Scarlet Wrasse – Pseudolabrus miles – also called soldierfish

Scarlet Wrasse caught in Dusky Sound, Fiordland.
Scarlet Wrasse caught in Dusky Sound, Fiordland.

Scarlet Wrasse – Pseudolabrus miles

Also known as Puwaiwhakarua (Maori) and soldierfish

Anglers don’t generally target scarlet wrasse. Sometimes they can be a nuisance when targeting more desirable reef species in southern New Zealand such as blue cod, trumpeter, and tarakihi. In rarely fished parts of New Zealand such as Fiordland, the scarlet wrasse can be found in large numbers where they will often get to baited hooks before other species can get a chance. In the clear waters of Fiordland, it is not unusual for several scarlet wrasses to chase a hooked fish all the way to the surface sometimes getting hooked on the same hook as the first fish.

How many scarlet wrasse can you catch on one hook? The answer is at least two. This pair of scarlet wrasse were taken on the same hook while fishing behind Cooper Island in Fiordland's Dusky Sound. These fish were released unharmed.
How many scarlet wrasses can you catch on one hook? The answer is at least two. This pair of scarlet wrasse were taken on the same hook while fishing behind Cooper Island in Fiordland’s Dusky Sound. These fish were released unharmed.

A scarlet wrasse is a stunningly attractive fish when fresh from the water. Soon after cap­ture, their colouring fades to a dull pink. Most of our southern New Zealand species are fairly drab in colour, which makes this species really stand out.

They have the appearance of a tropical species that you might catch on a coral reef, so vivid is their colouring.

The scarlet wrasse can be found all around New Zealand but is particularly prevalent in the deep south around Stewart Island. They are also found in large numbers around the Chatham Islands. Usually found down to about 15 metres over rocky ground

They prefer deeper water and are not usually encountered in water shallower than 15 metres.

Scarlet wrasse, like the spotty, are protogynous hermaphrodites. That means, that they all start out as females and later develop into males at three years of age. Throughout these changes in their lives their colouring changes.

To begin with, they have a scarlet head, a white chin, and orange and white stripes running along their sides. At this stage, they also have three pale orange spots along the base of their dorsal fin. There is also a wide black vertical band at the base of the tail.

As they grow older and reach a length of about 15 centimetres the spots begin to fade and the scarlet colour becomes much brighter.

After about three years of age, they change into males. Their colour alters again. This time their sides become more yellow and they develop a white patch on the body just behind the head. The upper ray of the tail also begins to grow longer. So, what may at first seem like different species, is in fact different colour stages in the life span of the same species.

They are also called scarlet parrotfish. This species grows to a length of 45 cm. Big specimens can weigh as much as 6 lb (2.7kg).

Scarlet wrasse prey on a wide range of marine life. Like spotties, they have quite small fleshy mouths and eat things like crabs, brittle stars, sea urchins, shrimps, and shellfish. They also eat different varieties of seaweed.

Scarlet wrasse is not targeted by anglers, instead, they are often caught over deep rocky ground, down to 100 metres, whilst fishing for more desirable species. They will readily take a jig or the flies on a flasher rig. Though not sort after they can, like all wrasse, be eaten as food. Most anglers would toss them back rather than take them home for dinner.

When dropping your jigs in search of blue cod and other sort af­ter species, hooking a scarlet wrasse is a sure sign you are in the right area. In the southern waters mentioned above, this species is surpris­ingly plentiful, and as such, must make up a significant part of the ma­rine life in these places.

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