Fishing is fun, but it's a lottery. Sometimes you can be specific and target a species but often you get a surprise catch or just chuck and chance it. So with this in mind here's a quick rundown on five staples – common to fish for, common to catch and my staple freezer fodder!
The most important food fish in history. Sadly not as abundant or as large as all the old blokes in the car park tell me but there are still plenty of table sized fish around the coast. Traditionally an autumn-winter catch from the beach, kayak anglers can find them through the year in varying amounts. Anchored bait fishing, jigging with pirks, wedges, hokkais, feathers and rubber eels and in some areas trolling diving plugs will account for these. Best eaten battered and deep fried from the chippy with mushy peas, dripping from loads of salt and vinegar and bedded on chips with scraps they can also be prepared in all manner of ways – hot, cold, curried, pickled, roasted, baked, poached, smoked, in a pie, a soup or fried in pieces in a sandwich. To be honest they're pretty good any which way you choose! They must be 35 cm to retain.
Great fish, perhaps the best barbecued there is, and one of the most sporting to catch. Looks like a proper fish, all shiny and finned. An abundant fish around much of the coast they readily take all manner of baits, trolled and cast lures, feathers, hokkais etc – in fact they're no more choosy than my kids at the pick'n'mix. Descaled, slashed on the flanks and rubbed with oil and salt they are fantastic over flame, the skin crisps up fantastically. Also great roasted, fried, grilled, as sashimi or ceviche, hot, cold with someone you love and a chilled San Miguel. Must be 42 cm to retain, and only one per day allowed after the first of July, none before then. Beware the dorsal spines and the gill plates or you'll be patching your paddle clothing and plastering your hands!
Sea monsters these. Plenty of different types around the coast and identifying them can be a bit tricky at times. They respond to bait fished on the bottom, fish, sandeel and squid being the main types though prawn and worm also work. Only the wings are eaten, after skinning, which is a dirty, slimy, finger scuffing job but worth it for the meaty strips of flesh that peel off. They give a good pull, hugging the bottom or kiting up to the surface against the tide; rod benders the lot of them! The absolute best way to eat these has to be the classic skate in black butter with capers...but they can be fried, poached, baked, roasted too and the flesh is delicious cold. There's no minimum landing size however undulate ray are protected so at least make sure you know what those look like and watch out for the thornlike protrusions on all of them ... and if it looks like a blob it's a stingray so avoid that tail!
Little sharks with crushing pads rather than cutting teeth – that's the easiest way to tell them from tope at a glance for the novice (tope not being allowed to retain). These things fight like crazy, readily take crab and squid, sometimes ragworm and give repeated runs so make sure they're tired before you even think of lifting them aboard! Very little waste on these but they do need skinning and the better rinsed they are the sweeter they taste. Fried, roasted, curried ... my favourite is cubed small, floured (self raising) and deep fried then served up in tacos or in larger pieces with sweet and sour sauce. No minimum landing size and very abundant in summer.
If you drop a string of feathers or similar into a shoal of these you're going to have a frenzy as the whole string shoots off at all angles, tangling up and causing turmoil! Eaten by everything that can catch them these fish are so healthy with their oily, meaty flesh. I can never resist cutting a strip off an ultra fresh one, skinning, rinsing in the sea and eating raw, damned fine! Superb sashimi, curried, grilled, baked, fried, barbecued, pickled, smoked served with teriyaki or sweet and sour ... outstanding fish that's so easy to catch if they're present. These stunning, irridescent mini tuna need to be eaten fresh really, frozen or a day or two old isn't remotely the same thing.
There's a good little lot to chose from, enjoy ... and remember, there are plenty more fish in the sea!