Gurnards Or Gurnets, as they are variously called, have perhaps the most remarkable appearance of any of our marine food fishes. Their characteristics are a square, massive, bony head, with a body rapidly diminishing towards the tail; on the back two dorsal fins, the one nearer the head spiny and resembling that of a perch ; two enormous ventral fins, which in one variety are fringed with a bright metallic blue ; and six leg-like feelers projecting from the throat, with which the fish partially lifts itself from the bottom as it crawls along searching for food. Some varieties of gurnards give vent to strange croaking sounds when first hauled above water line, and for this reason the Italians call them organo and the French grondin. With regard to their breeding habits, they spawn in the spring ; and their eggs, like many others of the food fishes, are pelagic, floating on or near the surface of the sea.
The two varieties of red gurnard which most commonly fall to the lot of the angler are Trigla cuculus, which is the Red or Cuckoo Gurnard, also called the pine-leaved gurnard, soldier, and elleck; and Trigla hirundo, the Sapphirine Gurnard, the tubfish, tubbot or latchet of the East coast, also called smooth-sides, red tubs, and sea-crow. These two fishes can be distinguished without difficulty, for the Sapphirine has a very beautiful bright blue margin to its huge pectoral fins, and is of a brighter red than Trigla cuculus, which inclines to be rosy.
The red gurnard is common on the English coasts, particularly those of the south and west, and on portions of the Scotch and Irish coasts. The Sapphirine or Tubfish is the larger of the two species, attaining a weight, according to Thompson, of about fourteen pounds.
If gurnard are plentiful there is no difficulty in catching them. They will take the ordinary whiting baits, and are particularly partial to a piece of mackerel; indeed, when the mackerel breeze has died away and our little craft has been barely moving through the water, our leads now and again bumping on the sandy bottom, many a time have I hauled up either the red gurnard or a large tubfish. Though these fish are most distinctly bottom feeders, they are found occasionally at all depths, and have a habit of ascending to the surface and throwing themselves out of the water.