Hand lines

Summary

The commercial hand line fishery is exactly what the title says, fishing using a rod or hand held lines as a commercial venture in a similar manner to recreation angling. It covers several different methods of fishing such as jigging, bait fishing and trolling usually done from a small inshore boat usually single handed but some boats do work with two people on board. They will land small quantities of fish, on a daily basis, in pristine condition.

Hand line

Environmental impact

The handline fishery is seen as a very selective method of fishing with very little by-catch.  If there is any unwanted by-catch it can usually be returned to the sea alive and unharmed giving almost zero discard mortality. It is pursued by small low-powered boats using very little fuel, and as the gear is never in contact with the seabed, has a minimum seabed impact.  It is a well managed fishery throughout the UK that produces a high-quality product

Other information

Handline fishing is very skilful operation, usually requiring a high degree of experience, knowledge of the local fishery and weather and tidal conditions. Much of the handline fishing in the UK is undertaken from the ports in the South and South West of England. Most of the boats are single handed open boats between 5 to 8 metres in length. In the SW they target mackerel, pollack and bass usually on a seasonal basis. One of the main promoters of hand line caught fish are The South West Handline Fishermen Association.

They actually have tags for attaching to the mouth of gills each individual bass and pollack that is caught. This remains on the fish until it arrives at the end user and allows for full traceability of that fish right back to the individual boat and fisherman that caught the fish.
The fish caught by the handline vessels are usually in peak condition, it is more of a low volume but very high quality fishery. Once caught, on most boats nowadays, they are immediately placed in an insulated tub containing a mixture of ice and water, slush ice to chill the fish. This helps to maintain the quality of the fish, extend its shelf life and prevent spoilage.

The bass are caught either by rod and line similar to that used by recreational anglers or by ‘trolling’ with two lines from a bamboo pole each side of the boat and one over the stern of the vessel. Each line will have an artificial lure on and is towed slowly in areas where they expect bass to be. The bass fishery is ongoing from May through to December being most prolific in the last few months of the year.
In the SW the inshore boats target mackerel throughout the year but the main season is from spring through to early Autumn tending to concentrate their efforts at the dusk and dawn periods. Some of the larger boats will fish for mackerel further offshore in the winter months The lines used have about 25 artificial lures on them, each one being made from a hook with brightly coloured feathers or plastic tubing on them to attract and capture the fish.

Mackerel are targeted using similar lines and lures in many other areas of the UK but using a large reel call a gurdy to handle the lines. In some cases this gurdy is electric or hydraulically operated. However there is the debate as to whether these should be classed as ‘handlines’. More details on this is covered under ‘jigging’.


Pollack is targeted with handlines by jigging artificial lures around rocky outcrops, wrecks and over areas of hard ground. As with bass the fish are tagged and stored onboard in slush ice.

Gear classification

Main target species (UK)

  • Bass
  • Mackerel
  • Pollack (Lythe)

Possible bycatch

  • Very little bycatch