About the pollack
Due to their willingness to take lures on light tackle, coupled to their fighting qualities, plus growing to a decent size, the pollack is one of the UK’s most popular sporting fish.
It is found nationwide throughout the UK, also right around Ireland. It is commonest on the west coast and throughout the English Channel, and though present in the North Sea, it’s overall numbers there are lower than in the west. The south, west and northwest coast of Ireland also sees the biggest specimens generally, though the species are more widespread in the Irish Sea than they are in the North Sea.
They are only really confused with the coalfish, which tends to inhabit roughly the same areas as the pollack. The pollack though, once you know what to look for are easy to identify. It has three separate dorsal fins, a typical trait of the cod family, also two anal fins, the first of these being long and originating directly below the first dorsal fin. The lower jaw extends further than the upper jaw. The lateral line also has a sharp curve over the pectoral fin. The coalfish, although similar to the pollack, has the first anal fin originating in the gap between their first and second dorsal fins. The jaws end almost equally on the coalfish and the lateral line is white or creamy coloured and lies straight from the gill cover to the tail.
The colouring of both fish is also obvious. The pollack are typically a bronze brown with a hint of green but with golden flanks and a white belly. The coalfish are a much darker coloured fish with a dark green back shading into dull silver sides and belly.
Size wise, the pollack is capable of growing in excess of 35lbs and these fish have been recorded in the past by commercial fishing methods. The average pollack caught over deep water reefs is around 5lbs, but over wrecks, double-figure fish over 12lbs are relatively common.
They spawn normally between January and April, but in recent years with milder winters and late springs, some spawning has been evident in May. Spawning takes place in deeper water up to 200m in depth. The eggs and developing larvae then drift inshore on the tidal currents, nature’s way of guaranteeing as wide a distribution of the young pollack as possible. One year old pollack are numerous on the shallower inshore grounds.
What do pollack eat
Pollack are voracious predators and eat mainly live fish. Their typical diet over wrecks and rough ground are sandeels, herring, sprat and mackerel, but they are also bottom feeders and will target pout, poor cod, small whiting and codling.
Also part of their diet is crustaceans. They will eat any crabs they find, shrimp and prawn, and offshore Langoustines.
Pollack can often become preoccupied with a particular food source when it is widely available in numbers, especially sandeel, sprat and small herring.
Boat fishing for pollack
Wreck fishing for pollack
The biggest pollack and the greatest numbers come from the deep water wrecks. The best of the fishing is over the wrecks in the western half of the English Channel, off the Southwest coast of England, in the Irish Sea and off the west coast of Scotland. In the North Sea, they are caught from the wrecks, but their numbers are fewer, though they can be of a higher average size.
In Ireland, the most consistent wrecking for pollack is off the southern and western coast, also the Northern Ireland coast where there are literally scores and scores of mainly WW2 wrecks littering the seabed and the pollack fishing here is some of the best for numbers anywhere. One to watch is the port of Wicklow which has access to some relatively untapped wrecks in the western half of the Irish Sea and some very big pollack are being caught here with the potential for records to be broken.
These offshore wrecks can be in anything from 25-metres of water to 130-metres depth, or more. Charter skippers and the more experienced wreck anglers tend to favour wrecks within this depth range. Go deeper than 350-metres and the fishing can become difficult keeping the bait or lures tight to the wreck, plus it can be physically challenging regarding constantly retrieving tackle and fish from such a depth.
The English Channel wrecks tend to be shallower and are rarely in much more than 250-feet, but the middle Irish Sea wrecks can see you fishing 350 to nearly 400-feet depth. That said, both areas can be very productive.
Generally speaking, the smaller neap tides tend to be the easiest to fish regarding the drift speed of the boat. In short, you will spend longer over the wreck than on the bigger faster flowing spring tides. This will be area specific and you have to go on the advice of your skipper when booking trips.
In some areas, the Irish Sea wrecks being a prime example even in depths of 350ft, during slack water periods and even when the tide flow is picking up early on, you can get down to the wreck with a near straight line with just 5ozs of lead and braided line.
Aim for the smaller neap tides until you get a feel for the wrecking area you’re fishing, then ask the skipper about whether some wrecks are fishable on the bigger tides.
Obviously, sea conditions dictate whether we can even get out on the day, but even in the depths discussed, the weather has an effect.
The wind speed and direction are critical, along with the tide flow direction, in how the skipper sets up the boat for the drift. Their aim is to bring the boat directly across the wreck, or line it up so that they come across a particular part of it. They do this by noting the initial tracks on the sounder, then adjusting accordingly throughout the day as conditions, wind and tide change.
The best conditions for drifting over wrecks are when the wind is against the tide, or flowing against each other. This sees the boat’s natural surface drift slowed down, therefore you have longer over the wreck. Boats often catch the wind on the cabin, this obviously being the most proud and prominent area. It depends on the hull design, but some boats will drift “off” the wind or at a slight angle to it, so in relation to how you stand on deck, your lines may be trailing off at an angle.
Days with some overall cloud cover and overcast tend to give better fishing than days when the sun is bright, even in deep water. A slight breeze to ruffle up the sea’s surface is also good as it limits light levels entering the water column.
Water clarity ideally should be relatively clear. After prolonged storms or unsettled weather when there is suspended sediment evident, then conditions can be difficult as the fish tend to be tighter to the wreck and less eager to move or feed.
Tackle for wreck fishing
Much depends on the depth and how fast the drift speed of the boat is in relation to the wreck as to what tackle to choose. Basically, the amount of lead weight needed to reach the wreck and seabed, and stay there, dictates the rod class used.
Two rod types are ideally needed to maximise efficiency and angling fun over wrecks. In deeper water with a fast drift, then heavier lead weights in the 12 to 16oz range would require a 20/30lb rod action. Look for a rod with some tip action, but with power evident in the upper mid-section and a stiffish lower middle section giving in to a stiff butt. This will handle the heavier weights, yet still have the action to fight fish effectively and to control any crash dives.
The second, and commonest outfit, is a 12lb to 15lb class boat rod. The rod blank action is more important on this rod and needs explanation. The best rods sport a supple tip, but with power coming in quickly in the upper mid-section with gradually increasing power travelling down into an almost stiff butt. The supple tip allows the pollack to take the lure without feeling too much tension, but more importantly, it helps cushion the powerful crash dives and head shaking lunges that a pollack will make during the fight. This softer tip also helps cushion the hook hold when using the braid lines which have minimal stretch. The middle section is the main shock absorber but passes the pressure down into the stiff butt section. This acts as the leverage point with which to pressure the fish, especially in the early stages when you need to bully it away from the nearby wreckage.
The reel to go with the heavier 20/30lb class rod would be a multiplier capable of holding 300m of 40lb braid mainline. It doesn’t really matter if the reel is a star drag or lever drag model. Good ones to compare others with are the Penn Fathom 25N Lever Drag Single-Speed or the Penn Fathom Star Drag in size 25N or the 30 size. There is a slight advantage in the lever drag in that it is better for incremental drag adjustment during the fight, but star drag reels do a great job too, providing you set the drag accordingly to the breaking strain of the line on the reel. For wreck fishing at depth, the line should be able to be pulled off the reel by hand under medium pressure. Such a general setting allows for the weaker points in the tackle set up such as knots or a lighter hook length.
The more sporting 12 to 15lb class rod needs to be matched to a smaller compact multiplier carrying 300m of 30lb braid. One of the best current examples at the time of writing is the Penn Fathom 15 LD 2-speed. This is a lever drag reel with a drag system that can be very finely set to suit all situations, especially when using lighter 20lb or even 15lb hook lengths if required. The 2-speed gearing rated at 2.8:1, can also be useful as this can be engaged simply and easily and allows the angler to retrieve small increments of line at a time when a very big heavy fish is hard to lift up when in close proximity to the wreckage. The main gear ratio is fast at 6.1:1, so the retrieval of tackle is rapid, plus the gearing is heavy-duty to take the workload. The TSF crew use specifically these reels for wrecking and that’s why we rate them as the ones to judge all others by.
Why braid line? There are many advantages in using braid for wreck fishing, and hardly any disadvantages. The braid has barely any stretch. This means that bite detection is much improved at depth. Also, the full force of the rod is being exerted on the fish during the fight which is so essential in the early stages when the fish is still near the wreck. The main advantage of braid is that it has a much lower diameter than the equivalent breaking strain of mono. This minimises the amount of lead weight needed to reach and maintain contact with the seabed due to the lower diameter being less affected by tide and water pressure.
Our advice is to ignore mono lines for wrecking. They are high diameter in comparison to braid, need much more lead weight to reach and stay on the bottom, plus it suffers serious stretch when a long length is out resulting in poor bite detection, a lack of real feel throughout the tackle to tell you what’s happening at the hook end, plus being heavier in diameter you need to use bigger reels generally spoiling the balance of light tackle.
When using braid, it is wise to add a shock leader about twice the length of the rod, of either mono or fluorocarbon. This allows a slight amount of stretch in the tackle to combat the minimal stretch nature of the braid, but also allows a cushion of stretch when a big fish is near the boat and on the surface on a very short line, just in case it makes one last crash dive. The other function of the shock leader is to protect the more expensive braid from unnecessary contact with wreckage. What’s more, if you do get snagged, the leader knot acts as a weaker link which will break when pulling for a break. You lose some tackle, but the more expensive braid mainline is preserved. Also, the clear shock leader separates the tackle and lure from the more obvious mainline which in clearer water can make a difference if fish are spooking off or just tapping the tail of the lure. The fluorocarbon is the best choice of shock leader as it is obviously less easy for the fish to see, but also has far more abrasion resistance than mono should it come in contact with the metal. It might cost you a bit more, but it catches more fish and saves more tackle.
Your choice of lead weight shape is also important. Avoid flat-sided leads as these can veer off at angles on the descent. The best ones are either the round ball weights or the bomb-shaped leads. These, especially the latter, tend to cut through the water cleanly without deviation. Good sizes to carry are 4oz to 16oz, but generally, a lot of wrecks can be fished with 6oz, 8oz, 10oz and 12oz in many areas, especially when using braid lines.
Wreck Fishing Rigs
Flying Collar Rig
The Flying Collar Rig using a plastic boom and a long hook length up to 12ft used to be the standard wreck fishing rig for use with lures and with fish fillet baits and fresh sandeel. It remains a good rig when fishing fresh sandeel, but is prone to tangling during the period of slack tide either side of low and high water if you don’t release line slowly to the bottom. It is also prone to snagging in the wreckage.
- Tie the shockleader to the top of a metal boom.
- To the boom arm, tie on 5 or so feet of 15 to 20lb fluorocarbon line.
- Attach a size 4 rolling swivel to the end of the fluorocarbon.
- To the other eye of the rolling swivel, tie on a further 5 or so feet of 15 to 20lb fluorocarbon line.
- Tie on your chosen lure.
- To the short arm on the metal boom, tie on a weak link of mono between 12 and 15lbs and then your chosen weight.
The knack with the Flying Collar Rig is to constantly change the length of the hook trace to combat the varying tide and drift speeds. During faster drifts, you need to lengthen the hook trace. As the drift slows, this can be shortened.
Modified Whitby Rig
A more modern and far more effective design is a modification of the Whitby rig.
- To the end of the shock leader, tie on an American Snap Link Swivel, size 2/0.
- To the same eye of the Snap Link Swivel, Tie on 7ft of 20lb Fluorocarbon.
- To the end of the Fluorocarbon tie on your chosen lure.
- Clip the lead weight into the snap link of the swivel.
The image above is a representation of the rig, in a real-world scenario the hook length should be 7ft+. The short hook length here is just to show you have the rig is made.
This simple rig is much more effective and hardly ever tangles, even when the tackle is dropped at speed through the depths. It works best with weighted lures, but also with unweighted. As the lead hits the wreck or the seabed, the lure travelling above the weight still has the downward momentum. If you start to retrieve the weight immediately it hits bottom, the lure still travelling downwards will unravel any twisting of the hook length and lure round the leader so that it flows out straight. The fish are not put off by the proximity of the lead weight, either. Also, the shorter hook trace is more streamlined and snags less should it come in contact with the wreck. We’ll look at how to retrieve this tackle in more detail shortly.
The Killer Rig
Killer gear is another more dated rig. It was originally designed to fish two fresh mackerel baits one above the other and took a lot of big pollack, cod, ling and coalfish during the early days of wrecking in the late 1960s and early ’70s. It was quickly modified and used with two artificial sandeels and again took a lot of fish.
1: Start with 70-inches of 80lb clear mono.
2: Tie in, using Blood Loop knots, two long 8in loops spaced 30ins apart.
3: Cut the loop once near the knot to form one long 16in hook length.
4: To the lower end of the rig body, tie on a size 3/0 Oval Split Ring.
5: To the top end of the rig body, tie on a size 2 Rolling swivel.
6: On to both hook traces slide on a muppet, an 8mm bead and then a size 6/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessy hook.
The muppets can be fished singly or with small fish fillets added. Alternatively, change the muppets for artificial sandeels or fish imitators such as rubber shads or soft plastic worms.
Killer gear is fished by dropping the gear at speed until it reaches the seabed and wreck and you have two choices. You can hop the lead on the seabed by lifting and lowering the rod to make the muppets or lures look like a small shoal of fish. Alternatively, retrieve the lures slowly up through the water column then drop them back and repeat.
How to fish wrecks
For a group to enjoy a proper day’s wreck fishing, you need to form a working relationship with the skipper. It’s easy with a good skipper because they’ll be shouting out information as you approach the wreck, telling you exactly when you’re directly over the wreck, and when it’s time to retrieve your gear back ready for another drift.
The information that’s vital is how far you are off the wreck. You already know the depth the wreck sits in. What you need to know is when your drift is about to take you over the wreck and the skipper should tell you this when you’re still a little way off it. The fish will be clustered around the wreck and not too far from it, so there is little point fishing before you are almost upon the wreck itself and where the fish are. Experienced wreckers often drop their tackle down, but hold it up in the water about 40-feet above the seabed. As you approach the wreck and the skipper shouts “wreck coming up”, drop your gear to the seabed and begin to slowly retrieve. This means you have a lure in the prime position right in or right over the wreck as you come onto it. Retrieve the lure up to about 40-feet off the wreck, drop down, and retrieve again. Do this until you’ve gone well past the wreck then retrieve your gear for the next drift. The anglers that make the best catches are the ones that keep the lures in the killing zone right in the wreckage for as long as possible.
During the mid tide period when the tide is flowing strongest the fish tend to be gathered close in around and tight to the wreck itself. This is for protection from the tide flow as they can get behind the lee of the structure, expend less energy, but still pick off small fish that wash towards them. When a wreck sticks up a fair way off the seabed, then the tide flow will be forced over the wreck and this forms a downtide bubble of slacker water. Pollack, and other fish such as cod and ling, will sit in this bubble and feed. This is why it can pay to keep fishing for a couple of minutes after you have passed the wreck. This has to be judged on the day and in the prevailing conditions.
When the tide is slack, say the hour on either side of high water, the pollack will rise in the water and can be as much as 50-feet above the wreck, and scattered further away from the wreck too. The best wrecks for this are the ones that either broke their backs with the bow and stern breaking away from each other and scattering debris across a wide field, or blew up on the way down, again scattering a wide field of debris.
It’s not an absolute rule, but it’s more likely to get bigger fish from a wreck that sits hull down on the seabed, especially from the forecastle or wheelhouse section, than on a wreck that has turned on its side with little superstructure sticking up.
It’s really important to choose lead weights heavy enough to keep the line as straight down into the water as you can. If your line is lifting in the water and its angle shallowing, then the lead weight is too light and the lure likely to be too far up off the seabed. Keep the line as straight down as you can, but don’t use a heavier lead than necessary. Lighter leads will tend to bounce off wreckage whereas heavier ones will snag more.
The retrieve speed you recover the lure at can be critical on the day. Start with a slow retrieve, count the turns of the reel handle say to 30, then drop the lure back down and repeat. If bites don’t come, speed up the retrieve a little, and then some more until you start to get takes. However, it’s usually the slower retrieve that picks up the fish.
Also experiment with how far you come up with the lure in the water column. Remember the effects the tide flow has on where the fish will be and don’t be afraid to work the lure 60-feet above the wreck because sometimes the fish will be shoaled well up above it. By counting the turns of the reel handle, you quickly establish where the fish actually are in relation to the wreck or height above it. This means, once learned, that you can maximise your lure time in the fish feeding zone.
Hopping the Killer Rig is the technique to try when the fish are tight in amongst the wreckage. Let the tackle descend to the seabed, and once the lead has hit bottom, retrieve about 3ft of line, then simply lift and drop the rod tip to “hop” the rig up and down. It can sometimes draw fish in if you bang the lead weight on the seabed, too. They come in to investigate the noise. You can also retrieve the Killer Rig as you would a single lure, but hopping it is better.
The Whitby rig can also be adapted to hop single lures such as weighted shads and sandeels. Just cut the hook length shorter, say to 4ft. Again, drop the lead weight until it hits bottom. Bearing in mind the length of your hook length, retrieve in the same length plus 2ft more. Using the rod tip, just lift the weight up and down. This sees the lure hop in an up and down motion close to the seabed simulating a feeding swimming fish. It’s interesting, but predators always hit these lures when they are on the down motion of the hop. It’s when they are most vulnerable, so is a natural attack method.
Lures and baits
Often referred to as “soft plastics” imitation sandeels, shads and worms are all deadly for pollack. There are literally hundreds on the market and most will catch fish, but some stand out more than others.
The original artificial sand eel’s by the Redgill company and Eddystone Eel company set the standard, and these two companies remain at the top of the tree with a range of lures that have moved with the times. Savage Gear also does a range of eels that are highly popular. The success of these lures comes from the wagging tail that moves so proactively in the water and makes the eel come alive on the retrieve. It’s the vibration emitted by the tail that the pollack initially homes in on, then any visual interpretation occurs in the final moments before attack. Bear these tails in mind when buying lures, it’s all about the action!
There are also a host of different weighted and unweighted shads on the market. These imitate the small fish that the pollack feed on. These are deadly on the wrecks as they represent exactly what the pollack are often feeding on. Again, go for the ones with an obvious tail that will work and vibrate. One of the very best shads is the Berkley Ripple Shad. These are not weighted, but can be rigged with a lead head mounting the hook coming out through the back. This form of presentation sees the hook snag less in the wreck as it faces upwards. The Ripple Shad is also effective unweighted.
Other good lures are what are commonly referred to as Mr Twisters, jelly worms or grubs. These are fat bodies with a curly tail that wriggles in the water when retrieved due to water pressure. Again, they catch a lot of fish. These come in a variant called a Firetail. This is say a black body, but with a brighter orange, green, yellow or red tail. These can be more effective than single colours, so always have a few of these in your tackle box.
Colour can be very important on the day. Here’s a rough rule to follow, but don’t expect it to work every time. On bright days when the sea is very clear and the sun is bright, use a brighter colour like yellow or orange, or mixed colours such as Rhubarb and Custard. On the cloudier, darker days, and in both clear and water that has some slight sediment in it, use the darker colours such as black and red. There is a reason for this. In clear water and bright sunlight the colours stand out more. On cloudier days, the fish hunt by viewing their prey from below and see only a silhouette, so the darker colours are best. Here at TSF we also like clear shads and sandeels that have a coloured head. These can be deadly in clear and slightly coloured water.
It also pays to try and match the colour to what the fish are feeding on. So, if you think they might be on small herring use a white or speckled silver lure. If they are on joey mackerel use a darker backed lure. Little changes like this can make a huge difference and no two days are likely to be alike.
If the sea is carrying a little colour, or if you’re fishing very deep water, then consider using luminous lures for the added visual effect. Pollack will surprise and take luminous green, pink and even orange and yellow artificial sandeels, grubs and shads. These can be charged for increased effectiveness either with a UV torch, a camera flash, the torch on your mobile phone, or just left in bright sunshine for a while. This is a good trick to try on those days when bites are proving difficult to get.
One of the biggest factors is getting the size of the lure right on the day. As we mentioned previously, the pollack can become preoccupied by a species that is dominant in numbers at that time. If they are feeding on larger 10-inch plus launce sandeel, then they may well ignore smaller lures. Equally, if they are taking small sprat say 3ins long, then an 8-inch would be left alone. This is another thing to experiment with on the day. Keep changing the size of your lures until you find the winning formula.
How to hook wreck pollack
This is a subject in itself. It’s important to understand how pollack take their prey. Many, mistakenly, think the pollack grabs its meal and swallows it. They don’t attack like that.
Pollack have a big and powerful tail and body. They have a rapid off the line turn of speed that can intercept prey. Their usual attack mode though is to swim up behind a small fish then gulp in a mouth full of water. This sucks the prey straight into the back of the mouth of the pollack. It shuts its mouth, expels the water through its gills, then swallows the prey.
When you begin that slow retrieve up through the water column, when a pollack comes up behind the lure and starts to suck water in, you’ll feel a steadily increasing pressure on the supple rod tip which starts to bend over. You need to keep winding at the same speed. Do not strike! Keep retrieving and as the pressure increases the rod tip goes hard and the fish will feel the hook and run for the wreck. This is where your drag comes in. Let the fish take line, but have the drags set so that it has to work hard to take line off the reel. Do not try and hold the fish or either the hook length will break or the hook tear out. The instant the fish stops running, pump it upwards gaining line back on to the reel as you drop the rod for the next upward pump. If the fish wants to run again, let it. This is the only way to play pollack and land your share.
Pollack will also try to run when they see the daylight starting to brighten, roughly at half depth. Be prepared for this!
Top tips for wreck pollack fishing
- You can use a permanent marker pen to add colour detail to your lures. Black is the most obvious for adding mackerel look-a-like stripes to a medium-sized shad. You can also darken the back of the shad to increase the silhouette.
- A sure sign a pollack is unsure of your lure or that something is wrong is when you can feel them literally pluck on the tail but they won;t fully eat it. This can be a retrieve speed issue, so try different speeds. More likely is that they can see the hook trace. Try dropping down in breaking strain from say 20lbs to 15lbs and this can often be enough to trigger a take.
- Using a chrome rather than a black coloured snap link swivel can sometimes make a lure more effective. The flash of the chrome in the water can catch the eye of the pollack, which then sees the lure and gives chase thinking the lure is chasing a small fish.
Reef and rough ground fishing for pollack
Although the reefs do not produce huge pollack in numbers, the reefs off the Devon and Cornish coast, those off Wales and Scotland, and especially those off the west coast of Ireland can still produce double figure fish in good numbers. Much of what we have written for wreck fishing is applicable to reef fishing too, but we’ll select the major differences and look at these in some detail.
Ree fishing tackle
General reef fishing is rarely in more than 100ft of water. This allows the use of the lighter 12lb to 15lb class rod, a small compact multiplier like the Penn Fathom 15LD, or even a Penn 525Mag3. These can be loaded with 20 to 30lb braid and again fished with a 20lb fluorocarbon or mono leader.
Over the reefs there is another option to consider. Often the tide run allows the use of much lighter tackle. An 8ft to 9ft spinning rod, a size 4000 fixed spool with a good drag, loaded with 20lb braid and a 20lb fluorocarbon leader. On this tackle, and with no tide, you can let a 1oz jighead and shad or sandeel descend to the bottom then work it back. This is not only deadly but highly effective too. Big pollack really fight on this light tackle.
If you need more weight to get down, then choose the Whitby Rig, but keep the lead weight as light as possible and though the retrieve method will work, often, on this type of ground, the “hop” is the better way to fish as the pollack tend to be tight to the seabed.
How to find the fish
Reef pollack are mostly in amongst the boulders choosing to live around the bigger boulders that dominate the general seabed. They also congregate around any small rising pinnacles that lift up off the bottom.
The best way to fish is to drift along with the current and just keep working the lures as normal. You’ll keep coming across these pockets of fish with lots of instant action, then short periods when nothing happens as you pass over barren ground.
Often you can see major seabed structure show on the seas surface as turbulent swirling water or areas of flat water in a rougher sea. Remember though, that these structures will be uptide of the actual surface showing, but it gives you an indication of where to look then you can take a drift over it to see.
Pollack also tend to be in numbers close to any small surface-breaking rocks that drop away into deeper water, but obviously care and safety need to be taken into consideration here when taking boats close in.
Another good place to try are the channels between the main shore and a small island. These tend to channel the tide and the bigger pollack often live here.
Weather conditions for reef pollack fishing
With the water depth being substantially less than over wrecks, then the light factor comes much more into play. In clear water, then some overall cloud cover will make a massive difference. On bright sunny days, then the fish may only feed freely as the angle of the sun reduces on the water. This would be early morning to mid-morning, then again from mid-afternoon to evening.
The very best times for pollack close to shore are dusk and dawn. The plankton rise in the water as the light fades and the smaller life forms follow them, bringing with them the smaller baitfish, and then the pollack follow these and even in 100ft of water, the pollack will take lures at dusk right on the surface.
During periods of very rough weather, pollack will move out off the shallower reefs and it will take them a few days to filter back in again. Also, they do not like murky coloured water, so it’s best to wait a few days for the suspended sediment to clear.
Natural sandeel fishing
This is a deadly technique on the inshore reefs. The old method used to be using the Flying Collar Rig, but the Whitby rig is better for this, you just need to extend the length of the hook trace to 8 or 9ft. The hook should be a size 1 Aberdeen to a size 2/0, depending on the size of the sandeel.
Keep the lead weight as light as possible. Use just enough weight to keep the line and sandeel down. In this instance, it’s not so important if you need to keep releasing line to stay in touch with the seabed and the line angle shallows. As long as you keep the eel fairly close to the seabed, say no more than 15ft up, then it’s in the natural killing zone of the pollack.
To hook the sandeel, pass the hook through the head just in front of the eyes where the bone is stronger. This lets the sandeel look more natural in the water. Let the tackle down slowly to allow the hook trace to extend a little and avoid tangles. When the weight hits the seabed, start to retrieve slowly. Takes can be savage, the pollack just sucking the smaller sized eels straight in, but sometimes they need to be given a little more time. If you keep having the sandeel taken off with no hookup, extend the length of the hook trace and maybe lighten it to a lower breaking strain. The best way to get clean hookups is to feel the rod tip for the increasing pressure and give the pollack time to fully eat the bait.
Shore fishing for pollack
Season for shore fishing for pollack
Pollack can be caught from the shore the whole year-round, but in wintertime, it’s the smaller juvenile fish to about a pound in weight or so that linger inshore. This especially applies to man-made structures such as piers, breakwaters and stone jetties. Their numbers swell more come April and build through to late June when overall numbers peak. This lasts until mid-November when numbers reduce again.
On the deep water rock ledges, the best of the fishing is from May with numbers building through to late June, then holding steady until late November or December. Much depends on the overall weather pattern as prolonged rough seas will push them out to deeper water, as will prolonged periods of very cold settled weather.
The biggest shore caught fish almost always come from the deep water rock ledges. Fish up to 5lbs are fairly common, but in September and October, even November there is a very good chance of much bigger fish over 6lbs if you put the time in.
Fishing from man-made structures is best when there is a moving sea. Some swell and some surface ripple is ideal, especially on days when there is good cloud cover. In this shallower water a heavy sea will push the fish out, especially during the bigger spring tides.
It is less critical when fishing the open coast rock ledges. Safety decrees that the sea needs to be pretty settled with no real swell. Even then, only choose rock ledges where you have a quick exit route to higher ground should the sea swell suddenly increase. The best fishing though, is when the sea has been settled and predictable for some time. Try not to fish directly after a big storm has passed through and a big sea is still subsiding. It will take a few tides for the fish to filter back into the shoreline in these conditions.
Given the water will be much deeper, the fish are less affected by the light levels, but even so the cloudier days again fish better. If it’s sunny and clear, try to locate the marks that give in to the deepest water to combat this and ignore the shallows. Often the worst time to be fishing is either side of midday when the sun is high in the sky and the light levels go straight down into the water column. Dusk and dawn are often called “pollack light” for a good reason. The pollack are up in the water and feeding, so this is the very best time to be fishing.
To be able to access the rocks you need relatively calm conditions, but do bear in mind the wind direction. Pollack take best when the wind is blowing either from the south or west. If you take note, catches will be less good if the wind has north or east in it. The longer a wind blows from the north or east, the worse the fishing becomes.
Pollack are very obliging fish and are not overly conscious of the size of the tide. On shallower venues such as man-made structures, the fish will move in and out with the spring tides as they drop towards low water but creep back in again as a new flood tide deepens. On the smaller neap tides when the depth is more constant, then the pollack may not move out at all and stay well within range the whole time. In short, though, they can be caught for most of the incoming and outgoing tide, though the better catches will occur on the flood tide.
The smaller neap tides are mostly the best when fishing the rock ledges. The smaller neap tides tend to have less swell and will allow shore access to generally deeper water where the numbers of fish are more constant. Either side of high and low water slack can be ok, but pollack like some tide run, so the best of the fishing will be in the second and fourth hour of the tide when the current flows steadily. If the flow of the tide is very strong, it will usually be worse in the middle hours of the flood and this will push the fish deep and they are less easy to tempt.
Finding the fish
Pollack love structure. They use it to deflect the tidal flow, use it as a hidey-hole from which to ambush prey fish, and also as a defence against attacks from bigger predators. On man-made structure you need to be fishing as tight to the pier legs and supports as possible. On breakwaters, the fish will be right in the edge where the base of the boulders or tetrapods from the breakwater, and in the holes created by these structural components.
The rock ledges need a lot more thought and observation. A good strategy is to use the height of the cliffs and look down at the sea’s surface. This is best done on calm days when there is a good tide running. You will see surface disturbance such as swirls and flat calm patches on the water with rougher water around them. This tells you there is major seabed structure evident, but this will be uptide some distance as the tide flows over this structure, then bubbles up towards the surface some distance down tide. You need to locate this structure by fishing it until you find a concentration of pollack which will be evident here. Use identification marks on the cliffs to pinpoint the mark for the future.
Also from height, look carefully at the shoreline and how it is formed. Specific feature to note is where a rocky finger juts out to sea where the tide flows round the end and into deeper water. Pollack will sit in the deeper water just on the edge of this tide run and ambush small fish that get swept past them.
If you stand on the tide line rocks and look at the overall cliff structure around you, pretty much what you see will carry on underwater. Anywhere where a steep cliff drops into the sea is a good spot as rocks and boulders will, over time, have fallen into the sea here and created a rough seabed with plenty of features.
The channels between the shoreline and an island are great spots as the tide quickens here and baitfish get swept into such places for the pollack to prey on. Also, note areas where when casting you come through kelp weed. Pollack love weed beds as they reduce the light entering the water, attract small prey fish, and the pollack can use them as ambush points.
Another good spot to fish near are lobster pots. The bait in the lobster pots attracts a lot of smaller fish and the pollack will hunt around the pots picking these off. Remember, that the pot buoys will be downtide of the actual pot when the tide is flowing.
Sometimes you see shallower ground holding kelp weed that breaks surface at low water on the bigger tides. If this ground has deeper gullies and gutters running into it, then these, especially in the autumn period, can hold some bigger than average pollack that take up station in these gullies. Look out for these as they are more common than you think, especially on the open west-facing coasts.
Shore pollack tackle
The smaller harbour, pier and breakwater pollack can be targeted with a light 1-2oz spinning rod no more than 9ft in length, small 3000 sized fixed spool reel loaded with 15lb braid plus a short 15lb fluorocarbon leader, and float tackle. It’s very effective and gives good sport with the smaller fish.
For bigger fish off the rock ledges, and also man-made structure with deeper water, then a 9ft to 10ft spinning rod casting 2-3ozs is the right choice as you need to cast lures further, plus have the backbone in the rod to fight sizeable fish that will run for the nearest snags. A 4000 sized fixed spool reel loaded with 20lb braid and a 20lb fluorocarbon leader completes the outfit.
In extreme cases where pollack can run very big, say over 6lbs, then some experienced anglers prefer a 9ft 6in uptide rod or a 2-4oz Bass rod of 11ft or so and a 5000 sized fixed spool loaded with 30lb line. This is much tougher gear and has the power in the middle section and butt section to really bully big fish.
Rigs for pollack fishing
Float tackle is very simple to set up. You need to use the cigar-shaped floats, but carry two or three different sizes and choose the smallest you can get away within the conditions.
Float fishing rig
- Slide a 5mm bead then the float on to the leader.
- Slide on a size 5mm bead and a round ball weight just heavy enough to cock the float.
- To the end of the leader tie on a size 6 rolling swivel.
- Onto the free eye of the swivel tie on 15-inches of 15lb Fluorocarbon.
- Hooks can be an Aberdeen or Viking pattern size 2 for smaller pollack, but up to a 2.0 for bigger pollack.
- Above the bead above the float, using a short section of Powergum or old mono, using a 6-turn Grinner knot, tie a stop knot onto the leader. This will slide on the line and allow easy adjustable setting of the float for bait depth.
Artificial sandeel rig
This is an easy to tie but highly effective rig that casts well with the lead weight leading the lure out for maximum casting range. It can be used for casting away from man-made structure but is especially deadly when fishing the deep water rock ledges.
- To the leader tie on a size 6 3-way swivel by the top eye.
- Add a lead link clip to the middle eye of the swivel to take the lead weight.
- To the lower eye of the swivel, tie on 36-inches of 20lb Fluorocarbon and then the lure of your choice.
Depending on the water depth and tide run, choose a lead weight between 1 and 3ozs. The lead weight leads the lure out during the cast for maximum casting range and rarely tangles. It also allows you to present the sandeel or prey fish imitator tight to the seabed where the bulk of the pollack will be. The fluorocarbon hook length is important too, as it is slightly stiffer than mono and presents the lure better without tangling, plus it is much more abrasion resistant than mono is when coming in contact with the rocks.
Baits and lures to use
When float fishing, the best baits for general fishing are small mackerel strips about 1in to 2ins long and a half-inch wide, whole small sandeel up to 3ins, or sections of sandeel, also squid strips. When hooking fish strips, pass the hook point through the skin side first, bring out the other side, then bring the hook point back through from the flesh side to leave the hook point fully exposed.
What can be deadly is a whole king ragworm hooked through the head and upper body leaving lots of tail to wriggle freely. This is especially effective at dusk and dawn used off breakwaters and piers, but also the rock ledges.
We’ve already mentioned the wide variety of lures available and most will catch pollack. Redgill, Eddystone, Berkeley, Savage and a host more all make excellent lures for this type of fishing. You can refine it down though, by considering that most inshore pollack eat mainly sandeels and small fish. Any sandeel imitator will catch, as will small prey fish imitators such as shads. The heavier lead head sandeels can be cast on their own and work well in all situations, but when fishing the Sandeel Rig, you can use unweighted lures.
From the shore, the smaller lures sizes work best. Carry sizes from 2ins to 7ins. It’s a case of finding what size of prey the pollack are currently feeding on. The most consistent sizes are 3in to 5in.
Colour can also be important when it comes to artificial sandeels and shads. The pollack’s mood can change several times during the day requiring a change in the colour of the lure. In bright conditions, natural sandeel colours, orange, yellow, white and pink can all work well. On cloudier darker days and low light level conditions, the darker colours work best such as black and red. Also effective are the grub worms with a black body and contrasting bright tail colour. Shore pollack are also willing to take luminous sandeels and shads, and this is worth trying both at dusk and dawn and if the sea is carrying some light colour after a recent gale or storm.
Chrome and silver spinners and spoons also work well for pollack but go for the long, slim sandeel imitators of an ounce up to 2ozs for the best results.
Shore pollack fishing tactics
Float fishing for pollack
Float fishing is very straightforward. Aim to lower the float tackle and drop it as tight to the man-made structure, or just out from it, as you can. Bait depth obviously depends on the depth of water. Typically, you need the bait about mid-depth to 2/3rds depth, so keep adjusting the float stop 2-feet at a time until you find the fish.
Don’t just leave the float to fish on its own. Occasionally move the float a few inches or lift it up by raising the rod tip. This adds life to the bait which will draw interest. Also, make the float work over as much ground as you can to cover all the likely fish holding spots. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if the rough ground extends well beyond the base of the breakwater, that few anglers will cast float tackle out a longer distance. Fishing at range with the float can sometimes find you a better than average fish.
You can also use float tackle off the rock ledges. This is a great way to fish a whole sandeel which is the natural food source of the pollack. It’s best to locate deep water relatively close in and fish at depth occasionally moving the float to simulate an injured sandeel struggling to swim. This is especially effective at dusk and dawn.
Lure fishing for shore pollack
To get the best return of fish when rock fishing, you need to cover all the ground you have available. The best way to do this is to imagine a cone shape widening out in front of you. Begin by fishing the left-hand side of the cone, say at a 45-degree angle to you, and cast 30yds, let the lead weight sink, feel it hit the bottom, then quickly start to retrieve it, but only slowly. In deep water, you’ll need to stop winding occasionally and let the lure sink deeper again. Next cast, go further out on that 45-degree line, and further again with the next cast. Then come round slightly to the right more and do the same again. Keep this cast and search pattern going until you come to the 45-degree line on the right-hand side. This means you’ve covered all the available ground and need to move on.
During the search pattern, when you catch a fish, next cast, go back to the same retrieve path and do the same again. Pollack tend to group together around small bits of structure and if you catch one fish from a specific area, you’ll likely catch more. This seeks and search system applies to all lures.
Also, vary the speed of retrieve. Some days pollack prefer a slow retrieve, sometimes medium pace, sometimes fast. Start at a slow pace and see what happens. If no bites come, increase the rate of retrieve. Also, stop and start the lure by ceasing to wind for a few seconds. This makes the lure swim in an up and down motion and is attractive to predators.
When you hook a pollack it will dive for the bottom. Smaller fish you can hold, bigger fish you have to leave free to run line off, but have the drag set so that line can be taken but make the fish work for it to tire them out. Also, be prepared for a crash dive when a fish nears the surface in front of you.
Don’t stick in one spot. Fish the ground thoroughly, then move on. If you do this, you’ll start to learn of the hotspots where the pollack are most prolific and your catches will noticeably increase.
Top tips for shore fishing for pollack
- In rougher seas with little breaking wavelets, or when casting range in a calmer seas, the best colour for a float top is black. This stands out far better than yellow or orange do. Floats tend to come with brighter coloured tops, but it is worth repainting two or three in black for the occasions when you need to cast further.
- When working artificial sandeels, it’s important to be willing to risk losing some tackle. The better pollack will be in the rougher ground and this is where you need to be fishing your lures. If you use a hook length slightly lighter than your mainline, you’ll lose a few lures but not necessarily the whole rig. If you use a 20lb leader, fish a 15lb hook trace as an example.
- If the water is quite deep either side of you right up to the shore, try casting along the shoreline letting the lure sink, then retrieve it. Fish living here are often forgotten by anglers and never see a lure, so it’s well worth the effort.