The cod have been slow to show in most areas this past autumn, some say to higher sea temperatures, also the numbers of lost days due to bad weather for the charter boats have maybe given us a false impression of the true state of play. But suddenly catches have taken an upturn with good fish showing from most ports working the English Channel, also from both sides of the Bristol Channel, but most areas should now see an upturn in sport.
We knew from last year’s stocks that there would be a fair number of fish in the 10lb bracket giving anglers new to offshore fishing their best chance yet of bagging a double figure fish. But last winter also saw fish in the 15 to 18lb class, as well as 20lb plus fish, also a few 30lbers and even a couple of 40lb plus fish. This indicates that those fish surviving from the 15 to 18lb range will be 20lb plus fish now and these are already showing, especially in the English Channel. The 20lbers from last year are now pushing close to 30lbs and the 30lbers really piling the weight on and not far away from reaching that magical 40lb barrier. If there are any of those 40lbers from last year still swimming, then there is a real chance of a 50lb fish this year from one of the deep water wrecks. Much will depend on the weather either side of Christmas, and especially in the New Year as to whether an angler gets lucky and puts his bait or lure in front of one of these leviathans. It’s all about time at sea reducing the percentages in favour of the angler and that we have little control over.
Now most anglers will still think that fresh bait, typically three big squid, a whole cuttlefish, or maybe a whole mackerel flapper is the way to target these fish. It is still effective, but my feeling is that lures are the way to go for these big fish and here’s how I intend to set about bagging one of these comeback cod.
My rod and reel need to be powerful but light in weight and sensitive to what’s going on below. For this specific job I’d personally choose the Penn Rampage 20/30 Braid rod and match this to the Penn Fathom 15 reel loading with 30lb Fireline. However any 20lb rod matched to a 20lb class reel with 30lb braid will do the job nicely.
I always attach a shock leader of 30lb Fluorocarbon to the braid. This acts as a shock absorber when a big fish hits the lure and dives during the fight, plus adds a clear buffer zone between the coloured braid and the end tackle.
The rig is simple. Slide on a long plastic hollow boom, then a 5mm bead and tie on a size 4 rolling swivel. To the swivel I add 5-feet of 50lb Fluorocarbon. As I mention so many times, I prefer the Fluorocarbon as it’s stiffer than mono so tangles way less, but more importantly it is much more abrasion resistant than mono when coming in contact with wreckage. For my fishing, Fluorocarbon is vitally important!
With a suitable lure attached to the end of the trace and a weight added to the link on the boom, the fishing technique is to drop the lure and rig to the bottom, when you feel the lead hit bottom, remember the 5-foot length of the lure trace and retrieve about 8-feet of line. This positions the lure up off the seabed about 3-feet. Now simply lift the rod up and down using only the wrist to add an easy up and down motion to the lure. You’ll find the fish take mostly as the lure drops back towards the seabed. Make sure the weight attached to the boom is big enough to keep you fishing vertically. It is okay to angle the line away from you a little, but you must keep tight to the seabed for this method to be effective.
If bites don’t come at this depth, retrieve 5-feet of line and try at this depth level. Usually though the cod are within 10 to 15-feet of the bottom and very close in to the wreck. Any that’s another point, although tackle losses are not overly heavy using this method, you will lose some gear, but the big fish are in amongst the wreckage, so live with it if you want the big cod!
What about lures? The new Shakespeare Devils Own Hellfire weighted shads did well for me on big cod during field testing last winter, and did so again on a trip to Iceland last summer, so these are a proven lure for big cod. I will be using mainly the larger 6-inch type. All the colours genuinely caught for me, but I did especially well on days when the water was clearish with the Pearl/White type. This is because the light from the surface reflects through the body of the shad and creates the illusion of life. If the water is carrying some colour after a blow, then I’d fish a bright coloured shad, maybe one of the Berkley Ripple shads in a yellow/purple.
I also did well using the Hellfire worms in 8-inch. I fished these on the same rig, but used a 1oz Berkley jighead to weight the worm and fished it identically to the shads. The Berkley Powerbait Flex Slim 7-inch shad is another good lure, but again should be fished on a jighead.
When booking boats, you have to take the days that the skipper has free and that fall in with your work schedule, but if possible, try to fish the first three days after the smallest neap tide of the cycle. Looking back over my lifetime, generally speaking, these have been the tides that produce the best cod fishing with February the key month.