How to catch boat cod

Posted on Dec 3 2012 - 7:07am by WSF
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With the cod fishing season well underway, WSF shows you how to boat yourself a lunker boat cod this winter.

When offshore fishing, inexperienced anglers can confuse pollack with cod, but the pollack has a more tapered head and the bottom jaw extends beyond the top jaw. The cod has a blunter head, and the eye of the cod extends above the mouth further towards the tip of the jaw, plus the jaws are equal in length. Small cod may be confused with whiting too, but again the whiting’s head is more pointed, and there is a black spot above the root of the pectoral fin.

Deep water cod vary in colour from a mottled brown over mixed sandy ground, to dark brown or slightly green back and yellow mottled sides when living in deep water and over wrecks and rough reef ground.

Although big cod will grub for food on the seabed, for the most part they are predatory eating small fish such as sandeel, pout, poor cod, rockling, whiting, small cod, flatfish, herring, mackerel, crabs, squat lobster and any shellfish they come across.

Big Boat Cod

Andy Williams with a cracking February caught fish from the English Channel


Cod are resident right around the UK and Ireland. But are also found south to the Bay of Biscay, northward along the western European coast as far as The Barents Sea off Russia, also taking in Iceland and the southern tip of Greenland, also the Newfoundland coast and the Northeast coast of America.

Cod are resident on the reef and wrecks for much of the year, though tend to be smaller fish up to 7lbs during the summer and early autumn in many southern areas. In the north, off Yorkshire, the boats take good cod to 10lbs off the inshore grounds, but are always in with the chance of a 20lb plus fish when fishing the wrecks during the summer. Throughout Scotland the inshore cod run to 8lbs or so, with the occasional bigger fish throughout the year.

In the south, the bigger fish move inshore from September in areas such as the Thames Estuary and Bristol Channel, staying until January. But it’s from November through to March that the big cod move out on to the wrecks and gather for spawning. This is when the bigger fish over 20lbs and 30lbs are caught.

Big Boat Cod

Mike Thrussell with another February caught English Channel cod


Uptide fishing is the most successful technique when anchoring in fast tides areas such as the Bristol Channel and Thames Estuary.

Uptiding means the angler casts the baited rig in a sharp uptide direction, then as the lead weight hits the seas surface, begin releasing line again until you feel the weight touch bottom. Release a further 20-yards or so of line, then click the reel in to gear. The release of line after the lead hits the seabed creates a big downtide bow in the line that sees the line above the rig and weight pull the grip lead deep in to the seabed and anchor the bait, much like a boats anchor rope does.  The rod tip now pulls steadily over in to the tide.

Bites will register typically as a double knock, then a sharp pull down and the rod tip will spring back straight as the fish pulls the lead weight free. Lift the rod, wind down until you feel the weight of the fish, now lift the rod to strike and fully set the hook.

Typical uptide rods for cod will be between 9’6” and 10’ in length with a very supple tip, but powerful mid section and butt to give the casting power. Cod uptide rods are rated 4 to 10ozs or better still 6 to 10ozs.

Uptider for Cod Fishing

Reels need to be able to cast to a good range, but have powerful gears and frames. Popular reels are the ever popular ABU 7000 series and also the Penn 525Mag2, both loaded with 20lb line and a 60lb shock leader, though some prefer to use 25lb line on the 7000. The Daiwa 7HT series reels are also popular for their casting ability. Some anglers prefer to use a big 8000 fixed spool loaded with 30/40lb braid. The extra winching power of the fixed spool, and its ease of casting, is well worth considering if you’re new to uptide fishing.

A simple and quick uptide rig starts with a size 4 rolling swivel and 20-inches of 80lb rig body line. Slide on a Sliding Link Ledger, a 5mm bead and tie on another size 4 swivel. To the end of the swivel add 3 to 6-feet of 40/50lb mono. Slide on a size 4/0 Mustad Viking 79510 hook by the eye, then tie on a Mustad Viking 79515 hook to the end of the line. Bait up, then slide the top hook down to the bait and wrap the hook trace around the shank of the hook three times to secure it in place. Position the hook point through the top of the bait for perfect presentation. For big squid baits use 6/0 hooks.

For uptide fishing big lugworm baits are excellent. Use one or two whole black lug depending on length, then add several smaller and juicer blow lug at the bottom for added scent. These need to be formed like a thick sausage shape, bound with elastic thread, and be from 6 to 12-inches long. After each retrieve, leave the old bait on and add fresh to maximise scent and bait size. Adding strips of squid for movement, mixing ragworm with the lug, and tipping with crab, razorfish and mussel can also be highly effective.

To target much bigger cod try fishing whole big squid or cuttlefish, or two or three smaller squid. Half and full sections of bluey, also whole mackerel and herring are also good.

Squid Baits

Some anglers still use big metal pirks for wreck cod, and it remains an effective way to fish, but does foul hook far too many.

Modern sport fishing trends now dictate that most anglers prefer to fish artificial lures for the wreck dwelling cod. These range from artificial sandeels and jellyworms, weighted sandeel imitations such as the Berkley Powerbait Sandeels and Sidewinders, also soft shads such as the Berkley Ripple Shads fished on a lead head, and the weighted Storm and Hellfire, Sidewinder Shads.

Unweighted lures are fished on simple Flying Collar rigs using a sliding boom slid on to the shock leader, an 8mm bead, tie a swivel to the end of the line, then tie on a long 10ft or more trace of 20lb Fluorocarbon or clear mono and the lure. To fish this, simply let the tackle reach the bottom, click the reel in to gear and start to slowly rewind counting up to 25 turns, then go back down. When a fish takes you feel the rod tip get gradually heavier. Keep winding and wait until the fish fully takes the lure and turns for the bottom pulling the rod tip hard over and setting the hook. This method is good on both reefs and deep water wrecks.

Boat Cod Lures

Another good rig is a variant of the Flying Collar called the Jumper rig. This uses the boom, bead and swivel, but then you add between 4 and 6ft of 50lb mono and tie on a weighted shad. This is released to the seabed, lifted about 6ft up off the bottom and is worked by lifting and lowering the rod tip to make the shad swim up and down. This is highly effective for big cod working close in to wrecks.

You can also fish the bigger 6-inch shads on heavier 3 to 10oz lead heads depending on depth. Again it’s just a case of releasing the lure to seabed then using the slow steady retrieve until the fish are found.

Good rods are 15 to 20lb class up to 8ft 6ins long matched to ABU Revo 60 low profile reels, 7000 series reels or Shimano equivalents. Load with 20lb braid and use a short 10ft 30lb shock leader from Fluorocarbon or clear mono.


Begin with 20-inches of 60lb Fluoro Carbon or clear mono line.

Boat Cod Rig 1

To one end tie on a size 4 rolling swivel.

Boat Cod Rig

Choose a hollow plastic type boom about 8-10-inches long. Pass the free end of the 60lb line down through the boom.

Boat Cod Rig

Below the boom, slide on a 5mm bead and tie on a strong size 4 rolling swivel.

Boat Cod Rig

To the swivel tie on 3 to 4-feet of 40/50lb clear Fluoro Carbon or mono. Fluorocarbon is stiffer than mono and works the shad better, plus has more abrasion resistance.

Boat Cod Rig

Tie on a strong snap swivel link, preferably a silver/chrome coloured one for added attraction

Boat Cod Rig

The weighted shad or lead head simply attaches to the link.

Boat Cod Rig

When uptide casting, use what area you have between where you are and where the other anglers are casting. Vary casting distance and angle. Doing this you locate smaller different patches of ground, such as boulders and hollowed out areas, that consistently produce fish.

When baiting with whole squid, make sure the hook comes out through the head and not just the body. Cod can often nip off the head and leave the body missing the hook completely.

Carry various colours of weighted and unweighted shads as cod can have a particular preference on the day. Black, yellow, pink and orange are all good colours to try. Generally the deeper the water the darker the colour is a good rule as cod look for silhouettes above. Brighter colours work better in coloured water.

Black shads are great fish catchers but often hard to find in the shops. Always carry a black permanent marker pen and use this to colour lighter coloured shads to improve the catch rate.

Cod are sensitive to noise in the water and associate this with food. When bait fishing, try adding a double rattling Booby Bead about 10-inches above the bait and locked in place by a wrap of telephone wire, or a Powergum stop knot and bead.