The best areas for truly wild wrasse are found around the rock peninsulas of the Lizard and Land's End in Cornwall, the jagged cliff country of West Wales between Milford Haven and Anglesey, and again along the west coast of Scotland.
Ireland too, has a massive wrasse potential along its south, north and west coast. The areas especially favoured are southwest Cork, Kerry and the northwest Donegal coast, but find rock in the west of Ireland and you'll find plenty of wrasse.
The key to catching bigger wrasse of 2lbs or more is to understand how they live. They are territorial. They choose a rock ledge and will live there the whole season, patrolling a set route, picking up food as they go. Their patch of rock will only be a few metres long, maybe 15 metres if the wrasse has grown well over 3lbs and they rarely stray out of its imaginary limits.
They feed on crabs, limpets, mussels, and occasionally small fish. They have big teeth capable of prising small shellfish off the rock sides. They live tight to the shore in shallow water around steep rocks that fall sheer to the sea, but also further out around rocky pinnacles in depths down to 30 metres.
The big fish are solitary. Smaller fish will be forcibly removed from their domain by bullying tactics. If you fish a mark and catch smaller wrasse immediately, then it's time to move, as the big ballan's are elsewhere.
They are not governed by tide sizes. Wrasse feed on the neap tides and on the springs. You target them though, during the spring tides either side of low water as you can get closer to the waters edge and drop your bait right into their lair. By necessity of safety you need to fish only when the sea is calm and predictable. If there is a swell, do something else. Swells on the west coasts are always unsure and can form an unexpected wave that can have you off the rock and lost in a second.
Also worth remembering is that wrasse will vacate their homes at times of huge seas and seek shelter in deeper water. Even if the sea goes calm immediately after a major blow, it can be several days before the wrasse move back in.
The best wrasse anglers are mobile. The bigger wrasse are where the average angler won't fish and that's in the least accessible areas and on marks where the access is difficult. You need good climbing boots and a trusted companion. You don't need to necessarily fish together side by side, but stay within earshot should something happen would be my advice. Carry the minimum of tackle and equipment. Most use a small rucksack that carries everything including food, drink, clothing, bait and tackle.
Tackle needs to be tough, but sporting. I use a bass rod and a fixed-spool reel holding 300-metres of 15lb line. For very big fish, say in the west of Ireland, then the line strength goes up to 18lbs. The bass rods between 11 and 12ft give you some leverage to pull the wrasse away from the rock under your feet.
In extreme cases, where the fish can push over 5lbs, such as the Channel Islands, some Cornish marks and also Ireland, then even a 5oz beachcaster and 25lb line is not over-gunning on the tackle. Even a 4lb wrasse will really test your tackle to the limit and in really snaggy ground you'll be thankful for the heavy gear.
The best rig is one you can afford to lose as you'll lose plenty. Take about 1 metre of 40lb mono and tie a loop in the bottom. About 45cms above the base loop tie in a blood loop. Add a cheap but strong box swivel at the top for a connector. The hook trace needs to be 30lb line about 20cms long and connected to the blood loop on the rig by another loop. Use a weak link of line, say 8lbs, tied to the base loop to take a lead weight. The weight should be as light as the sea allows. Usually 1oz is enough.
The bait will be peeler crab, soft crab or mussel. The soft crab has the edge, but all are effective baits. Skein the mussel free of the shell 24 hours before you are going fishing and store the mussel in its own juice in a sealed jar in the fridge. This improves its effectiveness.
I don't agree that baits need to be big for wrasse. Unless the target fish are known to be huge, a size 3/0 hook full of bait is too big and will cost you fish. The best hook is a Mustad Viking 79515 size 1 for average fish, or a Mustad Bass hook (designed specifically for use with crab baits) size 2/0 for big fish. Fully cover these with bait leaving the hook point clear and the bait is big enough. Bigger hooks are difficult to set in the hard mouth of wrasse and are not necessary. I also flatten the barbs on all my wrasse hooks to improve penetration and make unhooking easier, but above you will lose some wrasse that break you off and they'll shed the barbless hook a darn sight quicker than they would do one with the barb left on.
Okay, you're all kitted out and ready to go. How do you find your mark? You choose a piece of coast, get the good old Ordnance Survey map out and follow the sheep tracks along the cliffs. The beauty with solely going for wrasse and being mobile is that you don't need much room from which to fish. You can perch yourself on a rock pinnacle a metre across and be quite happy. The ledger fisherman and his rod rest and two rod approach needs a much wider platform from which to fish. You've eliminated most of the fished out marks straight away. Any sensible access down the cliffs to a small standing area is going to put you on virgin territory.
There are some things to look for though. Wrasse don't like a fast tide run passing by their rock. They prefer quieter areas away from the main tidal flow. They love gullies and channels with a depth of 3 metres between the shore and surface breaking rocks. They like kelp beds where they can hide inside the weed when needed, but patrol its borders to feed. You can spot all these features from your cliff path when the water is clear during high summer. Use Polaroid sunglasses and you won't miss much. Underwater rocks stand out as solid dark patches, weed beds look to shimmer as they move, and gutters running between rocks are lighter coloured water with the dark rocks as borders.
Once you get down on to your platform, exercise caution and quiet. It's almost like trout fishing and you need to keep quiet. Rock transmits sound fairly well and heavy foot vibrations, if the ledge you're stood on is undercut below you, can warn the fish and make them nervous for a while. Likewise shadows falling across the water if the depth is shallow. This applies to the rod as well.
All set, then drop your bait out beyond the immediate edge of the rock and hold the rod tip low to the surface on a tight line. This is what the freshwater anglers calls touch ledgering. You fish to a tight line to enable you to feel every twitch. You'll feel weed fall against the line and the lead get picked up by the swell. Ignore these.
A wrasse bite is unmistakable. You'll feel a series of short rattles if the wrasse is small and they'll try and drag the bait away. Bigger fish bite totally different. You often only get one sudden jerk on the rod and nothing else. Hit the single jerk as fast and as hard as you can. Just occasionally, a big wrasse will "pluck" at the bait, and then nothing happens. These fish may have swallowed the bait but not moved off. I hit them as soon as the plucks stop.
As soon as the hook sinks home the wrasse will bore down heading for the sanctuary of the rocks. You must keep him out from the snags by keeping the rod out at arms length and putting as much pressure on him as you can. They'll keep heading for the bottom, but eventually turn and push out from the rock and maybe make a very short run of a few feet before coming back towards you. Be ready for this and wind like hell. If they get in the snags you've pretty much lost them. Giving slack line to fish can work, but invariably doesn't.
You'll know a wrasse is beaten when they come to the surface and turn around repeatedly on themselves. Really big wrasse can make one last amazing crash dive now. Same principle, be brutal and hold them hard working the tackle to the limit. When obviously defeated, wait for a swell to wash them up on the rock where you can get access to them. Some wrasse specialists carry a landing net, but it's cumbersome on the rocks and more trouble than it's worth.
Don't put your fingers near the mouth when removing the hook. Check the teeth, they can bite! Use small long-nosed pliers to remove stubborn hooks. I adhere to tradition and try to return wrasse a little away from the mark you caught them on, say on the opposite side of the mark if possible. This stops them darting around on release and scaring other fish. You might get one or two others out of the same general area then it will go dead and it's time to move to a new mark.