Fishing for Pollack

The pollack (Pollachius pollachius) is a fish that, when hooked, has an exhilarating first run. With the pollack, terms such as ‘power drive’ seem appropriate. This member of the cod family can be one of our most sporting fishes provided it is taken over a suitable habitat and on tackle that responds to the fish’s energetic struggles.

To get the best from most sea fish, they have to be fought in shallow water. This is particularly true of the pollack, a fish of reefs and rocky bottoms, living and feeding among the tangles of kelp. The pollack comes inshore in the spring, just as the sun begins to bring warmth and fertility to the littoral waters. It is a predatory species that feeds higher in the water than other cod-like fish. Of course, the pollack will also feed on crustaceans and molluscs but the species is particularly adapted to hunting other fish.

The pollack is sleek, well-propor-tioned, immensely powerful, and built for ambushing other reef-dwelling species. It tends to shoal up according to size. Most of the inshore rock areas will have a population of smallish pollack which feed on the fry of other fish that spawn in the shallows. As summer progresses, the larger pollack come in from deeper water, feeding over the top of the reef, particularly in the late evening and into the hours of darkness. During the day, especially in strong sunlight, these larger fish sink down to the sides of pinnacle rocks, down among the weeds and the broken ground.


There is always some confusion, among novice anglers, between the pollack and its near relative, the coalfish, despite quite clear iden-tification points. The pollack is green-brown, with a dark lateral line that curves sharply over the pec- toral before straightening as it con-tinues back along the body to the squared-off tail. Among juvenile fish there can be a colour variation that is environmental. A highly coloured habitat, with a mass of red weed, for example, will influence the basic hue of the fish.

The pollack has a protruding lower jaw, an unmistakable recognition feature, indicating that it feeds by attacking its prey from below. There are three dorsal fins, as in most of the cod family, and the body is somewhat less rounded than that of the coalfish.

The coalfish (Pollachius virens) is thicker-bodied and is blue-black when adult but olive green before maturity. The lateral line is white and straight. The j aws are similar in length, although in the larger, deep-water specimens there is evidence of an elongated underjaw, similar to that of mature pollack. Coalfish have a barbule under the lower jaw, but you will have to search hard for this rudimentary protuberance. Another major feature which distinguishes the species is that the tail in the coalfish is clearly forked. Both species are found over rocky ground and offshore wrecks. The coalfish seems to be more northerly in its distribution, with a lot of small fish permanently in residence on the eastern coastline. Pollack are a south western species fond of the rocky coasts of the British mainland and the Atlantic shores of Ireland. Both fish come into shallow areas, but the coalfish tends to seek a slightly deeper habitat. Pollack are found in some estuaries – they can tolerate an amount of freshwater – whereas the coalfish is rarely found in a brackish environment.

Spawning period

Both fish spawn early in the year. Pollack spawn between February and May, depending on geograph-ical location. Fish living in southern waters spawn earlier than those from a more northerly habitat. They seek deep water – of 50 fathoms or more – in early autumn, at which time the species figures importantly in trawler catches. The ‘coalie’ generally spawns in much deeper water in March, when as many as four million eggs are released by the larger females. The eggs are pelagic, floating and drifting on the ocean currents. They hatch into larvae about an eighth of an inch in length. These larval pollack and coalfish form shoals and feed on drifting animals in the plankton stream. The tidal drift and onshore winds will move the shoals of fry into shallow coastal water, where they remain for their first year of life, feeding on copepods among the kelp and weed fronds. Both pollack and coalfish fry grow quickly and when about an inch long move out into reef areas, where they find the feeding is better in both quality and quantity.

Ding this to 6ft or more when it begins to run hard.

Obviously, some consideration must be given to the length of trace that can be handled from whatever boat you are fishing from. The author incorporates a fixed boom, of twisted stainless steel wire or swivelled brass, into the rig. Its purpose is to keep the hook trace standing off the reel line.when the gear is

Pollack fishing

With the advent of West Country wreck fishing, things really began to happen, records being set and broken almost every week. The wrecks provided an untapped source of fish for the deep-anchoring techniques developed by anglers in ports like Brixham and Plymouth. The original intention was to get baits down to the massive conger that fill the wrecks.

Inevitably, some anglers concentrated on the layer of water over the bulk of the wreck. Giant cod, ling, pollack, coalfish, pouting and sea bream began to figure among the catches, the artificial lure making its mark as the principal method for this form of fishing.

Pollack fishing divides neatly into two basic styles – letting a bait or lure down to fish, and working a moving lure across a habitat, either by spinning or trolling from a boat. In the first case, the angler is nor-mally concerned with large fish, either from a wreck or reef. As there are a number of species that can be expected to come to the bait, the tackle is often too heavy for pollack. A technique based on a sink-and-draw working of the bait in mid-water does allow a degree of selection. To get the best sport from pollack, one must give them the opportunity to develop the powerful runs of which they are so capable.

Terminal tackle

In terms of terminal tackle and rigs, there is little to separate reef and wreck fishing. Simplicity, and a trace that gives life to the bait, are very important. You can fish a single hook to ledger rig, but I prefer a simple paternostered bait, using the weight on a ‘rotten bottom’ line of weak nylon that if snagged on rocks or tangled among the standing rigging of a wreck, can be broken out without losing what could be a very good fish.

The trace must be long enough to give the bait an opportunity to swim naturally with the tide. Pollack will be chasing smaller fish, so anything that has an attractive, lifelike appearance will be taken. Use a 3ft trace when the tide is slack, exten- being lowered, for all too often a simple nylon paternoster will tangle the bait around the reel line if lowered too fast. A weak nylon sinker link of about 3ft is ideal. The rig is lowered to the reef or wreck and stopped immediately any solid ground or obstruction is felt, and the line is wound back a couple of turns. This will allow the bait to swim freely just above the habitat. Sooner or later, the weight will be held fast, but breaking out will only result in the losing of the lead.

The presentation of the bait is critical. A great lump of mackerel or herring can never be as attractive as a properly cut and mounted bait. I slice off a diagonal lask of fish bait about 6in long and tie it to the hook with elasticated thread, so that it is not easily torn from the hook.



Pollachius pollachius

Pollack take a bait in a great many different ways but, once in their mouths, it will be carried back to the fish’s lie. That is when the angler gets the thrill of pollack fishing. As the fish feels pressure on the line it will nose-dive back to the reef. Let it go, having previously set a reason-able playing drag to the reel. Try to turn the fish so that it does not take the rig into an obstruction.

Pinnacle rock fishing is top of the league for the pollack fisherman. Here, the prey can be smallish shoal fish swimming in groups over the tips of the pinnacles, or the solitary big specimen that hugs the sheer rock faces or loiters in the crevices. The angling style depends on the depth of water over the peaks. The deepwater reef can be fished with natural bait or pirks; the relatively shallow water reef can be trolled, or worked progressively with a lure, from a drifting boat.

Artificial lures for pollack

There are two successful kinds of artificial lure for pollack fishing – I hesitate to call them spinners because not all lures actually spin – the large metal spoon that wobbles and flashes as it curves through the water, and the bar spoon, of which the German Sprat is probably the best-known pattern. Spoons are easy to fish, whether they are being cast or trolled behind a boat, because they have weight and are, in the main, designed to work without additional weight.

Unfortunately, long-distance casting demands the addition of more weight to get the spoon out to the fish, while trolling at high speed requires more weight to sink the spoon. The problem with adding either a spiral or a Wye lead to the trace, ahead of the lure, is that the extra weight dampens the action of the artificial lure. It is, therefore, best to try to avoid using additional weights, and instead to choose a heavier lure. The traditional rubber eel, made from a piece of flexible tubing, was one of the finest lures ever. It has now been superseded by a number of manufactured fish-shaped lures with action built in. Most of them work well, but it is worrying that when reef fishing one usually expects to lose gear – most of it expensive.

Colour plays an important part in pollack fishing. As an attacker from below, one would expect the pollack to be responsive to silhouette and action. There is no doubt that these two factors are of prime importance, but there are times when pollack will take only a red eel, or a white, or, perhaps, a grubby white one. This may have something to do with the amount of light penetrating the water, and possibly, the prey that the fish expect to find at that time. Experiment even by using feathered lures, to represent fry.

Avoid heavy tackle, for pollack provide superb sport on balanced, light equipment. June, July and August are the best pollack fishing months when a spring tide reaches its peak in the late evening.

Despite the pollack’s fairly wide distribution around the South West coast, little detailed information is known of its natural history. Few figures are available, for example, on growth rate, though a mature pollack of five years averages 20Vm in length. Weight is another aspect of the pollack which is still shrouded in mystery. A mature fish was thought to weigh anything up to 20 lb, though the current rod-caught (boat) record stands at 25lb – a figure which presumably does not represent the maximum weight.

Though pollack are not fished for commercially, many anglers rate it higher than the mackerel as a table fish when fresh, though it does go off quickly.