IFD: We welcome back our good friend Kit Dunne for his next installment on advice for boat fishing. Kit is the owner of Wicklow Boat charters and one of Ireland’s top boat anglers. This time Kit will be talking about spurdogs …
Spurdogs the Facts:
COMMON NAME ; Spurdog, Spiny dogfish, Blue dog
SCIENTIFIC NAME ; Squalus acanthias
IDENTIFICATION ; It’s very clear that Spurdog are a member of the shark family, with their sleek muscular body, pointed nose, and oval eyes. Upper body is dark grey to a light grey/brown on the sides, underbelly is white. They can have rows of light spots on the upper body and sides but these can random and can fade as a fish matures. The most distinguishing features are the sharp spurs found at the front of the 2 dorsal fins.
SIZE; Approximately 120cm long, exceptionally slow growing.
IRISH RECORD; 11.06kg or 24.38lb
IRISH SPECIMEN; 5.443kg or 12lb or 105cm length based specimen.
PUPS: Gestation period up to 22 months, born live between 3 and eleven at a time and at a length of in and around 20 to 25 cm.
As a charter skipper and keen angler I have to say these fish are the most frustrating I have ever come across. I pride myself on keeping good notes and records and I can plan and predict a trip based on my research, history, tidal and weather conditions, with the exception of course of the Spurdog. They are probably the most illusive fish I have ever encountered. Having said that in some areas where they are much more prolific they can be readily caught, I guess this is down to the decline in numbers in many areas. Speaking of which, I have noticed a distinct increase in the numbers caught off the East Coast of Ireland in the last couple of years.
Many moons ago I remember anglers treble hauling Spur off Wicklow until their arms were aching, that was about 30 years ago when we got mackerel with ease all summer. It wasn’t difficult then, mackerel, Squid or herring on any type of heavy duty rig would take the spurdog, now we have to consider things much more, which to be honest is much more fun and more challenging.
Obviously there is a good explanation for this big change, Spurdog were inadequately protected for years and were until recently in danger of collapse from over-fishing. Spurdog are a sought after food in some parts of Europe and their fins do sometimes enter the International markets for shark-fin soup, an Asian delicacy. To make matters worse Spurdog are one of the slowest growing fish, they don’t mature until late and produce small litters. A Female won’t reproduce until her teenage years and they have a gestation period of up to 22 Months. I have noticed another fact which frustrates me, Spur appear to be fairly weak when it comes to returning alive, they are not like a dogfish which can lie on a deck all day.
When and Where:
Spurdog are a bottom fish, usually found on or near the sea bed, they would be common on sand or muddy sea-beds, in mainly deeper waters or channels of depths from 10Metres upwards. During the summer Months spurdog will be found readily on the West and North-West waters off Scotland, the Welsh coastline, and North and East coast of Ireland. They are known to feed up off the bottom at times, perhaps when chasing shoals of herring etc. Spurdog have been caught in numbers and to specimen weight all around the Irish Coast. You will see from the Irish Specimen Fish 2014 that Spurdog can be found pretty much all year round once the weather and tide allows you out to those deepest channels. I was pleasantly surprised in May last year when we found Specimen Spur on 2 separate trips on 2 different marks. May wouldn’t have been my choice of Month prior to that.
Feeding habits and Baits:
In their normal environment Spurdog will feed mainly on bottom-dwelling creatures such as crabs, flatfish, codling and dragonets; however they will sometimes feed in packs chasing schools of smaller fish like herring, sprats and pilchards. When it comes to angling, the common baits used would be mackerel, squid and then perhaps crab or herring. A combination of baits in a cocktail can work well however when feeding the spurdog wont be fussy at all, what I have found is the more blood from your bait the more Spurdog.
If or should I say when you find the Spur it’s a good idea to keep feeding the area, either with numerous big baits, a baitdropper or ruby dubby.
I always try fish as light as possible but when it comes to Spur it usually means very deep water and tide, its difficult to always fish neap tides and you will want to fish a mark until its impossible to fish, so beef it up a little. I would use an uptide rod of 2 to 6ozs of about 8 foot long, coupled with a multiplier reel such as a PENN 535 or Slosh 30 loaded with 30lb braid for the deeper waters. If you wish to fish really deep water and fish through the tide you will have to beef it up more, hauling these lads up can take its toll. A 2-speed reel and a butt-pad can both be very helpful for those really deep marks. Of course if you’re a pure sport fanatic you can go lighter, but expect some big delays and perhaps some damage to gear, and fish losses. To be fair to the fish in this instance I believe it is better to get them up quicker in order to make sure they go back safely, Spurs are not as tough as some may think, I find them one of the hardest fish to look after.
Spurdog are a vicious pack fish and they will tear at bait making a mess of your trace. I wouldn’t hold back on strength of trace line for these fish, they don’t need any finesse; all they want is your bait. Your trace line should be around 100lb breaking strain mono or wire and about 4’ long. Hook sizes are between 4/0 and 6/0 depending on the general fish size in the area and whether or not you target big, or all fish. Tope can commonly be found in the same areas as spurdog so plan for the chance of a Tope.
When I fish for spurdog I generally use a simple running ledger rig of 1 or 2 hooks, the second hook allows me to try 2 bait types. I have also used a 1-up 2-down rig or a 2-up rig when the fish are more plentiful, this is a favoured method in some parts of Ireland. I’ve experimented with colours, beads and Muppets and to be honest there’s only one thing that always stands out for me and that’s luminous for the deeper waters.
Spurdogs are a very lively and strong fish and will fight hard, they will continue while in the boat, once a spurdog is in the boat you should restrict his movement in a safe manner, for your safety and that of the fish. They will sweep and slap their body dangerously all over the deck and if you don’t restrict them you risk getting punctured by a spine. Spurdog should be released quickly and safely, best practise would be to use barbless hooks and to release them at the side of the boat. Although they are a vicious predator fish they are weak when it comes to survival out of the water, so be smart and fast about returning them.
Top tips for fishing for spurdog:
- Try a 1-up 1-down rig and cover the spurdog feeding tight to the bottom and feeding up off the bottom.
- Use 2 hooks and big bloody baits, blood works and the more bait down there the more of a feeding frenzy you create.
- If at all possible release your spurdog at the side of the boat for your safety and the fishes comfort.
- When handling spurdog, hold in a horizontal position and be aware of the danger of the 2 spines, one in front of each dorsal fin.