awards for the most rare species, and for the biggest of a species, in addition to the usual club champion and team awards etc.
It’s not so surprising then, that species hunting is now the fastest growing branch of sea angling, far out-weighing those taking up the match fishing and specimen (big fish) hunting categories.
The majority of beach anglers though, still struggle to average more than ten species in a year, and regular boat anglers maybe only five more than that. Most areas of Britain give you the opportunity to at least double that count and it’s not difficult to do.
HOW DO I CATCH MORE SPECIES?
The key for shore anglers is to switch from your usual venues. If you mostly fish the beaches for cod, whiting, dogfish, dabs, sole and bass, ask yourself when was the last time you fished your nearest pier or harbour wall with float tackle for mackerel, pollack and garfish, or tried the estuary creeks and harbour boat moorings for mullet, flounders, weevers and eels.
Even this though, can’t give you the variety that rock fishing will. Just three or four trips a year to rock marks facing the open sea and giving access to deep water will substantially boost your species count. These are the marks that produce shore rarities like ling, spurdog, tadpole fish and the unusual flattie called a top-knot.
Next you can start thinking about trips designed to put you in with a chance of a specific species. What about a trigger fish from Chesil Beach in Dorset, maybe a gilthead bream from Salcombe, or a trip to the Channel Islands might give you a golden grey mullet or a marbled electric ray.
Boat anglers should consider taking trips to the south and west coast where tope, bream, bass and sharks are most likely to show. The Cornish and Devon coasts might see you dink out a red band fish. These achieved, go north to the Scottish lochs for a black mouthed dogfish, haddock or a common skate.
The south-west of Ireland offers the chance of six-gilled shark, or go offshore float-fishing for the only recently identified short beaked garfish – Belone svetovidovi. Take a boat trip off the Irish west coast and you might pick up the other rare flattie, a megrim.
It takes no studying, but if you combine both boat and shore fishing, then your death bed species list is going to be quite staggering.
METHODS AND TACTICS
When ever possible, fish your usual rod baited with fish, crab or worm for the typical conger, huss, bass, cod, flats and rays, but also take a second rod along which is your species hunter.
This can be used to experiment. Try a two or three hook rig, but use small hooks such as size 2, 4 or 6, even go as small as size 12 Aberdeen’s and bait these with tiny strips of mackerel, worm or shellfish. This locates sea scorpions, pout, poor cod, rocklings, gurnards, weevers, blennies, gobies, dragonets, shannies, plus rare wrasse such as goldsinny and corkwings and many more. You’ll find that the mini species feed best in daylight. Maybe it’s to do with the major predators being more active at night that forces the minis to hide out and not feed.
Mini species also seem to feed better in bright, even sunny conditions and clear water. Again, I think it’s linked to limited predator activity in these conditions. Overcast days with coloured seas see catches of the minis fall.
Because these mini species are so small, expect to find them in areas where the tide run is lessened by a natural obstruction, otherwise, they will feed best during slack water periods.
Mostly, the minis are close in, especially over rough seabed’s and casting is not a factor.
USE A VARIETY OF BAITS
Too many anglers rely solely on worm baits when shore fishing. Baiting with peeler crab will add smoothhounds, coalfish, and rainbow coloured ballan and cuckoo wrasse when casting in amongst the rocks. Over clean ground, small fillets of sandeel takes turbot.
Also try a small worm bait or crab bait, but add a small sliver of mackerel, sandeel, squid or shellfish to the hook point. Many smaller unusual species will ignore a single individual bait, but take a combination of two different baits.
Fishing from the rocks on to clean sand suggests rays will be resident, but fishing a typical mackerel bait will only really interest thornbacks and blonde rays, whereas the added option of having a packet of frozen sandeels with you gives the chance of contacting small eyed and spotted rays.
Spinning or float fishing from piers, breakwaters and rocks can be used to add pollack, mackerel and garfish to the list. Dropping right down to small size 12 hooks and baiting with tiny scraps of mackerel can also induce an interest from launce sandeels. The same tactic along the west coast can also pick up sand smelt.
Float tackle is not normally associated with boat fishing, but worth carrying if you’re shark fishing. Garfish, pilchards, scad and herring will swim and feed in the rubby dubby scent trail when shark fishing and come close enough to the surface to be taken on float tackle.
And the advice on carrying a variety of baits and fishing small hooks from time to time, especially over shallow inshore reefs, is just as effective aboard the boat. You’ll get small wrasse and a variety of gobies again.
Another tactic is to fish baited feathers. Not the big Hokkai’s or mackerel feathers, but the smaller Mustad Shrimp rigs. These pick up smaller species and will add herring, launce sandeels, plus greater and lesser weevers.
RIGS FOR MINI SPECIES
For the general rocklings, gurnards, poor cod and other standard small species, a normal two or three hook rig and size 4 to 6 Aberdeen’s will fish well enough. But for the smaller mini species like gobies, shannies, the smaller wrasse etc, then you need to go finer still.
Remember these smaller species will be tight to the seabed and their size limits them from being able to dart out and intercept baits passing by on the tidal current. They must scavenge to eat. With this in mind I’ve found the following rig excellent at dinking out the minis.
Take 16ins of 20lb clear mono for close in work, or 30lb mono for light casting. Tie on a size 2/0 oval split-ring at the base. Now slide on two size 12 rolling swivels by one eye only. At the top of the rig tie on a size 10 rolling swivel. The rotating swivels need to be positioned about 2ins above the split-ring and 2ins below the top swivel. I use 15lb Powergum knots to lock the swivels in place. There is no need for beads. keep the main rig as light as possible.
The hook lengths need be no longer than 6ins and can be either 5lb clear mono over cleanish ground, or 10lb if the seabed is rocky. The hooks to use are size 10 or 16s.
An alternative rig to try, especially over the rough ground is a one hook pulley rig. The pulley rig actually helps to magnify minimum bite movement on the rod tip at close range. Use 20ins of 20lb to 30lb clear mono with a small split-ring at the base. Slide on a small bead, slide on a size 10 rolling swivel, another bead and end by tying on another size 10 swivel. The hook length needs to be about 10ins long and of 8lbs mono. Use a single size 8 to 10 hook and bait with a small crab claw or leg.
This rig is good for the smaller wrasse like goldsinny and corkwing that lift a little way off the bottom to feed during slack water. They hook themselves against the rod tip as they don’t have the power to really move the lead.
Have you noticed what else has been happening here? We’ve added spinning and float fishing techniques, new baits and bait combinations, and got you thinking about different types of marks and venues!
Up until species fishing became popular, these methods, baits and marks were really only used by the specialist sea angler with most anglers relying solely on ledger fishing with worm or mackerel from the local beach.
As a consequence, you’ll find that focusing on trying to catch more species does not only increase your enjoyment of sea fishing, but dramatically improves your overall abilities. You’ll also find you experience far fewer blank days and always manage to catch something in your quest for added species.
Nowadays, I enjoy the best of both worlds by combining boat and shore fishing to compile a personal overall list for the year. My annual minimum target is 30 species. I’ve managed to achieve this for the last 18 years running, with a best count of 47. It’ll be tough, but I’m still aiming for 50 in a single year!