• Ben Bassett

Catching Wrasse On Lures

Although I may be an LRF angler at heart, I still dabble with the heavier lures too. One of my favourite targets on the heavier gear is the ballan wrasse - think of a multicoloured tank with fins! Affectionately known as 'Rock Pigs', these powerful crab munchers are one of the most popular UK sea species, mostly due to their large size, ease to catch and powerful fight. Ballan wrasse are a rare example of a saltwater species remaining popular despite not being a table fish. Lucky for wrasse, they not fine eating.

A classically coloured ballan wrasse.

The majority of ballan wrasse are caught by casual anglers on heavy rods with ragworm or crab as bait. Over the last decade though, targeting them on lures has become more popular. In the first week of June, I joined my good mate Ryan Goudie on a big pig hunt, using a variety of lures to see if we could find a fish over the magic 4lb mark. It proved to be an epic session, here's how we got on...

Ryan with an orange green chunk.

Ryan knew of a fairly remote low water mark, where the big spring tide would expose thick weeded gulleys and give us access to rocks normally submerged by water. I have to say I was excited, Ryan had tales of catching big fish after big fish, he didn't need to tell me more, I was already salivating! I have fished a lot of the popular marks in South Devon but hadn't come across this one before, there is always a buzz of excitement to fish a new mark, especially if your mate has been bigging it up!

A smaller ballan catching it's breath in a rockpool, ready for release.

We arrived on a cool, overcast morning, knowing our spot would be fairly sheltered from the wind that was whipping over us. Wrasse marks are often down difficult paths or even involve climbing down cliffs with ropes! That isn't to say they are only there, we are lucky to have some monsters swimming around the seafront of Plymouth and most rocky harbours or cities will be the same. I will say though that in my experience, wrasse will often get wise to lures fairly quickly or they will move after being caught a couple of times. This has led me to try and find new marks with plenty of naive wrasse to target, which that day we were hoping to find.

No wrasse looks the same, the polka-dot spots on this one's chin are really unique.

My HRF (stands for heavy rock fishing) rod is the brilliant Anyfish Anywhere Tournament Lure rod rated from 7-28g. It's 8ft long and has a surprisingly sensitive tip backed up with real power in the blank, perfect for wrasse fishing. Anything of similar spec will do. I back that up with a 3000 size reel loaded with 20lb Daiwa J Braid. Connected to the braid via an FG Knot is 4-6 ft of 20lb Fluorocarbon. Fluoro is perfect for wrassing as they live in rough ground and fluoro is extremely abrasion resistant. If the ground is really rough then I will go for an even longer leader so I have more faith in bullying the fish when needed.

I'm really impressed by this rod, a real wrasse whacking stick.

We had arrived at the mark and clambered over the heavily weeded rocks that jutted out onto the sand. The water looked crystal clear and every time the breeze let up, the water would settle long enough to peek into the aquarium like gulleys below. I couldn't have been keener to wet a line. Ryan advised me to focus on the gulley to my right, where rock met sand, he had done well there before.

The texas rig is the most popular way to target wrasse on lures, these simple blue shads catch me a lot of ballan wrasse.

I rigged up a Texas Rig using a ten gram tungsten bullet weight, glass bead and a Crazy Fish size 1 weedless hook (any strong size 1 or 2 weedless hook will do). The glass bead has the twin effects of both protecting your knot and creating a knocking sound every time the weight hits it - wrasse are inquisitive and a little sound can work wonders. Lure choice I was going to rig on my most reliable wrasse lure - a dark blue 9cm soft plastic paddletail. The paddletail I was using on that cast was just an unbranded one from China but you can find so many different brands out there - the 7.5cm Monkey Lures King Lui from the the SFL store are perfect. I prefer paddletails to stick baits for wrasse but other anglers will say the opposite, it's just personal choice.

This longer paddletail from @rad_baits on Instagram was popular on the day.

I made my first cast into the unknown. I let the lure sink to the bottem, feeling the weight thud onto the rocks. I had buried my hookpoint into the soft plastic of the lure, giving me confidence I wouldn't snag. I then tightened up and flicked the lure off the bottom, letting it sink back down, then I let it stay still for a few seconds - no bites yet. I repeated the trick, flick, reel in the slack, rest the lure on the seabed for moment. The key to lure fishing for wrasse is having the confidence to leave your lure stationary for up to 10 seconds at a time, often a wrasse will attack it when the lure is completely still.

A rock pig living up to it's name.

I kept it up and I knew I was approaching the strike zone, the lure had dropped into the gulley in front of me. I left it still for a second, THUD THUD on the rod tip, the classic ballan bite. One more THUD and I struck hard. The rod bent over into a good fish, my drag was set firm but still the fish took line. My heart raced as I knew this was a decent wrasse, the fish tried to bury itself in the weed in front of me. Lifting the rod high, angled against the fish so I could bully the beast out. I couldn't break my 4lb personal best on my first cast could I? Ryan certainly thought so, hyping me up as the tail of the fish slapped the surface with anger. The fish could see the kelp below him and kept diving for it, it had surprising stamina for a ballan! I managed to turn his head and with a gulp of air he was done, beaten and now coming to the net without resistance.

A few ounces short of the magic 4lb but a beast all the same.

What a start! Ryan lifted the green and orange beauty from the water, his flanks mottled with blues, browns and yellow. I knew it was a 'He' by his colourful complexion, male wrasse are more colourful than the females. This chap was no different, with swirling orange stripes around the cream of his chin. My original hope of him weighing over 4lb were dashed by the scales going 3lb 11oz. As he rested in the rockpool below me though, I wasn't disappointed; there lay my best fish of a very weird and disjointed year.

Like all of my wrasse I returned him to the water as delicately as possible, he kicked his tail and dove into the kelp to rest and sulk.

My best wrasse of the year so far, on my first cast!