The period from mid January through until late March sees some of the best wreck fishing for pollack here in the UK with fish in excess of 20lbs possible. However this year also sees the added possibility of some very big cod being caught from the same wrecks with fish above 20lbs, and possibly even 30lbs achievable if you fish specifically for them.
Also working in our favour this time is that the constant high winds throughout November and December mean that little offshore fishing was possible, so the wrecks have literally been rested and should have large numbers of fish on them.
To specifically target the biggest fish we first need to understand how fish live around wrecks.
The smaller more vulnerable species such as pouting, poor cod, smaller codling etc, tend to stay tight in to wreckage and solid structure as this gives them both shelter from the tide run, but also hidey holes they can run to when pursued by bigger predators. It’s this concentration of smaller food fish that keeps the bigger cod and pollack hunting in and around the wreck.
Only when shoals of sprat, sandeel and herring shoal up over the top of the wreck some distance up in the water column will the pollack leave the wreck to capitalise on this food supply. This tends to occur either side of slack water when the tide run is at a minimum. When the tide run is fast during the main flood and ebb of the tide, then the fish return to the shelter of the wreck where the structure breaks the flow of tide and the fish expend less energy.
This simple understanding of how fish use wrecks for shelter and food tells us we need to fish our lures right in amongst the snags and wreckage to maximise our catches. Tackle losses will be high, but the returns of big fish will compensate for this.
Pollack can be selective as to what size of lure they want and this tends to be when sprat and sandeel of a roughly uniform size are their main diet at the time. This means the angler needs to carry a few different sizes and experiment with each on the day until you find the size the pollack take most frequently. Berkley Ripple Shads in sizes 4-inch and 5-inch are consistent fish catchers, with Power Worm lures and artificial sandeels up to 10-inches also highly effective.
Colour can also play a part and generally black, red, blues and greens are good on overcast days, with orange, white and yellow good in brighter conditions and when the water is slightly coloured after storms, but again experiment on the day.
Bigger cod are less active than pollack and literally work right in amongst the wreckage picking off smaller food fish. This means they are less prone to being lure size sensitive and tend to take whatever comes their way. Although the cod will take the smaller lures suggested for pollack, the bigger shads up to 8-inches long or more can be deadly for the bigger fish with the top colours black, red, white and especially orange.
Because of the depth of water you’re likely to be fishing, and the potential loss of tackle, it pays to minimise terminal tackle used to present the lure. One of the simplest and best rigs for working lures is what is commonly called the Whitby rig. Tie a large and strong size 2/0 swivel snap link by the eye to the end of your shock leader and secure the lead weight in to the snap link. Take another snap link and attach this to the top eye of the first swivel. To the free eye of this second swivel tie on 5 to 7-feet of 20 to 40lb Fluorocarbon line. For pollack 20 to 25lb line is adequate, but for the cod use 40lb.
The above rig works well with all the shads and sandeel type lures when fished with a jighead. It does not tangle as the jighead pulls the hook length tight and away from the shock leader when you begin to retrieve. You can also use any size of shad and jighead with it from a half ounce upwards.
This rig can be used two ways to present the lure to the fish. For the cod you can drop the lure until it hits the wreck or seabed, raise it up about 5-feet off the seabed, then slowly lift the rod tip up and down to make the lure rise and fall just up off the seabed. This “hopping” technique is deadly for cod! The cod will just whack the lure and drag the rod tip over pretty much hooking themselves.
For pollack, drop the lure to the seabed, but immediately it hits bottom start a slow and steady retrieve swimming the lure up through the water column. Count the turns of the handle to no more than 25, then drop the lure back and start over. When a pollack takes you’ll feel increasing pressure on the rod tip. Keep retrieving until the rod tip pulls right over and the fish turns back for the seabed setting the hook itself. There is no need to strike!
Another easily made mistake is that anglers tie their braid line direct to the lure. This can see a drop in takes when working lures. You need to tie on to the braid line a shock leader of clear mono, or Fluorocarbon, about twice the length of the rod. This visually creates a separation between the braid and lure and gains bites from suspicious fish that may follow but not take the lure if they see the hard colour braid.
If you’re worried as to what tackle to use, then fishing 20lb braid for the pollack with a 25lb shock leader is a good balance, but for the big cod right in amongst the metal, go for 30lb braid with a 40lb shock leader.