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Five fish for Aussie anglers in the Northern Hemisphere

There’s no doubt that, despite commercial overfishing and some poor land management, Australia can still boast some of the finest recreational fishing opportunities in the world. I was privileged to experience some of them in my time living there and I’m looking forward to coming back next year to have another crack at your wonderful kingies, marlin, tuna, snapper, bream and blackfish. Who knows, I may even find time to get up north and renew my acquaintance with the barramundi and queenfish?

With all these wonderful species to target it’s a wonder that Aussies anglers even bother to take their fishing rods with them when holidaying in far off countries. But I guess fanatical fishos can’t resist the challenge of fishing somewhere new for a different species, so I thought I’d take a look at some of the fishing that we have up here in the northern hemisphere that might appeal to my fishing friends from Down Under. 

Grayling – The Lady of the Stream and a lover of cold water.

1)    Grayling

Thymallus thymallus or Lady of the Stream is a beautiful fish of cool waters. Here in the UK we now regard the grayling as not only a fine sporting quarry, but as an important indicator species as they will only tolerate good water quality. When grayling start to disappear from stretches of our rivers where they were once prolific then alarm bells begin to ring. The species can be found in the upper reaches of swift-flowing rivers from Mongolia, through Europe and into Canada and Alaska. I understand that there is supposed to be an Australian grayling but I’m not sure its directly related and I’ve never met anybody who has caught one.

While specimens in excess of 10 lb have been recorded in some countries it is rare to hear of this short-lived fish attaining weights of much more than 4 lb. The grayling possesses a famous sail like dorsal fin, which it uses to good effect when twisting in the current in an attempt to shed the hook. They are an obliging species which can be taken on fly and bait in sub-zero temperatures.

My favourite technique for grayling is run a lightly weighted float down the glides in some of our better known English chalk streams such as the Test, Itchen and Kennet once the leaves have left the trees and the trout fisherman have hung up their rods for the winter. Maggots are effective but they also take worms and sweetcorn as long as the bait is presented correctly.

Although possessing an adipose fin, making it a fully paid up member of the salmon family, the grayling is still regarded as a coarse fish and was, until quite recently, unfairly persecuted by some game fisheries who felt that it competed with their precious trout and salmon. Personally, I’d far rather catch a grayling than a trout as they are not as stupid, they fight harder and taste better!

Barbel – Martin Salter with a personal best specimen of 12lb 11oz.

More info HERE.

2) Barbel

Without doubt the barbel is one of the hardest fighting fish to be found in European rivers. Other varieties are present in both Africa and parts of Asia. The barbel is a lover of strong flows and gravel river beds where it can turn over stones and even small rocks as it hunts for food. The underslung mouth and four prominent barbels illustrate why this is a primarily bottom feeding species. Barbel have extremely Catholic tastes and can be caught on a wide variety of baits and occasionally lures and small dead baits. By far the most effective method is to lay down a carpet of particle baits such as small, fish-meal pellets or hempseed which can get the fish rooting amongst the gravel in a feeding frenzy. They can they be targeted with either strong float tackle or, more usually, with a swim feeder (berley cage) containing some more of the particle mix with something similar as hook bait.

For years the UK barbel record stood at 14 lb 6oz but over the last two decades a combination of milder winters, declining fish numbers and the increased use of high protein baits has led to the presence of larger specimens in many rivers. The British record now exceeds 20 lb and every season fish in excess of 14lbs are captured from a wide variety of venues.

I have fished for barbel since I was a kid growing up in the Thames Valley and I still get a buzz from seeing that savage ‘three foot twitch’ as a barbel picks up the bait and careers off downstream. I’ve had some huge catches of fish on the float from my local river Kennet and double figure fish from several southern rivers. The real  monsters have alluded me but I remain hopeful of improving on my personal best of 12 lb 11oz.

Sea Bass – A cool fish that ticks all the boxes.

More info HERE.

3) Bass

The European sea bass (Dicentrachus Labrax) and the North American striped bass are lovers of temperate waters and are part of the Moronidae family of fishes, not to be confused with their freshwater counterparts or any of the Asian or Australian species of the same name. They are highly-prized sportfish on both sides of the Atlantic, although the American stripers are on average twice the size of their European cousins topping out at around 60 lb.

Sea bass are voracious predators with sharp eyesight and a wide and varied diet. The stripers are highly migratory, running the U.S. eastern seaboard from Maine in the north to Carolina in the south. This run has inspired countless books, films and a multi-billion dollar industry. Sadly over fishing crashed the stocks in the 1980s but a five year fishing moratorium accompanied by tough new regulations and bag and size limits has seen stocks recover and a booming fishery re-established.

The European bass is sadly following a similar path and while some countries such as Ireland have had the foresight to designate the bass a recreational only species, the European Union as a whole has been far too slow to follow scientific advice and limit the extent of commercial harvesting. That said there are still some fine bass to be caught around the coast of Britain and they are probably responsible for the vast majority of lure and saltwater fly tackle sold in the UK.

I travel to West Wales and Ireland every year in search of quality bass fishing and this summer I have just returned from a trip to the USA where I got to tangle with the stripers for the first time.

Of all the species listed here the bass would be my first offer to any visiting Aussie fisho. They look great, hit hard, fight well and are the closest thing we have got to many of your sporting fish.

Ballan Wrasse – The closest thing the Poms have got to a tropical fish.

More info HERE.

4) Ballan Wrasse

Now I realise you guys have got all sorts of wrasse from the strange double headers on Lord Howe Island to the huge Maori wrasse to be found off the Barrier Reef, but I’m going to include our Ballan Wrasse in the mix for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they grow to a good size with five pounders considered specimens. They are also aggressive and pull hard, and they take soft plastics with enthusiasm so I’m pretty sure they would find favour. But best of all the Ballan Wrasse looks so bloody impressive and comes in a vast array of colours from purple and orange right through to blues, greens and bright yellow. They seem like they belong in the tropics not in the cold waters of the  North Atlantic.

The finest wrasse fishing I’ve found is in the Isles of Scilly off the far south west corner of England. I’ve only recently discovered this fishy Paradise and have written a couple of enthusiastic pieces (HERE and HERE) should you want to know more.

Pike – Big, angry and toothy but loved by angler’s such as Martin’s Angling Trust colleague Dilip Sarkar.

5) Pike

The Northern Pike or Esox Lucius is found in Britain, Ireland and right across Europe, as well as in Canada and the USA. It is however, not to be confused with its American cousin the muskie. As an apex freshwater predator the pike attains a good size, topping out at around 25 kg (55 lb), although this is not anywhere near some of the gargantuan myths that have circulated about the species in some quarters. My pike fishing friends tell me there are probably 60 lb specimens hiding in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea or lurking in the depths of an unfished European lake. That said, some of the biggest pike in recent years in the UK have come from big, deep, man-made reservoirs stocked with trout – the ultimate high protein diet.

Like the bass I can see Aussie anglers enjoying tangling with pike as they are a good looking and exciting predator which weigh heavy and put a healthy bend in the rod. They can be caught on lures, dead baits, live baits and on the fly. This last method has attracted a bit of a cult following in recent years. Although sporting a fearsome set of gnashers they are less of a handful in the boat than a big tailor or a wahoo. That said most pike anglers carry a scar or two as memories of encounters that didn’t go entirely to plan.

My colleague Dilip Sarkar who works with me at the UK’s Angling Trust is something of an expert on pike fishing and had just published an acclaimed book on catching his favourite species from rivers.

You can find more info about pike and pike fishing HERE.

So there you go, a bit of an insight into fishing on the other side of the planet and a few species to stop the travelling Aussie fisho from getting too homesick!

Martin Salter is Fishing World’s Foreign Correspondent and author of Keep Australia Fishing. He now works as Campaigns Chief for the UK peak body – The Angling Trust.

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