The Soft Approach to Offshore Cod Fishing

Regular readers of the angling press would be forgiven for thinking that the use of soft plastics is confined pretty much to shore and inshore bass fishing. The reality is that the lure revolution is progressing just as quickly offshore. What’s of greater interest is that anglers are now targeting fish not normally sought with soft plastic lures, such as cod and ling.

On a recent trip off Plymouth aboard Sea Angler 2, skippered by Malc Jones, we had a prime example of how effective soft plastics are for fish that, just a few short years ago, would have been targeted with big squid or fish baits, or alternatively antiquated heavy metal pirks and heavy 30lb plus rods.

I was accompanied on the day by colleagues and old friends Roger Mortimore, Sub Editor at Total Sea Fishing magazine, and Andy Williams who works in marketing at Pure Fishing.

We steamed out some 20 miles to a group of wrecks in around 250-feet of water. The day was warmish with a hazy sun, little wind, and a falling neap tide, so the drift would be fairly slow. Ideal conditions for once!

The lads tackled up with an assortment of SALT 20lb rods armed with Tidewater multipliers and Penn 320GTI reels, but I chose a Penn Powerstix 20/30lb braid rod matched with a Penn 320GTI reel. These are popular combination rods and reels, and we wanted to highlight just what this tackle can do.

The rigs we chose were mainly simple Whitby rigs incorporating two snap link swivels, the first tied to the leader and carrying the lead weight, the second snap link being attached by the link to the bottom eye of the main swivel and carrying the hook length. This is kept between 5 and 8-feet in length, and I prefer Fluorocarbon of 35 to 40lbs to combat any teeth abrasion from any ling which are usually lip or scissor hooked on lures. This rig, when used in conjunction with shads fixed on light 1/2oz to 2oz jig heads, or with weighted shads and sandeels, rarely if ever tangles.

The lures I’ve been using with great success for many species including bass, pollack, coalfish, cod and ling are the Berkley Ripple Shads, which I’ve quoted many times in previous blogs. I chose to start with a purple/chartreuse colour in size 9cms matched to a Berkley All Round Saltwater Jig Head weighing 28gm.

Skipper Malc used the first drift to gauge the wind and tide, and the second drift was bang on the money. I was off to a quick start with a cod about 10lbs, and the third drift produced a cod between 8 or 9lbs for Andy and another 8lber for me. I also lost a decent fish when the hook simply pulled out. Poor Roj was on the camera and barely got a lure in the water.

Andy Williams with a Ling.

The tide was in full ebb now, but the drift was not too fast. However you still had to work the first 25-feet of water up off the seabed to find the specific depth the fish were feeding at. But I quickly established the bulk of the fish were tight to the seabed.

I’d switched over to an 8-inch Berkley Power sandeel and was bouncing this up and down a couple of feet off the seabed. I felt a tap on the rod tip, a pause, then the rod tip rolled over to the weight of a fish. This hugged the seabed and lacked the head nodding so typical of a cod. The fish pulled a few feet of line off the reel, then powered up and took a good few yards off. But pressure told and the fish lifted. It fought well, but Malc and I had already figured this was a decent ling. This proved to be the case and it weighed over 15lbs. The next drift Andy got one about 10lbs, I got another a little smaller, with Roj picking up a cracking whiting on a small shad.

15lb Ling

The cod had gone quiet on this particular wreck, as can be the case as tidal movement alters, so we moved to another, but this only produced two cod in several drifts, both about the 10lbs mark.

With the tide slowing towards slack, skipper Malc opted to move again, and what a wise move it was too!

I switched over to a 4-inch Ripple Shad I’d darkened with a permanent black marker pen. Black is such a great colour for all predatory fish as it gives off such a hard silhouette when viewed from below or in front!

I was hopping this again, just up off the bottom, when that solid “bang” and pull down on the rod tip came. This fish had weight and fought by nodding its head in cod fashion, but hugging the seabed. Slowly but surely it came up and showed as white just underneath the surface. A cod of 15lbs 8ozs! Straight back down and I bagged another about 12lbs, with other fish coming in around me. The next drift that same black lure accounted for two more fish in the region of 10lbs.

Me with my 15lb 8oz Cod

Malc announced we’d got just three drifts left. The first drift we started to catch some big 2lb plus pouting that were clustered on the edge of the wreck. I took my time and chose to only drop my lure in when the sounder showed the wreck as imminent. My aim was to get the lure right in to the heart of the wreck to target a bigger fish.

It was tactic that paid off. I hit a fish with real weight that stayed deep and just took line steadily against the drag. It nodded its head to tell me it was a cod, then dragged more line off. I couldn’t get its head up at all. I was conscious of the wreck and how much line I’d given to the fish. Then the inevitable happened and the fish found metal. I gave line several times, but no way could I budge the fish and eventually the hook trace parted right above the lure. Only anglers know the emotion inside when a big fish is lost!

But it’s no good fretting when this happens, you just have to quickly re tackle and get on with finding another fish. I was ready to go with another black shad for the next drift and again waited until we were almost right on the wreck before dropping down. I felt the lead touch, took in less than 10-feet of line to lift the lure up a little off the bottom, then worked the rod tip just to give the lure that up and down life like motion.

I felt the lure touch something, but the next second the rod tip hammered over and again I felt that heavy head resistance so commonly used by hooked cod. This fish, as before, refused to lift. It was a case of steady rod pressure and I let it take line if it wanted too against a grudging clutch. Keeping the pressure on, the fish started to lift, but 25-feet up it turned and took line again heading back for the seabed. Not a fast run, just a soft purr of line off the reel!

This fish fought hard all the way. As it got near, Malc joined me with the landing net ready. We saw colour, but I couldn’t see how big it was, but Malc just said, “It’s a good un”, and netted it. It was a real heavily bellied cod that bounced the scales down to 19lbs. What a cracking fish to finish the day.

Me with my 19lb cod

So many anglers still lack confidence on soft plastic lures for big cod and ling, yet as we proved, it’s one of the most effective ways of fishing for them. The other advantage of lures is that with the right rigs and an understanding of how the drift works with the skipper shouting out when the wreck is imminent, then tackle losses are minimal. I lost just three lures all day which is way cheaper than buying fresh bait!

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