- Scientific name: Scophthalmus maximus
- Size: Up to 5ft and 50lbs. UK shore caught typically 2-6lbs.
- UK minimum size: 16ins/41cm
- UK shore caught record: 28lb 8oz
- IUCN Status: NT (Near Threatened)
- Distribution: Seen as more common in the south but actually found throughout the UK on sandy, muddy and light broken ground.
- Feeds on: Small fish, prawns and crustaceans.
- Description: Left eyed flatfish which is almost circular in shape. Skin is scaleless and the colour varies greatly but is usually a shade of brown with black spots and brown speckles and white underside. Eyes are small and mouth is relatively large.
Turbot are a large flatfish, and generally prefer sandy and muddy seabeds. They can also be found around light mixed and broken ground, and will even be found around rough ground if a source of food is present there. Turbot come into shallower water in the spring and early summer and this is by far the best time for the shore angler to target them. They will, however, be turbot to be caught for most of the rest of the year, with only the coldest few months of winter seeing turbot uncatchable from the shore as they disappear into deeper water. Turbot are hunters and feed mostly on small fish. In summer they will take sandeels, sprats and even smaller mackerel which are abundant at that time of year. In winter they will feed on species such as whiting and rockling, as well as taking crabs and prawns if they are present. Turbot are very similar looking to brill, with the main differences being that turbot have an almost completely circular body and rougher skin than the brill. To complicate matters further brill and turbot hybrids are known to exist in some parts of the world.
Turbot is a widespread flatfish around British waters. It is seen as being more common in the south and west of the British Isles, and to an extend this is true. However, the north of Scotland has some of the UK’s best turbot fishing venues, and it is perfectly possible to catch this species from the North East and North Yorkshire coastlines. Its range extends into European waters, with turbot being found throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and along the northern coast of Africa, while they are also found in the colder waters of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea.
Turbot is a highly prized table fish which provides firm white flesh with a delicate flavour, and is therefore caught commercially. Spain catches the most turbot by far, accounting for around three-quarters of all catches, with Britain, Germany and France taking most of the rest of Europe’s catch. Turbot are caught mostly by beam trawling, although otter trawls and static nets can also be used. There is a growing trend to raise turbot in captivity through aquaculture, with turbot being raised from the larval stage to adult fish of five pounds in on shore tanks. In 2012 the Spanish commercial fishing company Pescanova lost as much as €30 million worth of turbot when the aeration system to the tanks containing the fish became blocked.
Long-term commercial fishing pressure on turbot means that they are now classed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The IUCN also calculate that turbot numbers have decreased between 20 – 30% since the 1980s, and the stock numbers for this species are continuing to decline.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Turbot
Large open beaches are the best place to target turbot. Anglers can do some homework by finding out from local anglers and tackle shops the locations where turbot have been caught and then visit these places at low tide and check for gullies, rocky outcrops or patches of rough ground. These features will of course have shellfish and weed, which will attract small crustaceans and fish, and therefore attract the turbot which feed on them. Turbot can also be caught around rock marks as long as anglers are casting onto sandy or shingle patches. Although smaller turbot will feed during sunlight the bigger specimens remain hidden in the sand during this time and come out to feed once the sun begins to set – making late evening and night the best time to target a large turbot. Using plain leads is a good idea as this will allow the bait to move around and attract turbot, and potentially find a place in a gully on the seabed. Another technique is to turn the handle of the reel three or four times every few minutes to provide some movement to the bait. When fishing marks close to rough or broken ground it is best to use a grip lead to ensure the terminal tackle does not roll into a snag. Turbot can come fairly close to the shore – especially during darkness – so experiment with a range of cast distances and include some of a very short distance just behind the breakers.
Turbot will take a wide range of baits including the usual ragworm, lugworm and peeler crab, but is usually the smaller fish which take these baits as they are foraging around the seabed. If these smaller turbot are expected hooks sized around a 1/0 – 2/0 are the best choice, and it is a good idea to use a two hook flapping rig to try out two different baits. When it comes to fishing for big turbot then fish baits are the best choice. Turbot have large mouths so don’t be scared to use large fillets of mackerel, big lesser sandeels or blueys. A full herring with some slashes down the side to allow the scent to escape can also be a good bait for this species. Step up the hook size to 3/0 or 4/0, and due to the size of the baits being used it is best to stick to single hook rigs and clip the bait down behind an impact shield to make it more secure during casting.