Wreck fishing is always associated with the English Channel for pollack, cod, ling and coalfish, or maybe the Northeast off Whitby for big cod and ling. Welsh wrecking has always been the bridesmaid in the wrecking scene. Maybe its because the inshore fishing in Wales is so good that the wrecking takes a back seat, but the fact is that there are good wreck fish to be caught in the land of the dragon.
The coloured waters of the Bristol Channel off the South Wales coast are a good starting point. There are wrecks lying out to the Southwest beyond the 20-mile mark. These are out in the clearer water away from the suspended silt influence of the Severn Estuary. Boats from Cardiff and Swansea visit these wrecks, usually from June to late September when the weather is settled and water clearer.
Pollack are the main fish, though they don't run as big as in other areas. A good fish here is a 10lber, but fish to over 14lbs are taken. I've fished these wrecks with skipper Glen Lloyd aboard the Michelle from Cardiff and found black Redgills have out-fished all other colours by at least 4 to 1. I think this is because the water clarity maybe not be quite so good as other areas due to the estuary influence, so black eels give a starker silhouette for the fish to attack.
You'll also find that the skippers will anchor these wrecks. This produces conger to 40lbs plus and big bull huss. Although cod are a prime winter species in the Bristol Channel the wrecks rarely produce summer fish, though there must be some resident.
You need to pick the very smallest neap tides to fish these wrecks. Anything more and the tide runs are too fast, again because of the outflow of the Severn Estuary, and the fishing becomes impossible.
WEST AND MID WALES
We're principally looking at the ports of Milford Haven, Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. The wrecks here are a legacy of the World War 2 and the 1914/18 conflict. The Irish Sea was a hunting ground for hungry U-Boats waiting to hit the cargo shipping as it ran the gauntlet through to Liverpool Docks.
These wrecks lay in deeper water averaging 300-feet. The U-Boats would shadow the convoys and then attack and sink several vessels in a short space of time. You can see from the Admiralty charts that there are small clusters of wrecks with nothing in between. This is an advantage. You'll find that if one wreck does not produce fish, move to another nearby and there is a good chance that one wreck in the cluster will produce. Large shoals of pollack can quickly deplete the food supply on one wreck then move en masse to another.
The tides are fast in places here, but generally fishable on a greater range of tides. Small neaps through to the higher middle sized tides, though it depends how you fish them. In some areas even the spring tides are okay to fish.
Again pollack are the mainstay species dominating most of the wrecks. The fish are bigger though, running up to 18lbs, plus a few real crackers pushing 22lbs. Coalfish tend to be few in number on these lower Irish Sea wrecks, though occasional fish to 10lbs are caught. These usually show in the early winter through early spring period. Ling and cod are also resident on the wrecks. I've personally seen cod to 17lbs and ling to 15lbs, but these two species are not found on every wreck and are often confined to one particular wreck where the ground feature and food supply suits them. Boats rarely anchor, but when they do conger in the 30lbs range have been caught, with far bigger ones lost. Conger are the neglected species on these wrecks and there are records to be broken here. The other target fish is turbot. These run to over 20lbs and are found on the sides of sand scours that run around the edges of the wrecks.
The water is clear off the Mid Wales coast and visibility good. Even after a major storm it only takes a couple of days for the water clarity to return. A wider range of lure colours work for pollack including black, red and white. Use the black in very clear water, edging towards the white if there is some colour evident. I also rate orange good for pollack.
There are wreck fishing boats working from Caernarfon, Holyhead, Conway, Rhyl and Rhos-on-Sea.
The boats working from Caernarfon and Holyhead tend to fish the wrecks lying outside Caernarfon Bay. These fish very similar to the Mid Wales wrecks with masses of big pollack to 22lbs, but tend to see more in the way of the bigger coalfish, plus produce more consistent catches of cod and ling. Occasional conger and turbot are also reported.
Tides run fast in places and big springs need to be avoided, but middle sized tides and below are okay and produce well.
For pollack, the black, red and white rubber eels are good, but also carry a few brighter yellow or fluorescent eels as these have a habit of picking up the coalfish.
North of Holyhead and round to Rhos-on-Sea the wrecks carry both pollack and coalfish, but the size of the pollack can drop and fish of 10lbs are considered good fish. The coalfish average 2 to 4lbs, with again 10lbers taken. Codling are a little more frequent on these wrecks, with turbot and huge tub gurnards also working the fringe of the wreck. Conger are deliberately targeted here with fish to 50lbs on the cards. Fish baits also see spurdog taken.
Wrecks come in different guises. There are ones that went down virtually intact and that still have lots of superstructure standing up. These are the best for pollack and coalfish that like to hang around the structure in shoals.
Wrecks that have fallen on soft bottoms are often partially or almost fully covered. These create sloping sandbanks or sand/mud banks. These are good for turbot and smaller species like whiting, but carry few pollack, ling and cod.
The very best wrecks are those that broke in two as they went to the bottom. These tend to have masses of scattered debris littering the seabed well away from the main structure. You'll find the pollack and coalfish around the main wreckage, but ling, conger and cod in amongst the outlying debris. It always pays to fully explore well away from the wreck and to mark on the plotter any significant markings of loose wreckage. Build up a map of the wreck and the ground around it, take note of the species you catch and from which area, and you'll come to be able to predict exactly what species holds up where and when to fish for it.
Pollack drop in tight to the wreck as the tide flow increase, but will lift in the water well up off the wreck during slack water periods. Coalfish are often below or above the pollack.
Fish also concentrate on the downtide side or end of the wreck during the flowing tide and can be seen in big tight shoals on the fish finder. This congregation area may not be tight to the wreck. Imagine water flowing over a wreck. As the tide hits the wreck the water is thrown upwards in a bubble shape. If the tide is fast the downtide side of the bubble where the waters comes back to the seabed can be a hundred yards away from the main wreckage. Fish can be anywhere inside that bubble.
Pollack feed best just before, during and immediately after slack water. In my experience low water slack produces better fishing than high water slack. Cod tend to be slack water feeders, as do ling, but find a deeper scoured out hole and fish may continue to feed as the tide flow increases.
To get the most sport out of pollack and coalfish you need to fish a flying collar rig. Use a long 12 to 15-inch metal or plastic boom. To this tie 15ft of clear 18lb mono or fluorocarbon line. Place a small size 6 swivel in the middle of this to cut down on tangles. Attach the rubber eel to the end. I'd also recommend attaching your lead weight to the boom by using a short weak section of line. If the lead gets snagged, the weak line breaks and you may get the rig back. This simple tactic saves huge amounts of tackle for you. This rig is a good choice for slack water and light tide flow periods.
The best rig for sheer numbers of fish, though maybe not the most sporting, is a two-hook rig made from 80lb mono using two muppets or rubber eels on short 10-inch snoods fished above either a lead weight or better still a chrome pirk. This rig takes pollack and coalfish when they are tightly shoaled up close to the wreck. Use this rig for cod and ling too, but add fillets of mackerel to the hooks as well.
A better rig for ling and especially turbot is a long flowing trace. Use a 12 to 15-inch boom, adding 10-feet of 40lb mono for turbot or 60lb mono for the ling which has big teeth. Use a size 8/0 Mustad 3406 O'Shaughnessy hook and bait with either a big fillet of mackerel or a whole mackerel with just the backbone cut away to leave the fillets attached to the head. Again use a weak link to the lead.
Baited feathers or fluorescent Hokkeye lures are a good for general fishing and will add other species to your catch like tub gurnards, whiting, pout and codling.
You need tough tackle for wreck fishing. A 4 to 8oz uptide rod matched to a medium sized multiplier carrying 275-metres of 15 to 20lb line is ideal for fishing the rubber eels for pollack and coalfish.
There is a big advantage in fishing braided line over the wrecks with heavier gear as it has less diameter and catches the tide less, allowing smaller lead weights to be used. A good combination is a 30lb class rod with 50lb braid. Braid has no stretch and the softer 30lb class blank helps cushion the pull at the hook point when playing a fish. Also add 30-feet of 50lb mono line to the end of the braid as a further cushion to protect the hook hold as a fish fights. Use this gear with the two-hook rig and long trace rig.
Retrieve the rubber eels on the flying collar rig slowly in a running tide, but faster over slack water.
Feel the flying collar rig touch bottom, then retrieve counting 40 turns of the handle before going back to the bottom and repeating the retrieve.
Pollack take a lure and dive straight back for the wreck. Have your drag set firm enough to make a pollack work hard to take line from the reel, but light enough to give line well before the line's breaking strain point.
Fish the two-hook rig on the seabed but lift the rod repeatedly to make the lures and bait work like swimming fish.
When fishing the long trace rig for ling and turbot, use a lead weight heavy enough to keep the rig touching the seabed.