The mighty cod
December is here and the water and air temperatures are unseasonably warm, giving hope to diehard surf casters that a run of striped bass will happen before Christmas. Otherwise it won’t happen at all. All indications point to a strong possibility of a shot of big bass coming through — a large bait presence in the harbors and there are still plenty of squid around. There are small stripers in New Harbor, but the winter seal population has also moved in, which can make for tricky fishing. Imagine making some casts in the Coast Guard Channel trying to entice a bite from the 300-inch bass you saw following your plug and then have five large seals pop their heads up to watch as you… they are known to take hooked fish for themselves. Time to move to another spot. The squid jigging is consistent, however. Old Harbor, under lights, with prawn jigs falling slowly in the column is a sure bet. The other consistent fishing is for black fish (tautog) and cod — and both require a boat. We covered the how-to of black fishing in an earlier column, so let’s focus on cod, the proverbial godfather of fish.
A little history first.
Cod has been an important international commodity since 800 AD. The Basques located what are known as the Canadian banks that held vast amounts of cod, long before Columbus discovered America. This large cod population is part of what helped in the development of the entire Northeast coast, since we sit in what was once considered an epicenter for cod fishing. The Atlantic cod stock has since been severely depleted in European, Canadian, and American waters. Heavily regulated and politically volatile, cod stocks have seen signs of recovery only to be commercially overfished and depleted time and time again. This past summer the New England Marine Fisheries Council voted to open 5,000 square miles of Georges Bank previously closed to commercial Cod Fishing, yet Massachusetts voted to close the Gulf of Maine to recreational cod fishing saying the data proved stocks were severely depleted. Suffice it to say that cod fish has been and will always be a hotly debated fishery which has long lost its legendary status. There is a great book by Mark Kurlansky, “Cod: A Biography Of A Fish That Changed The World,” which details the fascinating history of how this humble, delicious, bottom-dwelling creature has influenced international markets, progress, and human folly — worth reading this winter.
Atlantic cod’s popularity is largely due to its palatability and nutritional value. The dense flaky white meat is mildly flavored and high in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamins A, D, and E. It’s one of the most versatile fish to cook with and it’s seen on menus worldwide. Adding to its popularity is how much fun it is to fish for cod with rod and reel. Although it’s considered a fall/winter fishery, you can actually catch cod year-round; you just need to travel further in the summer. Coxes Ledge holds cod year round, as do many of the deep water ledges and wrecks off Block Island. As winter approaches, the fish move closer to the island and can be caught a few miles from the island around wrecks like the Dodge Barge. The Francis Fleet out of Point Judith makes regularly scheduled cod trips targeting ‘Block Island Cod’ during the winter months. World record fish are over 70 inches and 100 pounds, but a 30 pound cod on rod and reel is considered a fantastic fish. Currently, the limits are 22 inches in size and 10 fish per day. Provided you have access to a boat, fishing for them couldn’t be easier.
Two methods are bait fishing and jigging. A bait fishing rig consists of 50 to 80 pound monofilament line with a heavy bank sinker (8 to 16 ounces) attached to the bottom with a double overhand knot. Spaced three feet above the sinker is the first hook (we prefer a 6/0 octopus or bait holder hook) attached via an 8-inch dropper loop, and two feet above that is the second hook. Add a 100-pound barrel swivel just above the second hook and you have a basic cod rig.
You can dress up the hooks with a piece of surgical tube if you like and add on hunks of clam or squid for bait. Jigging rigs consist of tying a diamond jig, four ounces or larger, to a four-foot length of fluorocarbon, which is then attached to the main line with a barrel swivel. The jigs come in all shapes and sizes but those that “flutter” the most are often more productive. You can add a teaser above to jig for added attraction, as long as you match the bait they may be feeding on — usually mackerel, herring, sand eels, and squid. A recommended rod and reel setup should be a 6-foor 6-inch to 7-foot 6-inch fast action conventional rod rated for 50 pound braided line, with a conventional reel (with a level wind feature) rated for 30 to 50 pound braid. Braided line is preferred due to the small line diameter, which is better for fishing in deeper water. Spool on your favorite 50-pound braided line and you’re good to go.
Catch ‘em up!