Your ul­ti­mate guide to lo­cat­ing pol­lack and wrasse

Sea Angler (UK) - - Finding Great Venues - Words by Jim O’Don­nell Pho­tog­ra­phy by Paul Fenech

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

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