Whilst the most common fish species in the UK such as cod or bass are pretty easy to identify for the regular angler, it is commonplace for anglers of all experience levels to struggle when identifying what it is that they have caught. There are many different flatfish such as flounder, dab, sole and plaice that anglers never really learn the different between, and simply just call them ‘flatties’. The same thing goes for bass and mullet, ling and conger eels, Pollock and coalfish.
It is definitely worth learning how to accurately identify sea fish species, so that anglers know what they have caught and if there are any angling legal requirements (for example when you’ve caught a great-tasting bass but may be slightly too small to take home for the dinner plate).
There are a few general categories of sea fish are typical in species caught around the United Kingdom.
Round fish feature are round in shape in the cross section of their body and have a normal fish like shape with a broad head and gills that narrow into a tail (for example, the cod features this type of shape). This type of fish is pretty much what you would first think of when you think of a fish.
The majority of this type of fish are caught in relatively shallow depths of water and are regularly caught by sea anglers throughout the UK. There are a couple of round fish species that favour deeper water and are not so often caught from the shore which include ling and haddock.
Example Fish: Cod, Bass, Whiting, Pollack, Mackerel, Red Mullet, Gurnard, Bream, Sea Trout.
The upper jaw of the Cod fish protrudes with a distinguishable barbule on the chin of the fish. The head is large and accounts for a lot of the fish’s size.
Generally a greenish / grey colour, some of this species will live in weedy areas resulting in a brownish skin colour.
When reeling in a Cod, look for the commonly known head knocking for an easy sign of a Cod on the line.
A streamlined lean body with distinctive silver scales and a straight lateral line running down the back of the fish. The first dorsal fin and gill covers contains extremely sharp spines, the second dorsal fin is smaller and contains no spines.
The colour of the bass can vary between a silver coloured body and dark blue / black spine area. The gill cover of the bass contains a distinctive black mark.
Similar to the Cod, the Whiting has an upper jaw that protrudes slightly. The colour of this fish can be brownish, greyish or greenish on their back (entirely dependent on the habitat that they have lived in), fading to a lighter silver colour on their body.
As a member of the Cod family, the Whiting features three dorsal fins, and eyes are relatively large in comparison to the size of the fish itself.
Flatfish have as you would expect, a flat body. Their body is flattened and feature fins around the edge of their body with a lateral line through the center and both eyes are situated on the upper top side of their head. Depending on what side of the head that the eyes are on when the fish is viewed straight on, they can be described as either ‘right eyed’ or ‘left eyed’.
Skates are rays do look similar to Flatfish, but are a separate type of fish that are more closely related to the shark than Flatfish.
Example Fish: Brill, Dab, Plaice, Flounder, Dover Sole, Turbot, Megrim
The Plaice is a ‘right eyed’ flatfish (this term is explained in introduction section above). The colour of a Plaice is typically brownish but can also be greyish or greenish due to the surroundings they have been living in.
The Place has noticeable orange dots on the skin of the fish, with a series of four to seven bony bumps running along the back of the head of the fish. The underside of the fish is a white colour.
The Flounder has a rounded diamond shape and a rough surface of the body along the lateral line of the fish. The colour of Flounder can vary between a brownish to greyish and greenish.
The Flounder usually have an underside that has a white colour, but occasionally the fish has an underbelly that is the same colour as the upper side.
The Brill is a ‘left eyed’ flatfish that has a long dorsal fin and noticeably short anal fin. The colour of Brill is typically light brown with a speckled black, white and grey spots across the entirety of the body.
The lateral line runs straight and curves over the gill area. The mouth is particularly large when in comparison to the body size of this fish.
Eels are present around the coasts of the United Kingdom but there are only a couple of eels that will be caught by the sea angler, the Conger Eel and European Eel.
Eels are easily distinguishable by their characteristically long bodies, a lone fin which is present across the entirety of their often muscular body and their slimy, scale-less skin. The size of an eel can grow in to hundreds of pounds but is entirely dependent on their habitat, species and availability of food.
Example Fish: Conger Eeel, European Eel
The Conger Eel is a long snake-like fish that has a muscular body offer a fantastic fight for the sea angler. The scaleless skin on a conger eel is a dark grey colour, sometimes merging into a blue-ish or greenish colour depending on the environment and habitat they live in.
The upper jaw of the Conger Eel extends beyond the lower jaw and the face features large eyes, prominent lips and a mouth full of sharp teeth – keep your hands away!