Within months of sinking, wrecks are colonized by all manner of flora and fauna. They are like marine ‘islands’, providing fish with a secure home or bolt hole out of the way of the tide race, where they can dart out to intercept prey and food scraps.
Large wrecks are good for fish but a hazard to shipping and are often ‘topped and tailed’ with explosive charges to remove the superstructure and masts and render them less dangerous. This spreads them over a wider area – like a reef – but they still attract fish. So long as the debris is in no way harmful, fish just can’t stay away. In some coastal areas the American idea of constructing reefs from old car tyres lashed together has been adopted and proved successful, providing a home for the fish and sport for anglers.
Most wrecks are well-documented on marine charts and the best charter skippers build up a diary of positions, sizes and types of wrecks found in their areas. Similarly, with modern satellite navigational equipment wrecks are no longer a problem to locate – you can keep fixes and location coordinates for the future. Fixing by lining up church spires and trees or chimneys is old hat but can still be used for wrecks close to the shore. Some betray their presence by surface turbulence but most location involves navigation satellites, magnometers and colour sounders which are so simple and effective that even a novice can quickly learn to use them.
Seeing a wreck loom up on a modern colour sounder is an experience. You get a picture of the biggest fish close to the body of the wreck and these devices are so accurate that you can actually see your lures working, while the colour of the echoes gives away fish size (and thereby species). A point to remember is that colour sounders are not infallible; often motoring over a wreck at different angles reveals fish when initial soundings didn’t show them.
The fish’s habitat
In many areas fish tend to migrate from wreck to wreck. In particular, shoals of pollack, cod and bass can turn up quite unexpectedly. Wrecks closest to the shore often attract bass, while pollack and cod may prefer deeper waters. There are no hard and fast rules but keeping records of catches can be a help in finding fish. Shoals of pollack and bass chase around the top areas of the wreck structure where the tide sweeps over it, pushing small fish into their path. Pollack lie in wait behind masts, spars and superstructure, relying on a burst of speed to dart out and ambush their prey. Often the shoals are of similar sized fish and most inshore wrecks have a resident shoal of small pollack for much of the year.
Lance and sandeels are the major target of wreck predators, along with small mackerel, pout and whitebait. The slower species rest behind, and sometimes in front of the wreck, waiting for an easy meal to drift or swim past. In the depths of the hull, or in sandy troughs down the sides of the wreck, lurk the biggest conger eels. Occasionally they venture from their lairs in search of a victim, quickly returning tail first to the safety of the wreck. Around the wreck you can find other species. Bi-eam and wrasse forage among the coral and smoothly swaying seaweed in the wreck’s sheltered regions. Occasionally large shoals of mackerel and scad herd the bait fish against the wreck’s hull where they feed in a frenzy, attracting bigger predators like spurdog and tope into the vicinity.
There are two approaches: lure fishing while drifting and bait fishing while anchored.
Drifting is best done in clear water with a pirk, feathers or artificial eels fished sink-and-draw. A single lure on a long trace is the most sporting and enjoyable method for cod, pollack and sometimes bass. Let the lure down to the hulk and then retrieve at a steady rate on the reel – pollack often follow a lure right up to the surface before attacking it. Their initial surging run towards the wreck is a breathtaking experience (although these delicate, golden-green fish soon lose their power). Anchoring scores over drifting when strong tides or rough seas cloud the waters. Pinpoint accuracy is essential. Before dropping the anchor, take wind, and tide speed and direction into account. Prevailing tides and winds mean that the boat has to be moved to stay in touch with the fish. Standard anchor ‘trip’ techniques avoid the danger of getting caught on the wreck. When bottom-fishing for bream, pout, dogfish or cod it pays to keep tackle simple -complicated terminal gear soon becomes snagged. A single hook and flowing trace offers better control of hooked fish and is less likely to snag than a paternoster or multi-hook rig.
Tackle needs to be strong enough to bully fish away from the wreck. Gear in the 30 lb (13.6kg) class is heavy enough for inshore wrecks, with a step up to 50 lb (22.7kg) class gear for big congers. A feel for the tackle is important and the most successful anglers have what seems like a sixth sense for rigging, masts and superstructure, the best catches falling to those whose bait or lure gets closest to the fish.