Coalfish (Pollachius virens)

Average Weight

Big rod-caught coalfish can weigh 8.15 Kg (18 lbs) or more. The average coalfish weighs around 3.20 Kg (7 lbs).


The coalfish is closely related to cod and young coalfish are referred to as “billet”. The coalfish has a streamlined body paired with three dorsal fins. It has a black/dark green back, blue-green sides, a silver-grey belly and an almost straight white-dashed lateral line. The lower jaw protrudes slightly more than the upper jaw. In some coalfish, a small barbule (feeler) is present on the chin, although this not present on all coalfish.

There can be some confusion between coalfish and pollack, however the lateral line allows for differentiation between the two species – coalfish has a straight, white lateral line, whilst pollack has a curved, white lateral line.

Pollack (left) vs coalfish (right) – note the similarities but also the main difference – the lateral line.

So how do we catch one?

Best Baits

Any whole small fish, or fish strips, with the best choices being cod, mackerel, herring, squid and whiting. Lugworms, ragworms, sandeel, shrimp and prawns are also all effective.

There are also a range of artificial baits which can be used, rubber or plastic sandeels, spoons, devon minnows, pirks can all be used effectively to catch coalfish.


The coalfish can be caught throughout the year in the UK, best catches are throughout May, June, July, August, September, October and November

Favourite Feeding Places

The coalfish favours weed-covered rocks, estuaries and harbours. Large coalfish feed in deep waters above offshore reefs and wrecks, yet return inshore when the weather begins to turn cold. Coalfish feed close to the seabed and at mid-water depth.

Best Locations

The coalfish is found along rocky shores and is more commonly caught off the coast of northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It can also be caught in deep water in the West Country, in waters above rocks, reefs and wrecks.

Best rigs for coalfish fishing

Shore fishing from rocks, piers, jetties, harbour walls

A sliding float rig is advised, if you’re using artificial bait you should use a spinning trace.

Sliding Float Rig

For this rig you want to use a narrow float. Tie a stop knot onto the main line at the position where you want the float to stop. Modify when necessary to account for the rise and fall of the tide, etc. A ball or barrel shaped weight is perfect for this rig, attach the smallest weight needed in order to cast the distance you are aiming for and hold your bait against any strong current(s) at the depth you expect fish to be feeding. The distance between the hook and swivel can vary, but should be at least 300 mm (1 ft).

Boat fishing

Fish over rocks or reefs using a rotten bottom rig, every 5 minutes or so, raise and lower the rod tip by about 1 metre (3 ft) in order to attract coalfish.

Rotten Bottom Rig

This rig is perfect when fishing over reefs or rocks where you understand that you may lose a trapped weight, but are reluctant to lose swivels, hooks and long lengths of line along with it. Should your weight become inextricably caught amongst the rocks, steady pressure on your line by pulling with gloved hands (do not strain your rod) will break the weaker “light” line attaching weight to the main line. The lighter line should be ABOUT half the breaking strain of the main line. The distance between weight and swivel can vary, but should generally be at least 200 mm (8 inches). The hook should be a minimum of 150 mm (6 inches) from the swivel or blood loop on the main line.

Cost-effective rotten bottom rigs can be constructed with expendable weights such as bolts, nuts and stones with naturally worn holes etc. (see B below).

DO NOT make sweeping overhead casts from the shore with a rotten bottom rig as the weight could break off and injure someone!

Top tips

  1. Watch for gulls or terns circling above the debris of torn floating fish, this can mark the position of a shoal of feeding coalfish.
  2. If you’re float fishing without success, try rewinding the line in a slow, “jerky” fashion to try and attract some lazy coalfish to take your bait.
  3. Large coalfish search for food away from large shoals of smaller coalfish, and prefer whole small fish or fish strip baits, herring and cod work particularly well.
  4. If boat fishing in deep water over rocks, begin by offering your bait around 1 metre (3 ft) above the rocks. After 20 minutes if you’ve had no bites, raise your bait an extra 1 metre (3 ft) and repeat. Eventually you’ll contact a feeding coalfish shoal (in theory!).
  5. Once you’ve hooked a coalfish, keep it far away from rocks and/or submerged snags and obstructions. Pull coalfish swiftly to the surface on a taut line.
  6. Coalfish tend to feed near the surface around dawn and dusk, be aware of this if fishing for them at these times.