Although tiny and the bane of many an angler, the gudgeon doesn’t deserve the bad press it gets – it can save you a blank day and often forms the basis of match anglers’ winning catches.
A slender, silvery blue fish, it has dark patches along the flanks and black spots on its tail and dorsal fin. The scales are large, numbering 40 to 45 along the lateral line. The gudgeon looks quite similar to a small barbel, but you can distinguish the two by counting the whiskers — gudgeon have one pair while barbel have two.
Gudgeon thrive in rivers and streams with a gravelly bed, but are also prolific in canals and can be found in lakes. Though not very common, they grow especially large in gravel pits. They live and feed in tightly packed shoals. In the summer they gather in the shallows, but with the onset of winter, they retreat to deeper, slacker water where they rest, feeding little.
As its flattened belly and short barbels at the corner of the mouth suggest, the gudgeon feeds on bottom-living insect larvae, crustaceans and molluscs. It can extend its mouth into a tube which it uses to suck up invertebrates hiding in the spaces between the gravel – rather like a vacuum cleaner.
The gudgeon becomes sexually mature at two or three years old. It spawns from May to June over stones and weed in shallow water. The male develops small white tubercles on its head and shoulders and rubs them along the female’s flanks during courtship – probably to stimulate her to release eggs.
The female takes several days to lay between 800 and 3,000 eggs in two or more batches. This is a big effort for such a small
M fish and adult gudgeon only usually manage to spawn for two to three years before dying.
Fair weather fish
The fry hatch after a couple of weeks. Strong year classes are produced in hot summers since the fry can develop quickly when the water temperature is 12°C (54°F) or higher. This is also true for chub in rivers and tench, carp and bream in lakes.
However, the gudgeon’s annual growth is slow compared with that of barbel and roach. Most gudgeon take five years to reach a length of 15cm (6in) – only a few individuals survive to grow larger or live longer than this.
In France the gudgeon is a favourite table fish and in central Europe it is fed to pigs -but in Britain it is carefully returned to fight another day.
Gudgeon fishing picnics in punts on the Thames were very popular in the 19th cen tury. Gravelly shallows were raked to attract the fish to feed and then light tackle with a small redworm for bait was used to catch them. In the same century, bathers at Bath spa were given plenty of gudgeon to eat because it was thought they helped digestion.