Dover Sole

Dover Sole

  • Scientific name: Solea solea
  • Also know as: Common Sole, Black Sole
  • Size: up to 3ft and 7lb. UK shore caught typically 1 – 2lb.
  • UK minimum size: 10ins/25cm
  • UK shore caught record: 6lb 8oz
  • ICUN Status: DD (Data Deficient)
  • Distribution: Generally favours warmer water, meaning it is more common around the south of the British Isles, especially the English Channel, Irish Sea and southern parts of the North Sea on sand and shingle seabeds. Can be found around northern parts of the UK in limited numbers.
  • Feeds on: Mostly marine worms, prawns and invertebrates, but will feed on other food sources such as molluscs and crustaceans if they are present.
  • Description: Right eyed oval-shaped flatfish with a very small tail and long, thin fins. Dark stripe or spot on the very end of the small pectoral fin. Eyes are small and set close together. Colour ranges from dark brown to tan/light brown with darker patches.

Dover sole tends to live in deeper water in the winter but come into shallower water to feed and spawn when the weather warms up in the spring and summer. This species is mostly inactive through the day and tend to feed more at night. Sole scour the seabed for worms, although they will also take shellfish, prawns and small crabs. The name Dover sole is said to come from the fact that in the 1800s there was a massive demand for this species from wealthy people in London. A regular and fast stagecoach service ran for most of the year to speed the catches of this species from the ports of Dover where the fish was caught in abundance to the capital to meet the demand. Common sole is an alternative name for this species but Dover is widely used, especially by anglers. See the article on flatfish identification here for a guide on identifying different flatfish species.

Commercial Importance

Dover Sole
Like all flatfish sole live and feed on the seabed.

Dover sole is a commercially important species which can command high prices for commercial fisheries. ICES (International Council of the Exploration of the Sea) states that sole are being fished outside of safe biological limits. Sole are also on Greenpeace’s red list of species that are at a high risk of being fished from unsustainable fisheries, although the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes them as Data Deficient. Environmental groups have stated that responsible consumers should avoid eating sole which has been caught by beam trawling as this method of commercial fishing is extremely damaging to the marine environment. Previously, the extremely controversial method of pulse trawling was used to catch sole in the southern North Sea, although legislation has now been passed to ban this method of commercial fishing.

Methods and Techniques to Catch Dover Sole

Dover sole have small mouths so small hooks and small baits are necessary to catch this species – using hooks that are too large is the main cause of anglers failing to catch this species. Anglers should use size 2 – 6 hook in long-shanked patterns to aid unhooking – this flatfish rig is ideal for targeting plaice when chosen with flatfish hooks. Allowing bites to develop and avoiding striking too early is also a good idea as sole may take some time before they fully take the bait into their mouth. Baits should be fished hard to the seabed as this is where sole will be feeding. Avoid long snoods as they may lift off from the seabed in the tidal run and the sole will miss them. Some anglers even add additional drilled bullet weights to the hooklengths to ensure the bait is nailed to the seabed. Like flounder, sole will come very close to the shore during darkness, and casts as short as twenty yards, or even less, can locate the feeding fish. Unlike flounder and plaice, sole do not seem to be particularly attracted to sequins and beads added to hooklenths, nor do they respond particularly well to a moving bait. Dover sole are known to move around in shoals, and double shots of them on multi-hook rigs are not uncommon if a shoal is located.