Summer has arrived at last, and the sea is showing signs of warming. The shore angler can now enjoy the benefits of this rise in temperature, as many Irish species begin to move inshore, and importantly, within casting range.
One of the most prolific and obliging of these species is the Ballan Wrasse. They can be found around the entire Irish coastline at this time of year, and provide potential for superb sport, not only to the experienced shore angler but also for beginners.
Once hooked, the power of a Ballan wrasse can be heart stopping, especially a fish in excess of three pounds. Using their large tail fin to maximum effect makes the first run for cover almost un-stoppable, but stop it you must, or run the risk of losing the fish amongst kelp fronds and rocky gullies.
Wrasse are designed by nature to inhabit reefs, kelp beds and similar un-hospitable areas, where tidal currents and wave action will dislodge food items such as shellfish and crustaceans. They are able to over-come these dangerous areas due to the tough, armour plating of scales and solid body density that can withstand heavy impact. The powerful tail fin can easily deal with strong currents, as any wrasse angler will testify, and the fins are equipped with protective spines to ward off predators.
So, with this information, when seeking wrasse it makes sense to target rough ground marks close to shore that are at least twenty feet deep at low water. Around our Irish shores there are no shortages of inshore reefs and massive beds of kelp weed, and it’s a certainty that wrasse are resident in most of them.
Crustaceans such as crabs and prawns, along with shellfish, are the staple diet of ballan wrasse. Powerful jaws make short work of a crab’s armour, and the row of spine-like teeth are excellent tools to prise and scrape barnacles off the rock face. Seed mussels are a particular favourite, and larger wrasse will often snap up the occasional sandeel or sprat that washes past in a strong tidal current.
It is of no surprise that all these natural baits are superb as a hook bait, especially peeler crab, however, if you are looking for quantity of fish rather than quality, ragworm has to be the number one favourite, they simply love the things!
A pound of ragworm is usually enough for a wrasse session. Although it will tempt the occasional large fish, rag will also account for a great deal of juveniles. To pick out the larger specimens, try a hard- back, green shore crab. Bites may be slower but once hooked, the powerful dives of a four pound plus fish will make the wait worthwhile.
Peeler crab will work very well, but whip it to the hook with elastic thread; ballans are experts at stripping a hook in seconds. Plugs and spinners have accounted for many large fish and it is only a matter of time before fly- fishing for wrasse becomes main-stream.
When choosing wrasse tackle, choice is determined by the area to be fished. It is a fore-gone conclusion that the potential hot spot will be extremely “snaggy”, but weather and tidal strength may be a factor, along with the chosen method or approach.
In general, a light beach caster set up is fine and will cope with almost any situation. However, a carp or pike rod with a two and a half to three pound test curve is a delight to use and will give a wrasse the potential to demonstrate its power to the full. A rod of this type will double up as a float rod, should conditions dictate.
Standard bottom gear is a single hook paternoster, and should always be tied as un-complicated as possible. Chances are, quite a few rigs will be lost during a session so refrain from expensive link swivels and lead links, when a simple over hand loop will suffice. By making sure the hook snood is lighter than the main line, and incorporating a weak link between the lead weight and main trace, tackle losses will be kept to a minimum. Hook sizes range from 1/0 through to 4/0 depending on bait size, but strong patterns are required such as kamasan or mustad bln’s.
Float fishing is a visual and exciting way to target wrasse and can be a useful method if the area is simply too rough to bottom fish. A sliding float will be necessary, using a bead and sliding knot set at the required depth, with a drilled bullet weight to cock the float and provide casting weight. Ballans will usually indicate an interest with the float bobbing before burying out of sight. This is the cue to strike and keep the power on, preventing the wrasse from diving to the safety of the weed beds.
As with all rock marks, it cannot be over stated just how dangerous the sea can be. Treat all fishing adventures with the greatest of respect. Check weather conditions and dress accordingly. Inform someone of your plans for the day and when you are likely to return. Carry a means of communication and check that your phone signal is strong in that area. Also carry enough food and drink and bring a companion along. Common sense goes a long way; if conditions look unsafe, postpone the trip or fish elsewhere. Safe and fun angling to all.