Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


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"Break out the gurnard gear."

We leave for Belize today but earlier this week I noticed a 'fishy' title in a journal that I thought might be worth a quick note before I leave. Some German and Danish scientists have been investigating the state of fish stocks in the North Sea and come up with what I think is a fascinating fact.

Of course all anglers must be aware of the decline in cod stocks. The basic cause of this decline is undoubtedly overfishing and there has been a long running argument between fishermen and researchers about what should be done to remedy the problem. Fishermen say that there are plenty of cod and scientists say that stocks are in a parlous state. Politicians try to please everyone and usually fail to satisfy anyone. Of course the background to this is perhaps the most interesting aspect. Years ago there was a crash in the prolific Newfoundland cod stock. Panic set in, fishing was stopped but the fish NEVER CAME BACK. The question is - could the same thing happen in the North Sea?

Anyway, to get back to the point. It has been known for some time that one of the 'top ten' species in the seas around our coasts is, believe it or not, the grey gurnard. In Winter these fish concentrate off our east coast with the shoals breaking up and dispersing in Spring and Summer. At this time large numbers are found fifty metres down in the North Sea. Perhaps surprisingly the grey gurnard is regarded as a predator, feeding mainly on juvenile fishes. The stomach contents of big gurnard (fish of a pound or so) consisted mostly of cod (18%) and whiting (32%). By far the majority of the fish eaten were less than 10cm in length.

In the early nineties, in view of the rapidly declining cod stocks, it was decided to see whether grey gurnards might be a factor in controlling numbers. When gurnard were included in the mathematical models of cod stocks they appeared to drive the cod to extinction - scientists were sceptical of this so a closer look was needed to find out if gurnards might really be capable of affecting cod and whiting recruitment or indeed if the might affect future recovery of these stocks.

The outcome of all the maths and jiggery pokery was to suggest that grey gurnard do consume an amazing 60% of cod in their first year of life. Also, predation by these fish depresses stocks of whiting and potentially those of cod. Good for the gurnards but not so good for anglers unless you brush up your grey gurnard tactics. So what is the best way to catch these fish? To be honest it's many years since I had one but Michael Kennedy, in his excellent book The Sea Angler's Fishes says that they are common inshore over Irish sandy beaches between May and September. He presents a picture of a good catch taken from the shore on a baited spoon and says that he has caught them while surface fishing for bass. Anyway, it might be worth a go when the cod and whiting have all gone.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Gear up for Grey Gurnard.

Irish gurnard on the baited spoon..

Picture from Michael Kennedy 'The Sea Angler's Fishes' Stanley Paul, London - Page 202.