Autumn and winter are mainly about targeting big cod, because now is the time that they move inshore to feed and spawn. It’s very convenient for boat anglers, as many marks will be relatively close to shore meaning less time spent travelling to the fish – and hopefully big ones too! The average size boated on ‘Wight Huntress’ last year was just over 14lb, with the biggest going 23lb and the smallest 4lb. I actually reckon that the size of these fish is 20 per cent less than it was 10 years ago when a 25lb fish was a regular event and the odd 30-pounder wasn’t that unusual. Every season we wait for the arrival of these big ’uns with some excitement, and it’s a regular topic of conversation with anglers making hopeful predictions that this year they will be bigger! But there’s no doubt that these fish will be here for a couple of months or so, and there’ll certainly be some really chuffed anglers proudly showing off some superb fi sh. However, we’ll also see many fish dropped, which could be on occasions the fish of a lifetime missed! So, bearing this in mind, I’m going to explain just how to increase your chances of catching one of these whoppers and also how to prevent making common mistakes that result in lost fish and sad faces!
Throughout these months the water colour becomes more and more coloured as, in general, the weather is stormier with more windy days as well as the odd storm thrown in to really mix it all up. So with coloured water and tidal conditions, it should be clear why almost all winter cod fishing takes place at anchor, either downtiding or uptiding. So I am going to concentrate on downtide fishing. As with any fishing situation, we need to get some basics right – such as bait, presentation, tackle and technique.
If, after 15 to 20 minutes, you haven’t had any serious interest, then it’s time to bring it all up, remove all of the old bait and refresh it. This is so important as it’s these new scents and smells that you want to be working for you down below. Changing the baits regularly is an essential discipline to continue all day, as it’s so often the difference between success and failure. This is often one of the main reasons why it seems to be the same people that catch the cod and also why it’s the same people that don’t.
After watching the water for a while and having a quick chat to some other fishermen who were catching on nymphs I decided to stick with the plan. The reasoning behind this was because although there were adult pond olives around and the trout were feeding on them, there wasn’t a huge amount of surface activity. This suggested to me that the nymphs were active down deep and were getting ready to hatch. These nymphs would be getting picked off by the trout before they could get up to the surface.
As you have worked so hard by constantly refreshing your bait, reeling up and down, and working the trace back in the tide, you’ll hopefully be rewarded with a solid bounce on the rod tip. This is now the critical time as you can easily become overexcited and strike into the fish – this is completely the wrong approach. It’s time to stay calm and give the fish some time to get one of these big baits containing the hook into its mouth. My advice is to initially let out a few yards of line and then put the rod back down. Then, hopefully, after a short while your rod tip will again start showing positive nods as the fish continues to take the bait. Try to be patient, give the fish as much time as you can to really allow it to completely take the bait. Finally, when the rod is pretty much nodding constantly, now is the time to lift the rod and start reeling – not striking, just reel and keep on reeling. You will begin to feel some serious weight as you reel into the fish and, if you do feel it, just keep reeling and slowly raise the rod tip high reeling all the time, this sets the hook properly.
But DON’T drop the rod tip – keep it as high as you can, because you will then feel the fish fighting back and it will start bucking and shaking its head hard. The raised rod will absorb all of this and will react by bouncing in response, that is the satisfying bounce of a hooked big cod that skippers love to see and anglers love to feel!
Playing the fish to the boat is a simple matter of keeping constant and steady pressure, a smooth action by reeling in line when you can and allowing the big fish to bounce and take line when it wants to. Slowly and surely the cod will come nearer and nearer, it will tire as it nears the boat and is normally well beaten by the time it’s netted. Congratulations on your first 20-pounder.