The ballan is the largest of the seven species of wrasse native to British waters and is found all around our coasts. It fights hard, is plentiful and can be caught on a variety of different tackles. Much bigger than its near relations - the cuckoo, corkwing, rainbow, scale-eyed, rock cook and goldsinny - it grows to a weight in excess of ten pounds and is often one of the first fish caught by newcomers to angling.
Ballan wrasse are an obliging species found in all rocky areas, where it lives amongst the kelp and other seaweeds found on the ocean floor. Naturally it eats many of the creatures found amongst such rocky locations but tends not to eat other fish, although it will have a go at very small fry when it is hungry! Most of the time it will eat shrimps, prawns, crabs and shellfish. With its powerful jaws and blunt, poker-like teeth it is quite capable of plucking a limpet from the rocks and then demolishing it! Bear that in mind if you handle a wrasse but also be careful of the spines on its back. These could hurt if they catch you in the wrong place. You should also avoid sticking your fingers in its mouth.
If you do fish for ballan wrasse, then you should bear conservation quite firmly in mind. Although they are quite a tough species, they are slow growing and territorial, which makes them vulnerable. If people catch, and kill, a lot from a small area, it may take quite a while for the fishing in that spot to recover. It is far better to put them back alive.
Some little known facts about the wrasse
1) Did you know that some species of wrasse actually make themselves a nest, just like a birdís, amongst the seaweed? They will also sleep through the night, making fishing for them a daytime only occupation.
2) Ballan wrasse have a second set of teeth in their throat. They are called pharyngeal teeth and are capable of crushing hard shells to a fine powder, which the fish then spits out. They are quite capable of inflicting a very nasty wound on a human, so itís not a good idea to stick your finger down its throat to get a hook out!
3) The flesh of wrasse tends to adopt the flavour of whatever each fish has been eating. As this is often quite disgusting, at least from our viewpoint, it makes eating them a bit of a game of chance!
4) Spear fishing contests, which award points for fish weighing above certain limits, have led to the unnecessary slaughter of many of these beautiful fish. I know of one mark, for example, where it took ten years for the stocks to recover from a single competition. If one takes place in your area why not write to the organiser and try and get them removed from the target species. That way you could help to avoid an unnecessary slaughter.
Pole fishing for wrasse is a great way to introduce youngsters to the sport.