Five-Bearded Rockling
Common Name(s):
 Five-Bearded Rockling

Scientific Name: 
 Ciliata mustela 

Usual Size:
12 cm   Max. 25 cm 

UK Record Weights from rod/line:


Photograph by Andy G Rapson

A small brown elongate fish with five barbels on the head and an unusual first dorsal fin which consists of a single first ray followed by a fringe of vibrating rays set in a trench-like depression. There is no fin membrane between the rays in the first dorsal arrangement, but the second dorsal fin is conventional and runs the length of the body 

Similar Species


   Ovigerous fish

In shallow water usually over sand, and intertidal under rocks. In very rocky areas the similar species Gaidropsarus mediterraneus can be found 

Small crustaceans and worms. 

All British coasts, Atlantic coasts of Norway, Iceland, France and Spain, North Sea. 

Additional Notes:
Count the barbels to be sure of identification. Young are silver and live in the surface water, until summer when they descend to the sea floor inshore and change colour to brown. A  fish sensitive to low oxygen conditions. 

Photograph by Andy Horton

       Juvenile Rockling swim in the surface waters

Reports of rocklings can be sent to: 

Shorewatch Project    EMail


Abundant off Bridlington Pier   John Hopkin.
Recorded near Sully, near Cardiff, south Wales, Spring 2000 Peter Barfoot
Caught a specimen off the back of my boat moored in Ramsgate harbour, November 2000, Kent using a lugworm bait, about 25 cm long.  Maurice Walsh
I would like to report the capture and release of a rockling (number of beards unknown) on Sunday 11th Feb 2001 just after high water pm on New Brighton promenade, Lancashire, at the bottom of Vaughan Road.
It was approx 15-20cm long and fell to a bait of farm ragworm. John Curphey
I found three 5 Bearded Rocklings (under rocks) on Southsea beach (Hants.) at a very low tide (9 Feb. 2001).  One was - I think - pregnant; one was fully grown and one was a yearling.  The latter I have kept and it is 'doing well' in my aquarium.

Andrew Lucas
Whilst shore fishing I caught four 5-Bearded rocklings at Beesands, South Devon today (13/4/01). 
Their size ranged from 8-12 cm, all returned alive. Simon Nobbs.
November 2001. Single 5 Bearded Rockling (20 cm) caught in 2-3 metres water near Roker Beach Sunderland. Other small fish including coalfish and whiting caught in same session. James Thwaites
19 January 2002.
Walberswick, Suffolk, Saturday 
I was fishing near the harbour mouth when I caught a fish I hadn't seen before. It was long and thin like a cross between a Pouting and an Eel. It had a tendril on the top lip on the left side and a broken tendril on the right. No sign of any tendrils on the lower jaw but this fish did not look in A1 100% condition. The most noticeable feature was that it had a trench in its back where other fish would have had a fin.
This was about 18 cm (7 inches) long and had a fat/full belly. As it was lip looked and fighting fit, I put it back to carry on eating crabs, for without an autopsy, that is sure what it looked like its tummy was full of.
Bill Schuessele
19 February 2002
I caught a 5-Bearded Rockling off Cromer pier about 7 inches long on which I returned to the sea.
Chris Metcalfe
11 September 2002
First year  Blennies, Rock Goby, Sand Smelt and Common Gobies were abundant in the shallow pools on Worthing beach, with a a few (two seen and noted) young 5-Bearded Rockling that had attained their brown adult colours. 
6 October 2002
With Indian Summer summer preceding some of the highest and lowest equinoctial spring tides for over 20 years was too good a rockpooling chance to miss as low tide receded to Chart Datum about 6:00 pm, just before an attractive red sunset.
A 5-Bearded Rockling discovered by Jan Hamblett in a shallow pool on Lancing beach was over 20 cm in length.
Full Report Link

5-Bearded Rockling (Photograph by Ray Hamblett)

Rockpooling Trip, Andy Horton, with Ray, Jan and Katherine Hamblett

19 October 2002
A catch of a solitary 5 Bearded Rockling at St. Osyth Beach, Essex on 19th October 2002. It was caught on a blow lugworm bait along with a whiting on the second snood. It was approx 15 cm (6 inches) in length and in good condition.

Report by Jeff Hatt
24 November 2002
I caught a Five Bearded Rockling 4 oz 0 dr, 24 cm, on Sunday 24/11/2002 at Otterspool, Liverpool. It was caught just before high tide at 12 am on black lug worm.
Alex Hitchmough

17 January 2003
I caught a 5 Bearded Rockling at the dip near Felixstowe, about 7 inches long. It was returned to the sea and was last seen swimming in the direction of Belgium.

Chris Metcalfe
23 March 2003
Caught 2 Five-bearded Rockling approximately 7-8 inches from Treslian Bay, near Llantwit Major, South Wales at low water. Both fish were returned to the sea. 
Report by Chris Connolly

Photograph by Paul GreenacreSimilar Species

3-Bearded Rockling, Gaidropsarus vulgaris

Caught by Paul Greenacre
Date caught : 4 September 2003
Location : Christchurch ledge near Hengistburyhead, Dorset.
Depth : 30 feet (about 10 metres)
Length :17 inches (43 cm)
Weight : 2 lb 1 oz  (935 g)

Photograph by Paul Greenacre
19 October 2015
A fine xanthochromic3-Bearded Rockling, Gaidropsarus vulgaris caught off the east Coast of Dublin



October 2009
Thought I would send you three images of recently-caught rocklings (with three barbels). I've been catching two distinct sets of these fish in terms of markings - some plain, except for a few pale dots in a line down either side, and with brown eyes (classic shore rockling in other words), some very vividly mottled throughout and with a bluish tint to the eyes (second two photos), and each fish in either set has been pretty much identical regardless of size (shore rockling with mottled markings, or immature three-bearded?). The only images of "classic" three-beardeds I have seen have been good-sized fish of 1 lb, 2 lb and upwards and without exception these larger fish have had large brown spots on a golden background. So I am uncertain of the correct identification of these mottled specimens.

I've caught fish such as those illustrated recently around the Welsh coast from Cardigan Bay round to Holyhead.

Report and Photographs by John Mason

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The dorsal fin consists of one large ray and a series of vibrating minute rays in a trench