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 mouth. Scaleless skin is slimy.
Three Bearded Rockling Hiding

A three bearded rockling hiding in a gap between rocks.

The elongated, scaleless, slimy body of the rockling may point to this species being an eel, but it is actually a fish from the same order of fish 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 pretty much anything they can find, while avoiding becoming a meal for larger, predatory fish. Three bearded rockling feed on marine worms, prawns, shellfish, crustaceans and pretty much anything else they can find 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 famility it is unlikely that rockling will ever catch on as a table fish as their perceived unattractive appearance and covering of slime well and truly 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 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 really targeted by recreational 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. Match anglers are happy to catch this species as a few decent sized rockling can be the difference between winning or losing a competition, and on a quiet fishing session the vast majority of recreational anglers would prefer to catch a rockling rather than blank. Due to the unfussy feeding habits of the three bearded rockling all of the commonly used baits (ragworm, lugworm, mackerel or herring strip, mussel, razorfish, peeler crab and squid) will be in with a chance of catching a rockling if they are presented on size 1 or 2 hooks and cast into areas of mixed ground, with the sheltered water of rocky harbours, breakwaters and groynes often proving particularly full of rockling.

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