Eurasian Ruffe are a small but beautiful freshwater fish. They were once seen as a pest by anglers due to their sharp, spiny fins and they would be caught by accident.
Times have changed and these stunning fish are sought by specialist anglers and those looking for larger ruffe.
Eurasian ruffe (scientific name Gymnocephalus cernuus) are a freshwater coarse fish of the Percidae family. Many of you will be familiar with this family as it also includes perch and zander.
Other names given to Eurasian ruffe are “the Pope”, “stone perch” and “Tommy ruffe”. In the UK it is more commonly known as “ruffe”.
Like many coarse fish, ruffe were widely consumed in Europe in the not too distant past. It is said that ruffe were caught in the spring using all forms of traps and snares during their spawning season.
In the summer they were caught using a hook. In Northern European countries such as Sweden and Germany, this was a highly rated food fish. As it is a small fish the most common way of cooking the fish was to boil it into a soup.
The bones have been found in Stone Age settlements across Europe. The taste is said to be similar to perch, and in some accounts superior.
There are still some countries which consume ruffe such as Finland, Belarus and Russia, however this is now uncommon.
Ruffe can form hybrids with perch but their cross breed offspring are infertile.
Ruffe are small fish in comparison to others and would seem to be the perfect size for predators.
There are relatively few occurrences of predators targeting ruffe unless other fish become scarce, at which point pike, zander, heron and grey cormorant seem quite partial.
The reason why they are not targeted over other fish may be due to their excellent camouflage and feeding during the night.
Ruffe also possess very acute sensory organs in their heads called neuromasts which allows them to detect vibration from predators.
Distribution and Habitat
Ruffe are native to Eurasia. They can be found as far North as Sweden, Russia and Finland, as far east as Iran, China and Kazakhstan, as far south as Croatia and as far west as England.
They are not native to the whole of the UK but mainly in the south. They are invasive in the northern UK. They have been introduced in Italy where they are now considered to be invasive.
They have also been introduced to North America, in particular the United States (in Minnesota and Wisconsin primarily) and Canada (in Ontario primarily) where they are considered to be invasive.
Ruffe are not generally a desirable fish and their introduction into other countries is likely to be the result of an accident, or at least unintentionally.
The most common theory which makes perfect sense is that ruffe were transported to North America in the ballast water of ships.
This water was then dumped into Lake Superior in the USA and has spread as a result. In Europe, the biggest risk of ruffe spreading throughout is by anglers as use as livebait.
In the USA there is a major concern that ruffe, along with other species, could enter Lake Michigan where they could enter the man made diversion that flows into the Illinois River, which itself leads to the Mississippi River.
This would open up the Ruffe to every single major river in the central USA. To counteract this, the USA have erected electrified barriers in order to prevent ruffe and other species from reaching their interior waterways.
There are also efforts underway to introduce a pheromone to the water which will only target ruffe and prevent them from spawning.
Ruffe are incredible hardy creatures and can sustain themselves in a large variety of environments.
They can be found in rivers, canals (particularly in the north of England), lakes, small ponds and streams. They can even tolerate brackish waters and can be found in estuaries.
Ruffe can tolerate very shallow water or extremely deep water to depths of up to 80 metres.
Although ruffe can inhabit most places, they seem to prefer slow moving waters which have soft bottoms without vegetation.
They are bottom feeders and will tend to remain at the bottom of the water. They also do very well in nutrient rich and dark waters.
As a member of the Percidae family, ruffe can be confused with very small perch. They have similar fins and similar body shapes.
Ruffe have oval bodies. They are usually a sandy brown, dark brown or olive brown with blotches of black over their bodies.
They are a creamy yellow or white on their bellies. They have large clear eyes and large mouths which are slightly downturned, almost like an unhappy face.
Ruffe have two dorsal fins which are actually joined. As with perch, the front side of the dorsal fin contains sharp spines.
The dorsal fins also have black blotches as with the rest of their bodies. The caudal fin is relatively large and also contains black blotches.
The anal fins and pectoral fins contain spines and both the anal and pectoral fins are a yellow to white colour. If that wasn’t enough sharp spines, the ruffe also have sharp spines on their gill covers!
Ruffe are not large at all by angling standards, but they are a beautiful fish and will be one to catch for the specialist anglers and those looking for something a bit different.
Ruffe can reach a size of approximately 3 – 4 inches (7.5 – 12cm). Larger specimens can grow up to 13cm in length and even up to 25cm in captivity.
Their lateral line scale count is 35 – 40. They weigh on average 1.5oz – 3 oz (approximately 0.03kg to 0.06kg). The British record as of 2015 was 5oz 4dms (approximately 0.148kg).
Ruffe can generally live for 3 – 7 years, but you might find older specimens which could reach up to 10 years.
How they Feed
Ruffe are omnivorous and are highly opportunistic feeders. They are not particularly fussy with their food and will go for just about anything.
They are nocturnal feeders and will spend the daytime in the deeper part of the water to avoid predators.
Ruffe scour the bottom of the water looking for morsels to eat. They will scavenge for anything which has dropped from other fish.
As well as scavenging, ruffe actively seeking out food using the sensory organs in their heads.
They feed on crustaceans, insects, small fish and sometimes the eggs of other fish. They also eat micro-organisms which they find on the bottom of the water.
Ruffe are very reproductive. One of the reasons that they can become established quickly is their hardiness and the ability to reproduce.
Male ruffe reach sexual maturity at the age of one year, however the females tend to take two to three years.
Ruffe spawn when the water temperature reaches between 6 to 20 degrees Celsius. This is usually between the months of April and May. The females can spawn several times over the course of a season.
The females lay up to 1500 eggs per gram of weight. They lay their eggs on most underwater surfaces in long strands. The eggs are pale yellow in colour. Unlike other species, ruffe do not guard their eggs once they have been deposited.
The eggs are between 0.3 and 1.3mm in size. It usually takes 5 – 12 days for the juvenile ruffe to emerge, depending on the temperature. The juveniles are 3.2 – 4.4mm upon hatching, and they will remain at the bottom for 3 – 7 days until their yolk sac is consumed.
Once the juveniles move from the floor they are approximately 5mm in length. The juvenile ruffe then search for food and grow extremely quickly compared to other species due to their opportunistic feeding. As they grow older them form shoals with other ruffe.
In very cold weather ruffe are less likely to reproduce successfully.
How to Catch
It is unlikely that many of you will seek out ruffe as an angling fish, however it is worth it if you are looking to for a challenge or you’re a specialist fisherman looking to catch this particular species.
As noted in the habitat section, Ruffe can be found in just about all areas of water, but prefer slower moving water and without vegetation on the bottom.
Ruffe mainly feed during the night so this would be the best time to catch them, or perhaps very early morning or very late in the evening.
They move to the shallower water when they feed to find food at the bottom. You will generally find occasional ruffe in the daytime, but try to look for the deeper water away from the margins where they may be tempted by some good bait.
In terms of bait, something small is the order of the day. You could try small worms, maggots, casters, red worm, bread and brandlings. In our experience the far and away best bait for ruffe is chopped worms as they can’t seem to resist these!
Ruffe are small fish so light tackle is all that is required. A hook between the sizes of 16 – 24 is all that is necessary for these fish. You wouldn’t want anything larger, here.
Try fishing in the margins where the fish are likely to be feeding. You could try a pole and line with a float at depth setup with a good success. You could also try a waggler float, again at depth where the ruffe are likely to be feeding.
Another technique which you could use with a good success rate is a small feeder or ledger arrangement. You would need to put this on the bottom in the margins.
For a feeder, you could use a groundbait mix with maggots (make sure they are wriggling well to attract the fish) and some of your hook bait.
Ruffe do not mix well with other species so if you catch a few in succession it is usually a sign that these are the only fish in your swim.
That being said, with the type of tackle and bait you are using in the areas where you find ruffe, you may pick up perch, crucian carp, tench or even the occasional larger carp! Don’t be put off by this it adds to the excitement and variety is the spice of life!
Ruffe have several spines which are not poisonous but could piece your skin and could cause serious pain. As you may have guessed with the vast array of sharp spines on this fish, there is a technique to handling it.
Wet your hand and slide your it down the fish starting from the front of the gills. Work your way down and close the spiny dorsal, pectoral and anal fins at the same time, along with the spiny gill covers.
Keep hold of the fish (firmly but not too tight) whilst you unhook it. The idea is that the pressure you exert will prevent the fins and gills from opening again which would give a nasty prick.
As with their cousins, the perch, you will need to strike quickly as ruffe are known to swallow their bait.
Deep hooking is a common problem with this species so make sure to have a disgorger at 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.
If you would like more information on how to fish for Ruffe, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!