Saltwater fly fishing for pollack in Scotland

Salt water fly fishing for pollack is a rather novel experience for those used to the familiar runs of salmon and trout. Unlike these species, pollack immediately crash dive for the kelp after gulping down a fly, and making it through that first run is crucial for success. We interviewed Ian Burrett of Onyermarks charters. He’s been a professional fishing guide for 32 years, working the Gulf Stream enriched waters off South West Scotland. He now runs the business with his son, Bradley.

“If you’ve done a lot of pollack fishing you’ll know they’re quite moody creatures. Sometimes the small ones are feeding and the big ones don’t feed. But on an average a day, a guy on the fly will get 15 fish (on my boat). I’ve had days when the fly fishing’s beaten the lads float fishing with bait.”

Rock fishing for pollack ground
Headlands create excellent pollack ground

What kind of tackle should you use for saltwater fly fishing for pollack? 

“We tend to use a 9 weight fly rod. That’s our recommended weight. The lighter rods used for trout just won’t hold a big pollack. It’s also totally different to salmon fishing. When these fish go south they just power dive. The good anglers hold onto the fly line until the pollock’s had its first dive. A lot of guys get taken into the kelp at that stage.”

“The biggest pollock I’ve ever had was actually on a fly rod. 17lb 4oz – some lads use fly rods but fish with bait, they like using the rods. There’s a guide in Scotland that’s very good at the fly. One afternoon we tried to go for a IGFA records. We beat the 2lb, 4lb, 6lb, 8lb and 12lb tipper record in that afternoon… I’m very much catch and release. All the fish were put back, so the records weren’t claimed.”

pollock fishing on the fly

How do you present flies to pollack?

“The main thing from the boat is either using the movement of the drift to move your flies or using the tidal flow at anchor, once you’ve got the fly in the water you can continue to let more line out before retrieving. Some of it is not traditional fly fishing. You’re not working it back again continuously. It’s about using the movement in the water.”

A lot of fishing for the pollock on the fly is about the getting a long drift. We try and set up a 1-2 knot drift.”

I’ve a guy with me who’s a pike guide – a successful pike guide. He wasn’t catching. He asked, what am I doing wrong? “Fricken’ put the fly in the water” I said. “If it’s in the air you’re not catching”

“It’s local knowledge, if you like, we know the area well. You get lots of back eddies here. A back eddy is something that forms next to a coastal headland. Whenever a strong tide passes a headland, it creates a current running the opposite way to the main tide on the other side of the headland. Fish often sit in the back eddy waiting for smaller bait fish to be swept along in the tide race. They attract fish.”

the best flies for pollack fishing

“We anchor up on these reefs when the tide drops a bit, but when there’s still a lot of tide, drifting is more successful. If you anchored too early, the line would be on the surface.

“We anchor up on these reefs when the tide drops a bit, but when there’s still a lot of tide going over it. Then, we tend to let either the tide do the work or the boats drift do the work. If you anchored too early, the line would be on the surface. The tide picks it up.”

Deep water marks for fishing
Steep cliffs often mean deep water close in, ideal pollack ground… if you can reach it.

Do you impart any action on the fly at all, or is it all drifting flies moving in the current? 

“I think the fly fishing is very successful because of the jerky action when you’re bringing the fly in. If it’s a stop-start action, the stripping does seem to attract the pollack.”

How deep should you fish for pollack? 

“You don’t need to fish deep. The other thing we do with the pollack is fishing on the float. Invariably through the day the pollack will come and grab the float. They’re quite happy feeding just below the surface. You don’t actually need to be as deep as you think you do. If a pollack wants it it will come and get it. They are an aggressive fish.” 

When float fishing, we tend to set the drop at 15ft, then set a 4ft trace off it. We don’t vary the depth, whether fishing at 40ft or 20ft.”

“We have the luxury of 30ft water all the way around our coastline. There are a few shallow bays but its like 6 miles of perfect pollock ground. A lot of rough features on the bottom. There are reefs where for beginners there’s no better place to be. One particular reef has tons of fish on it to all sizes and it always produces when the tide is right.”

pollock on the fly
A pollack caught on the fly

What’s the best fly for pollock fishing? 

“The best fly isn’t one you’d expect. It’s not one that looks like a sandeel. It’s a pike lure – there’s this one successful mouse pattern. It’s quite heavy, it has a heavy head. It’s not quite the thin streamlined thing. Those get fish but they aren’t the best.”

When Ian told me this, I was wondering if the wide profile of this particular pike lure and its dark colour was helping it to cast a more visible silhouette. If the pollack are ambushing the lures from below and coming up from the reef to hit these lures, they are looking up at a bright sky. A dark, larger bodied lure might be more visible.

What’s the best colour lure for pollock fishing? 

“Red and black is definitely the best colour. We try a lot of colours. In the old days, we used the Red Gills – the black and Burgundy were the best for wrecking. The fire tails – the worm with the black body and the red tail. Everyone used to use them and carry them in their tackle box. They’ve gone out of fashion, it doesn’t mean they don’t work. It’s just fashions change – a lot more guys are now using very expensive lures or shads. Some days they work well, other times they don’t.”

the best fly for pollack fishing

What are the best conditions for inshore pollack fishing? 

“Pollock don’t like high pressure. They don’t like a cold easterly wind. They don’t like dirty water and they don’t like clean water. For the perfect day, you want it overcast. With the spring tides and neap tides at different marks at different stages of tide we know where we’ll get the drift we’re looking for on the boat.”

When’s the best time to catch big pollack inshore?

“There are fish to 3lb all year (in West Scotland) – but the 4-5lb breeding stock move off when the water clouds in October. When the October gales come, the pollock move off until May.

You can still catch them but you don’t get the bigger fish through the winter. I realised quite early on in my 32 years doing this that once you take the big pollock out of a reef it takes years to recover. They are territorial.”

What species do you catch salt water fly fishing in Scotland?

“Asides from pollack, we get a few surprises on the fly. Big mackerel, wrasse, even gurnard. We get a lot of coalies on the fly but they’re not big. 2-3lb is a good coalie. Perhaps the greatest achievement was a 35 pound tope, the lad had to work had for that one…”

A bottom feeding species caught on the fly
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