Spotty – Notolabrus celidotus – One of the easiest species to catch!

Female spotty.
Female spotty.

The spotty is often regarded as a nuisance fish

Spotty are also called Paketi and guffy (in Canterbury).

Rather than writing a piece about how to catch spotties, it might be more useful to learn how to not to catch spotties!  These little fish are a nuisance to wharf, jetty and rock fishermen seeking bigger fish.  Spotties are such voracious, and aggressive, feeders they almost always beat other more desirable fish to your baited hooks.  Many Kiwi youngsters “cut their teeth” catching spotties. I must admit that I have had a lot of fun catching spotties over the years. They offer a great introduction to fishing for the beginners.


Bait for Spotties

They will take practically any bait as soon as it comes within range. Pieces of squid, cut fish flesh, ghost shrimp, bits of crab, mussel, garden worms, and bread rolled into small balls will all take spotties. Though usually seen an unwanted pest, one often overlooked advantage of the ease with which spotties can be caught is their ready availability as a supply of bait with which to catch more desirable species. That is especially true and worth considering if there is no other fish bait readily available. You can catch snapper, cod, barracouta, kahawai, and many other species using cut up spotties for bait. I must admit that I have had a lot of fun catching spotties over the years. They offer a great introduction to fishing for the beginner. Encourage children to get into the habit of quickly releasing alive any unwanted fish like spotties.

David H. Graham in his book A Treasury of New Zealand Fishes described them as follows. “Spotties are in the daytime forever on the move. No other fish in captivity spends so much time chasing and devouring everything it can catch and neither fish, crab, nor worm is safe from them. All these animals are pulled to pieces limb by limb if too big to be swallowed whole.”

Graham’s observations go one way to explain the spotties drive to take baited hooks before any other more cautious species can get a chance. When sea fishing, if your hooks are on, or near the bottom, and you are getting lots of small tugs on your line, it is almost certainly annoying spotties stripping the bait from your hooks. If you find this happening your best option is to use smaller hooks.

They can be quite trying when you have spent time tying on shellfish or prawn with bait elastic intended for moki only to have spotties strip your hooks clean in a very short time! In such situations, you need to regularly wind in your line and check your hooks or you could well spend most of the day fishing with no bait on your hooks.

Spotties are species of wrasse or parrotfish. They prefer rocky bottoms where there is plenty of cover and seaweed. They don’t like open sandy or shingle beaches unless there is foul ground very close by.

Graham also noted that in all the thousands of fish stomachs he examined he only discovered a fish that had eaten a spotty. He attributed this to their alertness. I note that on several occasions I’ve had hooked spotties hit by barracouta as I’ve been reeling in my line.

Examining their stomach contents Graham found that spotties to have eaten four different species of shellfish, five species of crabs and a bottom form of whale feed (ghost shrimp) in their stomachs along with two different species worms. 

If you can catch a few bigger spotties they are actually good eating. Coat the fillets in flour and cook in a little butter. If you are looking to catch spotties a size 8 hooks on a simple two or three hook paternoster rig with a 28g sinker will work very well. These small hooks will fit in the small mouths of spotties. Whereas they tend to just strip the bait from larger hooks without being caught.

Like most other species of wrasse, spotties are protogynous hermaphrodites.  All spotties begin life as females, and then around one to two years of age, they change sex to become males.  Males are generally larger up to 26cm in length, more colourful and can weigh almost a kilogramme. Almost all of the small spotties caught around wharves and jetty piles are females.

Female spotty.
Female spotty.

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