Winter Codfishing

The 1999-2000 inshore winter codfishing has been very slow. The season, which usually kicks off with the Thanksgiving holiday, was delayed due to the very warm fall weather keeping the seawater temperatures abnormally high. Some offshore trips were producing tuna as late as early January and striped bass were still present along the deeper edges of Ambrose Channel. However, when the winter season finally began it came with a vengeance that quickly dropped the inshore water temperatures.

Checking the reports from Long Island to Cape Cod the only consistent codfishing seems to be up in New England with boats making the long run to either Great South Channel or Georges Bank (when they can get a break in the weather). The fish have been running 5-15 pounds on bait and jigs with an occasional fish over 20 pounds.

Despite the slowdown in codfishing compared to years past, I still enjoy a day on the winter sea when the weather conditions are favorable. I usually like two to three days of relatively calm weather before venturing out. Also, I usually pick a day that is between the full and new moon to have slower tides. I make the long trek to Montauk and fish on one of the charter boats or on the Viking. The Montauk boats fish the many rocky areas from Cartwright to Block Island, and on favorable weather days, possibly Coxes Ledge.

<H3>Tackle Selection

<H4>Tackle has significantly improved over the years since I started codfishing. As a rod builder, I am constantly playing with new rod blanks. Also, the introduction of the synthetics non-stretch lines, like Spiderwire and Fireline, has had an impact. I like using the synthetic lines for codfishing since I get better bite detection and can fish with lighter sinkers. I use composite blanks from Lamiglas, Loomis and Seeker. They are very durable, light-weight and can stand up to the synthetic no-stretch lines. You can buy factory produced composite rods that are very good. I like a 6.5-7 foot rod rated from 20-50 LBS with a medium tip. A rod like this will give you the bite detection and still have enough power to crank up a steaker from deep water. 100% graphite rods are great for fishing mono, but do not have the foregiveness to fish the synthetic lines.

The reel should have a relatively low speed retrieve of less than 4:1. A Penn 112H Senator or Newell 332-3.6 are some of my favorite reels. Spool up the reels with 30 LB Ande mono backing and 150 yards of 50 LB non-stretch line as a top-shot. Set your reel to about 8-10 LBS of drag.


<H4>To properly rig up, I first add approximately 25 feet of 50 LB mono as a shock leader to the synthetic line, joining the lines with a double uni-knot. At the end of the mono shock leader attach a heavy-duty black barrel swivel.

I like to use either Gamakatsu or Owner 6/0 Octopus style hooks snelled to 60 LB stiff leader material. You should buy the leader material in pre-cut 48 inch sticks instead of a spool of leader material. I keep my hook leader 12-inches long.

I usually fish a single hook for cod, especially over wrecks to avoid hang-ups. If you are fishing relatively open bottom, and the fish are running 5-15 pounds, than you can fish a two-hook rig. To fish one hook, take a 5-foot piece of 50 LB mono and bend over the line about a foot from one end to create a loop. Place the loop from the snelled hook alongside the leader loop. Holding the two loops firmly in one hand, take the long end of the leader line and tightly wrap ten turns around the two loops. Then take the long end and pass it through both of the loops. Anchor the hook, and slowly begin to draw up all three ends simultaneously. Before you draw it tight, moisten the knot, than draw it up snug. The resulting knot should have the snelled hook standing off the shock leader with the knot pointing the hook leader up. This is called a "stand-off" knot and will prevent the hook from wrapping around the main line as you drop to the bottom.

If you are going to fish a second hook than repeat the process about 30 inches further down. When your second hook is attached, then tie a sinker loop. Remember to tie an overhand knot just above the sinker loop as a breakaway knot should you get snagged in the bottom. Attach a sinker from 10-16 ounces and you are ready to fish.

I pre-tie my terminal rigs at home and store them in zip-lock bags. You don't want to be re-rigging on a winter sea when there is a hot bite going on. The pre-tied rigs will quickly put you back into the action.

<H3>Bait and Fishing Techniques

<H4>The typical bait of choice is fresh skimmer clam. However, codfish will take other baits such as fresh mackerel, conch and crabs. I can remember a late fall blackfish trip to Montauk fishing Cartwright Grounds six miles south of the lighthouse. We were fishing whole green crabs when a thirty-five pound codfish inhaled the bait. On another trip I bagged a forty-five pound cow cod using a strip of fresh mackerel fillet on the advice of the captain.

When using bait remember not to load up your hooks. A half of a large clam or a whole clam is sufficient to attract any codfish if it's hungry. Don't make "shish kabob" and string many pieces of bait up the hook. You are wasting bait and will significantly cut down on your catch.

Well, you are on the fishing grounds, rigged, baited up and ready to start fishing. The captain has maneuvered the boat into position and signals everyone to drop their lines. Wait!!! Wait for everyone else to get their lines down. When the boat settles into the position, then drop your line. The first lines going down will probably spook the fish and also cause a few tangles. By waiting a few minutes you will reduce the chance of getting tangled and the fish should have regrouped under the boat.

Your objective is to keep your bait still on the bottom. Adjust your slack in the line to compensate for any wave action. A codfish bite is very distinctive. They do not play with the bait but give a pronounced tug. You will also feel bergall bites. Just wait them out. If there is a hungry cod around he will soon find your bait. When you feel a distinct tug, take up your slack and point the tip of your rod at the water. Wait for the good tug signaling that the cod has taken the bait and is trying to swim away with it. A simple, but firm, lifting motion while simultaneously reeling is all that is necessary. Remember, there is virtually no stretch in the synthetic lines and the hooks should be razor sharp.

Let the fish initially thump against the reel drag and the rod tip. Then start reeling him up. If it is a good fish, over 30 pounds, you may initially have to just apply pressure and let him pull against the drag and the rod tip. Do not tighten the drag. Try to move him about pump him up in short strokes about 25 feet off the bottom and out of the structure. This is the most important part of the battle.

When you get him up 20-25 feet he may make another run for the bottom. Don't try to stop him, but let him work against the drag and the rod tip. Start to bring him up again after that run. Cod give a good account of themselves, and a big cow can give you quite a battle. However, they begin to decompress and get the bends on the way up. When this happens you they will feel lighter so reel like crazy until you feel the weight of the fish. At this point just reel him up with a slow and steady retrieve. When you begin to see the fish coming up call the mate for the gaff. Don't try to pull his head out of the water. Follow the mate's instruction as he gaffs the fish.

the boat and let it drop to the bottom. Then engage the reel and quickly take up ten turns and then take five slow turns. If you get no hits than drop the jig back to the bottom and repeat the process until the jig is well under the boat. Then reel up and start over. For yo-yoing, cast the jig and tube uptide and let it sink to the bottom. Then engage the reel and bounce the jig off the bottom several times. You should get 2-3 bounces depending on the speed of the tide. When you can't feel the bottom, reel up a repeat the process.

<H3>Other Tips

<H4>The gitzit tube is also very effective when bait fishing. Place two round beads over your high-hook leader and then thread on the tube. Bait up the hook with a half a clam. Slowly bounce the rig off the bottom to give the tube some action.

When fishing clams, make sure you have some of the soft belly of the clam on the hook. Also, change your bait frequently when the fishing is slow. The clam will wash out and lose its color and smell.

If the fish are running small or the fishing is a slow pick, try using a smaller baitholder hook, size 4/0. Bait up with the soft belly and the stringy neck of the clam. If the boat is not crowded, go up in the bow and cast your line away from the boat and slowly let it settle back in the tide.