Also known as the large-spotted dogfish, Greater spotted dogfish, or Bull Huss, it is a species of cat shark found in the north-eastern Atlantic ocean . It is generally found among rocks and sand at a depth between 20 to 70 m. it grows up to 1.6 m long but are most commonly caught to lengths of 1.3m. The Bull Huss has a robust body with a broad rounded head, their eyes are oval and the two dorsal fins are quite close to the tail. In males, the pectoral fins are larger. It shares its range with the more common and closely related small-spotted cat-shark known as (lesser spotted) dogfish, which it resembles in appearance but can be distinguished from in having larger spots and nasal skin flaps that do not extend to the mouth. During bright days in depths not exceeding 60 feet, the Bull Huss hides in rocky areas and lays dormant until it has darkened or night falls. Like so many other anglers, I have caught them during the day but at night, they really go on the hunt. Bull Huss mouth are armed with rows of Y-shaped teeth that are far larger than their three smaller cousins are. The Bull Huss lays large thick-walled eggs cases from March to October, which can take seven to twelve mounts to hatch. The current Irish record stands at 23lb 12oz and the specimen weight is 16lb
My first encounter with large Bull Huss was back in 2008 when I was fishing for common Skate out of Union hall on the Holly Joe. That day we came across a pack of Huss that were taking our large mackerel on a size 10/0 hooks. We were landing fish up to 15lb and on many occasions after reeling and pumping the fish up over 200 feet it would fall off as their heads broke the surface. I believe this is because their teeth were in-bedded into the flesh of the mackerel and were never actually hooked.
My first Bull Huss of the Holly Joe charter boat back in 2008 that weighed over 10lb
Over the next few years, I organised some charter trips with Colin Barnes, the owner of the Holly Joe, around the middle of June on the same GPS mark and the same size tide but we never came across the huge numbers of Bull Huss that we hit that first day. However, on each trip we still got some nice fish with the largest one weighing over 14lb
Brian with a cracking 13.5lb Bull Huss – a good end to our last trip for Bull Huss on the Holly Joe.
Since then I have caught Bull Huss in 40 feet of water whilst fishing for congers along the edge of the rock where it hits sand. Funnily enough I found that they were a lot darker than the ones we caught in deeper water with Colin Barnes. Just this week I got a phone call off Dan Lynch, owner of Halfway Angling tackle shop, and he started to tell me that one of his regular customers had been catching some cracking Huss in Cork Harbour and asked would I like to have a go at them. My reply was “of course!”and the following morning we got our fishing gear ready for a huss trip. I bought some pre-made Shamrock Tackle predator animal range traces. The one I found best was the red Muppet on size 3/0 hooks. The hooks are quite small but I found on a light 20lb test rod set up the hooks penetrate the Bull Huss’ skin quite easily without them pulling out. If I was using a heavier set up like 30 to 50lb I would go larger in hook size. These fish have a huge appetite and will take very large baits. On a three hook dropper trace I would use a full fillet of mackerel on each hook, or when possible put a joey mackerel on the bottom hook. I found the dogfish and whiting seem to be more interested in the fillets and as they are shredding them the Bull Huss has a chance to move in and take the joey.
These Shamrock traces are long and made with heavy line. You can land numerous amounts of Bull Huss before you have to cut the line and re-tie the hook.
As we left Crosshaven and passed around Camden Fort, we could see that the sea was like glass and as we arrived at the location, we could see lobster pot buoys on the mark that Dan was told about. We drove slowly up and down both side of the buoys Dan was kept an eye on the fish finder as I was bouncing a lead along the bottom to check how snaggy it really was. We found that the pots were sitting on the rocky side beside the sand that we were going to fish. With the frustrating part of the job done, we dropped the anchor only about twenty yards down tide of the lobster pot buoys so we could use the scent of fish that was coming out of them to our advantage. With the anchor held firm, we got our rods ready. With our bait sitting on the bottom, it did not take long before the whiting moved in and then the dogfish came on the scene. Every time we reeled up, we noticed that the mackerel fillets were nearly gone or there would be a small fish attached to the hook.
As our baits were being stripped quite fast we decided to put on a joey mackerel on the bottom hook, to give the Huss a chance to find it before the fillet baits were gone. With the sun starting to drop slowly behind Camden Fort and the pull of the tide starting to pick up I got a soft tap on the rod, as you would off a dogfish. I lifted the rod up to set the hook and the fish answered back with violent head-shakes and using it weight in the tide. As I got it about six feet from the surface I thought it was a conger as it was so black but with a few more turns of the reel, I could see it was a good size Bull Huss, along with a small whiting on a now bait-less hook.
Bull Huss skin pigments can match it surroundings so I am guessing it was under or around the rocky area beside the pots
With the fish unhooked, and weighed at 13LB 6oz, I was getting ready for the photo when Dan’s rod suddenly bent over. As Dan was fighting the fish, I decided to re-bait the hooks and dropped it back down straight away. As Dan was still fighting his fish my second rod started to go as well… and then the rod I had just re-dropped signaled a bite… and finally Dan’s other rod started to thump too! With all four rods connected to fish and only two of us on board we started to laugh and tried to get the fish on board as fast as we could. With Dan’s first and my second Huss safely on board we grabbed the other rods and started to wind. As Dan’s fish surfaced, he confirmed it had taken the joey mackerel as well. Onto the deck, the fish came and then Dan quickly got a few buckets of water to keep the fish wet until I got mine in. With all five Huss safely unhooked, weighed and pictures taken they were all returned and swam off no worse for the experience.
Dan with our five Bull Huss with a combined weight of 47lb
As the day was turning into night, we had just about enough bait and time to drop down one rod each before heading for shore. With the bait on the bottom we decided to wash and tidy the boat and as I threw the first bucket of water across the deck Dan was into another Huss. With the rod bending and Dan keeping steady pressure on the fish, you could see a few inches of line leaving the reel every couple of turns of the handle. With the Huss on the surface, I got the net under it and then lifted it on board. It was a long fish but thin. We weighed it and it brought the needle of the scales to 12lb. We both agreed if it was as fat as my first fish it would have been over 15lb. Sadly it was time to go, as we were not set up for night fishing. Experience has taught us that it is simply not worth risking fishing on into darkness in a boat if you are unprepared.
Dan keeping steady pressure on the Huss as night was closing in
Dan with a cracking long Bull Huss that weighed 12lb. I would like to catch it when it is fat!
My largest cork harbour Bull Huss that weighed just over 13lb that took a joey mackerel
When unhooking a Bull Huss use a T-bar or pliers. They have large teeth and will cut your fingers like a Stanley blade. Do not forget their skin is like rough sand paper and are a lot stronger than a dogfish. If they wrap around your hand or arm they will remove a lot of skin
The following day I called to my friend Alan Coleman. He is new to sea fishing and eager to catch any type of fish. When I showed him the photos of the night before he seemed excited and wanted to have a go. As the Bull Huss were on the feed only a few hours before dark in this area I decided to head out at three a clock to catch some mackerel. With fresh bait caught and the boat in the same area, it was time to drop our baits. Like the previous evening, whiting and dogs were first on the scene. Then Alan landed a nice sized edible crab – a first for him! It was 7.20pm when Alan got our first Huss. Finally they were on the move- thank God, as my hands were starting to get cold not like the evening before when it was much warmer.
Alan Coleman with his first Bull Huss that weighed 7.5lb
We started to land one each about every fifteen minutes but nothing as big as the ones the night before. As I lifted my rod to change my bait, I could feel something thumping and then just a solid weight. It was like this all the way up from the bottom, and when I saw what it was, I could not believe my eyes – it was a lobster! A first for me.
Picture 11 Alan’s crab and my lobster was a tasty dinner the next day
With the session over and the boat washed and tied up it was time to go home and plan for my next session
Rods, reels, traces and tips
Rods: In shallow water, a Penn 20 to 30lb outfit is the job with a good reel loaded with 50lb braid. In deeper water, a 30 to 50lb set up is a better idea because you could just hit a common Skate
Traces: the Shamrock Tackle predator animal range is made with heavy line and will last a full day for Bull Huss, and if you like making traces you will see what you need
Tip 1: when fishing near lobster pots make sure you find the buoys that are attached at either end of them. This will stop you loosing traces and stop the lobster pot men from getting hooked as they haul the pots on board
Tip 2: when unhooking Bull Huss use a pliers or a T-bar, it is better to be safe than sorry because they are a shark after all and have very sharp teeth!
Tip 3: use large mackerel baits, especially joey mackerel when possible.