Species Profile: Gurnards

Posted on Nov 1 2006 - 7:23am by WSF
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We take a look at the gurnard and how to catch them from boat and shore.

LOCAL NAMES
Fishing for gurnards Sometimes referred to as “Sea Robin”, “Yellow Gurnard” and “Feeler Fish” because of the long scent feelers under the chin. Also “Croaker” because of their habit of making a grunting or croaking noise emanating from the muscles around the swim bladder when caught.

SCIENTIFIC NAMES
Tub Gurnard – Trigla lucerna
Red Gurnard – Aspitrigla cuculus
Grey Gurnard – Eutrigla gurnardus

IDENTIFICATION
Tub gurnards have the more rounded or blunt dorsal fin of the three main species. The scales are small and the pectoral fins extend past the vent.

The red gurnard carries fairly large scales, with the pectoral fins only just reaching the vent. The dorsal fin is much sharper in profile and higher when extended above the back than the tub and grey.

Grey gurnards have a slimmer body shape than the red and tub. The lateral line has small boney scutes running along it’s length and the pectoral fins are short not reaching the vent.

COLOURATION
Tubs are one of the most colorful fish anglers catch. The back ranges from a pink to full red shading down to a white belly occasionally carrying a pinky orange tint, and rarer brown or black blotches like ink stains. The large pectoral fins are a bright iridescent blue with red/orange around the outer edge and speckled in green or black dots.

Small reds are confused with tubs because of the body colouring which is red, but the belly is more of a metallic white with gentler shadings of light pink. The pectoral fins lack the bright colours of the tub.

Grey gurnards use little in the way of makeup with a dull grey body speckled in light grey or white flecks. The belly is dull white, but the dorsal fin carries a dull darkish finger print on the rearward edge. This is not always easily evident on some fish.

Tub Gurnard

Tub Gurnard

Red Gurnard

Red Gurnard

Grey Gurnard

Grey Gurnard

DISTRIBUTION
Tubs are found throughout the UK and Ireland, also along the coast of Europe as far as Russia and southward to the Mediterranean.

Reds are less inclined to travel northwards into the North Sea further than the Norfolk coast. They are common however, throughout the English Channel, the Irish Sea and along Scotland’s west coast and the Irish west coast. Southwards they also reside inside the Mediterranean.

Grey gurnards have the greatest tolerance of colder seas and are found off the southern tip of Iceland, form the Barents Sea down the coast of Europe to the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

BREEDING SEASON
An extended one from February right through to August, though most spawning is completed by June out in deep water.

HABITAT
Often categorized as a sand or mud bottom living fish. This is true most of the time, but all the gurnards are happy to move on to clean patches amongst rocks and reefs, and will even feed over rock itself occasionally. Also favours the inclines of sandbanks and gravel banks. Fairly tolerant of water depth being found as shallow as 20 feet, but mostly in depths of 50 feet or more.

DIET
Far more predatory than many anglers realise. Eats worms, shrimps and small crabs, but also sandeels, gobies, dragonets, small flatfish and even small whiting and other gurnards.

SEASON
Shows along western shores during late April or early May. Peaks during August and September, but stays late, odd fish being caught right through to Christmas

Most eastern marks rarely see gurnards before June and they’ll be gone by early October. The overall numbers along the eastern marks are also lower than in the west.

SHORE FISHING

MARKS AND FEATURES
Some steep to beaches such as Chesil in Dorset produce gurnards, not in numbers, but certainly enough for them not to be classed as a rarity. Even the shallower surf beaches along the west coast can also turn up smaller tub and grey gurnards to the better casters fishing at low water. But the beaches have little obvious feature that you can target as gurnard holding ground other than obvious sandbanks. Your fishing is too much chuck and chance it!

It’s the rock ledges off the Devon and Cornish coast, west and north Wales, and the rocky headlands and also the deep sea lochs of Scotland that produce best.

The criteria is simple. Find a rock platform that gives access to a depth of 30feet plus over a clean sandy bottom in an area where the tide run is low or deflected away from the mark you are fishing.

TIDES
Neap tides still fish well, mainly due to the more constant depth of water, but you’ll find that the first two hours of a flooding spring tide will push the gurnards closer in to the rocks for protection and this is the prime time when shore fishing. Once the tide picks up, use shorter casts to try to keep contact with the fish, though this depends on where the sand ends and the rocks start.

WEATHER
Calm, settled seas with clear water always give the best prospects for shore gurnards. Coloured seas after storms, a rising sea after settled weather, and steady onshore winds all prove poor for gurnards.

Bright sunshine is not the disadvantage that is with many other species, though if the water is shallow it can keep the fish out at distance. Once dusk approaches catches fall away.

BOAT FISHING

MARKS AND FEATURES
Fishing for gurnard To deliberately target gurnards pick out clean sand or mud seabeds. They’re happy if the actual sea floor is even, but these fish tend to be the smaller juveniles.

Bigger fish favour areas of uplifting sandbanks where they work the inclines picking off small fish. The same applies to gravel and shingle banks, especially the junction line between sand and gravel.

Look for small patches of sand amongst rocky ground and inside the confines of reefs. These patches often hold a single large gurnard, usually a tub. Big tub gurnards are also found very close to steeply rising cliffs that give onto clean sand seabeds. Working a dinghy or bigger boat in close can produce fish over 5lbs.

Gurnards like to sit in shallow depressions, or maybe shallow gullies that run along the sea floor. They use their long feelers to sit upright and scan the surroundings for moving food items.

TIDES
Gurnards are not lovers of fast tides. It suits them to seek out areas where tide run is lessened. Neap tides to middle sized tides produce the most fish. Fast running spring tides tend to only produce around the slack water periods with the main run pushing fish to ground.

WEATHER
Settled conditions do give the numbers of fish, but in water over 30 feet deep there is less seabed disturbance, so feeding activity is fairly constant, though gurnards do not like coloured seas feeding best in clearer water.

Bright days are better than overcast and rainy days. Gurnards do not appear to feed at night.

MARKS AND FEATURES
Some steep to beaches such as Chesil in Dorset produce gurnards, not in numbers, but certainly enough for them not to be classed as a rarity. Even the shallower surf beaches along the west coast can also turn up smaller tub and grey gurnards to the better casters fishing at low water. But the beaches have little obvious feature that you can target as gurnard holding ground other than obvious sandbanks. Your fishing is too much chuck and chance it!

It’s the rock ledges off the Devon and Cornish coast, west and north Wales, and the rocky headlands and also the deep sea lochs of Scotland that produce best.

The criteria is simple. Find a rock platform that gives access to a depth of 30 feet plus over a clean sandy bottom in an area where the tide run is low or deflected away from the mark you are fishing.