The pouting (also known as bib, pout and whiting pout) is a small member of the cod family. Though not seriously fished for commercially, it is still an important member of the underwater food chain.
You can recognize the pouting by its colouring — the body is dark copper with three or four lighter pink/golden bands running vertically down the flanks. These bands fade as the fish matures.
The pouting also has a noticeable black dot at the base of the pectoral fin and like all members of the cod family, it has large, black pupils. Anglers should handle the pouting with care since its scales are small and easily dislodged.
It is easy to confuse the pouting with its close relative the poor cod because they share many physical similarities. However, the poor cod is a uniform copper colour and is much smaller than the pouting, so they can usually be distinguished in this way. Small haddock can also be mistaken for pouting, but on closer inspection can be identified by a black thumbprint mark on their sides.
The hungry pouting is always on the lookout for food; it is not a fussy eater, and feeds on anything it happens to find that is small enough, including whelks, mussels, hermit crabs and shrimps. However, it is wary of clear water, and tends to feed with more confidence at night or in water that is murky enough to hide it.
Such a voracious fish grows rapidly, and reaches maturity when just one year old. It spawns between March and April at depths of up to 70m (230ft), and at temperatures above 8°C (46°F). The eggs float on the surface of the water, and hatch after about ten days; the larvae then spend their first few weeks living among the plankton.
The young fish lives in fairly shallow water, feeding on small shore crabs and shrimps. As it matures it moves into deeper water and is known to roam up to depths of 300m (960ft), preferring a sea bed of mixed sand and rock. The young pouting is not at all shy, even swimming close up to divers in its quest for food; however, the older pouting is less adventurous, and spends most of its time hiding in the nooks and crannies provided by wrecks and reefs.
Because of its small size, the young pouting forms large shoals, though this is not enough to protect it from predatory fish. Cod in particular eat vast numbers of them.
The pouting is of little economic value because of its size and soft flesh – those that are caught usually end up as fish meal.
Unfortunately, pouting, along with poor cod and small whiting, often get caught up in the nets of trawlers fishing for larger species, and by the time they get dumped back overboard they are usually dead.
The pouting is an important fish for the shore match angler; if you can latch on to a pouting in a competition you can be sure there will be plenty more to follow. Larger specimens, however, are mostly caught by boat anglers from deep water marks, using leger or paternoster tackle. They also make good live bait for conger and bass.