Three Bearded Rockling

Three Bearded Rocking Profile Pic
  • Scientific name: Gaidropsarus vulgaris
  • Also known as: Slug
  • Size: up to 2ft and 3lb. Shore caught typically under 1lb.
  • UK minimum size: 8ins/20cm
  • UK shore caught record: 3lb 12oz
  • IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: Found in shallow inshore waters all around UK and Ireland. More common in rocky or mixed ground.
  • Feeds on: Scours seabed for marine worms, prawns, shellfish and small crustaceans.
  • Description: Long, eel-like body with very long dorsal and anal fins. Colour varies but is usually orange/brown with black spots creating a mottled pattern on flanks and back. Three prominent barbules around the mouth. Scaleless skin is slimy.
Three Bearded Rockling Hiding
A three bearded rockling hiding in a gap between rocks.

Despite the elongated, scaleless, slimy body of the rockling this species is actually a fish from the same order as the cod and haddock. There are a number of other different rockling species around the British Isles (click here to for the entry about these species) but the three bearded grows to the largest sizes. This rockling gets its name from the three barbules located around its mouth (two on its upper jaw and one on its chin). Rockling prefer rocky or mixed ground around weed beds and are seldom found on sandy seabeds without any rock or weed cover. They hide in cracks and gaps between rocks and come out to scavenging on the seabed for any sources of food they can find while avoiding becoming prey larger predatory fish. Three bearded rockling feed on marine worms, prawns, shellfish, crustaceans or other sources of food such as dead or rotting fish. Larger rockling over a pound in weight may also actively hunt for small fish.

Commercial Value

Rockling are of no commercial value at all, and due to the fact that they live in shallow, inshore, rocky waters they generally avoid being caught as bycatch in commercial trawls. Despite being a member of the cod family it is unlikely that rockling will ever be considered as a food fish as their perceived unattractive appearance and covering of slime puts consumers off. Most anglers return rockling alive to the sea, and as rockling are know to inhabit the same area for long periods of time it is perfectly possible to catch the same rockling multiple times, and sometimes the same rockling can be even caught twice during the same fishing session.

Methods and Techniques to Catch Three Bearded Rockling

Caught Rockling
A large three bearded rockling caught on a mackerel bait.

Rockling are not generally specifically targeted by anglers and are usually caught when they take baits meant for more worthy species. Many anglers can get annoyed when baits are constantly taken by small rockling. However, a three bearded rockling of over a pound is a decent catch and despite being nicknamed ‘slug’ by anglers (due to the fact that they are slimy to the touch) larger specimens can actually be quite attractive fish with their bright orange and black colouration. On a quiet fishing session the vast majority of recreational anglers would prefer to catch a rockling rather than nothing at all. Due to the unfussy feeding habits of the three bearded rockling all of the commonly used sea fishing baits such as ragworm, lugworm, fish strip, mussel, razorfish, peeler crab and squid will catch this species. If anglers are targeting rockling size 1 or 2 hooks are the best choices as most three bearded rockling will be small and under a pound in weight. Casting onto mixed ground or into the sheltered water of rocky harbours, breakwaters and groynes can prove productive as these areas are the most likely to hold rockling.