Cod remain arguably the UK angler’s favourite sea fish, partly because of the rough and tough environment and conditions we fish for them in, but also because they put up a decent fight from the shore and also taste good on a plate.
The only fish the cod can really be confused with is it’s near cousin the whiting. The cod though has a more blunt head shape, with the whiting being more pointed. The lateral line on the cod is also more pronounced with an upward curve above the pectoral fin. Whiting also carry a definite black spot at the root of the pectoral fin, whereas the cod does not.
Cod range widely in colour. Over sand they are a mottled fawn or brown on the back with white underside, but over mixed ground become a mottled green, yet when living around kelp weed beds they can be a dull reddy-orange.
Cod are an eating machine and have a wide diet. They take small crustaceans and crabs, worms and brittle stars when small, but as they pack on weight start to become more predatory favouring small cod, whiting, herring, mackerel, sandeel, pout and poor cod.
The average size nowadays for UK cod is between 1 and 5lbs, but double figure fish are always on the cards and 20lbers still feature off the beaches occasionally. Cod in excess of 200lbs were recorded in the 1800’s by long-liners over the Grand Banks, and 100lb plus fish are still sometimes caught commercially and taken in to fish factories in Iceland and Norway. The chance of a monster still remains!
WHEN & WHERE TO FISH
Cod can be caught over rough ground for most of the year, but the best of the fishing is from September, peaking between November and late January, with some areas experiencing a secondary spring run from late March to late April generally speaking.
Good rough ground areas are the east coast of Scotland, the Northeast of England down as far as Whitby, the South Wales coast as far west as Stout Point, and the Cumbrian coast. Parts of the west Scottish coast and the Northern Ireland coast can also give good rock fishing at times.
The type of ground to look for is either mixed stone and boulder spaced with small patches of sand, or better still solid rough ground with deep lateral gutters and channels, also deep fissures running shoreward with kelp growth evident.
Water depth is not overly important as cod will come right in to shallow surf to feed on the flooding tide, but generally look for a consistent depth of 6-foot plus to get the consistent fishing.
In rough coloured seas cod will feed by day, but in many areas the top anglers only choose to fish at night as the cod move closer to shore during the hours of darkness.
When fishing shallow water surf beaches in to mixed ground, the bigger spring tides falling the three days before and after the highest tide tend to give the best fishing. That said, over very rough ground, even neap tides can produce fish as the water is a more consistent depth and the fish stay closer to shore providing the sea is rough and coloured.
Tackle needs to be tough to handle the conditions and to work good sized fish back through multiple snags. Choose a stiff 6oz fast taper beachcaster ideally between 12ft 6ins and 13ft 6ins. For longer casting over mixed rough and mixed heavy ground the Penn 525 is the most favoured reel by the majority of anglers due to its gear strength. Load this with 18 to 22lb line and a 60 to 80lb shock leader.
For really rough tackle grabbing ground, then an ABU 7000 type multiplier or Penn 535 are popular, as well as the Daiwa Slosh 30. Load these with 25 to 30lb line and a shock leader. This tackle allows you to really bully fish back through the kelp and snags.
BAIT TIP ONE
In the pre Christmas period a big lugworm bait will catch the bulk of the cod. Make your bait by pushing two or three worms, size depending up on the hook, then putting two more worms alongside the hook bait splint style and then wrap the whole lot together with bait elastic to form a big sausage shape about 6 to 8-inches long.
BAIT TIP TWO
Worm baits can often be made more effective by tipping them off with mussel and queen cockles, especially after a gale has washed shellfish up on to the shore. Tipping with squid strip is also effective.
BAIT TIP THREE
In the early New Year period cod in many areas begin to lose interest in worm based baits and will take big mussel baits, again made with multiple mussel pushed up the hook and bound on with bait elastic to form a sausage shape about 4 to 6-inches long. Mussel is especially effective along the east Scottish shore and in the Northeast of England, but will catch fish anywhere.
BAIT TIP FOUR
In the more southern areas of England after late January cod become scarcer as they move offshore, but those left inshore late will have a preference for fresh peeler crab if you can get it.
When fishing in to very rough ground, use a weak link system to the lead. One of the simplest, and the best, is to make lead weights with a simple wire dog leg of wire in the top instead of an eye. You can then tie a weak link of 15lb line to the Lead Link and to the wire on the lead, then put the angle of the dog leg in the wire in to the link. When the lead hits the seabed, the wire will slide out of the link and leave the lead held only by the weak link of line.
Cod bites are typically a double thump on the rod tip, then a full pull down. Most cod hook themselves, but its best to lift the rod, wind in the slack line until you feel the fish, then set the hook to make sure against the full weight of the fish.
If a fish is hooked but gets snagged on the way in, give it a few feet of free line and slightly lower the rod tip. Often the fish will swim the lead weight free of the snag as it swims back away from you and you’ll realise this as the line tightens again to the weight of the fish.
LOCATION TIP ONE
If you catch one cod from a certain position in a certain gully, try and cast back to exactly the same position again. Cod are predictable and fish will favour certain specific areas to feed above all others.
LOCATION TIP TWO
Most rocks marks fish best during the flooding tide, especially the rock gullies in deeper water. However when fishing offshore reef ground, fish will often move along the beach with the flood tide, but drop back again over the same ground on the ebb, though they tend to be at longer range. This means that an ebb tide at night might well out fish the perfect flood tide by day.
The best tip off all is target cod when the sea is rough with a good surf running. Ideal conditions often fall just as a full gale has blown through and the sea is just beginning to lose its full swell. Cod are powerful swimmers and have no problem feeding in rough surf seas.