Although wrasse can be caught from the shore pretty much anytime from April on, it’s August when the wrasse fishing really hits top gear. This falls in nicely with many anglers summer holidays, and with minimal tackle you can enjoy some great sport.
For average sized wrasse up to 3 or 4lbs, a 2-4oz spinning rod, such as the Penn Powerstix or SALT Extreme, is ideal. Match these to a fixed spool reel such as the Penn Pursuit in the 5000 size. Load this with 20lb braid.
The best way to fish for wrasse is with a float. Its great fun, and highly effective. The set up is simple. On to the braid slide on two rubber rig stops, or tie on a sliding stop knot using a short length of spare 20lb mono line using a 4-turn Grinner knot. You use this, by sliding the stop knot up and down on the braid line, to adjust the depth that the bait sits at below the float.
Now slide on a size 5mm bead, then a cigar shaped float about 8-inches long, followed by a round bullet weight about a 1/2oz, or just heavy enough to cock the float so that the top shows just above the surface. Now tie on a small swivel. To the swivel add 18-inches of 20lb Fluorocarbon line, though clear mono will do. The reason we use Fluorocarbon is that it has a harder surface area and resists the teeth of the wrasse better then standard mono. The hook size should be a 2/0, but use a strong hook such as a Viking pattern.
If you are new to fishing, many coastal angling shops stock the Shakespeare float kits which have the above rig ready tied for you.
You don’t need special bait for wrasse. Collecting a few small hardback crabs from the shore line will give you some great bait. The crabs need to be about the size of a 50p piece or slightly smaller. When baiting up, first pinch the crab between the eyes to dispatch it. Working from the back of the crab, pass the hook upwards through the belly and bring the hook point fully out of the back. This allows the crab to hang in the water with the legs out in a natural presentation that is attractive to wrasse. Being fished on a float, the rise and fall of the float on the seas surface gives movement to the crabs legs.
Worm baits, such as lug and ragworm, work well too, but tend to target the smaller fish.
Now we know how to set up to catch wrasse, the next step is to learn where they live. Wrasse are found around man made structures, such as breakwaters, piers and harbour walls, especially breakwaters built up from big individual boulders that leave big holes and cracks in between. However the best of the fishing is from rock ledges along the open coast. In both cases there is rarely any need to cast as the fish are right in under your feet working amongst the cracks and rock fissures seeking out crabs and small bait fish. Do look though, for water deeper than 8-feet, which seems to be the minimum depth at which the bigger wrasse are comfortable in.
Wrasse are not fussy fish and will feed fairly well in bright sunlight, but tend to take best on the more overcast days. Low water is the best time to fish for wrasse from the open coast rocks, and for the first two or three hours of the flood tide, as this is when the waterline rocks are best exposed to give access to the best fish holding feature. Tide time is less critical when working from breakwaters due to the generally greater depth of water.
To start fishing, set the float to fish the bait at about 8-feet, but slide the float stops up a foot at a time if you get no bites until you find the depth at which the fish are concentrated at. Keep the float within two or three feet of the rocks allowing the crab to wash along the rock ledges until the wrasse find it.
Wrasse bites are aggressive so watch the float all the time. It will literally be there one second, and disappear the next, as a wrasse takes. Immediately the float goes under, lift the rod and strike.
When you hook these incredibly powerful fish, expect them to dive for hidden cover. You need to bully the fish now and not allow it to reach a rock crack as it will inevitably go in head first and break you off. If you bully the fish, they usually put up an initial hard and powerful lunging fight, then pause. During this brief pause, get the fish up off the seabed and in to mid water. Big fish will make another dive now, so repeat the same tactic. Once you see them on the surface they are usually well beaten and can be swung or lifted in.
Wrasse are often multi coloured, beautiful looking fish and deserve care when unhooking. Here’s how. With a wet hand or better still a wet cloth, hold the fish gently but firmly around the belly for security with the head facing upwards, and with a small pair of long nosed pliers, just ease the hook out. After an admiring glance, get the fish back in the water to power away for home.
To keep catching, keep moving! Wrasse pick up on the fight disturbance of other hooked wrasse and one rock ledge might give you one or two fish, then go quiet. This is the sign to move on to the next rock ledge. Wrasse are also territorial and will have specific sections of rock ledge where they constantly patrol up and down. For this reason be patient if you don’t get instant bites, but after 20 to 30 minutes, if nothing happens, move on!
When rock fishing for wrasse, always be aware of the sea conditions and especially the wind! Calm seas are the safest conditions, but still watch for rogue swells and make sure you have a quick and easy way off the rocks to safety. If the wind and sea start to pick up with the flooding tide, be mindful again of sudden big swells and waves. If in doubt, come off, and fish somewhere safer!