Know your fish | Turbot

Turbot can be found all around the coast of Britain and Ireland, but it is the most common around the southerly coasts. They prefer sandy bottoms, but can also survive quite well living over mud and amongst mixed sea beds comprising sand and rock.

Turbot can withstand brackish waters, so they are quite content to travel and feed within estuaries and even creeks.

Adult turbot live mostly in depths of between 20m and 80m, whereas smaller and younger fish can be found living very close to the shoreline. You can find tiny turbot within sandy channels and even in pools.

Identification

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Turbot are one of our largest flatfish, having a very broad body and wide fins. It is almost circular – resembling a large dinner plate – but with a short, stumpy tail.

The eyes of the turbot are positioned on the left-hand-side of the body, the dorsal fin is quite tidy and neat, unlike that of the brill.

The skin is devoid of scales but there are large and bony tubercles scattered all over the fish’s body. Its lateral line is arched around the pectoral fin and the colour of this fish is variable as the turbot can change its colour to suit the background conditions. But basically the turbot is brown to grey with hundreds of brown/black/green spots all over its body and fins.

The underside of the turbot is white, occasionally having dark blotches.

Feeding

Turbot feed mostly on other fish, small fish such as sand eels, sprats, herring and whiting, but they will also take gobies, crustaceans and molluscs. They have very large mouths which make catching other fish easy.

To catch a turbot try using crab, squid strips or worms.

Breeding

Just like the brill, spawning of the turbot takes place in spring and summer in shallower water of between 10 and 40m deep. The females produce an enormous amount of eggs – up to 15 million!

The eggs and their larvae float around within the plankton until they reach 2.5cm, after around 5 months old. Then they will have taken on that distinguishable turbot shape and move to the bottom of the sea bed.

Having their eyes on the left-hand-side of the body, the turbot settle on their right side.

Because the eggs and larvae drift helplessly with the plankton, they do become scattered and widespread, but they do eventually drift towards shallow water.

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Know your fish | Undulate Ray

This is one of our most distinctive rays. It is predominantly found in the south of England and Ireland.

It prefers sandy bottoms to depths of 200m, but will feed to a depth of 45m. The undulate rays reaches a length of around 1m in Britain, but it is capable of growing larger than that is warmer climates.

Identification

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The undulate ray can be distinguished from other rays by its colour pattern. The upper side of the rays can be a multitude of different shades of brown. You will find that it is covered in long wavy brown lines that are accented with rows of white spots.

The wings are rounded, the snout is very short, and it has a series of spines. You will find these along the tail, around the eyes and along the centre of the body.

Feeding

The staple diet if this ray is bottom-dwelling creatures and fish:- dabs, plaice, squid, gobies, crabs and crustaceans.

The best baits for rays are crab and worms. Tipping the baits with strips of squid can attract more fish to bite.

Breeding

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Little is known about the breeding habits of the undulate ray, other than they lay quite large red/brown egg capsules that are covered in fibres. These are laid during the summer, when water temperatures are high.

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Know your fish | Tope

The tope is a member of the shark family. It can be found all around the coastline of the British Isles and Ireland.

They live close to the bottom, preferring sand or gravel, but they will move into mid-water to feed.

They younger the fish the more chance of it coming into the shallower water near the shore, so if you wish to catch a larger tope you may need to go adrift upon a charter boat.

Identification

The tope is a very slender shark that has a sharply pointed snout. Its first dorsal fin is very large compared to the second (which is positioned very close to the tail).

It also has an anal fin which is positioned directly underneath the secondary dorsal fin.

The colouration of the tope is as follows: grey/brown on the back and sides with a white/creamy coloured underbelly.

The tope has sharp triangular teeth within its underslung mouth. They are triangular and very typical of most predatory sharks.

The average adult tope measures 1.3m long, but tope to 2m have been captured and recorded.

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Feeding

Tope feed on fish. They attack schools of cod, whiting and bib mainly, but when pickings are a little thin they will also feed on bottom-dwelling creatures such as flatfish, crustaceans and molluscs.

Breeding

Like most sharks the top bears live young. The mother carries between 20-40 young tope for around 10 months. She travels to shallower waters to give birth to the young, which will be around 35cm long. The tope gives birth to her young during the summer months.

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Know your fish | Thornback Ray (Roker)

This fantastic-looking fish has a typical diamond shaped body with long tail. They have been caught measuring 1m, but the general maximum size is around the 85cm mark.

They are common all around the British Isles and Ireland, living over muddy, sandy and gravelly bottoms. Luckily for us anglers, thornback rays tend to prefer quite shallow water of between 10 and 60m deep.

Identification

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These wings are slightly pointed to form right angles at the tips, also the thornback ray’s nose is very short and dumpy.

There are rows of sharp thorns along the tail (often called bucklers). There are also a few spines scattered over the back too.

The colour of the thornback ray is very variable but generally they have mottled brown to grey backs with lots of darker blotches and lighter patches.

The underside is a creamy white with a grey outer.

Feeding

Thornback rays feed mainly at night - they spend most of the daylight hours resting on the bottom, covered in sand for added camouflage.

They feed on the bottom, picking off crustaceans, crabs and shrimps, but they will also eat small fish, worms, molluscs and echinoderms.

To catch a thornback ray, use worm, strips of squid or crab baits.

Breeding

Like all rays and skates, the male thornback ray uses a pair of claspers positioned at the base of the tail to help transfer sperm to the female. The females to don bear live young, instead they lay eggs encased in a ‘mermaid’s purse’ – this is an oblong dark package measuring around 6-9cm. They have long horns at each of the four corners.

The females travel inshore to lay these eggs in the springtime, laying around 20 of these capsules.. They take up to 5 months to hatch, and the emerging ray is around 8cm from wing to wing.

During the summer many of these tiny rays can be found very close inshore. This is when you will also find the discarded mermaid’s purses washed up onto the shoreline.

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know your fish | Thick-Lipped Grey Mullet

The mullet is a torpedo shaped sea fish that can be seen in tightly packed shoals in harbours, estuaries and other shallow coastal waters.

The thick-lipped grey mullet is the most common and largest of the mullets that can be found around the British Isles and Ireland.

During the summer they migrate northwards, and vice versa during the winter.

Identification

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Mullet have striped bodies and a pair of large, widely spaced dorsal fins. The first dorsal fin comprises four spines.

As their name suggest, they have grey backs, silvery flanks, white underside with large scales. The stripes along the body are grey.

The mouth is quite small and when viewed straight-on it is heart-shaped.

Feeding

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Mullet feed in shoals by sifting the bottom debris. They suck in the sediment and filter out all the inedible matter, eating only seaweed, crustaceans and worms.

As they have no teeth capable of dealing with larger animals, the mullet has to survive an a very poor diet, sometimes scraping algae and tiny animals from rocks, piers and from submerged rubbish.

Mullet can eat and are very fond of bread. Mashed and floating bread thrown into the calm waters of harbours will be readily taken, but to catch mullet with bread as bait is a real challenge.

Breeding

Mullet spawn inshore, in open water, during the spring and summer. They choose cool water in which to breed, so the southern British coast is the limit that they will tolerate to breed.

The young mullet remain very close inshore, so close in fact that they can often be found trapped within rock pools.

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Know your fish | Sting Ray

Although more common in southern areas, the sting ray can be found all around the British Isles and Ireland. Their numbers increase during summer and autumn, when they move to our coasts, from the Mediterranean, following the warmer water.

Care must be taken when handling these fish as they have a long and barbed poisonous spine upon the tail.

Although they grow to 2.5m, the vast majority of sting rays found around our southern coastlines will be up to 1m in length.

They prefer soft sandy bottoms in calm water. You will find sting rays in really shallow water to about 60-17m deep.

Identification

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The sting ray has large wings that are rounded at the tips. The snout is quite pointed.

The tail is very long – very much like a whip. A few inches down the tail is a poisonous spine that must be avoided.

Sting rays have no dorsal fins upon the tail, while the very similar eagle ray does have a small dorsal fin, positioned just in front of the spine.

They can be olive green, brown or a dark grey, while the underside is creamy with grey edges.

Feeding

They dig into the sand to locate bottom-dwelling creatures using their snout and wings. Their staple diet comprises: crabs, shellfish, flatfish and molluscs.

They have very powerful jaws to help them crush shellfish.

The best baits for sting ray are worms, crab and strips of squid.

Breeding

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Sting rays are live-bearers. They give birth to between six and nine young. They do not breed in Britain, preferring warmer water towards the south

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Know your fish | Spurdog

The spurdog is a member of the shark family. It is also referred to as the common spiny dogfish.

It can be found living in shoals – that can migrate many miles in one day – all around the coastlines of Britain and Ireland.

During the summer months the western and north western regions of Scotland are a prime hotspot for spurdog.

They live on and near the seabed, preferring sand or mud, in depths of between 10m and 200m. Amazingly spurdog have been caught in depths of up to 950m.

They may swim very close to the surface during night hours.

Identification

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They are a very small and slender shark that will grow to a maximum of around 1m.

The snout is quite pointed, they have large black/grey/blue eyes and an underslung mouth.

A key means to identify the spurdog is to take a close look at the two dorsal fins – you will find that they have sharp spines on the leading edge. They do not posses an anal fin, and there are white spots on the fish’s back and sides.

The colouration of the spurdog tends to be dark grey on the back and either light grey or a brown tinge to the flanks, merging to white underneath.

Feeding

Spurdogs tend to feed upon bottom-dwelling creatures such as crabs, flatfish, codling and dragnonets, but they will also shoal together and attack schools of smaller fish like herring, sprats and pilchards.

To catch a spurdog your best baits will be strips of squid and crab, or a combination of both.

Breeding

Like most sharks, spurdogs give birth to live young with will have gestated within the mother for a very long time – up to 22 months. Finally the mother will give birth to between three and 11 young.

The freshly borne spurdog will be between 18 and 22cm long.

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Know your fish | Solenette

The sole and solenette is unlikely to be confused with any other flatfish due to the shape of its head. Sole reach a length of around 40cm, but some fish have been caught measuring 60cm. The solenette is much smaller, reaching around the 13cm mark.

Both these species are widely distributed around the British Isles and Ireland, favouring both mud and sand bottoms.

You will find the younger and smaller sole very close to the beach, while the older, wiser and larger sole will be living in much deeper water of up to 150m.

During the summer months, when the water temperatures are higher, the sole will migrate into the shallows – in winter they move into the deeper water, where it is generally a little warmer.

The smaller solenette lives in water ranging between 5 and 40m.

Identification

The sole and solenette are very similar. Their head is very rounded with a low-slung, semi-circular mouth which gives the soles a rather sad expression!.

They both have very long dorsal and anal fins that are joined to the tail, plus they feature short filaments around the head.

The eyes are on the right side of the body.

They are a master of disguise as soles can alter the colour of their backs to suit the conditions, but generally they are a light brown with an array of darker blotches scattered all over the body. The underside is white.

Apart from the size, the way to spot the difference between a sole and a solenette is to take a look at the fins. The sole has a black mark on its tiny pectoral fin. The solenette has black stripes on its dorsal and anal fins – every fifth or sixth ray is striped.

Feeding

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Both the sole and solenette feed upon small bottom dwelling animals such as crustaceans and worms, but they will also feed upon small fish and molluscs.

The best baits to catch a sole will be crab and worms.

They feed best at night as they bury themselves away in the silt or sand during daylight hours, waiting for food to pass by.

Breeding

Soles spawn in spring and summer in very specific areas in depths of between 40 and 60m. The females produce around 500,000 eggs that float and drift with the plankton.

The eggs hatch in around 10 days, depending upon the water temperature. They take on the characteristic flatfish shape when they reach around 12cm long.

At this time the tiny fish will have drifted into shallower water where they can easily swim to the bottom of the sea bed and continue their lives as bottom dwellers.

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Know your fish | Smooth Hound

The smooth hound is a member of the shark family. It has all the distinguishing features of a shark.

You will find smooth hounds all around the coast of Britain and Ireland, but they are quite rare in the upper regions of Scotland.

They live in water having depths of between 5 and 100m deep, over gravel, sand or mud.

Identification

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This is a small, slender shark having a pointed snout. Its most distinguishing features are that they have a pair of large and equally-sized dorsal fins, and anal fin underneath the back-most dorsal fin, and white spots on the back and sides of the fish.

The usual size for the smooth hound is around 1m long, but some fish have been caught to 1.6m long.

They are a plain grey colour with a creamy underbelly.

Feeding

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Smooth hounds feed mainly at night and, being a member of the shark family you might well expect them to take almost anything that swims – predominantly fish – but that is not so. Smooth hounds favour crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, hermit crabs and squat lobsters, but that is not to say that they will not take fish and other molluscs when the opportunity arises.

To catch a smooth hound use crab baits, possibly tipped with strips of squid.

Breeding

Smooth hounds mate and give birth to live young. They mate and the eggs are fertilised within the female. They take about a year to gestate and are born in summer, in shallow water.

Normally the smooth hound will give birth to around 15 young.

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Know your fish | Small-eyed ray

Although not widely distributed around the whole of our coastline, the small-eyed ray can be found and caught from the south of Ireland, south Wales and the south of England.

They live in shallow water, close inshore to depths of up to 100m. Small-eyed rays prefer sandy bottoms.

They grow to around 80cm long and have 60cm wingspan. The maximum weight is around the 12lb mark.

Identification

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The snout of a small-eyed ray is very short and, although curved, the wings are almost set at right anglers.

The spines running along the tail and the middle of the body are very close together and bent in right angles.

They are grey/brown on the back with many large off-white patches and streaks which tend to run parallel with the edges of the wings.

The only true way to tell a small-eyed ray is the size of its eyes. Take a look at the gap between the eyes, now take a look at the length of the eye and spiracle. If the gap between the eyes is over twice the distance between the eye and spiracle, it is definitely a small-eyed ray.

Feeding

Small-eyed rays feed over sandy bottoms, searching for worms, crustaceans, crabs and small fish such as sand eels and gobies.

Breeding

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Like all rays, they lay egg capsules in summer. Small-eyed rays breed in the British Channel.

Their egg capsules measures around 9cm long and 6cm wide, excluding the long horns. Two of these are long and thin, the others are short and hook-like.

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Know your fish | Red Bream

The red bream is mostly found over deep, rough ground, over rocks and wrecks. It is present all around the British Isles and Ireland, when afloat over deep water, but it is far more common around our southern-most coastlines

The average size for a red bream is around the 2.5 to 2.5lb mark, but there have been red bream recorded weighing over 5lb.

 

Identification

This sea fish has a classic bream shape in that it has a deep body plus very large eyes. This clearly denotes the fact that it prefers deep water.

The colour of the red bream is a red/pink across the back and flanks, merging to silver.

There is a dark patch on the sides, near to the gill cover, plus the mouth is laden heavily with sharp teeth.

The dorsal fin is long, half of which has spines. The tail fin is forked and the pectoral fin very long. All of the fins are dark grey.

 

Feeding

The diet of the red bream comprises mainly small fish, crustaceans and squid.

 

Breeding

The red bream can be found breeding in only the warmer seas off the south-west of Britain. This occurs during the height of summer.

 

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Know your fish | Ray's Bream

This fairly substantial-sized bream is common all around the coast of Britain and Ireland depending upon the season. In mid-summer they can be found off the coast of Ireland, and by autumn they will have travelled to Scotland.

It can reach lengths of almost 70cm, but typically an adult Ray’s bream will be around the 50cm mark, and around 7lb.

They live in the open sea, in mid-water, at depths of around 80m.

 

Identification

This is a deep-bodied fish that narrows towards the tail. It has very small scales that are quite smooth.

Colouration is dark green/brown across the back with silver flanks. The pectoral fins are yellow.

The dorsal and anal fins are long and low to the body. The first ray of these fins is the longest.

Its tail is long too and sharply concave.

 

Feeding

Ray’s bream feed on an array of crustaceans and fishes – basically whatever they find in abundance, from sprats and herring to crabs and crustaceans.

 

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Know your fish | Porbeagle Shark

This is a large, thick-set shark that can be found in the uppermost layers of the open ocean. It is widespread throughout the northern hemisphere between Europe and America.

Although the porbeagle can sometimes be found and caught in the North Sea, this is a rare occurrence. You are far more likely to encounter porbeagle shark around our southern and westerly coasts.

The maximum length and weight for porbeagle sharks as a whole is around 3m and 500lb, but you are more likely to encounter 2m and 350lb porbeagles around our waters.

Identification

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This thick-set shark has five gill slits. It also has large triangular teeth that have small cusps at the side of the base.

They tend to be deep blue or grey/blue on the back. This merges into a pale cream colour underneath.

The first of the shark’s dorsal fins begins directly above the base of the pectoral fin. The much smaller secondary dorsal fin is situated along the tail, immediately above the tiny anal fin.

Feeding

Although the porbeagle shark can often be found cruising near the surface and in the upper layers of the water, they feed on fish that dwell both near the surface or on the bottom.

Basically, they will feast upon anything that swims.

Breeding

The porbeagle gives birth to live young, around 2-5 fish upon each breeding. They are born at a length of around 50cm.

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Know your fish | Pollack

The Pollack is a member of the cod family. They are common all around the British Isles and Ireland.

They are particularly fond of wrecks, rocks and kelp forests, keeping quite close to these features.

Younger fish will be found closer to the shore, again particularly around rocks – using them as camouflage.

They will grow to over 1m long and weigh up to 30lb, but the average fish caught will be around half that length and weight.

Identification

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Like all members of the cod family, pollack have three dorsal fins. They have very streamlined bodies which are silver to white along the flanks and belly, merging to dark green or a brown/green across their backs.

There is quite a lot of confusion between pollack and coalfish, but a glance at the lateral line will help distinguish the two species – the pollack has a curved lateral line, while the coalfish’s lateral line is straight.

If the lateral line isn’t clear, take a look at the jaws. The pollack’s lower jaw protrudes the upper, whereas the coalfish’s jaws are of an equal length.

Feeding

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Adults feed on fish, mainly. They prefer sand eels, capelin, herring – most small open-water fish.

They will stand by wrecks, hanging in the water with their heads up, ready to pounce upon any passing prey that wanders too close.

They can be caught from the shore using squid or crab baits, or caught from a boat using pirks.

Spawning

Spawning takes place in late winter to spring (January to April), in deep water of between 100 and 200m.

The eggs float towards the surface and drift with the plankton towards shallower inshore waters. Here the young fish will feed upon crustaceans.

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Know your fish | Plaice

Plaice are common all around Britain and Ireland, thriving on sandy sea beds. They will also live over mud and gravel – even sandy areas with rocks.

They are most common in water between 10-60m, but they can be caught in water in excess of 200m deep.

Plaice spend a great deal of their time remaining stationary on the bottom, partly buried for camouflage. They are most active during the hours of darkness.

Catch a decent-sized plaice and you are sure of having a great meal – they make for fantastic eating.

Identification

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The plaice is typical of a flatfish in that it is oval, flat and has a small tail and a body that is fringed with flattened fins.

It’s quite easy to distinguish between a plaice and any other flatfish as plaice have bright orange or red spots all over the body. They also have a row of small bony knobbles at the back of the head. Another way to distinguish a plaice from some other flatfish is that plaice are right-eyed.

You may find that some plaice have an array of smaller white spots. These can be found on plaice that are living over areas of sand that contain many broken shells or pebbles.

Plaice can alter the colour of their backs to suit the conditions, therefore they are excellently camouflaged – only the orange or red spots on the backs give them away.

Feeding

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Plaice feed upon bottom dwelling creatures such as razors and cockles, but they will also feed upon sand eels, worms, brittle stars, crustaceans and even the siphon tubes of clams.

They have extremely powerful pharangeal teeth which they use to smash the shells to pieces to extract the meaty flesh inside.

Being bottom feeders, plaice are best caught using either crab or worm baits.

Breeding

Plaice spawn in very specific and well-used areas between January and March in fairly shallow water of between 20-40m deep. One of the main spawning grounds around Britain is located between the Flemish Bight and the Thames estuary. The adult plaice will undertake long migrations to these spawning grounds.

The female will lay around 500,000 eggs which float to the surface. They follow the drift and eventually hatch after 2-3 weeks. The time of hatching depends greatly upon the water temperature.

After four to six weeks the elongated plaice fry take on the usual plaice. During this time the left eye migrates around the side of the head to sit alongside the other. These tiny plaice continue drifting with the currents to the shallow nursery grounds.

When they reach around 12-15cm they will move to the bottom of the sea where they will live the remainder of their lives.

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Know your fish | Ling

This characteristic fish are most often found around the west coasts of Britain and Ireland, predominantly around Devon, Cornwall, the Irish coasts and around Scotland.

They much prefer rocky, open coastlines and thrive in water over 20m, but will move in to 10m if there is an abundance of food.

They love rocky fissures and overhangs, even wrecks. We are most likely to encounter the smaller ling when fishing as the vast majority of larger adult ling prefer to move into water between 300 and 400m deep.

Identification

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The ling is a long, slender fish that has a very distinctive barbule on its chin. It averages around 1m long, but specimens have been caught that grow to 2m and up to 25kg.

It has two very soft dorsal fins. The first is quite short, the second is much longer, spreading along the fish’s back right to its rounded tail. The first dorsal fin has a dark patch at the back, while both the second long dorsal fin and the long anal fin have white edges.

The colouration of the ling is a mottled brown/green with a lighter underside.

Younger ling are often a lighter brown with a series of irregular paler marblings.

Feeding

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The ling’s diet comprises mainly fish – codling, whiting, gurnard and flatfish, but it will eat crustaceans and echinoderms.

The best baits to catch smaller coastal ling are either crab, squid strips or worms.

Breeding

The ling breed between March and July in water of depths between 100 and 300m. There are specific breeding grounds, one of which is off the coast of southern Iceland.

The female ling lay a tremendous amount of eggs – between 20 and 60 million. These float to the surface to hatch after 10 days. The young ling drift with the current to settle along inshore waters. They will remain inshore until they reach almost 3 years, when they will migrate into much deeper water.

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Know your fish | Flounder

Flounders are yet another flatfish that have their eyes on the right side. It is a very widely distributed flatfish found all around the coast of Britain and Ireland.

It lives from the shoreline down to depths around 50m deep, favouring muddy bottoms but will also live over sandy bottoms.

Flounders are amazingly tolerant of variations in the salt content of water. They can be found living in the sea, they can be found living in estuaries where slat water meets fresh, and they can even be found (and caught) in the freshwater of rivers well away from the sea shore.

As far as anglers are concerned the flounder is primarily a spring, summer and autumn species as it is at these times of the year when flounders live within casting range. In the depths of winter they migrate into the warmer and deeper water well away from the shoreline.

Identification

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The flounder is a typical flatfish. It has flattened fins that wrap around the oval-shaped body.

Its eyes are positioned on one side of the head – the uppermost side. The eyes of a flounder are situated on the right side of the head (if you imagine the fish swimming upright).

But, identifying flounders can be quite difficult as some have been found with eyes directed towards the left. Plus, flounders have been known to interbreed (hybridise) with plaice, so coloured variations have been known to exist. And, there are also flounders out there which have undersides exactly the same colour as their backs – normally they have white undersides.

The tail of a flounder is quite square at the end, plus there are bony tubercles around both sides of the body, at the bases of both the elongated dorsal and anal fins.

Feeding

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Flounders feed upon much smaller crustaceans and animals than the plaice simply because they do not posses the same shell-crushing strength within their pharangeal teeth.

They survive on cockles, sand hoppers, shrimps, worms and molluscs, and if you wish to try to catch a flounder or two you will be best using small baits such as worms or crab pieces.

They feed best at night where they move into the shallower water. During the daytime they often remain buried within the mud or sand.

Breeding

During the springtime the adult flounder move into deeper water of between 25-40m around the British Isles to spawn. The females lay between 500,000 and two million eggs which float straight to the surface. Given good temperatures these eggs will hatch in less than two weeks.

The lifecycle of a flounder is very similar to that of a plaice in that the flounder fry drift with the current and plankton until they reach the shallower shoreline. By the time they reach 3cm they will have taken on the familiar flounder flatfish shape and the eye will have migrated over to the right side.

Once they have metamorphosed they sink to the bottom to begin their bottom-dwelling existence.

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Know your fish | Eagle Ray

The numbers of eagle rays increase during summer and autumn, when they move to our coasts, from the Mediterranean, following the warmer water. You are most likely to find them around the south coast of Ireland and England.

Care must be taken when handling these fish as they have a long and barbed poisonous spine upon the tail.

Although they grow to 2 m, the vast majority of eagle rays found around our southern coastlines will be up to 1m in length.

They prefer soft sandy bottoms in calm water. Eagle rays can sometimes be seen swimming just under the surface, but they will swim to depths of around 100m to find food.

Identification

The eagle ray has large wings that are pointed at the tips. The snout is more rounded that the similar sting ray.

The tail is very long – very much like a whip. A few inches down the tail is a poisonous spine that must be avoided. Occasionally the fish may have two spines, but this is quite rare.

Eagle rays have a dorsal fin upon the tail, positioned just in front of the spine, while the very similar sting ray does not have a small dorsal fin.

They can be olive green, brown or a dark grey, while the underside is creamy with grey edges.

Feeding

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They dig into the sand to locate bottom-dwelling creatures using their snout and wings. Their staple diet comprises: crabs, shellfish, flatfish and molluscs.

They have very powerful jaws to help them crush shellfish.

The best baits for eagle ray are worms, crab and strips of squid.

Breeding

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Eagle rays are live-bearers. They give birth to between six and nine young. They do not breed in Britain, preferring warmer water towards the south

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Know your fish | Dover Sole

The sole and solenette is unlikely to be confused with any other flatfish due to the shape of its head. Sole reach a length of around 40cm, but some fish have been caught measuring 60cm. The solenette is much smaller, reaching around the 13cm mark.

Both these species are widely distributed around the British Isles and Ireland, favouring both mud and sand bottoms.

You will find the younger and smaller sole very close to the beach, while the older, wiser and larger sole will be living in much deeper water of up to 150m.

During the summer months, when the water temperatures are higher, the sole will migrate into the shallows – in winter they move into the deeper water, where it is generally a little warmer.

The smaller solenette lives in water ranging between 5 and 40m.

Identification

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The sole and solenette are very similar. Their head is very rounded with a low-slung, semi-circular mouth which gives the soles a rather sad expression!.

They both have very long dorsal and anal fins that are joined to the tail, plus they feature short filaments around the head.

The eyes are on the right side of the body.

They are a master of disguise as soles can alter the colour of their backs to suit the conditions, but generally they are a light brown with an array of darker blotches scattered all over the body. The underside is white.

Apart from the size, the way to spot the difference between a sole and a solenette is to take a look at the fins. The sole has a black mark on its tiny pectoral fin. The solenette has black stripes on its dorsal and anal fins – every fifth or sixth ray is striped.

Feeding

Both the sole and solenette feed upon small bottom dwelling animals such as crustaceans and worms, but they will also feed upon small fish and molluscs.

The best baits to catch a sole will be crab and worms.

They feed best at night as they bury themselves away in the silt or sand during daylight hours, waiting for food to pass by.

Breeding

Soles spawn in spring and summer in very specific areas in depths of between 40 and 60m. The females produce around 500,000 eggs that float and drift with the plankton.

The eggs hatch in around 10 days, depending upon the water temperature. They take on the characteristic flatfish shape when they reach around 12cm long.

At this time the tiny fish will have drifted into shallower water where they can easily swim to the bottom of the sea bed and continue their lives as bottom dwellers.

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Know your fish | Dab

The dab is one of Britain and Ireland’s commonest flatfish. It is particularly commonplace in the North Sea. It thrives over sandy bottoms and is more often found in water between 20 and 40m deep, but smaller and younger dab will be found in really shallow areas, in less than 1m of water.

Most dabs measure around 25cm on average, but some individuals to 40cm-plus have been found.

Although small, dabs are great to eat as they are full of flavour.

Identification

Dabs are a light brown colour, oval, their eyes are situated on the right side of the body and their tail fin is rounded at the end. The pectoral fin can sometimes be orange, but not always.

The flesh on their backs is quite rough to the touch and you will find a very distinct lateral line that curves its way around the pectoral fin.

You may well encounter dab that have very small orange spots. These are no where near as pronounced and as visual as the plaice.

Feeding

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The dab has a very distinct method of feeding. It will lay on the sea bed, raise its head and wait patiently for the siphon tubes of worms or shellfish to emerge through the sand, silt or mud. Once it spots the siphon, the dab will lurch downwards in a flash to bite it off.

Dab also feed upon many other bottom dwelling creatures such as worms, fish, brittle stars, smaller urchins, crustaceans and molluscs.

Dab feed best at night, where they come in closer to the breakwater. Here a carefully cast worm or crab bait will tempt them to bite.

Breeding

In Britain the dab breeds during the spring, when water temperatures have risen slightly. The females lay around 100,000 eggs in water between 20-40m deep.

These eggs float to the surface and drift towards shallower water, hatching after about a week depending upon water temperature.

Once they reach around 1.5cm the dab will have completed their transformation into the typical flatfish shape and will then drop to the seabed to continue their lives.

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