Saturday, May 18, 2024

Name that fish!

Being a bit of a geek, I pride myself on my knowledge of fish. From time to time, I get asked to identify fish by fellow anglers who catch species they might not be familiar with. Last weekend, I was sent some pictures of a tiny clingfish by my mate Andrew. “Is this just a juvenile Connemara clingfish?”, he asked. I didn't think it was, but after looking at more of his photos of the fish in question, photos of the clingfish I have caught myself in the past, and quickly consulting some books I own to jog my memory of the clingfish species found in the UK, I was certain it was not.

The tiny fish in question. Those black marks are millimetres apart!

The fish’s dorsal and anal fins were too small and were also separate from the tail fin for it to be a Connemara clingfish. The Connemarra clingfish has much bigger dorsal and anal fins that reach the tail fin but aren't connected to it. Both the shore clingfish and the Cornish sucker, now recognised as two distinct species, also have much larger dorsal and anal fins which are connected to the tail fin. By elimination, it could only be one of the two remaining UK cling fish species, the two-spotted clingfish or the small-headed clingfish. Colouration varies greatly, so their teeth require examination, as this is the only key identifying feature that can be relied upon to distinguish between the two. Both possess small, rounded incisors at the front of their jaws. The small-headed clingfish also has one to three large canine teeth on each side of their mouth, whilst two-spotted cling fish have none. Obviously Andrew had not checked his fish’s teeth, so we cannot be certain of its identity one hundred percent, but after showing his photo to others who have encountered both these small clingfish, the consensus seems to be that it is a small-headed clingfish.

Either way, I was very excited by his capture, and we hastily arranged to meet up midweek to see if we could catch another one. On Wednesday, I drove through to Greenock, and we met up at East India Dock to fish there for a couple of hours while we waited for the tide to go out so we could visit his clingfish mark. Predictably, the resident goldsinny wrasse were soon munching my slightly unorthodox choice of hookbait.

Double maggot! Normally used for freshwater fishing, they’re a perfect little wriggly snack for small saltwater species too!

After catching lots of wrasse, it was soon time to head off to hunt for clingfish. After a short drive and parking the car, walking a short distance and scrambling down some rocks, we were soon fishing in the area where he’d caught the clingfish a few days earlier. Things were a little slow, but eventually we both caught some corkwing wrasse and a few painted goby.

Painted goby, a new species for Andrew.

After a while, Andrew switched to dropping his rig down into gaps in the boulders we were standing on. He was hoping to catch a large short spined sea scorpion he’d hooked and lost a few days earlier. He didn’t get one, but was rewarded with a nice tompot blenny instead.

Andrew’s first tompot blenny of 2024.

After a couple of hours, I had tried a few different baits on my tiny hook, but hadn’t caught the clingfish I was after. Eventually, the tide forced us to leave the mark, so we spent an hour fishing under a nearby pier. As well as catching a few more painted goby, I caught what I was confident was a common goby.

A lateral line scale count was later carried out to confirm this was indeed a common goby.

By midafternoon, Andrew had already stayed a couple of hours longer than he had originally planned, or should I say, been given permission for. That’s married life and being the father of a newborn baby for you I suppose!

On my own for the rest of the day, I headed back to East India Dock, where I fished for a few more hours. All I caught were a few goldsinny wrasse, with only a solitary long spined sea scorpion taking an interest in my squid tentacles.

I love long spined sea scorpion.
They're such charismatic little fish!

Feeling a bit hungry by this point, I headed off to get some food and to check into my accommodation for the night. I was planning on revisiting the cling fish spot again the following day. It was at this point I noticed I was a little bit sunburnt. Oops. Overcast or not, that's what will happen if you go fishing without a hat and don't put any SPF on! Despite this, I decided to head out for another hour's fishing near where I was staying. I quickly got setup again on some benches with some fishy mosaics embedded in them.

The mackerel are in!

After fishing next to the benches for a while and catching nothing, I walked a hundred meters or so along the promenade and fished near some rocks. This proved to be a good decision, as after a chunky corkwing, I caught a pollock and a codling that took my squid strip and put a good bend in my ultra light rod.

A nice pollock.
Followed up a few casts later by this nice codling.

I returned to my accommodation and had a reasonably early night. I didn’t sleep too well though, due mainly to my pulsating head, and in the morning I decided to have a lie in. Once up, I checked out of the hotel and went to a supermarket to grab some food, a hat, and a bag of raw prawns to use as bait. I’d tossed the remainder of my squid into the sea the previous evening, as it didn’t smell too great, but I had some maggots left to use as well.

I headed to East India Dock whilst the tide dropped. Once there I set up a three hook flapper rig with #18 hooks and cast them out as far as I could as I was hoping to catch a dragonet. I hadn’t been fishing long when Andrew drove along from the end of the breakwater, he had been out “walking his dog”, who was in the back of his car. He told me he’d had a short session on the inside of the pier, and he had lost a nice ballan wrasse in the rocks there.

I fished away, but things were pretty slow. The wind had also picked up, so I decided to just stay put for the rest of the day. Eventually I caught a sand goby, a few dabs and a black goby at distance on tiny pieces of prawn.

My setup was so sensitive that I saw this sand goby’s bite.
I caught quite a lot of these small dab.
My little tank is great for seeing all the features of small fish like this black goby.

In the afternoon, the wind dropped off and the clouds parted. By early evening, it was a beautiful day. Slathered in SPF 50, I hid in the shade of my car’s open boot and turned my attention to dropping maggot into the rocks directly in front of me. This had predictable results and I caught quite a few wrasse. Mainly goldsinny, but I did also catch a couple of corkwing and a solitary rock cook.

A lovely calm sunny evening.
Fishing in close produced this colourful male corkwing wrasse
I love catching rock cook wrasse. They’re so cute with their tiny little lips.

After a while, I switched back to fishing at distance, but the current had dropped off and so did the bites. After over an hour with no fish showing any interest in my baits, I packed up and made the drive home. Before I left I had a brief chat with another angler who told me that some topknot had been caught recently from down in the rocks at East India Dock. Greenock, and the surrounding area, really is a bit of a species hotspot. No doubt I’ll be back there again soon to hunt for topknot and tiny clingfish.

Tight lines, Scott.

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