When we talk about cod fishing most people think of freezing cold winter days out on a boat or on the beach. Strong winds, hard running tides, and cold feet. Flasks of hot coffee that temporarily warm our numb fingers and lift our spirits. Well unfortunately that’s the way it is because winter is the best time for cod and codling. Before we talk about tactics I think it’s important to understand our quarry.
Cod populations in the North Atlantic drive a natural phenomenon of cod emigration between Scandinavia and the UK. Cod are highly migratory fish, and undertake these movements due to a combination of environmental factors, including water temperature, food availability, and reproductive patterns.
During the warmer months, cod will move northward to colder waters, including areas around Scandinavia. Driven by the need to find cooler temperatures, cod migrate to feed and spawn in these areas.
Cod are found in areas with abundant prey, and are opportunistic feeders and feed on smaller fish and crustaceans. In the spring and summer, when waters in the North Atlantic are relatively warmer, they move to these feeding grounds.
Cod also migrate to specific spawning grounds during the reproductive season, which usually occurs in late winter and early spring. These spawning grounds often exist in shallower waters near the coast. Some important spawning areas are located off Scandinavia and the UK coast.
As winter approaches and waters in the northern regions become colder, cod often migrate southward. They move to deeper and warmer waters to avoid extremely cold temperatures, where they can conserve their energy during the colder months. Some of these areas include waters around my local coastline in Essex.
Cod populations have faced huge challenges over the years due to overfishing, which has impacted their numbers and distribution. Management measures and regulations in both Scandinavia and the UK have successfully protected cod populations and ensured sustainable fishing practices.
Cod can grow enormous with the current world record standing at 103lb 10oz caught of the coast of Norway. The biggest ever shore-caught cod that weighed in at 66lb 8oz also came from Saltstraumen in Norway. The current British Boat caught record is 58lb 6oz 0dr and 44lb 8oz from the shore.
A recent cod trip
From Late October to late March, codling can be caught in most areas of the UK, both from the shore and boats. Living in Essex we have had some fantastic cod fishing over the years but nowadays the fishing is patchy. This is where local knowledge and a good skipper are worth their weight in gold.
One February cod fishing trip saw me and five friends board Mark Peters, Dawn Tide 2 out of Essex Marina. Cod had been showing in numbers about an hour’s trip north towards Clacton on Sea. The forecast was light winds, a decent tide, and temperatures reaching a dizzy 12 degrees. The trip out started at 7 am and when we got out of the estuary and put the throttle down the wind chill must have been -4 degrees. I struggled to tie my hooks as my fingertips went numb. We anchored up about a mile off the end of Clacton Pier in approximately 20 feet of water at high tide.
The codling we were going to catch were only small and up to around 8lb so we did not need heavy gear like you would need in Norway or fishing over wrecks with big perks.
A 25lb class 9ft rod with a small multiplier loaded with 60lb braid was perfect. It was well balanced and had the strength behind it if we did hit a larger fish. I am a huge fan of braided fishing line. Compared to monofilament lines of similar strength, braided lines have a much thinner diameter. This thinness allows for increased line capacity on my reels and reduced water resistance which is crucial with fast running tides. Braid also has low stretch properties, which means that they are highly sensitive. You can easily detect even the subtlest of bites or movements.
The business end was a simple sliding rig with a zip slider and a 2/0 barrel swivel. Hook trace was 7ft of 30lb Amnesia memory free line and a 4/0 and 2/0 pennel rig. Even a small codling can take a huge bait so you can get away with a decent size hook.
You need to stay away from using small baits or whiting and other small fish will drive you mad. Ask any cod angler what bait to use and most will say lugworm and squid cocktail. Other favourites are squid/mussels and peeler crab/mussels. As with all sea fishing, you want to be changing your bait regularly to keep a good scent trail in the water.
My bait preference for the day was two large lugworms threaded on the hook tipped with a big slither of squid. A tip worth trying is to use the head of the squid to tip off you worm baits. I did try whole squid on a pennel but felt the codling were a bit small so I stuck with the cocktail.
Casting around 30 yards up-tide of the boat it wasn’t long before we were getting some nice whiting around the pound mark. After an hour the tide started to flood and it was as if someone turned a “bite” switch on. My rod bounced down and went slack and I was reeling in the first codling of the day. A lovely four pounder which I kept for dinner.
Everyone was steadily catching on either worm and squid cocktail or small whole squid. Of the six of us on the boat that day we managed 20 or so codling and a dozen good whiting. All in all a pretty good day out and we were all going to eat well. We have had days where we have landed over one hundred 5-8lb codling but those red letter days are few and far between.
If its big cod you’re looking for then I would suggest going fishing over wrecks. It’s a completely different set up and usually a much longer journey to the fishing grounds. It is where the bigger fish lie and can be a hard day on the body hauling fish and jigging pirks from 45 – 70 meters of water.
If you fancy a bucket list trip then take a look at some of the amazing trips they have to Norway.
cod off the beach
Cod fishing off the beach is a totally different ball game with rods, reels, rigs and baits and will be going more in-depth in another article dedicated to that subject.
So if you fancy a cod trip this year, do some research into good cod charter boats around you and give it a go yourself.
Until next time, happy fishing!