Rockpooler's Itinerary

by Andy Horton

A 'Rockpooler' is a naturalist explorer of the shore. Rockpooling Reports in Glaucus are detailed studies introducing a visitor to various shores around the British Isles. The idea is to give rockpoolers information that may help them when visiting shores of which they are not familiar.

1) Aquarium Net

The aquarium net proves to be one of the most useful tools carried by the rockpooler. On most shores it will actually prove more useful for sliding under ledges in pools and scooping up slippery customers like the Butterfish, Pholis gunnellus, than the larger pond or prawn nets.

 These nets are rectangular and usually wider than they are long. I find that nets of between 20 and 30 mm wide to be the most useful. The mesh can be as fine as stocking hose which is useful for collecting the very smallest creatures that can be seen with the human eye, but will also collect silt and debris. Netting with holes of 2 mm is more durable. The nets can snag and get ripped quite often. Replacement prawn netting is available from ship's chandlers if the local aquarium shop is unable to oblige.

2) Shrimp Net

Shrimp nets need to be made specially for the purpose as those sold are not strong enough for regular use. The net is pushed along in the sandy shallows with the wooden ledge pushed into the sand to disturb the shrimps, flatfish, pipefish and crabs, which are then collected in the net.

The semi-circular design has a width of about 90 cm and a depth of 60 cm. The netting is 10 mm, which allows the small shrimps to escape. The broom handle needs to be strong and about 170 cm long. The handle is securely clamped to the steel semi-circular frame as well as the bevelled wood. The net will billow out behind by at least 40 cm as you push  so the shrimps cannot escape.

Shrimping Page

3)  Fork

A fork is used to dig up worms and molluscs buried in the sand. This can be dispensed with when exploring rocky shores. However, ragworms are often needed as food to feed flatfish and difficult feeders.

4) Prawn Net

It is important to purchase at least one strong prawn net; to serve a lifetime of rockpooling. The holes in the netting will be between 4 and 6 mm in size. I favour a semi-circular net with one flat edge, with a width of 45 cm. Circular and heart-shaped nets are also used.

Prawn nets are used for dipping into the larger pools and trawling over the edge of jetties.

 They need to be strong as they are bound to snagged on rocks and mussels. The netting will have to be replaced after a year or two, but the framework should be strong enough to survive. Pond nets will suffice, but they are not as strong as a proper prawn net. These pond nets and some smaller proprietary nets on sale in seaside stalls are used as supplementary nets to squeeze into narrow crevices where other nets will not fit.

Suitable nets may be available at ship chandlers, but a better bet may be specialist aquarium and fishing tackle shops. A landing net may do if the mesh is small enough. The best ones have handles that can be extended.

5)  Snorkel & Mask

Not to be forgotten on your holiday when the water is clear enough, this is the cheapest way to appreciate the real marine world.

6)  Coat

The rockpooler's anorak will not be used for anything else. It is likely to get ripped on sharp barnacles, and metal zips will corrode in the salt. It may also become smelly with mud, salt and the remains of shellfish and worms that have somehow deposited themselves on it. It should be waterproof and contain lots of pockets for holding essentials.

7)  Penknife

A knife may come in useful for opening mussels and cockles, repairing nets, peeling off anemones  and countless other uses. Empty mussel shells and other debris can sometimes be substituted.

8)  Small Specimen Pot

This is for small organisms that would get lost or eaten in the large bucket. Each rockpooler seems to have his own favourite container from peanut butter jars to film containers. Small containers can be used for collecting additional water for the large bucket.

9)  Camera

If you are afraid to take your expensive camera down to the shore because the damage that can wreaked on it by sand, salt and seawater, you cannot be blamed. A single lens reflex camera comes into its own for seashore and aquarium photography because of its close-up facilities.

The best value are the close-up filters that screw in front of the lens. Off the camera flash is also useful. I usually wrap my camera bag in multiple layers of plastic.

Digital cameras have taken over since this page was first created. Waterproof models are to be recommended.

Send prints in *.jpg or *.gif formats to:

10) Binoculars

Above all the rockpooler is a naturalist and there is always a chance to view whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and seabirds which may be too far away to view properly with the naked eye.

11) Waders

Although not essential, and may actually be a handicap on tricky terrain, thigh waders come into their own in deep pools and for shrimping in fine weather. Shrimping in anything but the calmest conditions requires chest waders unless you want to squelch along with a boot full of water. Waterproof trousers can be worn over the top of the waders.

12) Wellies

It doesn't matter what colour they are - the idea is to keep the water out.

13) Shoes

From the evidence of discards, plimsolls seem to be a favourite. Shoes will get ruined by the salt and water. Old shoes are used on very slippery terrain because of the superior grip on what can be very dangerous conditions.

14) Plastic Bags

These fill the role of spare containers, and can be used for storing sea anemones, mussels, protecting nets and other equipment. Muslin and netting bags are used in shrimping and prawning where the closed bag is dragged along whilst submerged.

15) Plankton Net

The plankton net is in a miniature trawl for capturing microscopic organisms for study and food for live-feeding animals in aquaria. Stocking hose, or muslin, is used in  a conical net, with a plastic jar at the cod end. The net can be towed behind a boat or trawled over the edge of a jetty. The best results are obtained at night.

16) Goggles

Eye protection is needed when using a geological hammer for chipping off rock and attached sea anemones. Goggles come in useful for protection against sand storms, a nuisance that should not be underestimated.

17) Geological Hammer

A proper geological hammer is required for the delicate job of chipping away a rock with a sea anemone attached to avoid damaging the environment. Fossils are also found between the tides.

18) Torch

In Sussex when the low spring tides occur at dawn and dusk a torch is invaluable in the fading light. Night prawning is pastime with the light of the torch picking out the eyes of the prawns. Special headlamps are usually worn on the forehead, fastened by a large elastic band.
Small shoaling fish and plankton can be captured by net and torchlight from the edge of jetties.

19) Bucket (small)

All buckets should have a carrying handle. The general rule is to have a largest bucket as possible.

20) Weever Scoop

Shrimpers can capture the small venomous Weever fish, Echiichthys vipera, in their net. A small scoop is used to flick the small fish back into the sea.

21) Trowel

A trowel is a specialist tool for digging up small rocks to collect attached animals like the Sagartiidae family of sea anemones.

22) 3 Gallon Bucket

Fermentation bins with a 3 gallon capacity prove to be ideal collecting and examination buckets for taking on to rocky shores. The best colour is white as the various rock pool fish and invertebrates can be more easily retrieved against a light background. Lids are useful and enable the bucket to be filled without sloshing around too much in the back of the car.

23) Shrimp Net (Professional)

My larger shrimp net, the same design that appeared on River Walks

Serious shrimpers use a larger 2 metre wide net. It folds up and does not contain a metal frame, so it is almost as easy to push as the one metre metal and wood net. We hope to feature the construction and use of such a net in an issue of Glaucus next year.

24) Drop Net

This is a baited net that is dropped over the side of jetties and into deep pools. They can be made out of bicycle wheels with prawn netting. Recently, they are now on sale at angling shops. Mussel is the best bait to use in these nets. Captures are unselective and can be disappointing.

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