Pollack (Pollachius pollachius)
The pollack (Pollachius pollachius) is a handsome, streamlined fish, and, unlike many other species of our inshore waters, has scarcely been affected at all by over-fishing by commercial vessels, since the kelp-covered underwater reefs that it haunts can never be trawled. No one who has seen a good pollack fresh from the sea will deny its beauty, with its large, dark blue eyes, olive sides, and perfectly symmetrical shape, and the impression of speed and power that it gives. The pollack is a gadoid fish — a member of thefamily — but bears little family resemblance to the squat little pouting or the heavy-bellied, big-mouthed cod. There is something thoroughbred about the look of a pollack.
The only fish with which it might become confused is its northern relative the coalfish, and this is a convenient place to mention the chief points of difference between them. The lower jaw of the pollack protrudes quite markedly beyond the upper; only in the larger coalfish does the lower jaw protrude, and then nothing like so far as in the pollack. The pollack has no barbel at all beneath its chin; the coalfish has a rudimentary one (which has to be looked for, incidentally). The lateral line of the pollack is black, very distinct, and positively curved; the lateral line of the coalfish is almost straight and nearly white against the background of the flank. Colouration is a guide as well, though not such a sure one. Pollack are usually reddish-gold on the back and olive on the sides. Coalfish are greenish-black on the back, shading to pure white on the belly. Sometimes, however, pollack from the northern end of their range are greener on the back. Generally speaking, the coalfish is a more portly-looking fish than the pollack.
Spawning takes place in the spring, before the fish move on to the inshore reefs, in deep water of fifty fathoms or more. Pollack swim into the angler’s orbit around April and May and at g this time of year keep strictly to the reefs. In the summer they are willing to move away from the rocks to pursue shoals of smaller fish, but they rarely desert them for long. It is always over the reefs that the angler expects to take his fish. These reef pollack seem to vary in size according to location. In some areas of coast, they may average only, say, 1 kg (2 lb), while in others the average size may reach 2.5-3 kg (5 or 6 lb) with a sprinkling of much bigger fish. In my experience, reefs close inshore tend to produce smaller pollack than those a couple of miles out.
During the day, the pollack seem to feed near the bottom, and it is there that the angler must look for them — and inevitably lose tackle. Fishing at first and last light is the most profitable as a rule, for then the pollack rise up in the water and begin feeding close to, or right on, the surface. The bigger fish seem to lose much of their daytime caution then. Not for nothing is the last hour of light known to anglers in the West Country as the ‘suicide hour’. But more of this later.
The pollack leave the reefs in the late autumn after the first big storms, but some of the very largest fish turn up in the winter over clean ground. This unusual behaviour is accounted for by the shoals of herrings which are inshore in the late autumn and winter. Large pollack will travel many kilometres in pursuit of them. Minchin records instances of big pollack taken on trailed lines well out to sea in St George’s Channel at this time of year. In the winter of 1961-2, a very large pollack was caught by a surf-caster fishing at Dungeness, Kent, many kilometres away from any recognized pollack reef. It is very likely that this fish, probably a solitary, was ranging far from its usual haunts after herring or sprat.
The growth rate of pollack is very much linked to the food supply of the area of rocks it haunts. Growth, as with most sea fish, is rapid in the summer and autumn and slows down in the winter. A pollack might reach a length of about 20 cm (8 ins) at the end of its first year, while a ten-year-old fish could be over 90 cm (3 ft) long. Pollack seem to reach sexual maturity in their fourth season, though this may not be the case with slower-growing fish from less favoured locations.
In many harbours, the weeds at the wall’s edge are the haunt of very tiny pollack indeed — fish of the year’s spawning. They feed at this stage on amphipods and the like, but the voracious quality of their species is shown in the dashing way they will attack a morsel of fish or mussel lowered over the side. The little fish stay inshore for their first winter but by next spring they have begun to feed on small fry, and in their second summer will be tackling sand-eels and small fish of various kinds.
The angler must travel south-west for much of the best pollack fishing. Small pollack are to be had as far up the English Channel as Dover, but they are small, and not until well west of the Dorset coast does the size begin to improve. Devon pollack are worth catching, but for specimen fish there is no doubt that
Cornish waters are unsurpassed. For the holiday angler, there are boats and professionals available at such places as Fowey and Looe. The marks are well known, and to book a boat at one of these resorts is perhaps the best guarantee of getting among good pollack. Fish of between 6.7 and 9 kg (15 and 20 lb) are taken each. The Channel Isles also offer good pollack fishing, and it has always struck me that the Scillies might produce magnificent sport for an experienced angler. However, like so many of the best pollack fishing grounds, these islands are very much off the beaten track.
In Wales, there is excellent pollack fishing from the Pembrokeshire coast and the fish run very large on the off-shore reefs. It is very difficult to get hold of a suitable boat there, since the best marks are well out to sea in the open Atlantic; in particular, the reefs in the vicinity of the islands of Skomer and Skokholm Ramsey Sound is another first-class spot. Once into the Irish Sea, the fish tend to run smaller. The west coast of Scotland has every indication of being an excellent pollack ground but little is known of it from the rod and line point of view.
The Irish coast yields magnificent pollack and, since many of the reefs are fished with lines by professionals, most of the good pollack marks are well known. Working from the east, the reefs around the Saltee Islands out towards the Conningbeg Light are excellent, but it can be said that right around the coast of Ireland, right up to Donegal, there is good pollack fishing everywhere.
Much of the fascination of pollack fishing stems from the magnificent surroundings in which it is carried out. Fishing in a small boat right up into the white water that surges back from a showing reef like the Smalls is a thrill which is scarcely to be equalled in any other form of fishing.