From late September through to early March our UK coastline becomes a haven for the beach fisherman with sights heavily set on bagging this highly prized catch. From the shore, the British record for a rod and line caught specimen weighs a whopping 44lbs and 8oz while in deeper waters only accessible while afloat these magnificent fish reach weights in excess of 100lbs! Rod and line caught specimens however very rarely tip the scales over 15lbs and anyone who bags a cod over this weight should count themselves extremely lucky.
Cod can be easily identified by their green and grey mottled flanks, large white belly, huge head and distinct barbell on their chin. It is important to point out that the colouration of this fish may vary depending on its natural surroundings and it is not uncommon to find cod being caught from kelp and rocky ground with a brown or even red appearance.
Cod can be caught all year round from a boat as this gives the angler easy access to deep water. From the shore however, the venue that you fish will greatly influence the cods feeding habits, how you fish and how far you will need to cast. The most well known cod marks from the shore are typically steep shingle beaches holding deep water at high tide, possibly the most famous being Dungeness and Chesil beach. Cod prefer to live in deep water unlike Bass which will come into less than a foot of water in search of food. Cod prefer to stay protected by the deep and will in most cases only venture into shallow water under the cover of night or in rough weather. Before fishing any venue gather as much local fishing knowledge as possible and visit the venue at low tide to establish what sort of ground you will be fishing. Look out for gullies and sandbanks and any areas which might hold more food and be a natural feeding ground. Being able to read a potential fishing ground is equally as important as being able to place a bait at long range. Cod can be caught at long distance over 200 yards as well as close in around the 50-60 yard mark. I wonder how many anglers have cast straight over the top of feeding fish!
Being a bottom dwelling fish, a cod’s diet is extremely vast, eating pretty much anything from crustaceans and worms to other fish. From the shore, large worm baits and peeler crab baits are extremely desirable, both these baits hold a large amount of juices presenting the cod with a scent trail that’s irresistible. Other top baits include Squid (a firm favourite amongst boat anglers), Mackerel strip, Sand Eel, shrimps, prawns and various shellfish which can be found along the shore at low tide.
It’s well worth trying a bait cocktail. This is two baits presented on a single hook. ‘Worms tipped with squid’ is a classic favourite and in many cases will out fish a single bait. Be as adventurous as you like!
When choosing which rig to use for cod fishing a favourite of mine is the Pulley Rig. This rig is ideal for targeting large cod especially at venues where you may encounter a few rocks and the odd snag. The Pulley system lifts the sinker from the sea bed under the weight of the hooked fish eliminating the potential for getting snagged. The venue that you are fishing will also influence which rig you use. Very rocky ground with a large amount of snags may require the use of a Rotten Bottom link. If you need to place a bait at long distance, a ‘Long Range Clipped Down Rig’ might be used and if the fish are feeding close to the shore line a simple running ledger might be the better option.
The following ready made rigs and components are available from AB Fishing Tackle:
- Pulley Pennel Rig by Anyfish Anywhere.
- Long Range Clipped Down Rig by Mustad.
- Rotten Bottom Link by Anyfish Anywhere.
Lastly, I would like to touch on cod fishing and the importance of conservation. Over the last 10 years cod stocks have plummeted, largely caused by over fishing. Restrictions are now in place and apply to commercial fishermen and recreational fisherman alike. The UK Government (via DEFRA) have laid down ‘Minimum Landing Sizes’ (MLS) to help preserve our fish stocks, while the Angling Trust also provide ‘Recommended Retention Size Limits’ (RRSL) for the majority of fish likely to be caught in UK waters. An RRSL is a suggested size for a fish which should be returned to the sea. The recommended retention size limit for any rod and line caught cod is 35cm from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail. Anything smaller than this should be carefully removed from the hook and released back into the sea.
With conservation in mind it is very pleasing to see many anglers taking responsibility for future fish stocks by adopting a catch and release attitude regardless of whether their catch is over the RRSL.
Whether you fish from the shore or from a boat, if you follow a few simple guidelines, there’s no reason why you too shouldn’t enjoy the rewards of winter cod fishing.