Pollack Fishing Techniques: Bait, Tackle and Fishing Methods
The food of mature pollack consists chiefly of fish, and it is these that the angler will use or imitate in his pollack fishing. In the spring, however, when the ragworm are spawning and therefore free-swimming, large quantities of these worms will be eaten as well. The summer fish that make up most of the pollack’s diet are sand-eels, herring and mackerel fry, and sprats. The pollack has catholic tastes and few small swimming creatures come amiss.
Sometimes in the spring big pollack will move into the estuaries of salmon rivers and feed on smolts that are migrating to sea. This has been especially noted in the estuary of the Munster Blackwater at Youghal, in Devon estuaries, and in the Teifi estuary, Cardigan Bay. Incidentally, large bass are of the same habit. Far be it from me to suggest drift-lining a salmondown to them.
Artificial baits for pollack are many, but perhaps the best of all is one of the most traditional — the rubber eel, in various colours and sizes. Every angler has a special weakness for a certain colour, but amber, black, red, and white eels are all killing at times. Feathered lures will kill pollack, but the hooks on the ones sold on traces are too small and too weak. One or two feathered lures on the trace are plenty. It is perfectly easy to make up one’s own feathered lures, but the big lures used by Irish commercial pollack fishermen are very effective indeed. A chromium spoon makes an effective pollack bait, but losses are heavy, and sooner or later it becomes too expensive.
Natural baits are usually more killing than artificials, though more of a bother to use.
A salmonrod is excellent for pollack fishing, though traditionally a much stouter weapon is used. A salmon rod will give full value for the weight of the fish, though there may be times when you will lose a good one when it is able to dive for the kelp tangle and reach it. The take of a good pollack on such a rod is a thing of joy as the point is dramatically pulled under the water. This rod also gives the smaller fish a chance to acquit themselves well. A light multiplier is a good choice for a reel. A centre-pin is pleasant to use, but the suddenness with which a pollack takes sometimes pulls one’s fingers away from the reel handles and an over-run results. If you are fishing an area where the fish are known to run large, a 6.7 kg (15 lb) b.s. line is not too heavy. You may want to go heavier over unfamiliar ground where tackle losses could be heavy.
Apart from rod, reel, and line, the pollack,fisherrnan needs a selection of artificial baits, and some spiral or bomb weights in various sizes. The size of hooks chosen will depend on the size of pollack expected, and the kind of bait used.
It must be admitted at the outset that the best pollack fishing is not to be obtained by the shore fisherman, though some interesting sport is to be had on light tackle. Pollack that are likely to be caught from the rocks rarely exceed a couple of pounds, though a better fish can come along at any time and test light gear to the uttermost. My best pollack from the rocks was only 3 kg (6 lb), but I have seen one of 5 kg (12 lb) fall to the rod of a shore fisherman. These odd big fish probably find themselves inshore after pursuing shoal fish.
Rock ledges from which it is possible to command a tide race are best suited for shore pollack fishing. Spinning is the best method, of course, and it is always worthwhile to examine the ground at low tide so that you can avoid the more obvious obstructions. One of the best baits for pollack in this situation is a slender, slightly dished silver spoon, but if conditions are very calm a rubber eel will be a better fish killer. As in boat fishing, early and late expeditions will bring the best results.
Float-fishing is also a possibility from the rocks. A good bait in this respect is a lask of mackerel, the hook nicked into the brad end. If you are very sure of your ground it is sometimes possible to drift a light bait on a long flowing trace away from the rocks, but breakages are liable to be frequent. This is more a method to be used around the piles and projections of a pier or from a harbour wall. Pier and harbour pollack, however, are generally insignificant fish, though the odd two-pounder may be taken.
To give an idea of the possibilities for sport which boat fishing a distant mark may produce, the following might be of interest. Two years ago, a friend and I managed to persuade the skipper of a 11 m (35 ft) boat to take us 32 kilometres (20 miles) out into the Atlantic to fish a reef called the Smalls which showed at low tide. When we arrived at the mark we decided to put up some feathered lures, seven to a trace, to see what the water held. We found a depth of less than two fathoms near the reef; the leads touched bottom simultaneously and seemed to foul in the rocks. But the ‘rocks’ were alive, thumping heavily away, and we realized that we were into a full house of pollack that we could not haul.
The hooks were small, and after a moment or two we felt some of the fish kick off so that with a great strain on the rod top we were able to haul the remainder. They weren’t especially big pollack — around the 3 kg (6 lb) mark — but there were a lot of them. In the hour that we stayed at this mark we boated over 150 kg (3 hundredweight) of fish. The feather traces were abandoned at the beginning, of course, and single rubber eels substituted. The odd thing was that we should have done better. In case this sounds greedy, I should explain that, instead of looking for rather deeper water a little away from the reef, we continued to fish the same spot, for reasons which all anglers will understand. It’s difficult to persuade oneself to move when fish are taking. But we caught only fish around 3 kg (6 lb) when we might have had double-figure fish. It’s worth making the point here that the better-quality fish are usually found over rock in depths between ten and twenty-five fathoms.
Trailing a bait behind the boat is the commonest kind of pollack fishing. The most vital factor for success is that the boat should travel at the right speed, so that the lure works just as near as can be managed over the reef. If the boat is going too fast, the lure will sail much too high over the heads of the fish. Go too slowly, and the lure is constantly fouled. One of the advantages of the eel is that it is less likely to snag than a metal spinner. A second very important requirement is to know the ground and to be sure that you are working over fish-holding reefs and not over barren sand. Clearly a great deal will depend on your boatman’s putting you right in both these respects. In pollack fishing, as in so many other kinds of sea fishing, a good boatman is a jewel. If he is experienced, he will know enough to stop rowing or stop the engines as soon as you hit a fish and to take you back over the same ground as soon as it is landed.
Drift-lining is perhaps a more interesting form of the sport. A long rod is useful for this game and a spiral lead should be attached well up-trace (its weight depending on the kind of tide that is running). The bait is usually a natural one, a sand-eel for choice. The idea is to let your lead just tip the rock, then come up a little so that the trace flows out. You can let more line out and fish farther away from the boat, or you can retrieve very slowly. I have found the latter method more effective. Sometimes the first bite is quite minor, even when a big fish is involved, and a small knock should be the signal to give a little slack.
Drifting is practised when the boat drifts with the tide over likely ground. It is a very useful method over an extensive reef. The bait is fished up-trace of the lead. The best plan is to let the lead bump the bottom and then come up a few metres. The rod top can be used to give a jigging motion to the bait. Feathers are usually fished in this manner, though a natural bait is better.
When the fish move up in the water in the late evening, orthodox spinning tactics can be used, especially when the fish can be seen breaking the water. I am told, though I have not tried it myself, that fly-fishing also pays exciting dividends in these conditions.