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Expert Advice

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Learn how to target boat cod this season with TSF’s definitive guide full of top tips and tricks…

Boat-Cod Facts

When offshore fishing, inexperienced anglers can confuse pollack with cod, but there are some easy-to-identify differences. The pollack has a more tapered head and the bottom jaw extends beyond the top jaw. The cod has a blunter head, and its eye extends above the mouth further towards the tip of the jaw – plus the jaws are equal in length and there’s a barbel on its chin. Small cod may be confused with whiting, too, but again the whiting’s head is more pointed, and there is a black spot above the root of the pectoral fin.

Deep-water cod vary in colour, from a mottled brown over mixed sandy ground, to a dark brown or slightly green back and yellow mottled sides when living in deep water, over wrecks and rough reef ground. Although big cod will grub around for food on the sea bed, for the most part they are predatory – eating small fish such as sandeels, pout, poor cod, rockling, whiting, small cod, flatfish, herring, mackerel, crabs, squat lobsters and any shellfish.

When and Where to Fish

Cod are resident right around the UK and Ireland. They’re also found south to the Bay of Biscay, northwards along the western European coast as far as the Barents Sea off Russia, taking in Iceland and the southern tip of Greenland, also the Newfoundland coast and the northeast coast of America. Cod are resident on the reefs and wrecks for much of the year, although they tend to be smaller fish up to 7lb during the summer and early autumn in many southern areas. In the north, off Yorkshire, the boats take good cod to 10lb off the inshore grounds, and are always in with the chance of a 20lb-plus fish when fishing the wrecks during the summer. Throughout Scotland the inshore cod run to 8lb or so, with the occasional bigger fish throughout the year. In the south, the bigger fish move inshore from September in areas such as the Thames Estuary and Bristol Channel, staying until January. But it’s from November through to March when the big cod move out onto the wrecks and gather for spawning. This is when the bigger fish over 20lb and 30lb are caught.


Uptide fishing is the most successful technique when anchoring in fast-tide areas such as the Bristol Channel and Thames Estuary. Uptiding means that you cast the baited rig in a sharp uptide direction, then, as the lead hits the sea’s surface, begin releasing line again until you feel the weight touch bottom. Release a further 20 yards or so of line, then click the reel into gear. The release of line after the lead hits the sea bed creates a big downtide bow in the line above the rig and the weight pulls the grip lead deep into the sea bed and anchors the bait – much like a boat’s anchor warp does. The rod tip now pulls steadily over into the tide. A bite will register typically as a double-knock, then a sharp pull down, and the rod tip will spring back straight as the fish breaks the lead free. Lift the rod, wind down until you feel the weight of the fish, now lift the rod to strike and fully set the hook.

A typical uptiding rod for cod will be either a 9ft 6in or 10ft version with a very supple tip, but with a powerful midsection and butt to give the casting power. Cod uptiders are rated 4oz to 10oz or, better still, 6oz to 10oz. Reels need to be able to cast to a good range, but possess powerful gears and frames. Favourite reels are the ever-popular Abu 7000 series and the Penn 525 Mag2, both loaded with 20lb line and a 60lb shockleader, although some prefer to use 25lb line on the 7000. Another option is to use a big 8000-sized fixed-spool loaded with 30lb/40lb braid the extra winching power of the fixed spool, and its ease of casting, is well worth considering if you’re new to uptide fishing.


A simple and quick uptiding rig starts with a size 4 rolling swivel and 20 inches of 80lb rig-body line. Slide on a sliding link leger, a 5mm bead and tie on another size 4 swivel. To the end of the swivel add three to six feet of 40lb/50lb mono. Slide on a size 4/0 Mustad Viking 79510 hook by the eye, then tie on a Mustad Viking 79515 hook to finish the rig. Bait up, then slide the top hook down to the bait and wrap the hook trace around the shank of the hook three times to secure it in place. Position the hook point through the top of the bait for perfect presentation. For big squid baits use 6/0 hooks.


For uptide fishing, big lug bait is excellent. Use one or two whole black lug, depending on length, then add several smaller and juicier blow lug at the bottom for added scent. These need to be formed into a thick sausage shape, bound with elastic thread, and be from six to 12 inches long. After each retrieve, leave the old bait on and add some fresh to maximise scent and bait size. Adding strips of squid for movement, mixing rag with the lug, and tipping with crab, razorfish and mussel can also be highly effective. To target much bigger cod, try fishing whole big squid or cuttlefish, or two or three smaller squid. Half and full sections of bluey, as well as whole mackerel and herring, are also good.

Wreck and Reef Fishing

Some anglers still use big metal pirks for wreck cod, and it remains an effective way to fish, but does foul hook far too many. Modern sportfishing trends now dictate that most anglers prefer to fish artificial lures for wreck-dwelling cod. These range from artificial sandeels and jellyworms, weighted sandeel imitations such as the Berkley Powerbait sandeels and Sidewinders, along with soft shads such as the Berkley Ripple shads fished on leadheads, and the weighted Storm and Calcutta shads. Unweighted lures are fished on simple flying collar rigs using a sliding boom slid onto the shockleader, an 8mm bead, then a swivel to the end of the line and a long, 10ft or more, trace of 20lb fluorocarbon or clear mono to the lure. Simply let the tackle reach the bottom, click the reel into gear and slowly wind in, counting up to 25 turns, then let it back down. When a fish takes, you feel the rod tip become gradually heavier. Keep winding and wait until the fish fully takes the lure and turns for the bottom, pulling the rod tip hard over and setting the hook. This method is good on both reefs and deep-water wrecks.

Jumper Rig

Another good rig is a variant of the flying collar called the jumper. This uses the boom, bead and swivel, but then you add between four and six feet of 50lb mono and tie on a weighted shad. This is released to the sea bed, lifted about six feet off the bottom and is worked by lifting and lowering the rod tip to make the shad swim up and down. This is highly effective for big cod working close in to wrecks. You can also fish the bigger 6in shads on heavier 3oz to 10oz leadheads depending on depth. Again, it’s just a ease of releasing the lure, then using the slow, steady retrieve until the fish are found. Good rods are up to 8ft 6in versions of 15lb to 20lb class matched to Abu Revo 60 low-profile reels, 7000-series reels or Shimano equivalents. Load with 20lb braid and use a short, 10ft, 30lb shockleader of fluorocarbon or clear mono.