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Your ultimate guide to locating pollack and wrasse
The bigger world of angling offers some great knowledge, transferable between disciplines, but there’s one thing that rarely changes wherever you go and whatever you fish for, and that’s watercraft.
Take away knots, rigs and tackle – techniques that are, in reality, just different approaches, and what you are left with is a bunch of variable, yet consistent (they will always be there in some degree) natural factors, the understanding of which is the bread and butter of catching fish with any form of regularity or consistency.
I fish from boat and shore, mostly modern lure fishing these days, but I’m just as happy to turn my hand to bait fishing, carp, pike, salmon or any other type of angling, for that matter. What actually catches me fish is the same throughout all the angling disciplines.
The exact definition of watercraft will always be open to interpretation. For me, it is about the natural factors of fishing – the things that are in the lap of the Gods, including wind and tide/current, weather conditions, temperature and light, and, most importantly, fish behaviour and topography. The latter are subjects I like to call the ‘psychology of angling’ – knowing your target species, where to find it, and why it is there.
The truth is, and I often say it to my charter boat customers, “fishing is just farming”. I use farming as an example, hunting would be another, but the crude basics to have any remote chance at being successful at any one of the three – farming, hunting or fishing - are the same. You need to have a superior knowledge of your livestock (quarry) or in our case species, and an intimate knowledge of your land, in our case the open coast, in all its shapes and forms.
While hosting the Sea Angler team’s visit to Ireland, a day was set aside to hit the rugged coast of West Cork, in search of big pollack and wrasse, predominantly using lures. The team consisted of Tronixpro boss, George Cunningham, lure fishing duo Adam Kirby and Dan Sissons and England shore angling legend Chris Clark, along with the magazine’s features editor Paul Fenech. RED-LETTER DAY Conditions were good, and I promised the guys we would have a red-letter day. The sun was blazing as we left Courtmacsherry and headed west in our vehicles. I like sunny days. Granted, some fishing can go off the boil in bright, warm conditions, but deep-water rock marks often fish better when it is sunny, hot and calm – not to mention they are much safer to fish in these conditions too. After a mile or so hike, we arrived at the top of the cliff that I wanted to descend.
It was Adam who asked the money question: “How on earth did you find this place?” Trying to catch my breath, I replied it had been while walking my dogs. In many ways that was true, my dogs do get walked well when I am looking for fishing marks, but rarely do I just stumble upon them while I’m out for a stroll.
Finding marks is an exact science, but first you need to understand your target species – where and what each likes.
There are many species you’re likely to encounter when rock-hopping with lure tackle, and each really warrants an article on its own, but here’s some basic watercraft – general things and areas to look for on the open coast when looking to target big pollack and ballan wrasse on lures.
Deep-water and pollack seem to be a perfect match – their large eye, which is used to see in low light, is a clue to this fact. Find the deepest water on your stretch of coastline and if it holds pollack, that’s where you’ll find the biggest ones.
A good tip is to remember that the steepness and height of the coastline above the water often indicates a similar steepness and depth below the water.
Pollack also like tidal movement and things that obstruct it; underwater reefs protruding from headlands being a great example. The presence of kelp is another clue, being one of the preferred hiding places of this predator.
Experience has also taught me that the best marks for pollack often face into the prevailing conditions too. Marks that face the weather are often more rugged, and the water is often clearer and oxygenated due to constant churning.
Being marauding hunters, pollack will often feed for the duration of a tide, as part of a shoal, so they will never be far from an ample supply of baitfish, and whether they prefer to feed on the flood or the ebb tide is always down to each particular mark.
Wrasse can be found at various depths, depending on the time of year and the conditions. Wrasse live as part of a colony, with a higher female to male fish ratio.
Experience has taught me that these colonies are usually found in approximately half the maximum depth, relative to the deepest area on that particular stretch of coast. On my local coast here in West Cork, depths fall away to 55 feet (a great depth for big pollack) but most of the wrasse dwell in depths ranging from 20-30 feet.
Wrasse marks are usually boulder-ridden, cavernous, and face away (are protected) from the prevailing conditions. The presence of barnacle-covered rocks between the high and low-water marks is a great indicator of ballans being nearby, but the jury is still out as to whether or not this toothy critter is a crustacean-muncher or a whole gobyswallowing active predator. My opinion on the matter is that they are both, depending on conditions.
Unlike pollack, which can feed on either tide, wrasse are a fish that appear to prefer the flood (incoming) tide, using it to frequent shallower waters on warm, calm days during summer and autumn. During winter, and when it’s rough, wrasse will rarely venture from their deeper colonies.
Now that you know what to look for, finding marks in this day and age couldn’t be simpler. I still start with an Ordnance Survey map of the area.
I ponder over maps very slowly compared to how fast I view maps online and, for that reason, I probably gain more from them. I use my OS maps to identify the nature of the coast – what way certain bits face, how
steep, how rugged, and how deep. The latter is guessed by the intensity of the map contour lines above the waterline.
My next port of call is Google Maps’ satellite view, which I use to zoom in and explore possible access. Once I’ve done that, it’s time to walk the dogs and do some reconnaissance. Knowledge is king, and a good recce always pays off with good fishing, as the team were about to find out.
This particular mark was a large, safe, rock platform tucked away under a big headland. From the top, the descent looked impossible, but by using Google and footwork a few weeks previously, I finally found a safe route to the bottom. Once there, it actually turned out to be better than anticipated, with two huge, deep, kelp-strewn reefs on the side that faced the prevailing conditions, and a barnacle ridden, boulder-strewn gulley on the other side, sheltered from any weather. Welcome to rockfish heaven.
I was already rigged up, and no sooner had we reached the bottom, I started fishing with a Texas-rigged soft plastic lure for wrasse. Before the others had rigged up, I caught four 3lb-plus ballans and lost just as many.
As each angler made their first cast of the session, they hooked into big pollack, with several pushing 7lb, and no shortage of wrasse to 4lb, one after another. This is how the fishing continued for two hours solid until the top of the tide and, by the time it came to pack up, no angler could recall actually how many fish he had caught, nor who had caught the biggest (turn to page 16 for the full story).
Now that’s a heavenly morning’s fishing.
Knowledge is king when rock-hopping with lure tackle
Finding marks of such calibre in this day and age couldn’t be simpler
Left: Pollack pushing 7lb were plentiful, like this fine example for George Cunningham Above: A chunky ballan wrasse on LRF gear for Sea Angler contributor Dan Sissons Top: The descent looked impossible, but research found a safe route to the bottom