A prickly pair – the bull rout and the pogge

A prickly pair – the bull rout and the pogge

What a lot of bull

Despite its other name, the bull rout does not have a poisonous sting in its tail. Instead it has extremely sharp – but not venomous – spines on its head and body. There’s no need to kill the fish for fear of being ‘stung’’, but any wound should be cleaned as soon as possible.

The bull rout varies in colour from mottled green-brown to pale grey and has dark blotches on its back and head. The fins are quite distinctive with a bumblebee like yellow and black pattern on them. It also has a membrane (flap of skin) stretching across the throat, joining the gill covers.

The belly of the male is yellow but during spawning the fish changes dramatically. Most of the body turns a coppery colour while the belly becomes deep red, spattered with white polka dots.

The bull rout reaches about 30cm (12in) in length. It is found all around Britain but occurs nearest to the shoreline in its more northerly ranges. Specimens approaching the 2/4 lb (1.2kg) mark have been caught off the North Sea coast.

You’ll find it from a depth of about 4m (13ft) inshore down to 60m (200ft) on almost any type of sea bed. In the southern parts of its range it penetrates estuaries and appears among rocks and seaweed. A gluttonous predator, it feeds heavily on shrimps and crabs as well as herring, sandeels, whiting and gobies.

Bull rout spawn in mid to late winter. The orange eggs, laid in clumps among rocks and seaweed, are guarded by the male fish. After hatching the young fry live near the surface until they are about 15mm (%in) long. Bull rout grow quite fast – reaching 17cm (7in) long after three years and up to 30cm (12in) at six years.

This little pogge

The pogge is an easily identified little fish. Its body is completely covered with bony, armour-like plates and there are a large number of bristle-like barbels under its lowerjaw.

It is called the hooknose because it has a pair of small hooked spines on the tip of its snout. There are also long curved spines on each of its lower gill covers. It is smaller than the bull rout – usually l-2oz (28-56gm) in weight and growing to a maximum length of about 15cm (6in).

A bottom-living fish, it can be found from a few metres of water down to about 200m (660ft). The pogge spends much of its time on the bottom, using its barbels to find food buried in the sea bed. Young pogge feed on sandhoppers but as they grow they take small shrimps, shore crabs, brittlestars and herring eggs.

Pogge spawn from February to April, when the female lays yellow eggs in small clumps among large brown seaweed. The eggs are not guarded and take almost a year to develop before hatching. This fish has a small mouth and is only likely to be taken by anglers fishing close to the sea bed with small hooks. It often appears in the catches of shrimp trawlers or in sprat nets.