David Wolsoncroft-Dodds heads out to sea in search of the powerful rod-bending pollack that sit deep on the Cornish kelp beds…
The water off the Cornish coast is clear, blue and beautiful!
For many flyfishers, saltwater sport is all about fishing for bass – and more lately mullet – from the shore, with a floating line. For many years I have enjoyed such sport but felt that I was missing out on some different, potentially very productive fishing.
Bait and lure fishers have long been catching hard-fighting pollack and bigger bass while fishing over fairly deep water from a boat. Last year, at The UK Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival, I heard an expert voicing his opinion that this sport wasn’t a realistic option for flyfishers. I didn’t get the chance to state that this was a misconception, but hopefully I can demonstrate through this article that you can enjoy fabulous sport over deeper water with your fly rod.
The Marine wildlife takes some beating!
I spent July 2014 working at the splendid Gangler’s Lodge in Northern Manitoba. As in previous years, I caught an impossible number of jet-propelled pike from the shallow weedy bays. However, I had spent many hours musing on the region’s stunning lake trout and how to catch them with a fly rod. The conventional methods of fishing for them were deep-water trolling and vertical jigging with heavy lures. Neither of these tactics appealed to me but I recognised that lake trout were splendid fish and warranted my attention. The rod-caught record stands at 78lb from Great Bear Lake but the untapped potential is enormous. My musings were translated into some successful results. Extremely fast-sinking lines and techniques that let me work my fly deep had produced a succession of rod-bending double-figure fish.
The rugged Cornish coast provides a stunning backdrop to your fly fishing adventure!
Reaching New Depths
I enlisted help to work out how to tackle deep-water fish in the salt. Simon Gawesworth, the RIO line designer and casting maestro, applied his brain to the problem and between us we settled on a line based on a T11 head, customised to match it to my Sage Salt 8-wt rod. RIO’s level ‘T’ heads use tungsten dust for density rather than lead; as a result, they are supple and sink like bricks. T11 uses 11-grain weight of tungsten per foot. The T11 head was the highest density option that worked with an 8-wt rod. T14 or T17 meant that the head would be too short to handle like a fly line.
This line setup cast like a missile. In theory, it would let me cast far enough in front of a drifting boat and sink quickly enough to let me fish my fly deep.
My first trip out armed with my new kit taught me some lessons. I fished with my friend Nick Mackrory, who runs Bass Go Deeper, from his boat Fulmar. We headed out from the boat yard to a mark off the coast of South Cornwall. Nick knows where the pollack live. He set up the boat to drift over water that was around 50 feet deep over rocks and kelp beds. My new tackle setup worked and pollack were caught. However, Nick knew that the results weren’t really matching the potential of the mark. Most of the fish that had taken the fly were quite small – around 2lb. A solitary double-figure fish that Nick caught convinced me that we were undergunned with 8-wt rods. We were also struggling to get the flies deep enough – the tackle and the technique needed some refining.
A session this April, armed with 10-wt rods and customised T17-head lines, convinced me that we were making progress. Despite the fact that we were fishing before we could expect frantic sport, we had a creditable number of pollack. On that occasion, Nick’s weighted Clouser comfortably outfished my skinny sandeel pattern.
10-wt’s The Way
A 10-wt rod and reel with a sealed drag are ideal to cope with the Pollack and the saltwater conditions.
Did we have it cracked? The fast-sinking head, thin monofilament shooting line and weighted or skinny fly meant that we could fish deep. The rig could also be cast a huge distance in front of the drifting boat, which enabled us to fish a decent distance at depth. Bear in mind that the combination of wind and current means that a boat drifts much faster on the salt. I had made plenty of measured casts of more than 30yards while demonstrating at various game fairs in the preceding months. This year’s sessions have proved the point. We have been able to consistently catch beautiful, rod-bending pollack. I certainly haven’t felt overgunned with a 10-wt rod. Of course, there is the added satisfaction that comes from catching truly wild fish.
The 10-wt tested to its limits! The power of the Pollack means anything less and you might be undergunned!
It’s well worth having an 8-wt rod set up with an intermediate or floating line. You may well see bass swirling on the surface as they harry small baitfish. When this happens, the bass are very catchable and you have every chance of connecting with a heavyweight.
Fishing That’s Good for The Soul
To set out from a secluded Cornish boat yard, leaving the holiday crowds behind is good for the soul. The stunning rocky coastline and clear blue water is a perfect backdrop against which to enjoy some really productive fly fishing. You will also have the chance of seeing some fabulous wildlife. Dolphins and porpoises are much more plentiful than most people realise. The bird life is stunning and diving gannets will often help you to pinpoint the location of baitfish shoals. The combination of an effective tackle setup and Nick’s ability to put us on the fish have made for some exciting sport. The first crash dive of a double-figure pollack gets the adrenalin surging! You will utter a silent prayer that your knots are sound and that your fly rod will survive the stress of being slammed into an impossible bend. It’s productive fishing. Even on a slow day you will catch pollack. On a good day your biceps will hurt as a succession of crash-diving heavyweights test your tackle to the limit!
Nick Mackory's boat, 'Fulmar'
If your conscience has forced you to embark on a family beach holiday in Cornwall, instead of a self-indulgent fishing adventure, take heart! Pack a rod in the luggage – surely you will be able to slip away for a day and enjoy some supremely entertaining fly fishing?
A Small Aside...
I freely confess that I like to take an occasional fish for the table. At the moment, I am happy to take a middle-size pollack. Eaten fresh, they are absolutely delicious and the stocks seem sustainable. I don’t feel so comfortable taking bass, which are far less abundant than when I first fished for them nearly 50 years ago.
While stock of Pollack seem to be sustainable, so taking the occasional fish home to eat us acceptable, Bass should be returned!
A simple, sparse baitfish streamer with heavy dumbbell eyes, tied Clouser style to fish with the hook point up to avoid it getting 'rocked'.
A skinny sandeel from Andy Elliot of Chasing Silver.
A shop-bought skinny sandeel by Selectafly.