everything you need to know, all on one site...


three bearded rockling - count the beards or it could be a less common five bearded rockling?

Three Bearded Rockling, Gaidropsarus vulgaris

Irish Record Fish:
We have withdrawn the details on the Irish record and specimen weights as the current IFSC rules require anglers kill all such fish, hardly sporting or conservation minded, is it?  Alternatives exist.
Boat Specimen:
Shore Specimen:
Photo Credit:   Thorke Østergaard

Introduction: Of the many species of rockling available in Irish waters, you are most likely to encounter the Three Bearded Rockling. It is light brown in colour with dark brown blotches, and has two barbules on the snout with one on the lower jaw.  Despite the name, it can be a substantial fish, exceed 1.4 kilos (3 lbs) in weight, and it is typically caught in the foreshore area.  The Shannon estuary produces lots of specimen fish, mainly from the piers around Aughinish and Moneypoint.  Whilst the Three Bearded Rockling is the most commonly caught by anglers, there are potentially five other species to be caught in Irish waters.  The other species include the Four Bearded Rockling, a deeper water species only available from boats (one barbule on the snout, one on the chin and two close to the anterior nostrils), the Five Bearded Rockling (ranging from reddish brown to dark brown in colour and distinguished by yes five barbules), another intertidal shoreline scavenger and last but not least, the Shore Rockling.  The two remaining options are extremely rare and dealt with further down.  

Clearly there is plenty of scope for mis-identification; - the Three Bearded Rockling photographed above is difficult to identify because of the shadows cast by the barbules!  The Shore Rockling, as if things were not bad enough, has three barbules, two on the lower jaw and one on the snout, just like the Three Bearded Rockling... and the colours on both species can vary with the local environment!  For the record the Three Bearded Rockling has a  short blunt head, with dark brown blotches on a light background, whilst the Shore Rorkling has a narrow head with light blotches on a dark background.  Confused!?!  In these rockling cases, one can sympathise with why the ISFC demand that a specimen or record fish must be presented to guarantee correct identification...

Vagabond adds that there are two more species available; - "the Big-eye Rockling, found in deep water to the west of Scotland and Ireland (has three barbules), and the Northern Rockling, (has three main barbules and lots of little ones) a fish of Scandinavia and Iceland, but has occurred as far south as Brittany."

Boat tactics: Rockling are normally caught from the shore, and any caught from a boat are accidental catches, mind you you might just pick up a rare Four Bearded specimen.  The other species are taken by casting back towards the foreshore or fishing shallow inshore reefs at low tide. Large baits are not a problem for rockling so don;t be surprised to find them clamped onto a 3/0 hook hoidng a large section of mackerel - certainly that is how I have caught the majority of these "slugs".  The term is not unwarranted as they have a very slimp unscaled feel to them, not unlike the common garden slug!

Shore tactics: The shallow water rockling display a homing behaviour and can often be caught day after day around the same mark!  Since these fish scavenge around in low tide conditions in the weeds and rocks... any small bait legered in that area will attract bites.  Hooks should be of the 1/0 mark, and most baits work well, with worms being especially effective, however rockling are often caught on rigs and baits destined for bass, including 4/0 hooks!  Rocks, with a mix of sand, shingle or mud will offer rockling, especially in our estuaries. This said I have taken them in the middle of a storm off the No. 5 rock in Dunmore East no more than ten metres from the shore in truly appalling conditions.  The ferry in Killimer in Co. Clare and presumably in Tarbert on the far side, and equally the ferry terminals either side of Passage East are known rockling hot-spots, which would indicate their willingness to forage in very dirty heavy disturbed water, thus good scent laden baits would be your best option.