Top Newhaven charter skipper Frank Shaw tells you just how to be sure that you land every big cod that you hook!
By now it’s no secret that the eastern end of the English Channel is producing some enormous cod.
For once, it would appear that finding large cod is a lot easier than boating them. Many times this spring anglers have been broken up by large fish for various reasons. Some have been plain unlucky – the boat could drift over or nearer the wreck, allowing the fish to lunge into it, or the fish could be lightly hooked and eventually tear its way free. Some of these fish are so strong that anglers often think they have hooked the wreck and, unfortunately, quite a few really nice (possibly record-breaking) fi sh have got away simply through poorly maintained or badly manufactured tackle. Anglers that know me will no doubt understand that I have become a little exasperated at times. Quite how a chap can watch his mate lose a 35lb cod right beside the boat because the line has snapped, but keep on fishing with 15lb leader himself, is beyond me! So, if you want to land a big cod if you do hook into one, read on.
Rods and Reels
Expensive rods and reels are not necessary, but good maintenance is. For pirking I would use a fairly stiff 30lb/50lb-class rod, and for lure fishing an uptider. In both cases, make sure that the rod and rings are free of any splits or corrosion, and that there aren’t any rings missing. The tiniest crack in a ring insert can cut the line with ease. Damage to guides is common and also usually impossible to identify by eye, so the best way to check for it is by gently running a sharp blade around the ring – any cracks or splits will register as the blade runs over it. Replace any damaged rings because the blemish will literally slice straight through braid and will begin to take slices out of mono line and therefore weaken it. These ‘slices’ of line can often be seen as wispy cobweb-looking bits on the ring and are often actually confused with a spider’s web-making material and simply brushed off!
Any reels used should be well cleaned and oiled, and not left in saltwater in a seatbox! The drag should be set lightly and be fully functional. Make sure that the levelwind (if it has one) is not overworn and won’t stick under load. My own choice of reel is an ABU 7000 or 9000, but that’s just an old dangler’s opinion.
Make sure that your well oiled, nice, shiny, working reel is properly spooled with a really good-quality line or braid. Use a good-quality clear mono of about 30lb to 35lb breaking strain, or 40lb braid will also do the job. If fishing with braid, use a 20ft ‘tail’ or shockleader of 40lb mono, which will stretch when the big tasty shakes his or her head. I have not included the knots I use here, because I firmly believe that the best knot is the one that’s tied with the most confidence. Hooklengths should be clear fluorocarbon of about eight feet again, use the best one you can afford.
Booms and Weights
Sinkers of 8oz to 10oz fitted on ordinary plastic booms are fine, and a well-tied Portland rig is also okay. Try using a rotten bottom or rubber band to the boom to fit the weights on – I don’t usually advocate this method, but when drifting over wrecks it will allow you to get a fish up without the lead becoming snared. A hot tip is to protect the knot by slipping a smallish bead between the swivel and boom. French booms are absolute nightmares on charter boats, and should be avoided at all costs. If an angler is playing a giant cod, the other anglers may well get tangled in it. If this is the case, then the little wire ends of a French boom can act as wire cutters. If you leave them out, you won’t pull your mate off.
Which Lures To Choose?
The 6in Kiddy Rhubarb and Custard Sidewinders and shads are smashing the cod out there. They’re reliable, attractive, just about affordable and, above all, have really good hooks fitted in them that can stand the strain from any big cod. The next-best bet is a Evolution Red Gill, the biggest you can find again, they’re pretty well made with sound hooks. Without wanting to get myself in trouble with manufacturers, I have to say that a lot of imported copycat lures are made with poor-quality hooks and are just not up to the task. Pirks are straightforward enough, but should be fitted with excellent treble hooks.
Remember not to overlook split rings and swivels. These must be able to handle very big fish, and I recommend that you don’t use any end tackle that is rusty, go through your box and bin the rubbish. This could be a record fish that you’re about to get stuck in to and you don’t want a few pence worth of metal to be your downfall!
Where the Fish Are
As it goes, big cod can be quite lazy blighters; they tend to hang around the foot of the wreck picking up easy meals whenever possible. This is the area I get my anglers to target, and by keeping a close eye on the wreck I can tell them when to “take a risk” with their gear.
Hooking and Landing
Don’t be surprised when you hook your monster – if you genuinely believe it’s the wreck, double check, because it may not be. Playing a big fella takes a lot of patience, and you just need to tease him up slowly. Apart from the very start of the fight when the wreck is in play, the riskiest bit is near the end as the fish approaches the boat. Between these times the boat is away from the wreck and the snags, so it’s up to you and your gear to bring him up by maintaining steady pressure and pumping and winding. This is when you lift the rod up steadily to move the fish then, as you lower the rod, reel up the gained line. Make sure that the clutch is set so that if it decides to make a big lunge it can take line, which will save damaging the hook-hold or even snapping the rod or line!
Dangers when Boating
Be aware that the hook might have worn a big hole around itself in the cod’s mouth and, as the rolling of the boat slackens the line, the hook can fall from the hole and the fish will swim gently back to the bottom of the sea – lovely! Also, as it reaches the surface it’s not unusual for other anglers to be tangled up with the captor’s line, then everyone else thinks that they have a fish and begin hauling too! This inevitably happens and very often the line is cut by another, the cod is disgorged or it’s a nightmare for the skipper while netting with several lines, lures, hooks and leads all over the place. Try to avoid this by telling the skipper that you have a cod on, and he can inform others to stay clear or even reel in. Another advantage of others moving aside is so the captor can walk back up the boat and play the fish near the surface with a longer line, and draw the fish uptide of the net and let the water flow take it into the net. This allows him/her to absorb any lunges from the fish, whereas on a shorter line he/she could not and a fish can be lost.
Time for a Snapshot!
The only problem then, when you have caught your megabeast and are staring down at it in wonder, is that you then have to find the strength in your aching shoulders to hold it at arm’s length for photos! But what a nice achy feeling that is… good luck