Pollock on the Fly in Northwest Scotland
by Stewart Collingswood
I’ve been fishing in Scotland for most of my life and guiding anglers for the last 15 years. It’s fair to say I’ve traveled the length and breadth of the country seeking out new, exciting venues. One October several years ago, after a day of hiking the rugged coastline in northern Scotland, exploring potential fishing spots, a companion and I stumbled upon a proverbial goldmine.
Twilight was looming, and in the 90 minutes of fading light, he and I landed and released 45 pollock on the fly. This was not fly fishing for Pollock as I knew it. The average fish was about 5 pounds in weight, with four fish close to 9 pounds. We lost several that could not be controlled and broke us off in the kelp. The whole experience was simply breathtaking!
There was no evidence that this spot had ever been fished. It was located in one of the least obvious places you would suspect. It was difficult to get to; the journey involved scrambling down rock faces, and it was a good hour’s walk from any track.
A smaller relative of the Atlantic cod, pollock are the ultimate predators. They lurk in kelp beds over rocky bottom, waiting for anything brave enough to swim by. Their huge eyes spot every opportunity for an ambush, and their cavernous mouths hinge open wide to engulf prey.
The pollock is one of the hardest fighting saltwater fish in the UK. When you first hook one, it plunges back to the safety of the kelp. This sudden force catches many by surprise, and unless you hold on for grim death the fish will drag you into the seaweed. We call this being kelped.
Tackle for Pollock varies greatly with the conditions. Success at this Secret shore fishing mark was a case of trial and error. The first visit delivered many harsh lessons, as many good fish were lost due to the tackle being too lightweight. We started with 9ft rods, both fly, and spinning, and were crushed by big fish. We progressed to 10ft on the next trip, epic fail. Finally, 11ft rods did the job.
Overkill you might think, but this fishing spot has a sudden drop off in depth, so the higher the rod, the more chance you have of getting the fish over the edge without snagging. In the end, we settled for an 11ft salmon rod with a tip action and a fast retrieve reel. One turn of the handle would bring in 1.1m of line, helping you bully the fish up quickly. Daiwa 8 strand J Braid is my choice, the accudepth version. This allows you to measure the depth and distance, as the braid changes colour every 10m, it’s also super soft and durable. An Albright knot to a 6ft length of shock leader, then a Delelande Fast Snap clip allows you to quickly change lures and jig heads without fiddly knots.
Equally, when fly fishing, a 15ft was needed to control the fish. It wasn’t a case of overkill with tackle fit for sharks, it was an interest to the well-being of the fish. The thought of a Pollock swimming around with a length of shock leader and a clouser in its mouth didn’t appeal. Finally, we settled on a 15ft Mackenzie DTX salmon rod, double hand. This was perfect. A Rio Scandi Versi tip line was ideal and the short head allowed great distances to be reached with a simple Spey Cast. Loop to loop knots attached a 6ft length of 30lb shock leader and then your knot of choice to the Clouser.
It’s worth noting that when you catch one of these fish, hey should be lifted on to a soft bed of seaweed to unhook them. It always makes me flinch when I watch videos of fish being dragged on the rocks. The best way to release a Pollock is to torpedo them head first back into the sea, this jolts them back to life and gives them the kick start they need to dive back to the deeper water. Often there are seals waiting to gobble up a recovering Pollock, so it pays to help them avoid being scoffed while they try to recover.
So back to this discovery…since that October night, the spot has been fished several times, it never fails to deliver a fish first cast. This marks your arrival with the reassurance that everything is as it was before, and your secrets safe.
He devised new ways of protecting the fish from being damaged, fishing barbless hooks and releasing them with little human contact. The feeding and habitat in this spot is near perfect. No wonder fish gather here!
He vowed never to tell a soul and indeed when posting any photos of the place, digitally manipulated the backgrounds in Photoshop confusing would be spies from working out where it could possibly be.
One summer an American client contacted him, asking for a fishing adventure in the North of Scotland. After a long discussion, he decided to take this guest to the Pollock Goldmine, on the agreement of a few simple conditions:
- No photos were to be taken by the guest
- The guest leaves his mobile in the car
- The guest proved he lived in the US
- When asked in the pub that night, how was the fishing? the answer is always “terrible”
“It might have seemed heavy-handed, however, you have no idea” explained Collingswood. “If somebody works out the location of a good shore fishing mark, a van will be there the next day with an army of fishmongers, ready to fill their freezer!”
The client agreed to these conditions and they set off to hike to the mark.
The sheer beauty and changing light on these imperious landscapes is something to behold. This is one of the most beautiful fishing venues in the whole of Scotland. The water is clear as gin. The American said it took his breath away, even more than the hike to the shore.
On arrival, Collingswood instructed the guest to simply hold on for grim death when he hooked a fish and to reel in line as fast as you could like your life depended on it. DO NOT TRY TO PLAY IT! It will make a mockery of you….and it did. The first cast into the sea was attacked by a big pollock. The fish lunged, caught the guest by surprise and it was “Kelped” Stuck on the seabed in a forest of seaweed…gone!
The guest was shaken, but not stirred! He reprogrammed his thinking, and with gritted teeth hooked a fish on the third cast, a beautiful fish around 6 pounds in weight. It was played gently on a soft kelp bed on the shore for a look and quick photo and released unharmed.
That American guest had the day of his life. It was quite simply as he put it
“World Class fishing and truly unforgettable” A day in a secret spot with stunning scenery and fish were taken on every method, from fly, to lure and float fished sand eels.
That night in the pub, by a log fire in the Highlands, sipping a malt whisky, the two (guide and client) reflected (secretly) on a what was a truly amazing day. This is a fishing trip for adventurers..and of course overseas adventurers!
If you live overseas and want to apply to fish this wonderful location, please get in touch