If you never fish for cod then their appeal may be hard to fathom, but for those driven to fish for these golden flanked hoovers of the sea, then the next few months can be an exciting time.
Your own regional season may be long or short and it may well be a success or a disaster, but you can bet that those anglers who continue to catch the most and best fish are those who have prepared well. Actually putting baits out for cod is not exactly rocket science, for the hard part is trying to predict where and when the fish may choose to both be and feed; prepare, work hard, add some luck and you will reap the rewards.
The cod is a ravenous feeder that moves in shoals and continues to move for the main purpose of feeding; they do not come into an area for fun and if they are on your patch, then they are there to feed. The secret is, as is common in fishing, to be in the right place at the right time. It may be that your piece of favourite fishing ground works when a big south-westerly gale rips in and really breaks the sea bed up, thus moving and shifting large quantities of food from the surrounding area. Maybe the particular tidal patterns are such that they swirl natural food sources into a particular place on a certain stage of tide. As you can see, there is no set of rules to adhere to in order to catch cod on a regular basis, so it is important to use the old grey-matter perched above your neck!! Fish seem to be able to detect things that we canít even begin to appreciate, for that is the only way they can survive, and our job as recreational anglers is to try and think like a fish!
Generally us cod anglers are on the lookout for some colour and life to the water and that very often will mean fishing during or just after rough conditions, or perhaps at night when fish often come in much closer to shore to feed. But each and every area of our coastline is different and when I travel up to fish the waters of the Bristol Channel, the murky colour in the water is such that fishing day or night matters not at all. The upper reaches of this fascinating stretch of coast is one place to go and hunt for very early cod and the early season run is often better than in the depths of winter. It all just depends on when the fish decide to make an appearance; if you are there, in place and ready, you are going to bag up.
The single most important ingredient after right place, right time, is giving the cod something that they are going to feed on. Too often anglers get wrapped up in all the latest technological gadgets and fantastically complicated rigs and then forget that the cod is a simple bottom feeder and actually wants something to eat. I take the attitude that once you have found the most effective method to nail a bait to the bottom in your particular area, stick with it, and then try to find out what food is turning the cod on. It will most likely be nothing complicated, but it is essential to have to hand premium quality bait and most importantly, have lots of it. If the cod decide to feed hard only at the end of a grueling eight hour session, then it's not much good if you have run out of bait! Accept that a little wastage of frozen baits is going to occur, but then you can always take live worms and crabs back home to use again.
The two most popular and effective baits for cod must be lugworm and peeler crab and if you can secure a constant supply of these two for the winter then you are on the way already. I use a lot of crab and have my own traps for collecting them, so throughout the winter I will have a bucket of live, prime peelers in the fridge ready for use whenever I want to go. Often that last minute forecast will have me on my way to go fishing and I could have only gone for the reason that I had bait on hand; not many tackle shops are open at 2am!
Lugworm are either bought from the tackle shop or dug by various people. They are relatively easy to keep for a while in the fridge, but do keep an eye on them and discard any dead worms. You can keep the worms wrapped in newspaper or in shallow saltwater filled trays in the fridge.
The boxes of blast frozen calamari squid are also perfect for cod baits and can either be used whole or as pieces and strips for making tempting looking cocktail offerings. I often fish one rod with whole calamari and another rod with peeler crab. More often than not the squid sorts out the better stamp of fish; a decent strip of the white flesh is perfect for tipping off big lugworm baits and it also helps keep the worms intact during the high inertia of a long-distance cast.
As with most fishing, there are absolutely no set rules when it comes to gearing up for cod. One person may catch his fish from flat sandy beaches where absolute distance is the driving force. Another person may be dragging his fish through and over rocks, kelp beds, deep water and various other kinds of snags and obstructions. Different gear is going to be needed, but just what do you go for?
I am a mainly rough ground angler and I do a lot of my codding up on the Bristol Channel. Now this may not be the deepest water, but it can be seriously hard to fish in certain places. There is a lot of snaggy ground and the tides have to be seen to be believed, so it is not much use me travelling all the way up there and taking the "finer" kinds of distance beach fishing tackle. I am after a bit of power and grunt from my gear and I need to winch fish in to stand a chance of landing them, and for most of the time, absolute distance is not required.
So it's for those reasons that I tend to favour multipliers like the Daiwa SLOSH 20s and 30s and the PENN 525 Mags, where they cast as far as I need to go and offer me all the winching power I need. Importantly, they are tuned to cast safely under all kinds of weather conditions and they generally behave impeccably. There is nothing worse than blowing reels up left, right and centre while somebody else twenty yards away is hauling in cod! Most of us have probably suffered this at least once and most of us have learnt swiftly from our mistakes!
Likewise, when it comes to beachcasters, I favour rods with a lot of backbone and power; I do not need to see a pouting rattle at 200yds and I do not need a nice lightweight, slim and soft design that I can hold all day long. My rods are cast out and then put on the rocks or on a tripod, so the weight of the rod is hardly an issue. A powerful rod is often fairly heavy, but that is both what I like and am used to. There is a bewildering array of blanks and built rods in the marketplace and if you are on the lookout for new rods then it can be a nightmare. I find what I like and then stick with it until I see something vastly superior.
The rest of the stuff
Use good, strong, sharp hooks that match the sizes of the baits being whacked out and do not be afraid of using heavy traces. All mine are made from clear 60-90lb mono and I only use Mustad hooks. My favourite rig is the pulley rig, quite simply because it works, it is versatile and it does not take ages to tie them up at home!
You want to be warm when you fish in winter, for being cold only makes you want to go home, so do invest in good quality waterproof stuff, whether it be floatation or plain thermal stuff. About the most important thing left is a decent headlamp, for that really is your lifeline and it must be totally reliable; not only is it there for safety, but it lets you see that monster cod rolling around beneath your feet and provides the light to be able to land it. Last but not least, take a flask of tea or coffee; how does one go fishing without it?!