Wreck fishing is undergoing a transformation regarding both tackle and technique. The modern wreck angler is fishing much lighter tackle than used to be the case, but is also employing lures far more. If you’re new to offshore wreck fishing though, information on this new style of fishing can be limited. With this in mind, I thought I might describe how I tackled a recent trip out to wrecks off the Welsh coast in the hope it might help those looking to go wreck fishing for the first time.
I was out with skipper Dave Carey aboard the Judy B from Pwllheli in North Wales. The wrecks we were to fish were positioned some 15 miles out in to the Irish Sea and lay in 300-feet of water. The date was chosen to coincide with a smaller neap tide to ensure the tide run would not be too fast. Our main target was pollack.
The skipper positioned the boat so that it would drift with the wind and current over the wreck. The fish are typically sat either just in front of the wreck and in amongst the main hulk of the wreck, but also sometimes just behind the wreck depending on how the tide flows over the wreckage. A good skipper will tell you by looking at the fish finder when the wreck and fish are coming up.
I set up with a 12lb class rod and a reel loaded with 30lb braid. I also like to add a length of 30lb Fluorocarbon twice the length of the rod to the end of the braid. This is a visual buffer between the coloured braid and the terminal tackle, plus protects the braid from the metal of the wreck. This is very sporting tackle and allows you maximum fun when playing big fish. You must though, set the drag to give line under pressure, but at a point well below the breaking strain of the line.
A good rig for this type of fishing, which is simple, cheap to lose if it gets snagged and highly effective is what’s called a Whitby rig. To the end of the Fluorocarbon, tie on a large swivel link and clip the lead in place inside the link. To the bottom eye of this swivel that holds the link, clip on another swivel link. To the free eye of this swivel tie on 7-feet of 25lb Fluorocarbon and add your lure to the end. It is that simple.
When initially starting to fish, the first job is to gauge what size of lead weight I needed to reach bottom and more importantly have the line fishing vertically down. If you use too light a lead the angle of the line increases and the chances of catching fish diminish as the lure will be too high in the water. On the day in question I found I needed just 5ozs because I was using braid line which is a thinner diameter compared to mono line for the same breaking strain, so catches much less tide resistance. When the tide turned and started to increase in speed, I still only needed 6ozs even in 300-feet of water. Anglers round me were on mono and needed nearly double the amount of lead to reach bottom.
I use a smaller type lure for the first two or three drifts, usually a 4-inch shad, 6-inch jellyworm or a small artificial sandeel no more than 6-inches long. This pretty much guarantees me catching a few of the smaller pollack. In doing so it tells me how the fish want the bait on the day. Sometimes they will eat anything in front of them. On other days they are fussy and reluctant to feed, often just pulling the tail of the lure which you can feel on the rod tip.
When pollack are fussy, first try changing the colours of your lures. In clear water use a brighter colour like yellow, orange or a mix of lighter colours. On darker overcast days, use a darker lure such as blue, black or red.
If this doesn’t work, change the line between the swivel and lure to a lighter breaking strain, say 20lbs Fluorocarbon instead of the 25lb. This simple switch can often trigger bites.
The technique is to drop the tackle until you feel it bump the seabed. Instantly lift the rod tip and take a couple of quick turns on the reel to get the tackle away from the majority of snags. Now begin a slow, but steady retrieve and count the turns of the reel handle. Count to say 25 turns, then drop back and start again.
When a pollack takes the lure, you will feel a slight increase in pressure on the rod tip. Do not strike! Keep retrieving at the same speed and the rod tip will slowly pull over, the fish will feel the hook, turns back for the seabed and makes a fast dive taking line off the drag. When the fish stops taking line, pump the rod upwards and retrieve the line only as you drop the rod prior to the next pump upwards. Speed up or slow down the retrieve if bites are slow to come until you find the ideal speed the fish want the lure presented at.
Once you have an idea what lure and how fast a retrieve the fish want, then you can change to a bigger lure to target the bigger fish. On the day I was out we were getting good fish in the 10lb bracket. However I knew there were bigger fish present, so changed to a large Shakespeare Devils Own 6-inch shad and eventually landed the biggest fish of the day, a 14.5lb pollack. This illustrates how taking the trouble to experiment on the first few drifts to understand what the fish want and how they want the lure presented can really pay off!
This same basic technique will take not just pollack, but also cod, ling and big coalfish. You can also shorten the hook trace down to just 4-feet, and work the lure just up and down a few feet off the bottom which is the best technique for cod and ling.