Catching shore cod is no longer just a matter of going down to any old beach at the weekend and slinging a bait out -although that is how many anglers still approach it. Nowadays, with cod stocks at a premium, you simply have to be in the right place at the right time.
A basic fixed paternoster rig with a two-hook Pennell is best for cod fishing from the shore. Remember to include a quick-change link at the top and a bait clip at the bottom. The top hook can be secured on the snood by twisting the line around the shank (main diagram) or by using a small plastic sleeve (inset). Three black lug make a good bait (inset), though it can pay to tip them with a squid head “A low-trajectory, punchy cast works best when fishing into a strong onshore wind, rather than aiming high,” says Alan. “Also, to gain a bit of extra distance without increasing the risk of your reel over-running and bird’s-nesting, load the spool with less line than usual-150m [165yd] rather than 200m [220yd], say – and retain at least one large brake block.”
“When a small pouting or whiting takes the bait, leave it out there – with luck, a big cod will come along, take the small fish, and hook itself on the large, free hook. This method needs patience, however, so it’s best used on a second, spare rod. If you catch a cod at night and want to wait until morning to take a photo of it, Alan advises against keeping it in a plastic bag, because its stomach juices will discolour the flesh. To keep the fish looking fresh, he recommends you lay it on its side and cover it with a wet cloth.
Long distance casting is almost always essential when you are fishing for cod from the beach – they very rarely venture in closer than about 100m (110yd) from the shore, especially during the day. There’s no doubt about it – the best time to catch cod from the shore is at night.
Cod fishing from the shore is usually best at night, but sometimes you can catch them during the day when there is a strong onshore wind blowing.
Here and now
The south-west of Scotland, the north-east and south-east of England, the Bristol Channel and East Anglia are all noted areas, but reliable, up-to-date local information on venues is critical. Cod shoals move from venue to venue and if you chase old news you will only connect with them by chance. Tackle dealers can be a good source of information, but remember they have a vested interest in getting you fishing locally so may spice up a venue’s potential. The angling reports from the local newspapers are generally rather better guides.
High tide at night when a strong onshore wind is blowing is generally by far the best time to fish. In daylight, especially when the sea is calm, the cod tend to stay offshore in deep water. Under cover of darkness, however, they move in with the flooding tide, particularly when there is a rough sea to stir up the bottom and dislodge food for the cod to gorge themselves on. As ever there are exceptions to the rule — some shore marks fish best on an ebbing tide, for example – so reliable local information is again essential.
Recent winters have seen increasing numbers of codling being caught from British shores – but really big cod are still quite thin on the ground, unfortunately. Beaches can get quite crowded when the cod are in. A wind break or brolly shelter is a real asset, but don’t forget to take plenty of hot food and drink as well
The importance of being in the right place at the right time cannot be exaggerated. Most anglers like to plan marathon sessions in advance, but that is no good if you are in the wrong place and the conditions are all wrong. You must be prepared to drop everything and go out at short notice when the conditions are right and the cod are in at a particular venue, even if this means a
Finally, keep an eye on the beacl because, in a storm, it can be strewn witr slipper limpets, razorfish, mussels or othei shellfish. If so, it makes sense to try them or the hook — on their own or in a cocktail -because they might be just what the cod an pre-occupied with.
A good beachcaster is essential to cope witl casting large baits long distances, so steei clear of anything soft or floppy. And choosi one with big rings, so weed can pass through them and be removed at the reel.
Multiplier reels are best for distance cast ing — Dorian recommends the Daiwa 7HT fo beaches and the Abu 7000C for rock marks
Use 15lb (6.8kg) line and a 60lb (27.2kg leader for clean ground, and 30lb (13.6kg line direct for rock marks. Being highly visi ble, a fluorescent orange leader is best fo: night fishing. And tapered leaders, whil costly, are best, because they allow fo smaller knots – a large leader knot jammei in the top ring with weed can cost you a bij cod when it is buffeted by the surf. If you use an untapered leader, make it a little longer than usual so that you can remove any weed before a cod reaches the breaker line.
A basic fixed paternoster rig is all you need. Don’t bother with a sliding trace: it doesn’t prevent the fish feeling the weight – indeed, the whole point of the fixed paternoster is that the resistance sets the hook.
Use 30lb (13.6kg) snoods to cope with abrasion from the sea bed. Fluorescent orange line is best for snoods as it helps you unravel tangles in the dark. three hour drive for only three hours actual fishing time on the beach.
Getting the distance
Distance casting is absolutely essential from most beaches. Many anglers kid themselves about how far they can cast, but if you really want to get among the cod next winter, put your hand on your heart and ask yourself this: can I cast well over 100m (110yd) on a still day over grass? If the answer is no, there is no way that down on the beach you are going to be able to get anywhere near that distance casting into the teeth of a gale.
If you can’t, you might benefit from taking casting lessons from a professional instructor. Even with tuition and plenty of practice, however, some anglers can’t cast very far, simply because they haven’t got the necessary natural co-ordination. If you are one of them, don’t waste time struggling on a beach – concentrate on fishing from piers, harbour walls and rock marks that give you access to deep water without the need for a long cast.
A big, fresh bait
Calamari squid and big, fresh black lugworm are the best baits. Don’t accept poor bait – frozen lug and stale squid will ruin your chances of catching, so make sure you get the best you can. It can be hard to obtain fresh black lug in winter, but it really is essential. And buy squid in bulk packs from a supermarket – it is much cheaper than buying it from tackle shops, and you can be sure it has been kept frozen properly and not allowed to go stale.
An excellent cocktail is three lugworm tipped with a squid head. Thread the lug so you leave no ends hanging, and be careful not to mask the hookpoint with the squid.
Always replace your bait every cast, because its scent is its most important attraction, especially at night when visibility on the sea bed is nil.
Usually, 5-6oz (142-170g) breakaway leads are adequate, but storms and strong spring tides can make a fixed-wire lead essential. Also, when casting into a strong onshore wind, you sometimes need to step up to an 8oz (227g) lead to tow a bigbait out.
A two-hook Pennell set-up is best. Match hook size to bait size – for example, a 3/0 for three lugworm and a 6/0 for a large, whole squid. Some anglers like the top hook to be smaller than the bottom one, but it isn’t necessary (if you use a smaller hook, make it at least a 1/0). Drennan Aberdeens, Kamasan Aberdeens and Cox & Rawle Uptide Extras are all strong, sharp hooks.
Finally, incorporate a quick-change link at the top of the rig, and have a spare rig set up. This way you can bait the spare rig while waiting for a bite, and quickly change them over when you wind in. This is very important because, more often than not, when the cod are in they only stay a short while, so you want a bait in the water at all times to make the most of it.
Also, make sure your rig incorporates a bait clip. If you try to cast a big bait that is hanging free, the air resistance cuts distance drastically. So clip the bait up for maximum streamlining and distance.
Hooking and landing
Cod bites are usually very positive. Either the rod tip pulls over as the fish swims away with the bait, or it drops back and the line goes slack as it swims inshore. In either case there is no need to strike, because the fish has already hooked itself. Anyway, when fishing at range even the most savage strike barely moves the hook.
Cod are not great fighters, but in a strong tide or swell they can exert immense pressure on the line and hookhold. The danger time is as the fish enters the breakers, so make sure you pre-set the clutch or drag on your reel to yield line under maximum pressure, and don’t try to pull the fish in against the undertow – wait for an incoming wave to beach it, then grab it by the mouth before the next wave breaks.