The Wrasses are among the most beautiful and at the same time most worthless fish found in the sea. No pen can properly describe the beauty of some of these fish when they are first brought out of the water, their marbled sides glistening in all the colours of the rainbow. One of the most common varieties is Labrus lineatus, termed by Couch the Green Wrasse or Green Streaked Wrasse. It has various local names, such as—in Scotland—ballan wrasse, sea-swine, and bergle. In Yorkshire it is variously called ancient wife, old ewe, servellan wrasse, and sweet-lips ; while the Welsh term it gwrach or old woman. Old wife, it will be remembered, is a name also given to the black bream. Wrasse are rock fish, and if of any size are commonly found in fairly deep water. In shape they are not unlike the tench. Their colouring is as various as it is beautiful. The background may be brown, green, or blue. On the yellowish fins are orange rings—but I find myself quite unable to describe the markings and colourings of these most lovely fish.
Most people who care to taste wrasse will, I think, take my view as to their worthlessness, for they are watery and insipid. But, according to McCalla, they are esteemed in Galway, and Lowe describes them as being much prized in the Orkneys, where they are eaten fresh. In waters nearer home the chief use of the wrasse is to be cut up and placed as bait in lobster and crab pots. In some places they are made into soup, which has been described to me as the nastiest soup of all soups. At Portland a compound is made occasionally, known as Conner pie—Conner being one of the many local names given to wrasse.
A perhaps still more beautiful wrasse is the Labrus mixtus, which glories in yellow, blue, orange, purple, and black. It differs from the Ballan wrasse in not having the perch-like bars of colour on its sides. In Cornwall it is termed the Cuckoo Fish, and I heard an Isle of Wight fisherman describe one I had caught as a Jerusalem cuckoo. Blue-striped wrasse, cook-conner, livery servant, and livery fish are local names. The female is peculiar in having three dark blotches on its back near the tail, so is sometimes called the three-spotted wrasse, and also red wrasse and flesh-coloured wrasse. It is a common fish off Devon and Cornwall, but comparatively rare further north.
There is a beautiful little wrasse which also bears the name of the Conner. It is likewise termed Gilt-head, a name, it may be remembered, also conferred upon one of the sea breams. Golden maid is another alias for it. Naturalists call it Crenilabrus melops. It may be easily known by about eight or nine wide, dark brown, vertical bands which almost completely encircle it. The dorsal fin is for the most part spined with scallop-shaped depressions between each spine, but it terminates with a non-spinous fin on which are a number of round light-coloured markings. On its anal fin are three rows of black spots. Several varieties of this fish have been found having various markings, but all bright and beautiful. It is a small fish, specimens of a greater length than eight or nine inches being rare. It is not found as a rule in such deep water as the larger wrasse, and is often caught by those fishing from the rocks on the Cornish coast.
To those who would fish specially for wrasse I would recommend paternoster tackle with hooks strong in the wire, sharps as to their points, and not too rank in the barb, baited with lugworms, soft crab, mussels, ragworms, or any of the oily fish baits, such as mackerel and herring. So far as sport is concerned, these fish are to be commended, and as they are usually caught over a rocky and weedy bottom they often have to be given the butt.