Day of the wrasse a perfect way to cap fine sea season


This was probably the last boat fishing trip of the season before the boat yard closes for winter and we took advantage of one of the calmest approaches to the severest of seasons that I can remember.

We hadn’t had frost or snow, we had record breaking high temperatures and on the day of this voyage we had clement weather with plenty of sunshine.

At 8am Shaun, who runs the South Shore Boat Yard, Bridlington with David, said the sea was calm and several boats were going out. My friend Roy and his wife were at Bempton Cliffs in their caravan so I arranged to meet him at the boat yard.

Whilst waiting for David and his tractor to tow us from our ‘berth’ I spayed grease on the trailer rollers, the tow ball, the manual and electric winches and checked the trailer tyre pressures. We filled up with petrol and connected the battery – all were hunky-dory.

A perfect launch into an almost flat sea saw us fishing by 11am. As high water was three hours away we were pretty excited about a good day’s fishing. In conditions like these catching isn’t so important. It was a pleasure being on the water in such magnificent surroundings of blue sea and skies, white cliffs, puffins, gannets and all the other marvels of nature.

On the way out we tried the mackerel feathers, but this time the bay was bereft. Not a single mackerel bite, so we headed for Flamborough North Landing and fished about a mile out.

The tide and wind were still being kind so we slowly drifted with the engine turned off. Cod and whiting usually abound at this mark, but today our juicy mussels and tempting squid were non-productive. There were no decent bites only something small that picked off the soft mussels – perhaps a shoal of coal fish or even crabs.

With wind in our lines, we started the engine and sailed closer to land to a rocky gully I’d fished before and which usually produced a fish or two. Into the gully we cast still using mussels and squid. Something strong immediately connected with my bait. With the rod tip bouncing like a baseball, I gently wound in. As we were fishing in 60ft of water it took a while to coax what I saw was a large ballan wrasse, to the net.

This beautiful specimen was well coloured in many shades of brown and cream, with a touch of purple and black. A handsome fellow, but with piranha-like teeth, specially evolved for prising barnacles and the like from their rocky homes.

Roy was next to catch a fish and eventually landed another nice sized wrasse. It proved to be the day of the wrasse as we didn’t catch any other species. There are 600 species of wrasse worldwide varying from cleaner wrasse – the ones that pick parasites from larger fish – to our very own common ballan wrasse that prefer rocky bottoms. I always think of the wrasse as the perch of the sea.

Like perch, they are easy to catch; have a bold bite and fight like welterweight boxers.

The culinary qualities of the wrasse remind me of chub, to use another fresh water comparison. Someone like Isaac Walton, the 17th century authority on freshwater fishing, suggested the chub was like cotton wool stuffed with pins.

Advice on preparing the fish was to put it on a wood board and gut, fillet and remove as many bones as possible, then to throw away the fish and eat the wood board. I hope you get the drift and return your wrasse to the sea as we did to continue their balancing of marine nature.

Our last boat trip didn’t give us a meal, but the lovely weather and the Mediterranean sky and sea gave us a humbling satisfaction and an appreciation of how lucky we are in Yorkshire.