Deep-water pirking and jigging

Some skippers may look like graduates of a body-building school, but the secret of their physique and fitness is serious pirking.

Pirk fishing in deep water can put a bit of a strain on your muscles. But charter skippers are often successful with a pirk because they are usually fit and capable of pirking over long periods, taking some big fish along the way. So if you are going to do a lot of it, consider a course of exercises to tone up your arm and shoulder muscles.

find conger

Where there is a wreck the chances are strong that you’ll find conger haunting the nooks and crannies of the hulk. The conger is an opportunist and will attack a pirk if one happens to drop into its territory. If you manage to hook one like this, you will be in for some rod-bending action and a muscle-stretching scrap.

a selection of pirks

Take a selection of pirks and adapt to the conditions on the day. You may need to add more weight to the lure or try pirks with different actions in the water – a particular colour of lure might be effective or a special flavour.

brightly coloured artificial eels

Choose your weapon – an arsenal of brightly coloured artificial eels. When jigged above a wreck site they perform a mesmerizing dance, irresistible to fish.

pollack, taken on an artificial eel

This gaping pollack, taken on an artificial eel, shows how deadly killer gear can be. If the fish aren’t tempted by the baited pirk, they may well take the lures.

Finding the fish

Predatory fish tend to occupy different niches in and around a wreck. This pattern of distribution can help you plan your strategy, but there are no hard and fast rules – fish are taken at all levels.


Tend to feed at top levels of wreckage and above, particularly late in day. First to hit pirks on drop – 24-26oz pirk on drift.



Usually found just above main body of wreck, but rise higher at last light – pirks baited with squid and plastic streamers.



Right in and around the wreckage, usually well distributed over the area – use big, baited 24-26oz pirks on drift.


Close to wreckage in lowest regions. Sometimes big eels move out to hunt over clean ground around hulk – pirk with large bait of mackerel or squid. Late in the day and during the night is the most likely time. A muppet on a wire rig can work well. Always fish on the drift.

pirk fishing techniques

Pirking is a method of fishing with a weighted lure fitted with a hook (usually a treble). It is a particularly successful technique for deep-water wreck fishing, when the quarry is big, fast, free-swimming species of fish such as pollack, coalfish, cod and ling.

The idea is to tempt these big predators to strike at a lure which looks something like baitfish. Because the competition for food around a wreck is so fierce, predators go for anything that looks like a good meal and an attractive pirk is definitely on the menu.

Bought is best

The basic pirk consists of a single piece of chromed metal fitted with a large treble hook. But there are many different kinds of pirk available — varying tremendously in shape, size and colour. Bright, shiny ones of between 16-26oz (450-740g) have a fine catch record, but others are worth a try. Be flexible and bring along a selection of different types to experiment with on the day.

You can save money by making your own pirks – all you need is a section of chrome tubing (pram handles are best if you can get hold of them). Fill the tube with scrap lead, then flatten and drill it at the ends to fit a hook and swivel by a split ring.

However, there’s little doubt that the sophisticated, professionally designed pirks outclass home-made ones for catching ability. The best pirks are attractive to predators because they are shaped to flutter when they are dropped or jigged up and down in imitation of swimming fish.

Jigs are generally smaller lures and often consist of a metal head with a feather or plastic frilled body, instead of the all-metal pirk body. This weighted head gives them an attractive action. They are used in the same way as pirks—relying on the tendency of predatory fish to strike on impulse at the lure bouncing seductively in front of them.

Fast action

The boat skipper locates the wreck site, and sets up the boat to drift over it with the tide. As it closes in on the hulk, drop your pirks fast at the skipper’s signal. (It is important to have discipline and an understanding between the skipper and the anglers in order to avoid high tackle loss in the wreckage. Ideally he will spot changes in the height of the wreckage with his echo sounder, and be able to coordinate the lifting and dropping of pirks accordingly.)

When dropping down, put your multiplier into free spool gear, controlling the fast revolving drum with your thumb. Both pollack and coalfish, hunting in open water about 6m (20ft) or more above wrecks, often hit the lure while it is still falling to the wreck, taking the pirk with great savagery.

Mostly the fish are hooked in the jaw but sometimes one makes a sweeping slash at the pirk and becomes foul-hooked outside the jaw area. Speed is vital in pirking and you must be ready to put the reel into gear as soon as you feel the violent snatch.

A second later the rod shows a considerable curve as it takes the weight of the fish and registers the incredible power of its inevitable plunge for the bottom. If you don’t set the reel clutch correctly for the weight of line used, you risk a break. It is a good idea to underset the drag slightly, ready for the initial snatch of the fish.

If the pirk is not taken before it reaches the wreck, quickly wind it up above the wreckage line, away from snagging haz- ards. Again, the skipper should shout out when lines need winding in. When clear of the wreck, jig the pirk up and down by lowering the rod tip to the water then sweeping it upwards in a low arc – continue this action until a fish makes contact or the skipper orders you to retrieve lines. Don’t sweep the rod too high or you will have nothing left to strike with. (However, in this type of boat fishing the power dive of the fish after it takes the pirk is usually enough to drive the hook home.)

Killer gear

A fairly recent development in pirk fishing is the use of ‘killer gear’. This consists of a 3ft (1m) long paternoster trace of nylon monofilament of at least 60lb (25kg) b.s. Two 8in (20cm) snoods formed by a blood-loop dropper knot carry artificial eels with 6/0-8/0 hooks. A pirk, usually baited with a strip of squid or mackerel, acts as the weight. This rig is fished in exactly the same way as the single pirk, but is often far more effective. It takes fish over a wreck when more conventional tactics have no effect.

Where and when

Generally speaking, spring tides are best for catching with pirks or killer gear. The flow ofwater carries the boat at speed over the wreck area where the fast run ofwater tends to stimulate pollack and coalfish to feed vigorously. Rod-bending action can be constant at this time. Middle range tides are better for cod and ling, which tend to stay much closer to the bottom. They are more likely to be taken on killer gear than on a single pirk, and with baited hooks instead of lures on the snoods. Generous helpings of squid or mackerel – or a cocktail of both – often pay off with these heavyweight species.

Although smaller pollack do go for pirks, it is mostly large fish that take them at wreck sites and during winter. That’s when species like coalfish, pollack and ling group together in considerable numbers. You need strong tackle for these big fish, especially when two or three large specimens hit the lures simultaneously. A couple of big coalies, for example, intent on going in different directions after taking the bait, put a terrible strain on the gear and the angler. Bringing in two or three at a time might take it out of you physically and net a big haul, but you can get better sporting fun from playing a single big fish – perhaps on lighter gear and a flying collar rig.

Occasionally a monster conger takes a pirk — usually if it is baited and happens to drop within reach. A fish of 102lb (46kg) taken on a pirk off Mevagissey, Cornwall, was the first eel to achieve ‘ton up’ status on rod and line, establishing a British record.

Specialists also fish with a pirk for halibut. Giants of 100lb (45kg) and more have been taken in northern waters on baited pirks, worked near the bottom in very deep water.

Pirking over rough ground gives poor results compared with pirking over a wreck where fish are more numerous. But killer gear can be successful, particularly on a reef where there is a fair depth ofwater. A minimum of 30m (100ft) is required and the boat must be on the drift. Cod are a favourite in this situation.

Choosing tackle

The right rod for pirk fishing is not less than 6/4ft (2m) long and has a firm but good action. Above all, it must have lifting qualities. Carbon, graphite and glass/graphite combination rods in 30lb and 50lb (13.6 and 22.7kg) classes are available from all the top name manufacturers.

A high-geared multiplier is used by specialists, the most popular being a 4/0 which matches up with the 30lb (13.6kg) class rod. A 6/0 complements the 50lb (22.7kg) rod. Load up with monofilament of at least 40lb (18.2kg) test. Use lighter line for fishing reefs. A much heavier leader to the trace or pirk is a safety measure. Avoid braided line as its resistance to the tidal flow spoils the action of the pirk.