Gudgeon are small freshwater fish which inhabit Europe and areas of Asia. Predator anglers catch these to use as live or deadbait to catch larger fish such as pike.
They are also sought by match anglers and specimen anglers, particularly for the larger fish. They may have some sentimental value to anglers as they are likely to be one of the first species that young anglers will catch.
Gudgeon (scientific name Gobio gobio) are a freshwater fish of the Cyprinidae family. This is a large and diverse family and the species within inhabit most of our stillwaters, which include carp, tench and barbel.
They are sometimes nicknamed “gobio” after their scientific name but in the UK the most common way of referring to this species is simply “gudgeon”.
The French word for small gudgeon “goujon” is used in cookery as a size as you slice fish or meat into “goujons” (such as the chicken goujons you can find in freezer sections of supermarkets).
Within the UK, there is a town called Bradford upon Avon in Wiltshire. This town has really taken gudgeon into their hearts, as they have a newspaper named after the species, the iconic town weather vein is known as “Bradford Gudgeon” and they even have a commemorative beer called Golden Gudgeon.
Gudgeon were an important food source in the UK in the past. They were far more common in times gone by as they are sadly now in decline. There are records of gudgeon being consumed as far back as the Roman era, all through the Middle Ages and in to the Victorian era.
A very popular method of cooking gudgeon was to remove the head, fins and guts. The fish would then be dipped into egg, flour and breadcrumbs and deep fried, in a similar way to how whitebait are cooked. They are not now eaten in the UK and most fish are returned to the water.
There are other species of fish called gudgeon around the world. One species, named the topmouth gudgeon (scientific name Pseudorabora parva) is native to Asia but has spread throughout Europe.
In the UK, the topmouth gudgeon is considered to be invasive and steps have been taken to remove this species from the water.
Gudgeon are used in aquariums, and some subspecies of gudgeon with a wonderful array of colours and are prized by aquarium enthusiasts.
Predators of gudgeon include trout, perch, pike and chub. Wild fowl such as kingfishers, grey heron and divers are also partial to gudgeon and in some waters in makes up a significant portion of their diet.
If that wasn’t enough predators, they even have otters to contend with who also hunt for gudgeon.
Distribution and Habitat
Gudgeon are native to Europe and Central Asia. They can be found as far north as Siberia, Sweden and Finland, as far east as Russia, China and Korea, as far south as France and as far west as the UK. Gudgeon are not natively found in the warmer areas of Southern Europe such as Spain, Italy and Greece.
Gudgeon have been introduced, and become established in Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Although they are not native to warmer climates they do seem to survive well in these habitats.
Common reasons for introducing gudgeon include, as a food fish and as an angling fish. It seems as though they were introduced accidentally to Ireland, perhaps as use as a baitfish.
Gudgeon were introduced to New Zealand where they became established around Auckland. Gudgeon were illegally introduced by anglers with hopes of establishing a population.
They were considered invasive and efforts were made to eradicate the species. This appears to have been successful as the species is no longer recorded in New Zealand.
Gudgeon inhabit many various waters. They can be found in faster flowing rivers and streams with sand or gravel bottoms. They are probably better suited to these faster flowing rivers however they can also be found in still waters.
They will inhabit still waters including lakes and ponds. They swim in large shoals (sometimes in their hundreds!) and where you find one gudgeon the chances are that you will find a lot more in the same location.
Gudgeon are in decline in the UK. There does not seem to be a reason for this and there been little research to discover why.
One reason is likely to be the introduction of zander into canals, however even in areas where zander are not present there seems to be a decline. Gudgeon can survive in polluted waters and can survive where many other species would not.
Gudgeon are often confused with their cousins, barbel as they can look very similar to very small barbel.
Gudgeon have slim and streamlined bodies with slightly flattened bellies. Their heads are relatively large (and oddly scale less) and they have one distinct barbules on the each side of their mouths.
Their top jaw is slightly protruding which complements their way of bottom feeding. They have two lines of pharyngeal teeth in their mouths which are cone shape and slightly curved at their tips.
Gudgeon have large scales in relation to their size. Their lateral line scale count is between 38 – 44.
The colour of gudgeon is usually a green or brown colour on their backs, silver with a slight tinge of blue and/or yellow on their flanks and a creamy white belly.
The have black lines which run horizontally down their bodies. The fins are pale brown to white in colour, and the dorsal and caudal fins are in particular are speckled with black spots. The dorsal and anal fins are not serrated but smooth.
In order to distinguish gudgeon from small barbel, remember barbel have two pairs of barbules at the side of their mouths (four in total) rather then one pair (two in total) which gudgeon have. Gudgeon are also slightly stockier and less streamlined than barbel.
Gudgeon are generally very small fish (some would say tiddlers) and one of the smallest in the Cyprinidae family. What they lack in individual size they make up for in quantity. If you get a shoal feeding you can really get tens if not hundreds of these attractive little fish.
Gudgeon average 3 – 4 inches in length (7.5cm to 12cm) but you may find larger specimens in perfect habitats and locations.
The average weight is a very small 1oz to 2oz (approximately 0.03 to 0.06kg). Again, you may find larger fish in prime habitats and anything above 3oz is considered to be a specimen. The British records stands at 5oz which would have been an amazing gudgeon.
Gudgeon live on average 3 to 5 years, however there may be older fish in some waters.
How they Feed
Gudgeon are shoaling fish and their shoals can grow to extremely large sizes. Gudgeon can make a small “squeaking” noise as a way of communicating with each other. The noise they make differs from area to area and is very much dependent on the environment.
Gudgeon are bottom feeders and will scour the bottom of the waters looking for food. It must be a real sight seeing a large shoal of these feeding on the bottom as it must look like the floor is moving.
Gudgeon generally feed during the day, however if there is a lot of predators around they will defer feeding until the light has faded to protect themselves.
Gudgeon are omnivorous. They will scour the river or water bottom for insect larvae, molluscs and crustaceans. Gudgeon use their barbels to detect their food, as well as searching through the sand and gravel.
They will also find food which has dropped from the other surface or for anything dropped from other fish in the water. It is said that gudgeon’s favourite food is freshwater shrimp. They will also eat fish fry, water fleas, caddis-fly and bloodworm.
Gudgeon reach sexual maturity between the ages of 2 to 3 years. Gudgeon spawn when the temperature of the water reaches between 12 to 14 degrees Celsius. In the UK, this is generally between the months of May to June, and possibly even stretching into July.
Breeding will occur in shallow waters above gravel, sand or sometimes plant material. The females release their eggs and the males will dart around swiftly in order to fertilise them.
Female gudgeon can lay between 3000 to 8000 eggs. The eggs themselves are surprisingly large and are either a champagne white colour or a beautiful yellow. The eggs are adhesive and stick to the bottom of the water or on plant material.
The eggs take approximately 10 days to hatch, which may be shorter or longer depending on the water temperature. The juvenile gudgeon will stay near to the bottom in slower flowing water. They form shoals immediately.
Gudgeon generally spawn once per year, however in prime environments they may spawn more.
How to Catch
Gudgeon are really populous in areas and if you get a shoal feeding you can really pull these fish in one after the other. We have heard from match fisherman that they been saved from “blanking” many times by the humble gudgeon.
Gudgeon are perfect for introducing young or new anglers into fishing as they are forgiving, require simple tackle and will usually bite when many other species will not.
Gudgeon can generally be caught all year. Look out for canals, rivers and streams will gravel or sandy bottoms. You can find gudgeon at the margins, a few metres from the margin edge or on the bottom.
In terms of bait, tried and tested bait which work well for gudgeon include maggots, pinkies (always go for good wriggling ones), casters, red worms, brandlings, chopped worms and bloodworm. You could also try bread or bread punch for good results.
Gudgeon are bottom feeders so you could try using small swim feeders for this species. Personally, we prefer float fishing with maggots for the fun and enjoyment. Gudgeon are fairly easy to catch and match anglers in particular are very skilled at catching these and may catch up to several hundred in one session.
You only need very light tackle when fishing for gudgeon, together with a small hook of size 20 or 22 (depending on your bait). You could fish on the bottom or slightly off of the bottom. Once you have caught a fish keep loose feeding to keep the shoal interested. Try to loose feed little and often.
Gudgeon respond very well to groundbait but make sure that the groundbait is firm enough so that it will sink before breaking up. You don’t want to disperse a shoal by the groundbait breaking up too quickly once it enters the water.
Always be aware that you may find bigger fish such as roach or perch fishing in the same area as gudgeon so be prepared to give line for the larger fish.
As with their cousins, the roach, you will need to strike quickly as gudgeon are known to swallow their bait. Deep hooking is a common problem with this species so make sure to have a disgorger on hand in the event that they are deep hooked.
If the hook cannot be removed cut the line as close to the hook as possible. The fish should regurgitate or digest the hook if this happens.
If you would like more information on how to fish for gudgeon, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!