These are the fish that few anglers ever see, even though they are literally right under your feet. Youíve a realistic shot at no less than 40 or so mini species in UK waters, and if you ever want to see your name in lights, then the mini species records are about your best chance.
Many of these fish only reach a maximum size of a few inches, but they lead an interesting life and can teach anglers, especially young anglers, a massive amount about fish behaviour, not least because you are often catching them in rock pools the size of a wheelbarrow and they can be easily seen taking the baits.
They live in cracks in the base of the rock pool or underneath stones, maybe clinging tightly to kelp weed fronds. The pools are like little aquariums with small fern-like weeds growing amongst red and black coloured sea anemones.
Iím an old hand at mini species. I started out fishing the rock pools 40 years or more ago as a kid for shannies and gobies. My tactic was to use a garden cane, not a rod. Iíd tie a few feet of mono on the end, add a size 12 to 14 hook with a small shot a few inches above it, and I was ready to go. Your tackle box is your pocket.
The next step was to prise a few periwinkles off the rocks. Experience proved that the periwinkles were a much more consistent bait for shannies and gobies, and that the common limpet was a poor second. Iíd break a periwinkle open and use scissors to cut off a piece of flesh about a quarter the size of the average little finger nail. This was positioned on the hook making sure the hook point was well clear, as these little fish have tough mouths armed with real teeth that they use to rip barnacles off the sides of the pools.
Iíd sneak up towards the pool, always keeping my face to the sun so as not to cause a shadow across the pool, then swing the bait into the pool and hold the line tight feeling for bites. Bites come quickly. There are usually at least four or five fish in every pool. Competition for food is high. The bites are aggressive taps and rattles that have you thinking the fish eating the bait is actually much bigger than it proves to be. After the second rattle, you lift the cane to hook the fish and swing them out of the pool.
Shannies were my most common catch, though I also caught butterfish, eels, gobies and the odd blenny. My lad and I still fish the rock pools frequently right through the year. The shannies are still there and as greedy as ever.
HARBOUR & QUAY WALLS
Another place to target mini species are harbour walls or fish quays. If you place baits tight to the base of the wall, especially if the seabed is a little rough, youíll take small pollack, coalies, sea scorpions, tompot blennies, poor cod and a host of other species.
You need a light trout spinning rod and a small fixed spool reel loaded with 4lb line. The rig is oh so simple. Slide a small drilled bullet, 1/4 oz is usually big enough, and stop it with a small split shot about 8-inches above the hook. The best hooks are barbless patterns size 10 to 14. The barbless gets a hold in the jaws of the fish easier and obviously allows easy release.
Youíll need a switch of baits. Small sections of mackerel, mainly because of the working boats cleaning the decks and washing fish scraps over the side, are the best bait. It takes pretty much everything.
Itís also worth carrying a few small floats and setting up float gear on these harbour walls. Smelt or Atherines often work the wall edge looking for protection from bigger predators. If you go down to size 16 hooks youíll pick up larger sandeels that can be seen working around the boats in tight shoals. You need to set the bait to fish just below the depth of your sight for starters. Slowly lower the bait in to the water and let the shot take it down. The instant it disappears, then that is where to set the float height. If bites donít come pretty quickly I go deeper by 6-in increments every couple of minutes.
Also take a lesson out of the coarse anglers book and throw in a few tiny scraps of mackerel flesh just to let the fish know you are there.
Iíve also found it worthwhile mixing up a little fishmeal with some mackerel flesh added and I put this mix in one of the mesh bags that washing up powder tablets are supplied in. This can be lowered from the seawall and allows a constant feeding of fine particles in to the water to attract free-swimming fish like the smelt.
Some quay walls in deeper water have a seabed made up from rocks, kelp weed beds and man-made rubbish dropped off the wall and from boats. If there is some tide run past the wall, then this is a good place to expect black gobies. These are often in huge colonies with fish tightly packed and living underneath the stones. Their pelvic fins are joined to form a round disc that they use to suction on to rocks when the tide is running hard. They take mackerel or sandeel sections best. These quay walls with a rough seabed also tend to produce the bigger tompot blennies that seem to favour living amongst the kelp beds.
Rock ledges that fall sheer in to deep water would not be everyoneís instant thought if youíre going fishing for mini species. They are actually the most prolific marks to fish regarding overall variety.
You need to fish either side of low water during the biggest spring tides. The low tide exposes deep rock pools around the low tide mark that hold big shannies, sea scorpions and black gobies. The black gobies only seem to live in the pools right at the lowest low water line.
One tip worth remembering on these exposed rock ledges is that if you can time your trip to coincide with the first really calm sea after a period of roughish weather the mini species will have been bunkered down in the cracks amongst the rocks. As soon as the seas calm, they come out of hiding and feed avidly for a few tides.
Stick to the same drilled bullet rig and size 10 hooks. The periwinkles again are the best bait for these, though the sea scorpions and the gobies also hit the mackerel baits too.
If you cast out into the deeper water, then several other species become a possibility. Beautiful golden goldsinny wrasse, bold green corkwing wrasse, rock gobies and giant gobies are all likely. Iíve even had rare rock cook wrasse fishing like this. To pick up these different species then forget the fish baits. The periwinkle will take a few, but by far the best are small sections of king ragworm. For some reason the deep water mini species go mad for it.
The beach based rock pools lose the majority of their residents through the winter. Usually by early November when the frosts have started to cool the water and leave the exposed low tide ground cold the mini species will have moved out.
Itís different in the harbours and especially off the deep-water rock ledges. Iíve found the mini species can be caught throughout the whole year, though their numbers may drop during spells of really cold weather, especially if there is snow melt water getting access to the sea nearby.
If you get the mini species bug, then youíll struggle with some species identification, especially the gobies, which are very difficult, each species having only small variations in relation to another.
My tip is get hold of a good fish identification book with quality coloured line drawings. I use The Pocket Guide To Saltwater Fishes Of Britain & Europe written by Alwynne Wheeler and illustrated by Colin Newman, published by Parkgate Books Ltd ISBN 1-85585-364-7. Itís small enough to be carried in a rucksack or bag.