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.


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.


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.


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.

Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by STEVE NEELY

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

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