UK Fish Records

UK Shore Caught and Boat Caught Records

The records for the biggest fish caught on rod and line in British waters make interesting reading for anyone involved in UK angling. The records date back over seventy years (the shore caught record for dab dates back to 1936) and are divided into shore caught and boat caught categories. Any fish that can be caught in UK territorial water is eligible for a record, and while most fish species do have a current record some are vacant:

  • While smaller shark species (dogfish, bull huss, spurdog) have shore caught records, all of the larger species of shark have yet to be caught from the shore – this is hardly surprising when as species such as porbeagle rarely come within ten miles of land.
  • Rare species such as opah and blue runner do not currently have shore caught records, neither do deep-water species such as halibut, frilled shark and the king of herrings.
  • All vacant records have a qualifying weight which has to be reached before anglers can claim a record. Halibut, for example, have been caught from the shore but as the qualifying weight is set at 10lb the record will remain vacant until an angler catches one over this size. Interestingly, herring are abundant in UK waters but apparently no one has caught one over 1lb as the shore caught record is vacant and set at this weight.
  • Certain species such as silver eels and shad currently have the records suspended due to the critically endangered status of these species in UK waters.
  • The largest fish to be caught from the shore is a skate weighing 169lb 7oz, caught by from Breasclete Pier, Loch Roag in the Isle of Lewis in 1994. Other large records include a 68lb 2oz monkfish caught in Canvey Island, Essex back in 1967 and the record conger eel weighed 68lb 8oz and was caught from Devil’s Point in Plymouth by in 1992.
  • On the other extreme some very small mini species have shore caught records. There are over forty species with a shore caught record under 1lb. Amongst the smallest are the fifteen spined sea stickleback (Spinachia spinachia) which has a UK shore caught record of 5.6 drams (10 grams, or approximately ? of an ounce). However, the big-scale sand smelt (Atherina boyeri) has an even smaller record of 5 drams (8 grams), but nothing beats the common goby which has a UK shore caught record of 0.56 drams, or one gram!
  • Some records are shared when fish of the exact same weight have been caught. The shore record for blonde ray was set by C.M. Reeves in 1986 with a 32lb 8oz ray caught in Alderney in the Channel Islands. in 1994 K. Frain matched the record with a blonde ray of the exact same size. Both anglers are now recorded as joint holders of the shore record for this species. The somewhat smaller and less glamorous butterfish is another species with a joint record, with D. McEntee catching a specimen of 1oz 2dr in 1978, and P. Henson matching this in 1992.
  • In terms of boat catches the largest fish recorded dates back to the 1930s when blufin tuna were a moderately common catch on boats sailing into the north sea (commercial fishing, reduction in mackerel and herring numbers and changing weather patterns saw the disappearance of North Sea tuna by the 1950s). During this time a tunny (bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus) weighing 851lbs was caught by L. Mitchell-Henry, sailing out of Whitby, North Yorkshire in 1933. This, unsurprisingly  remains the biggest catch on record from UK waters, although a bluntnose six-gill shark was caught from a boat of the coast of County Clare in 2009 weighing 1056lbs – the biggest rod-and-line fish ever caught in British or Irish waters.
  • While the boat caught record for a species is the higher of the two but this is not always the case – lumpsucker and both thin and thick lipped mullet are species where the shore caught record is significantly higher than the boat caught, and even bass and dogfish have shore caught records which are slightly higher than the boat caught.

The full list of records for shore caught fish can be viewed by clicking here, and boat caught fish here.

Claiming a Record Fish

In order to claim a UK record – whether shore caught or boat caught – an angler must catch the fish with a rod and line, and the fish must take a baited hook or a lure into its mouth. For a record to be classified as a shore caught fish it must be caught from a land mass or man-made structure in Britain, while boat caught fish must be caught in British territorial waters from a boat which leaves and returns to a UK port. The fish must be weighed on land on scales which have a verified Weights and Measures Certificate. This means that fish caught on a boat cannot be weighed there, as the scales are not accurate enough, and must therefore be killed and taken back to shore to be weighed. This has been a controversial area in boat angling, as many anglers have refused to kill rare or endangered species in order to claim a record, and others have criticised the rules and regulations claiming that in these conservation-minded times it is unacceptable that the authorities still maintain that fish need to be killed and taken back to shore to be weighed. Some anglers have released fish that were big enough to claim record status as they refused to kill them, and a ‘Notable Fish List’ has been launched to recognise exceptional catches which have been released and not killed to claim a record. However, there is still pressure for the authorities to accept fish weighed on board boats as records in order to promote conservation. The Angling Trust has all of the information needed about claiming a record fish here.

Where Have All the UK Record Fish Been Caught?

The map below shows the location of twenty-five UK shore caught record fish. The date of capture, angler’s name and exact weight of the fish are detailed below. As it can be seen from the map, the South-West, South Coast and South Wales dominate when it comes to UK record catches, with these areas dominating. It is slim pickings for the rest of the UK, with only three record fish being caught in the whole of Scotland (all on the West coast, none at all on the East). North East England does not hold any records for any of the twenty-five species, and Yorkshire and East Anglia only hold one each. There is no direct evidence explaining why the South of England and Wales hold so many records, but it is likely to be linked to the proximity of this area to the Atlantic spawning grounds of species such as conger eel, and the warmer water around this part of the British Isles will also play a part.

Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax)
19lb 12oz, 2012 – J.S. Locker, Portsmouth Docks, Hampshire.

Bull Huss (Scyliorhinus stellaris)
19lb 14oz, 1992 – G. Ebbs, Pwllheli Beach, Gwynedd, Wales.

Coalfish (Pollachius virens)
24lb 11oz 12dr, 1995 – M. Cammish, Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire.

Cod (Gadus morhua)
44lb 8oz,1966 – B. Jones, Tom’s Point, Barry, Glamorgan, Wales.

Conger (Conger conger)
68lb 8oz, 1992 – M. Larkin, Devil’s Point, Plymouth.

Dab (Limanda limanda)
2lb 9oz 8dr, 1936 – M. Watts, Morfa Beach, Port Talbot, Glamorgan.

Lesser-Spotted Dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula)
4lb 15oz 3dr, 1988 – S. Ramsey, Abbey Burnfoot, Kirkcudbright.

Flounder (Pleuronectes flesus)
5lb 7oz, 1994 – B. Sokell, River Teign, Devon.

Garfish (Belone belone)
3lb 4oz 12dr, 1995 – F. Williams, Porthoustock, Cornwall.

Tub Gurnard (Trigla lucerna)
12lb 3oz, 1976 – G. Reynolds, Langlan Bay, Wales.

Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus)
6lb 12oz, 1976 – G. Stevenson, Loch Goil, Scotland.

Ling (Molva molva)
21lb 10oz, 1994 – K. Smith, Seasons Point, Plymouth, Devon.

Mackerel (Scomber scombrus)
5lb 11oz 14dr, 1982 – M. Kemp, Berry Head Quarry, Brixham.

Monkfish (Lophius piscatorius)
68lb 2oz, 1967 – H. Legerton, Canvey Island, Essex.

Thick Lipped Grey Mullet (Chelon labrosus)
14lb 2oz 12dr, 1979 – R. Gifford, Aberthaw, Glamorgan.

Thin Lipped Grey Mullet (Liza ramada)
7lb, 1991 – N. Mableson, Saltside, Oulton Broad.

Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa)
8lb 6oz 14dr, 1989 – R. Moore, Southbourne Beach, Bournemouth.

Pollack (Pollachius pollachius)
18lb 4oz, 1986 – C. Lowe, Abbotsbury, Dorset.

Pouting (Trisopterus luscus)
4lb 9oz, 1991 – R. Andrews, Guernsey, Channel Islands.

Thornback Ray (Raja clavata)
22lb 11oz 8dr, 2008 – M. Johnson, Salcombe Estuary.

Common Skate (Raja batis)
169lb 6oz, 1994 – G. MacKenzie, Loch Roag, Isle of Lewis.

Smooth-Hound (Mustelus mustelus)
20lb 3oz 2000 P. Orchard, Hillhead, Hampshire.

Spurdog (Squalus acanthias)
16lb 12oz, 1964 – R. Legg, Chesil Beach, Dorset.

Whiting (Merlangius merlangus)
4lb 7dr, 1984 – T. Dell, Abbotsbury, Dorset.

Ballan Wrasse (Labrus bergylta)
9lb 1oz, 1998 – P. Hegg, Portland, Dorset.

Note: This is simply an attempt to map twenty-five of the most common/representative species onto a map of the UK to show where they have been caught. When rare fish, mini-species and unusual one-off catches have been taken into account there have been well over one-hundred species caught from the shore in the UK and awarded a place in the books as a record catch. If every single UK shore caught record was added to the map then many areas which are not currently displaying a record catch would have at least one, but the South of England and Wales would still dominate the map.