When Fish Bite Back

fisherman in boat with pike under water

Image source: Shutterstock
Pike are known to be fierce

British rivers and beaches are becoming filled with threats. Giant pike, venomous weevers and even great white sharks have all been encountered in our traditionally safe British waters. But how much of a threat do they really pose?

While we agree with Richard Peirce that British waters possess the right conditions and plenty of prey for White Sharks, to date there is no documented evidence (photos, video, teeth, carcass, etc) of their presence here. It could be a bit of a stretch to state “…White Sharks have been encountered in our traditionally safe British waters.

We’ve been finding out what happens when anglers (and other people) come face to face with fearsome fish who aren’t afraid to bite back. Here’s our roundup of piscatorial perils.

Sharks

Blue shark in UK waters

Image source: Shutterstock
Blue sharks are one of 21 species that visit the UK

Did you know there are at least 21 species of shark in UK waters? Smaller species like the lesser spotted catshark are regularly sighted, while blue sharks and basking sharks prefer to visit in the summer months. Most encounters pose no threat to humans, but there have been occasions when sharks have bitten back.

Angler Hamish Currie was had a lucky escape when he landed a 7 foot Porbeagle shark. As he struggled to catch the giant fish, it lashed out and bit a hole in his steel capped boots!

The guys at britishseafishing.co.uk aren’t surprised by the attack:

“…porbeagle sharks do not take kindly to being caught on rod and line, and most injuries sustained by people are when the shark is caught and brought on board a boat.”

The good news? Very few sharks pose a danger to humans. The Shark Trust tells us there have been no reports of unprovoked shark bites in UK waters since records began in 1847. They go on to say:

“With so many sharks in decline, we believe that shark encounters should be seen as a privilege rather than a cause for alarm.”

But there is one species of shark whose presence triggers more alarm than most. And it could be coming closer.

The Great White

Great white shark head

Image source: Shutterstock
The great white shark-coming to a coastline near you!

Cornish birdwatcher Brian Mellow is convinced that he saw a great white off Cornish coast last summer, when a wave crashed over the fish, revealing its profile. He told the Express:

“I’ve seen other sharks before and it wasn’t a basking shark, or a mako shark or a porbeagle.”

Commercial fishing boats and divers in Scottish waters have also spotted potential great whites. Witnesses include two divers who were circled by a very large shark that was much bigger than any porbeagle.

“We had no idea what it was, but we estimated it at 13ft to 14ft long. We had never seen a shark anywhere near that big. It made us very nervous. We got out of the water as quickly as we could,”

Could there really be great white sharks in UK waters? Richard Peirce, chairman of the Shark Trust, believes that British waters possess the right conditions and plenty of prey:

“The real surprise is that we don’t have an established white shark population, because conditions here mirror those in parts of South Africa, Australia and northern California. Research has shown that white sharks tolerate water temperatures in a range which would make British waters perfectly suitable for this species.”

Perhaps we’ll be seeing more sightings in coming years. The Suffolk Gazette’s shark attack parody story would have us think so!

Giant Pike

Angler in cap with pike falling out of hands

Image source: Andrewblackfishing.co.uk
The pike that bit back

In August 2016, coarse fishing blogger Andrew Black was injured when the large pike he caught decided to get its own back:

“I had caught a twenty and was doing a self-take- just as the camera clicked the pike flipped and I somehow caught it tail up / head down, just before it went ballistic and started to thrash around mouth open and clamped on my leg, ripping my trousers in the process!”

Water skier Daniel Blake was bitten on the foot by a pike while waiting for a boat on Llangorse lake in Wales. Llangorse is known for its giant pike and James Vincent of Britain Explorer believes that they may have inspired the mythical tales for which the lake is famed:

“It’s said to be the home of a mythical creature, Gorsey the afanc. Afanc is Welsh for lake monster”

Indeed, in 1846, an angler reported catching an enormous Pike weighing 68 Pounds (31kg) while fishing on the lake. It’s an unsubstantiated claim, but if true, this pike would still hold the worldwide record for the biggest pike ever caught.

But Pike don’t restrict themselves to attacking humans. In 2015 a huge Pike attacked a swan on an Irish lake. The attack was brutal, rupturing the swan’s eye and ripping its lower bill from its face, as well as tearing its throat. Gruesome.

Weever Fish

Weever fish in net

Image source: British Marine Life Study Society
Watch out for weever fish

In the summer of 2000, Jo Foster was walking through a metre of water on Crantock Beach near Newquay, when she suffered an excruciating sting. The culprit? A weever fish which left three puncture marks in her toe:

“The pain responded to hot water treatment, subsiding not immediately but after 20 minutes. However, the wound swelled up and 2 operations, the second requiring a 6 day stay in hospital”.

Alexandra Connolly endured a similar fate on a beach in Ireland when she waded into sea and suddenly felt like she’d been punched on the foot:

“While hyperventilating, my mind began trying to work out what had happened. I decided that I’d been stung by some creature with a nerve toxin venom and that I would soon begin to die.”

The pain subsided, but Alexandra had to take antibiotics for several weeks.

Weever fish are normally found on beaches in summer and are sometimes mistaken for small pouting or whiting. The fish uses its venomous fin spines to defend itself and capture prey.

Usually buried under the sandy seabed with just its dorsal fin visible, the weever’s sting is very painful. But the venom can be treated by bathing the affected area in the hottest water you can stand. Expect the wound to swell, and always seek medical advice.

Blood-sucking lampreys

Man holding lamprey

Image source: The Environment Agency
The lamprey is making a comeback

Fishing Tails blogger Sean McSeveny recoiled in horror when he landed a lamprey while fishing on the River Frome. But why was he so reluctant to handle this unusual fish?

To start with, lampreys look pretty terrifying. Growing up to a metre long, their permanently open mouths contain a disc of razor sharp teeth and a powerful sucker which they use to suck out their victim’s blood.

These prehistoric creatures have also been known to attack humans, so Seans’ comment of “this thing will give me nightmares” is understandable.

Record numbers of lampreys have recently been recorded in UK rivers. This might be concerning, but in fact it’s good news. Not only do they keep rivers healthy by processing vital nutrients, but their revival signals a huge improvement in water quality, which is good news for all species of fish.

But the boost in the lamprey population isn’t just down to cleaner rivers. The removal of man-made weirs, and the Environment Agency’s use of lamprey tiles have opened up 12,500 miles of English rivers, enabling fish to migrate much more smoothly. Lamprey tiles are inexpensive cones which help the fish to swim upstream using their sucker-like mouths as anchors. Fisheries expert Simon Toms is optimistic:

“Now that water quality has improved and some of these barriers have been removed we are seeing lampreys return to the upper reaches of rivers such as the Ouse, Trent, and Derwent, where they were absent as recently as 30 years ago.”

And if we still haven’t convinced you to look differently at these terrifying fish, there’s one final nugget of information that might persuade you. They make brilliant pike fishing bait. Andy Webster of Pike Angler explains how:

“Lamprey can be used whole or in sections. A neat tip is to use them almost whole with just the last inch cut off of the tail. This allows the blood to seep from the bait and leave a scent trail for the pike to follow.”

Lampreys are tough skinned and very bloody, making them perfect bait for pike.

Razorfish

Beach covered in razorfish shells

Image source: Shutterstock
Don’t put your feet near razorfish shells!

Razorfish are actually shellfish, named because their half shell resembles a cut-throat razor. They normally burrow 18 inches into the sand on the edge of the low-tide mark. Fish love them, and they make great bait, but expect pain if you step on one!

One of the worst recorded cases of razorfish injuries occurred on a Devon beach in 1998. 800 people cut themselves on the shells! 14 ambulances rushed to the scene and 30 victims were hospitalised. The experts from the British Marine Life Study Society explain why this unusual event took place:

“Razorshells live buried under the sand, but will rise to the surface of the sand to feed. Many of the Razorshells seem to have died during the heatwave leaving the sharp remains of the shell above the surface of the sand in the shallow water.”

It pays to check underfoot when you’re enjoying a summer beach holiday…

Have you experienced any fearsome fish attacks? Tell us your stories. Head over to our Facebook page and get posting.