With cod costing more than many cuts of meat, most sea anglers would like to come home with a boatful. But few realize how varied a range of tackle they can take to sea.
Most sea anglers would prefer to catch cod above all other saltwater fishes. They are not great fighters, but when the cost of fresh cod in wet-fish shops is remembered, the sight of a fat 20-pounder coming to the net or gaff must be one of the most rewarding moments in sea fishing, as well as contributing some prime fish for the freezer.
Big cod can be caught from all coastal waters of the British Isles, both from boats and the shore. Being a greedy fish it can be caught on a variety of baits and tackle. Kent and East Coast cod, for example, feed mainly on lugworm, while farther west squid and mackerel-strip to hang clear of the sea bed in full view of the hunting cod packs. Squid and fish cuttings work well when presented on running-ledger tackle. A single-hook ledger is recommended, but many successful cod anglers fish with one or two flyers above the main hook. The argument against the multi-hook ledger is that most of the cod that take squid or fish-strip baits tend to be heavyweight fish and the combined weight of these fish – two or even three 20lb cod at one time – -would make a tackle breakage almost inevitable.
The anglers who use multi-hook rigs argue that the chances of making contact with more than one big fish at a time are slight, but it has happened on several occasions and inevitably the terminal tackle has parted under the savage strain. All the fish were lost and, worse still, were tethered together by a length of heavy nylon, probably leading to the death of the fish.
Pirks are another effective fish-taking device. As sold, pirks carry a murderous three-pronged hook rightly called the ‘ripper’ by anglers in Scotland, where this method is very popular. Pirk baits themselves are perfectly satisfactory if the treble hook is removed and replaced with a large single hook. As bought, the pirk usually foulhooks more fish in the belly or eyes than it catches in the mouth. Some of the fish hooked in this way tear free to die. Those that survive show great, jagged body scars, which usually account for their emaciated condition if they are finally caught again.
In northern waters cod, or better still codling, can often be caught in vast numbers on large feathered hooks. These are basically an enlarged version of the standard mackerel feathers. Cod-sized feathers can be very effective, especially when each hook is tipped with a slice of mackerel or squid strip. Cod feathers can be fished by lowering to the required depth and then raising and lowering the rod tip. They can also be let down to the seabed and fished in the same way as a paternoster. To avoid line breakages only three feathers should be used on one trace. Codling often feed in vast shoals and three fish of 3lb to 8lb at a time should be more than enough for any angler to bring to the surface using this method.
Cod are ‘hooked’ on white
Cod of all sizes are inquisitive fish and experiments have shown that they are attracted by white objects. So white feathers usually catch more cod than coloured feathers, and in the English Channel a white-fleshed squid is regarded as one of the most important cod baits. 140
Anglers first realized that cod are drawn to white-coloured objects when hundreds of big cod were found, when gutted, to contain remains of plastic cups discarded by cross-Channel ferries. These cup-eating cod were only a novelty until anglers began to experiment with large white attractor spoons attached above the actual bait. It was found that the rigs which incor-porated a white attractor spoon were catching more and bigger cod than anglers who used a rig without a spoon. It is now standard practice to use attractor spoons for winter cod fishing in the Channel.
A variation on this rig incorporates a special multi-spoon set-up which has four plastic spoons of various sizes and a hook with squid bait. The multi-spoon rig appeals in a big way, for cod, and even pollack, conger and skate have been caught in consistent quantities, proving that the combined fluttering motion of the graduated spoons brings fish close to the bait.
Much of the interest and satisfaction to be derived from sea fishing comes from the knowledge that whatever rig one is using some quite unexpected fish will come along and take the bait. Other species roam with cod, so experimenting with cod rigs can be great fun and often worthwhile. It is very satisfying to design a rig or lure which ultimately turns out to be a first-class fish catcher. It does not need any great technical skill – just imagination, and luck. And if you have a freezer well stocked with cod or other edible fish taken on home-made tackle you will have enjoyed the sport and saved a great deal of money.