While the three bearded rockling is the largest rockling species in UK waters there are five additional rockling species found in UK waters. Most (but not all) of these rockling species are identified primarily by the number of beards (barbules) they have. While many of these species were seen as bait stealing pests the growing popularity of LRF (Light Rock Fishing) means that many anglers now target these species on super light gear.
All rockling are scavengers which rummage around the seabed for any source of food they can find. Lugworm, ragworm, mackerel strip and pretty much any other bait presented on small hooks will catch a rockling if they are present. Due to its larger size the three bearded rockling has a separate entry on this website, with all other rockling species have their profiles on this page.
Shore Rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus)
The shore rockling has three barbules on its head, meaning it can easily be confused with a small three bearded rockling. It also has the typical rockling long dorsal and anal fins. The main difference lies in the colour. The three bearded can be bright orange and reddish colours and always has marbled, mottled or spotted patterns on its flanks. The shore rockling is usually a darker and duller brownish colour, and is a plain and uniform colour, with only very small spots, if any at all. Shore rockling are the second biggest of the rockling species (after the three bearded). The UK shore record is a specimen of 1lb 9oz caught in 1992 at Chesil Cove, Dorset by D. Lane.
Five Bearded Rockling (Ciliata mustela)
Unsurprisingly, the five bearded rockling has five visible barbules – four on its upper snout and one on its chin. The first dorsal fin is unusual as it consists of a single ray with second dorsal fin and anal fins being long. Colour is usually brownish with a pale underbelly and skin is scaleless and slimy. The five bearded rockling can grow to almost thirty centimetres in length, although typically it is half of this size. The shore caught record is a five bearded rockling of 1lb caught in 1995 by A. Boswell off the coast of Aberystwyth, Wales.
Four Bearded Rockling (Enchelyopus cimbrius)
The colour is can be anything between black, brown and olive green, and like all rockling species, its skin is slimy and scaleless. It has three barbules on its upper mouth and one on its chin. It has the first dorsal fin made up of a single ray and a long second dorsal and anal fin. The four bearded rockling is very much a mini-species typically being smaller than fifteen centimetres in length. The shore caught record was set by 1oz 7dr (40 grams) by S. Hodgson in 1981 at Cloch Point, Gourock on the coast of the Firth of Clyde.
Other Rockling Species
There are also two other species of rockling occasionally found in UK waters: the bigeye rockling (Gaidropsarus macrophthalmus) and the northern rockling (Ciliata septentrionalis). Both are small, growing to a maximum of around 20cm. However, these two species are very rare indeed and seldom caught by anglers.