Banded Wrasse – Pseudolabrus fucicola

Banded Wrasse – Pseudolabrus fucicola

Caught by the author from the rocks at Kaikoura’s Goose Bay, this banded wrasse is much darker in colour and is probably a male.

The most notable feature of the banded wrasse is its fang-like front teeth. These are designed for tearing and crushing limpets, barnacles, mussels, crabs and almost any other organism attempting to find refuge behind a hard shell exterior.

The formidable front teeth are augmented by flattened teeth which extend down into the back of the throat. These are used to crush and grind food before swallowing.

This species is found throughout New Zealand. They are mostly associated with rocky ground. Divers often see them darting in and out of kelp fronds and they prefer this type of foul ground. I have, however, caught the odd one while surfcasting from the open shingle beaches of mid and south Canterbury where there is no rocky ground for many kilometres.

Banded wrasse can grow to as much as 5kg, and measure up to 600mm in length, although such large individuals are rare. Most of those caught on the rocky shore of Banks Peninsula would be between 200mm­ and 300mm long and weigh less than a kilo.

This banded wrasse was caught from the shingle beach at Taumutu, near Lake Ellesmere. They are not usually caught so far from the rocks.

Young specimens all start out as females. They change into males at any time after they move out of the plankton stage, though many will remain as females for life.

When first caught this fish displays striking colouration of alternate green and yellow-brown bars running in wide vertical bands along its length. Banded wrasse changes sex during their lives, from female to male, their colouration is linked to their life cycle and age. Younger fish start out a reddish brown colour. They then turn more green-brown with yellow bars on their flanks. Males are very similar in appearance but the bands are a darker purplish colour. Wrasses have relatively large course scales that are easily dislodged when the fish is handled.

A big banded wrasse caught while surfcasting at Calverley, near Kaikoura.

Banded wrasse can grow to as much as 5kg, and measure up to 600mm in length, although such large individuals are rare. Most of those caught on the rocky shore of Banks Peninsula would be between 200mm­ and 300mm long and weigh less than a kilo.

A close-up view of the same fish. The colours are quite bright when the fish is still alive. This one was taken on a squid bait.

Young specimens all start out as females. They change into males at any time after they move out of the plankton stage, though many will remain as females for life.

 When first caught this fish displays striking colouration of alternate green and yellow-brown bars running in wide vertical bands along its length. Banded wrasse changes sex during their lives, from female to male, their colouration is linked to their life cycle and age. Younger fish start out a reddish brown colour. They then turn more green-brown with yellow bars on their flanks. Males are very similar in appearance but the bands are a darker purplish colour. Wrasses have relatively large course scales that are easily dislodged when the fish is handled.

A float rig can work well over rough ground for wrasse. A ledger rig with an old spark plug sinker is a cheap alternative. Wrasse is mostly in areas of kelp.

According to the late David H. Graham, who was a biologist at the Marine Fisheries Investigation Station, at Portobello, on the Otago Peninsula, banded wrasse was the most aggressive and domineering of all the fishes he had kept in captivity. They were found to be not only aggressive to their own kind but to other species as well no matter their size. Banded wrasse kept in tanks would freely attack dogfish three times bigger than themselves. Crabs and crayfish sharing the same tank were soon torn limb from limb and quickly devoured.

Their aggressive behaviour and eating habits mean that they are easily caught. This species is often the first to take a baited hook when fishing commences – from both shore and boat. Banded wrasses are generally regarded as a nuisance fish by anglers in search of more desirable species. However, un­wanted specimens should always be returned immediately to the water. They are very slow growing. The small 25cm specimen carelessly discarded on the rocks could be over ten years old!

Youngsters, in particular, can have great fun catching these fish. They are easy to catch and are widely available. The best rig for banded wrasse is a simple ledger. The main thing to remember is to use small hooks of about size 1 to 8. These fish have small mouths and thick fleshy lips. Big hooks are not needed. The best baits are shellfish. If you are fishing from a rocky shore, a little of the firmer part of the flesh from mussels can be threaded onto the hook. However, as mentioned, the banded wrasse will take just about any bait. If you find yourself down on the rocks and you’ve forgotten your bait, fishing for banded wrasse with this method will enable you to catch one, and in turn, use it as bait for a bigger fish.

Banded wrasse can sometimes have very bright colouration.

Their rocky habitat can often tangle your gear and cause the sinker to break-off. It is a good idea especially when fishing in these situations to tie your sinker on with a lighter line so that it breaks away and leaves you with the fish. Sometimes the best fishing can be in the places where you lose a lot of gear. You can also make use of old spark plus and so on as sinkers if you are worried about the cost. Another method is to use a rig suspended from a float. This can be a bit tricky if the wind is blowing into shore, but it is an excellent and productive method. Moki, blue cod and trumpeter inhabit the same sort of rocky ground. Who knows you might even catch one of these fish as well.

Although perfectly edible most anglers would baulk at frying up a banded wrasse for breakfast. I have eaten them with no ill effects. They taste good!

It should be remembered by anglers that an abundance of large banded wrasse, together with spotties and other reef fish, is a sign of a healthy fishery.

This post was last modified on 22/03/2020 4:52 pm

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