During last winter, I challenged myself to catch the Three-Bearded Rockling, and in particular, one over specimen size (1lbs 12oz). The smaller varieties are extremely common around most shore marks, particularly rough-ground venues containing boulders, kelp-beds and “reefy” areas, also affectionately known as “tackle grave yards!”
I had previously picked a few likely-looking shore marks and surveyed the areas during the day at low water. This gave a great insight into the lay-out of the sea bed, and you could almost imagine these mini-predators holding up in ambush areas ahead of gullies or behind a strategic weed-covered boulder! It also gave the opportunity to scan the area for possible “snags”, identifying gullies and marks where tackle losses will be at a minimum.
On my first session, I hooked into a huge Rockling that was not only above specimen size, it stood a chance of nudging the Irish Record! As it neared the landing net, it spat my baited hook back at me and calmly turned, cruising to the safety of the kelp beds and boulders below! My heart sank, it has to be said. However, even with failure there is always some light to be found at the end of the tunnel. I had tempted and almost landed a huge Rockling. They were there, and I was definitely on the right track. With this much-needed adrenaline shot, I persevered into the night.
An hour or so later, I took a strange bite, almost a gentle pull. Slowly lifting the bait to the surface, a white glow followed it up some way, before returning to the depths. I thought it may have been an edible crab, but couldn’t quite make it out in the poor light. This occurred several times before a positive thump bent my home-made LRF rod over in a steady arc. “Maybe a small Conger?” I thought, but was amazed to see a squat, bulbous little black fish break the surface. Its cream-coloured cavernous mouth was the white glow I had seen in the dark, following the bait to the surface! There was no mistaking; I had found and caught my first Tadpole Fish!
Fair enough, not a Rockling on this occasion, but this was a new species for me, and definitely an exciting bonus catch to my list of species. After checking on-line later, my Tadpole Fish was amongst the top ten heaviest ever recorded throughout Europe.
On my second visit, accompanied by my brother, smaller Rockling showed well, always capable of devouring a mouthful of bait designed for much larger quarry. As we chatted about calling it quits for another night, a “last cast” drop in a gulley between several huge boulders produced a violent “take” and an exciting struggle for my home-made quiver-tip rod. In the glare of the head-lamp, I safely netted a sizeable Rockling. This was no-where near the previous lost monster, but definitely worth weighing. She nudged the needle a millimetre over the 1lb 12oz mark on the scales, and I was absolutely delighted to land species number thirty-three over specimen weight.
The nature of the habitat determines the tackle requirements. I built a couple of rods from old broken rods, one was a salmon rod, shortened with a reel seat and quiver tip added, the other was the top section of a very old Shakespeare “Ugly Stik” spinning rod, rings re-positioned and a real seat added. This is a nice set-up as it is practically un-breakable should a larger fish show up. I used small Abu bait-caster reels loaded with 50lb braid. The reason to keep the rod short, three/four feet, is simply to be able to drop a baited hook between boulders and gullies at your feet, a little bit like ice-fishing in some respects. Longer rods can be un-wieldy and awkward.
A single snood swivel was trapped on the braid between float stops and a simple clip attached to the bottom for the weight. If the hook catches on a “snag”, the float stops will slip, and on most occasions, the hook will free itself. A 20lb b/s snood and a 10lb b/s weak-link to the lead meant that the main-line always remained in-tact. It is a simple task to re-tie a snood or add another lead. Specimen Rockling have a huge mouth, so bait was kept large to put off smaller fish, and whipped in place with bait elastic on size 1-1/0 hook, mainly to stop nuisance crabs stripping the hook too quick.
I made a few “sacrificial” lead weights, using one half of a 2oz lead-mould. With a weak-link of nylon between clip and lead, it was simple to “snap” it off and attach a new one, should it become caught on an underwater obstruction. Using these procedures allows more angling time and less on-site rig-construction, important when the angling window of opportunity can be narrow when fishing over particular states of the tide.
At this time of year, fresh bait is scarce. We relied upon previously frozen Mackerel supplies. However, a trip to the local supermarket found plenty of fresh Spratt. These went down particularly well. Calamari Squid produced little, which surprised me, but the handful of frozen peeler crab that we had in reserve were eagerly attacked by the smaller Shore Rockling.
Large Rockling are voracious predators. If you are not adverse to using live-bait, I am sure there are a multitude of options to try. Small Blennies, Butterfish, Gobies, Pipe-fish, Prawns and Scorpion Fish are all favourite delicacies on the Rockling’s menu. For the full article on my hunt for Three-Beards, check out www.angling-ireland.com.