• Published:February 5, 2018
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While the Northeast is heading into the deep freeze, hardcore saltwater hounds are heading offshore.

You have to choose your fishing days carefully this time of year, but when you can get out there, the bottom-fishing grounds on the offshore wrecks and natural, hard bottom reefs are awash with fat cod.
From Massachusetts on south into New Jersey, schools of cod hold up anywhere from 15 to 65 miles off the coast. The fish will typically feed in waters in the 40- to 50-degree range during the winter and situate inside and around shipwrecks and debris fields in 120- to 180-foot depths, but will also seek refuge down in waters more than 200 feet deep.

Larger “whale” cod of 30 to 50 pounds tend to call older wrecks with plenty of marine growth home, while smaller five- to 15-pound fish will migrate from wreck to wreck.




DIG THE JIG

“The amount of bait in the water determines what tactics we use,” says Capt. Joe Huckmeyer, a veteran cod fishing expert who runs the Helen-H and fishes Coxes Ledge, Block Island Sound and George’s Banks back when the area was open to fishing. “When herring, mackerel, and sand eels are abundant, we move right for the jigs to bring them up.”

Huckmeyer uses jigs that mimic a large baitfish profile such as a 12- to 20-ounce Crippled Herring jig. These lures are designed with a flat profile that slashes through the water like a falling herring or mackerel, and they fall to the bottom quickly. Vike-style jigs or somewhat similar diamond jigs reflect more sunlight with their three- to four-sided profile and are best bounced off the seafloor. The crew on the Helen-H outfits all of their jigs with 6/0 to 8/0 Siwash hooks. The go-to colors for trailing tails include iridescent colorations in mackerel colors, fluorescent green with silver or bright orange with silver.
The cod-jigging rig consists of a 200-pound Spro barrel swivel tied to the first tag end of a section of 48-inch, 50-pound monofilament leader. A dropper loop is tied 20 inches down from the swivel. On the dropper, an eight-inch red twister tail is fixed to a size 6/0 Baitholder hook. The jig is tied on directly via an improved clinch knot.

“If baitfish are scarce, then a raising and lowering of the rod tip at a steady pace in a two- to three-foot swing is the more productive method to jig. Tapping the jig off the bottom will also attract interest from cod,” said Huckmeyer. “When the ground fish are actively feeding, coming up onto the deck spitting up bait, then a slow retrieve method is implemented where the jig is dropped down, and the reel is cranked in about 10 turns slowly, then the jig is dropped back down and repeated.”

BAIT BITE

While jigs are standard weapons on the natural reefs up north, in Jersey, the bait bite reigns supreme.

“We mainly have sandy bottom here, so we have to target wrecks sitting in the empty space to find cod,” says Capt. Denis Katliarov of the Russian Roulette based in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “Clams are hands down the number one bait. Get the freshest clams, shuck them out of the shell and chum with the broken shells.”

When the current is nonexistent, a big ball of clam will work on the hook, but if there is some current running, hook a triangular-cut clam tongue lanced through once on the hook for a streamlined presentation. “You don’t want the bait to spin. It should sit pretty still in the current,” said Katliarov.

Other baits that can work well for cod include mackerel, herring or bergall strip baits. Katliarov will generally find a good piece of structure and anchor above it, shifting around to work the edges and pieces of the wreck. “Don’t be afraid to slide 20 or 30 feet off a wreck. Many times, cod will hang in packs and a little shift can make the difference of getting bites or not,” he says.

Cod bait rigs start with a 150-pound Spro Barrel Swivel, a 48-inch section of 50-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader tied with three dropper loops spaced 18 inches apart and fixed with 7/0 baitholder hooks. An eight- to 16-ounce bank sinker is attached to the tag end with a loop or overhand knot.

Some anglers will dress up their hooks by adding beads, tubes, small skirts or curly grub tails from three to six inches long with red, orange, pink, purple and bright-green colorings. Most times, adorned hooks out fish bare hooks.

For rods, many crews will use a 6.5- to 7-foot boat rod attached to a conventional reel such as a Shimano Torium or TLD 25. In this fishery, you may want to opt for a star-drag reel with a fast retrieve that can hold enough line to fish up to 250-foot depths. You won’t need a lever drag, but you will need to load up with 50-pound braid. 

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