Year-round resident wrasse

Year-round resident wrasse

No I haven’t given up bass lure fishing!

With a flooding tide, decent water clarity and mild temperatures, I was extremely excited (as always) about the prospect of being out lure fishing. Admittedly, bass were the target species and as I drove through the pre-dawn darkness, I allowed myself a glimmer of expectation and hope of what lay ahead…

I arrived in the car-park about 30 minutes before first light; which enabled enough time for me to walk to the first mark and make my first casts over the twilight period. As I pulled on my waders and jacket, I heard and then caught a glimpse of an owl mysteriously gliding through the nearby trees – absolutely wonderful…

The South Devon coastline showing off


Pick a spot

For this session, I chose a stretch of coastline that enabled me to fish a number of marks, all within close proximity of each other (around 200 yards). My intentions were to target an area of faster moving current with a hard minnow lure, a couple of coves with various soft plastics and also a zone adjacent to a beach; from which I would bounce a paddletail around on the seabed.

The first mark I tried is a small secluded cove that you can cast into, or across from either side of due to the rock formations. The seabed here is essentially a platform of flat rock (with small amounts of weed) that just slopes gently down into deeper water. It isn’t desperately ‘snaggy’ and you can get away with trotting lures along the bottom. But first up I was blasting a hard minnow lure out and across the mouth of the cove and parallel to the rocks on the outer edge.

I was effectively casting ‘up tide’ in the hope that a bass (or a shoal) would be moving up the coastline on the flooding tide as the light increased. I’ve caught a quite a few bass here before in January therefore, I was hopeful, rather than expectant, that on this mild February day there might be a few about…

A few lure changes eventually ensued – alternating between weedless weightless soft plastics such as the Do-Live Stick, Megabass Dot Crawler, IMA Hound Glide and Daiwa Shoreline Shiner Z120F but it proved fruitless therefore, I clambered across to the next spot some 50 yards away.

Onto the next mark…


Go with the flow…

The next mark is essentially a myriad of ‘steps of rock’ from which you need to retreat as the tide floods. It enables you to cast a lure (from a number of stances) out into quite a fast-moving body of water – that is funnelled between a couple a ‘islands’ both about 80 – 100 yards from your stance.

The actual seabed eventually leads (again in steps) down onto a narrow strip of sand that runs parallel to your position for about 50 yards or so. For this reason I tend not to fish lures hard on the bottom and instead, concentrate on utilising the flow of the current by twitching soft plastics, or  working surface lures (in warmer water conditions especially). My logic was that if there were any bass about, they could be positioning themselves and then waiting for items to be ‘swished’ past on the current…

I persisted for a good 2 -3 hours with this method, but with the tide nearing its peak I decided to move a further 100 yards or so down the rocks. It was at this stage that I met another fisherman prevalent around these parts – a happy looking seal this time, popping his head up in the exact location that my lure had been swimming through only 30 seconds previously… Are seals a good sign?

Just after dawn – time to take it all in…


Tap, tap, tap

The next location is a nice promontory, out of the main current this time, in which you can cast over and into some relatively clean ground – more sand and weed, rather than sand and rocks. The seabed here is affected by the movement of sand from the nearby beach, meaning that after a storm the sand can either be dragged away or indeed greatly increased upon. To confirm this, when looking at the historical images on Google Maps the seabed appears different across four separate images. I imagine any rock formations are very flat with patches of weed on them? I might ask a diver friend to confirm this one day…

Even though the water was very clear for mid-February, I couldn’t make out the bottom (from the cliff-top) in the 10 -15 ft of water therefore, it was with a certain amount of trepidation (of losing one of my beloved Illex Nitro Sprats) that I made my first cast into the relative unknown…

1st wrasse of the session – a couple of pound of bristling spikes!


I had somehow managed to break my polaroids whilst getting out of the car (I’m a bit clumsy in the mornings) and by the time I started fishing this mark the sun was shining directly in my eyes – so after casting, I basically fished with my eyes closed which was great practice for my planned night lure fishing excursions later this year!

First cast and I could ‘feel’ (via the rod tip and braid) the sand, then a patch of weed, then the sand then tap, tap… was that really a fish… then a really positive tap and bang! A decent bend in my Majorcraft Skyroad had me smiling from ear to ear! I knew this wasn’t a bass straight away from way the fish was fighting but do you know what – that wrasse was a very welcome sight!

It took me back really… I spent most of my weekemds and holidays between the age of 9 and 15 chasing these brutes on crab and prawn baits; where your generally lobbing the bait very close to their bolt-holes and hanging on for dear life! Hooking them ‘out in the open’ so to speak, especially on a lure and lure rod is a totally different experience and really good fun actually – food for thought…

3rd wrasse of the session – by now the Nitro Sprat was looking slightly ‘worse for wear’


Feeding frenzy

Maybe it was the sun overhead, mild air temperature and the clear(ish) water that had riled them up, but whatever it was, the wrasse were seemingly hell-bent on attacking anything that came near them. Furthermore, it has taken since October, but the body on the 90 mm/14g Nitro Sprat (via a fair few bass) is now completely destroyed. Ultimately, it took 5 wrasse to finally nail it into submission…

Moreover, the takes were generally very positive. As soon as started to retrieve, halfway in, a couple of yards from the rod tip (with the lure just off the bottom and being straight retrieved) they couldn’t get enough of the little paddletail. Yes, I know I bang on about these lures a lot – but the fact is, they have proven to be the difference time and again and I cannot wait to start really concentrating on the bass with them in the new season… I’m positive that my clients will catch lots of bass on them too.

Pretty much every cast resulted in a tap (bite) or a wrasse and it was great sport on a morning that felt like October rather than February. I could have caught many more had I not decided to recommence fishing ‘the flow’ on the ebb as the cloud and wind increased.

I wasn’t too disappointed to be bass-less on this occasion! Wrasse No. 5


Wrasse yes, but garfish in the depths of winter?

It’s not out of the ordinary to catch wrasse on lures, in winter, along the South West coastline. The sea does need to have some clarity to it – certainly not crystal clear though. I’ve obviously encountered wrasse many times when chasing bass and I’ve been taken by surprise on quite a few occasions by a ‘smash’ on the rod tip right at the end of the retrieve – from shingle backed coves in particular which isn’t what you’d expect!

I firmly believe that wrasse are resident throughout the year in South Devon too. So long as the water temperature doesn’t dip too low (as wrasse are susceptible to sudden cold spells) then they’re very catchable indeed. The most suitable way to ‘lure’ them in winter is to fish amongst the broken ground (sand/weed and some rock) or into very specific areas such as gullies with a sandy seabed – the type where there are walls of rock present.

I really enjoyed catching them on the paddletails too and will investigate the possibility of ‘guiding for lure caught wrasse’ in the future. It would be in the winter period, as an alternative to bass, which are generally difficult to locate from mid January to the end of March – would people be interested?

A wierd one too… On the way back to my initial starting position, I couldn’t resist a few chucks with a hard minnow into another cove/inlet… On the first cast, I felt a slight ‘nip’ on the lure followed, rather bizarrely, by the sight of a garfish following the lure! This occured several times and I really tried to hook one to no avail – Garfish in December yes, but February?

Thanks for reading and look out for my next post about old lure patterns and are they still suitable bass catchers alongside the more modern lures?

Marc Cowling


  1. Great post, I would much rather catch wrasse than hold out for a bass or nothing. Love that thump when they hit your lure. I found the 10g Hto artic eel in natural colours to be particularly effective for wrasse, still gives you a chance of bass and not so expensive ( unlike fbm) if snagged or mauled. Doubt if the artic eel would withstand 5 fish landed plus previous attacks though, so may give the nitro sprat a go.


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