Sample the joy of chasing wild Irish pollack
Small-boat fishing for pollack.
The wild and untamed seas off the west coast of Ireland are famous for their pollack, and while I have battled many from the rugged rock marks, I haven’t really explored the miles of unspoilt coastline while afloat. Last season, my father John and I invested in a small Honwave inflatable, initially bought for chasing bass, but we have deployed it on occasions in search of these big-eyed predators.
After a few days of settled weather, we decided to explore a stretch of coastline that we’d previously scrambled over. Now, however, it was time to try something a little different.
I picked this spot based on a few basic principles. First, it isn’t too far from where I have a house over in County Donegal, which meant it was only a half-hour drive up the coast to the launch spot. This makes things a little easier and means we can pack up and be sitting back in front of a nice, warm fire in under an hour from pulling the boat out of the water. Bonus!
Second, the launch zone is pretty good. Quite a few locations do not have easy access nearby, and with the boat being only 3.8 metres, it means we aren’t really able to do any massive open-sea journeys. Saying that, the combo of the Honwave and the 9.9hp Mariner engine means we zip around at about 20mph, and this allows us to cover quite a bit of inshore water.
Last, but not least, my research had shown a few interesting features, including plenty of stacks, a large drop-off and a hole on the sea floor. In theory, this would provide structure for baitfish, and also a break in current that predators can use to their advantage to lie in ambush.
All that was left was to pack the car, hit the road and get out on the water.
For this trip, we took three rods – two for throwing 150mm shads on 28-50g heads, and slow-fall jigs ranging to 60g, with the other rod
for larger stuff... should we require it.
I was using an Illex Nitro S 215 H (15-60g) as my main rod. It’s perfect for working shads at moderate depths because the action is responsive and stiff enough to animate them to around 60ft, and has enough power to tame some of the potentially larger specimens.
We carried a shorter and lighter rod for working some of the smaller slow-fall jigs in order to maximise the feeling and sensitivity, yet have some rod-bending sport on the smaller fish.
SOFT LURE CHOICES
As with most lure fanatics, I tend to take too much stuff with me, especially when fishing unknown waters. I had spent the evening before with lures and jig-heads covering every surface of the living room, and the kitchen table was no longer visible. Slowly but surely, I began to whittle them down to a few basic profiles, colours and, more importantly, weight ranges.
In terms of body sizes and styles, I work on three basic concepts. My default choice are shads between 120-150mm, which tend to cover most bases regarding ‘matching the hatch’. The second style will be longer, slimmer, eel-like lures around 160-180mm. These may have a paddletail or straight tapered tail and are often deployed in the summer when larger sandeels and launce are present around the inshore waters. Lastly, I will carry some larger shads around the 180-200mm mark to help avoid the smaller fish and perhaps get the attention of some larger specimens. Offering these bigger soft lures with a lazy presentation style can frequently encourage the larger fish to take interest.
In terms of colours, I like to keep it simple with variations on natural colours and patterns. These mostly revolve around blue/silver and green/silver and realistic finishes like sardine or mackerel.
WATCH YOUR WEIGHT
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take a range of lures in weight and head style for offshore lure fishing. Having a bunch of bodies is all well and good, but unless you match them with the correct type of jig-head, then they won’t fish effectively or at the desired depth.
Evaluating the speed of your drift, depth, current and tide will all help you choose the appropriate weight and style of head to use.
Let’s say you have a 150mm shad with a 35g jig-head, fishing in 30ft of water and the tide starts to pick up, making the set-up too light to keep in the kill zone. In my opinion, you have three choices to adapt to this change.
First, you could keep the jig-head weight the same, but decrease to, say, a 120mm shad, thus making the lure sink faster and hold down longer. Second, you could switch to a more hydrodynamic lure, either with a narrower profile or without a paddletail, but keep the jig-head the same. This will help the lure cut through the water. Third, perhaps the most common tactic is to increase the weight of the jig-head, keeping the shad the same size. For example, in this scenario switching up to 42g.
Slow-fall or slow-pitch jigs have become increasing popular over the last few years, especially for cod and ling. I have been getting great results from both shore and boat with pollack and wrasse using fairly light (30-60g) jigs.
Colour-wise, I carry some generic baitfish colours, such as blue/silver or green/silver, and then hotter colours, such as orange or pink with zebra stripes. There are loads of companies now making great slow-fall jigs, such as HTO, Major Craft and Storm.
Similar principles can be applied to slow-pitch jigs as when fishing shads. It’s all about controlling the way the lure falls and maintaining contact at all times. It is critical that you have a sensitive set-up to ensure you feel even the smallest change in feeling as the jig flutters on the drop.
The key is to get as much hang time or on-thedrop time as possible because this is where these lures come into their own, with an erratic fall and flutter that turns on most fish.
ON THE WATER
We had arrived at high water with the plan to fish the ebb tide and come back in just before low water. The area we wanted to fish wasn’t far from the launch zone, and within 10 minutes we were casting our shads at the underwater column that rose from the seabed.
It looked textbook. The Lowrance Elite HD9 was showing us exactly where the stack started and what sort of depth lay around the edges. We spent a minute working out the drift speed and direction and then did a mock run, marking structure and points of interest as we went, which would allow us to pinpoint the features with each drift past.
We kept tweaking the lures and finally got into the right zone using the Illex Nitro Sprat Shad 120 with 35g heads. This weedless, articulated soft lure is ideal for casting at structure and keeping close contact with the bottom.
I often find that letting the shad bump the bottom on the first drop, then pick up contact and use a slow sink-and-draw motion often works best. With lures as supple as this Nitro Sprat Shad, you really don’t need to add too much action to get some lifelike animation, so keep it measured.
It didn’t take long before we were into some fish, which seemed to be feeding hard just at the turn of the tide. Initially, the fish weren’t as big as we had hoped, but it was lovely to be out on the water with a wild, roaming headland as a backdrop and the rods bent over. What more can you ask for?
Soon the fishing picked up. As the tide began to run hard over the structure, it was clear to see on the fish-finder that the fish were stacked up on the sheltered side. After taking a load on the shads, we decided to drop some slow falls, and this was when the fishing really kicked off.
We had multiple double hook-ups, and the average stamp of fish started to rise and we ended up with fish over 7lb, which may not be big by offshore standards, but for these small inshore marks it was awesome sport.
After hammering a pile of pollack and even a few wrasse, we called it a day and headed back for the shore.
We really have only scratched the surface along this particular stretch of coastline, but hopefully if the Atlantic storms stay at bay, we will manage to get back out and explore the plethora of reefs, drop-offs and pinnacles again.
Who knows what fish lurk in these unspoilt and untouched waters? How big do they go? It will be fun finding out.
Get great results using fairly light (30-60g) jigs
This wrasse, for John Neely, fell to a slow-fall jig
A wrasse on a Nitro Sprat Shad