There are two common species of dogfish in the UK, the Lesser Spotted Dogfish and the Bull Huss. Both belong to the Catshark family. These salt water fish are sometimes called Rock Eel or, if you’re in a fish and chip shop, Rock Salmon. Dogfish are almost exclusively scavengers that prowl around on the seabed. They hunt in packs, which is how they gained their name. Huss on the other hand are more predatory, solitary and grow far larger. Both can be found lying in the darkness on the seabed, waiting to pick up on the scent of the dead and dying. These fish occasionally take one bait and – hook in mouth – swim over to another bait and take that too, so that they are reeled in by two different anglers at once. This guide covers everything you need to know about these fish.
Photo Credit to Matilda Björklund
Where to Find Them
Dogfish can be caught over all types of ground, from estuary mud flats to sandy, pebbly or rough ground. Lesser spotted dogfish are found between 5-100m and very common over sandy ground about as far as you can cast from the beach, where they will often sit idly on the seabed waiting to pick up on a scent. For this reason bottom fishing with a static bait and resisting the urge to reel in too frequently is the best way to catch dogfish.
Dogfish vs Bull Huss ID
The simple way to tell doggies and huss apart is that bull huss have larger, darker and fewer spots than the dogfish. Bull Huss also grow to about twice the size of dogfish, reaching up to 150cm. The sure way to tell them apart is that dogfish have a nasal flap that meets in the middle and extends over the upper jaw, whereas in bull huss the two nasal flaps are detached and stop before reaching the upper jaw. This flap by the way is sort of like the upper lip on the fishes mouth.
How to catch dogfish for beginners
- Use a beach caster fishing rod set up
- Use a pre-rigged paternoster rig with size 2-0 hooks and a gripper lead.
- Use mackerel, sandeel or squid for bait
- Cast out from any beach, harbour or rock mark anywhere (even better at night time)
- Wait for the dogfish to pick up the scent
- Reel in your cat shark!
Dogfish feed on clams, scallops and crabs and fish like little dab, gobies, and injured sand eel. The best rig for catching dogfish is the paternoster rig with size 2-0 hooks. In areas with strong current like estuaries it is essential to use break away grip leads so that your weight will stay put and not roll with the tide or current, tangling your rig.
The best bait for catching dogfish is mackerel, squid or sand eel. They are not picky fish and rather than investing in expensive baits to catch them you should be prepared with a powerful set of disgorgers that make unhooking these fish easy and fast.
How to Catch More Bull Huss
Bull Huss feed on whatever is available on the seabed, including crustaceans and flatfish. They also eat squid and will actively hunt and kill prey.
You’ll find dogfish everywhere, but for huss you need to go to deeper water rock marks with steep drop offs.
The best baits are oily fish, such as mackerel, garfish or herring. Squid are also effective, and often used in combination with mackerel.
It’s crucial that you use decent sized hooks, with circle hooks being superior to straight hooks for the mouths of catsharks. Running ledger or pennel rigs are effective, and break away leads are useful when fishing around structure, which you will be when targeting huss from rock marks.
Here’s a video showing catshark breeding behaviour… I suppose the biting was to be expected.
How to fillet & skin dogfish
- Cut off all the fins, but leave the head attached
- Cut from the anal fin to remove the guts
- Cut off the flaps either side of the stomach
- Cut a circle around the head of the fish skin deep
- Use the knife to nick just under the skin around the neck, to create a flap of skin you can grip just behind the head
- Use pliers to grip the skin, and while holding the head pull the skin all the way down off the tail
- Turn the fish on its side, and cut the two fillets away from the spine in one smooth motion
To unhook dogfish, hold the tail and the head of the fish in one hand.
The fish both have extremely rough skin, which is like sand paper to the touch, and actually used to be used for that purpose. Combine this rough skin with their muscular movements and you have a fish that’s notorious for scraping up the hands of anglers as they grip them. The solution for this is to hold the fishes head and tail with one hand, so that the fish forms a loop. They are easily flexible enough to create this shape without forcing the fish beyond its natural range of motion. This flexibility is part of what makes them a bit tricky to unhook!
Which sense organ do dogfish rely on for hunting?
The part of the brain that is responsible for sense of smell is very well developed in this species, and they catch track down stinking baits in pitch black. They have terrible eye sight and beady little black eyes that don’t do very much at all. You’ll notice that fish which are capable of feeding by sight at night have large eyes for letting in the light. These fish are so blind in fact, that while snorkelling, it’s easy to simply pick up a dog fish, and they won’t see you coming. Be warned though, their immediate reaction is to writhe back at you with a mouth wide open. It turns out they don’t need eyes to be safe from predation…
What’s the best hook size for dogfish?
Size 1/0 or 2/0 hooks are best for dogfish, and larger circle hooks are most effective for huss. Avoid straight hooks.
What’s the best hook size to avoid catching dogfish?
If you exclusively wish to catch larger species, size 5/0 hooks and above will help you avoid catching so many dogfish, but you can’t completely avoid them even with the largest hooks! You should also rig your baits with baiting elastic thoroughly, so that they can withstand a lot of tugging. This way your bait will remain on the hook for longer while dogfish are going for it. The activity may attract larger fish, and it is not necessarily a bad thing so long as your bait holds and your hook is large enough to stay out the doggies mouths for an extra few minutes!
What’s the best bait for dogfish?
Dogfish are not fussy eaters and mackerel, sand eel or squid work well. You want your bait to be as stinky as possible, so squid dripping with ink is a good idea. Don’t waste your money on fancy baits if you want to catch dogfish, I bet a mackerel head would work for doggies.
What’s the best rig for catching dogfish?
Any bottom fishing rig will work. Using multiple hooks allows you to catch more dogfish at once if that’s your goal. It’s important your lead weight can hold the bottom in any current you’re fishing in, so it may be a good idea to use gripper lead weights.
Can you catch dogfish in the day time?
Dogfish will feed in the daytime, even in bright sunlight, though they are less active and will often to stay in slightly deeper water when the suns out. They come in closer at night and on darker, overcast days.
Can you catch dogfish on lures?
I have only heard of one person catching a dogfish on a lure, and that was out of Plymouth. Given that dogfish rely on scent for locating prey, your lure would have to literally be tickling the end of their nose right on the seabed in order for you to hook up. A scented lure from the Gulp range would be a good idea if your goal was to catch a dogfish on a lure, though it’s no small feat if you do manage it.
What is the best tide to catch dogfish?
Dogfish can be caught throughout the range of tide, though you may need to cast further to reach them in some locations at low tide and it’s often superior fishing in general around high tide in most locations.
Are dogfish edible?
Yes, dogfish are completely edible and popular in fish and chip shops under the name ‘rock salmon’. However, the more endangered Bull Huss is much more popular in Europe, and most people don’t like the taste of dogfish.
Do dogfish bite?
The Greater Spotted Dogfish do try to bite you when handled, and will even turn back to bite you after you’ve released them. However, they are all bark and no bite really, they will turn back with their mouths wide open and make you move out their way, but I’ve never heard of anyone being bitten. Bull Huss won’t bother humans unless you literally pick them up.
Are dogfish sharks?
Dogfish are in the cat shark family, and are one of the smaller shark species that are found in the UK. Catsharks are not the kind of sharks most people imagine when they think of sharks, but we also have Thresher Sharks and Blue Sharks in the UK which fit the stereotypical shark image.
How do you skin a dogfish?
Dogfish skin is firmly attached to the flesh, which makes its removal challenging if you don’t have pliers or better yet mole grips at hand to pull it away from the flesh. You should pick up a cheap one like these from Amazon, which will more than pay for themselves in the fish you will prepare with them.
How do you humanely dispatch a dogfish?
It takes more than just a tap on the head, you need to use a knife to puncture the skull, and then cut half way through the neck to bleed the fish once dead which improves the flavour of the fish. Dogfish fillets, even once detached from the spine and head, will continue to twitch, which some may find …unnerving.
Are dogfish targeted commercially in the UK?
Dogfish are caught commercially in great numbers, always as a bycatch while trawling for other species. They are difficult to process so aren’t a favourite among many commercial fishermen.