There is a condition amongst anglers that afflicts many with uncontrollable anticipation, anxiety and excitement… Now I’m no doctor but the diagnosis is a simple one… Cod fever!! A very real condition that at a certain time of year compels anglers to completely reorganise tackle boxes, tie fresh rigs, stalk the internet for deals on bait and to be up and about at ungodly hours when most folk are tucked up in a warm cosy bed. 

So, what is it about this fish that makes some anglers completely loose their mind at the very hint and murmurings that ‘the cod are in’?

Tradition would suggest that the excitement is all to do with the cods fine eating qualities and the very British love affair of Cod and chips. Indeed, it’s hard to think of something more British than a Friday night takeaway from the ‘Chippy’. And perhaps it’s these fine, traditional table qualities that has elevated the cod to such a prized level. And of course, once something achieves a pedestal type status the desire to catch one takes on more meaning than just hunter gatherer, it starts to command that trophy status, reward and even fleeting hero type fame… for in the modern era there is nothing that gathers more ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on social media platforms than a picture of a whacking great cod! 

Looking back into the history books and indeed, not that long ago either, it was very possible for boats to head out and for every angler aboard to go back with several cod for the table. These days however are sadly but a memory for the moment and in recent years the nickname ‘unicorn’ has been adopted for the cod. That said there are still parts of the country where it is possible to target the cod with a very real chance of success, the Bristol Channel being one where from Autumn to the Spring numbers of cod will be caught and this is the area where this article will have its focus.

It is the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel where you are likely to see the best numbers of cod such as the Cardiff and Portishead regions where typically the cod are caught in sizes from 2lb to low double figures and then with the areas around Minehead and Watchet likely to see less numbers but the very biggest of all the cod with some fish exceeding 30lb’s. 

Catching a ‘Unicorn’

I have Heritage Charters based and running the charter boat ‘Lorna Doone’ in the historic port of Watchet marina on the Bristol Channel. Here, the months of October through to March will see opportunities to catch cod with the months of November, December and January being the very best chance to land the biggest of all cod.

The shallow tidal waters see large cod venture in very close to the shoreline. But exactly where they’ll be is never a certainty. So as is the case with every form of angling there are no guarantees but it’s all about giving yourself the best chance. Something that will set the consistently successful angler apart from the anglers with occasional success.

Give yourself the best chance

Starting with bait… There’s a couple of ways to look at which bait to use. Quite simply, do you want to see a cod of any size on your hook or are you after that beast that’s going to ‘break the internet’! I think it’s always very important to be clear in your own mind what it is you want from any days angling. If you just want bites and that’s what success looks like for you it may be the case that you approach the day in a different way to if you decide that success for you is holding out for that fish of a lifetime. For myself in my personal angling when targeting cod, it is my choice to seek out one of the very biggest of all cod that have come to our waters for the winter. So, my choice of bait is squid and indeed virtually all my cod exceeding 20lb’s have been caught on squid.

Whole squid or double squid arranged on a single 7/0 hook tied to a 4ft length of 80lb mono on a simple running ledger.Using this approach, I know what I’m getting myself in for. I’m giving myself the best chance of a big cod but at the expense of catching smaller codling. Now, if I was to target and give myself the best chance of catching a few smaller codling, and of course there’s nothing to say a big one wouldn’t take the same bait, I would choose to use much smaller worm baits, Fresh lug, blacks, frozen lug or ragworm all work well. With these worm baits I again would use the same running ledger arrangement, but this time scale down the hook size to around a 3/0. Certainly, I recall one day very vividly when fishing with a friend we hit into a shoal of codling of around 2lb-5lb, he was using fresh lug and I stuck to my guns with double squid. He managed to bag numerous codling and I didn’t catch one on my squid tactics. But for me, I was still happy for I was fishing for a large specimen and I was giving myself the best chance of that. Remember, your days angling is what you want it to be so be clear to yourself otherwise you’ll end up in a muddle with a lower chance of any sort of success.

A simple but effective bait.

Locating the cod

As mentioned earlier, in the Bristol Channel a lot of our cod are found extremely close to shore. For they are big mouthed feeding machines. Turning up through the colder months and gorging on the abundant shore crabs, worms and shrimps until they are fit to burst. So as a starting point when heading out of port you can assume that your first chosen mark will be tight to the shore line, in a steady flow of tide and in depths of between five to twelve metres as a rough guide.Next to consider is the type of ground. Where will the cods ’favourite food likely be? They love shore crabs so its always worth being in and around some sort of broken ground where there will be a plentiful supply of crab. 

Failing that lets look at the other options of ground to fish over namely sand, gravel and mud. Sand is probably the least likely area to pick the cod up from although that said if there’s an area rich in food a cod wouldn’t turn it down. I sometimes say,“just find feeding fish and you’ll find a cod”. To evidence that there have been times when we’ve been having some hectic winter ray fishing over a patch of sand and then out of nowhere up pops a big cod. Clearly the allure of whatever the rays were feeding on in the sand was too much of a temptation for the greedy cod to not join in. Gravel is something that’s always worth a try over if there’s been no success so far on a trip purely to just try a different type of ground and then there’s the mud. 

Cod have the nickname mud pigs in our area and that almost tells you all you need to know. For there have been some years where the greatest number of cod are taken over the muddiest of sea beds. These cod are likely feeding on the worm in the mud.So, here’s a question I shall pose for you when it comes to my success at catching… is it the fish I’m looking for? Or is it the food?

And finally, when it comes to giving yourself the best chance, be prepared for the time of year that you will be targeting these cod.

It will be during the colder, darker months of the year so a head torch will help you for baiting up and playing fish even on the brightest of illuminated decks.It may also sound obvious to dress for the weather but so many don’t. A cold angler is never an efficient angler. Layer up, invest in something like a flotation suit or thermal over suit, a face covering, woolly hat, thermal boots and some gloves. A pair of jeans and your run of the mill jacket might be ok stood in the sheltered marina but when out at sea faced with even the gentlest of winter breezes just will not do! Now get out there and be the one to ‘break the internet’ with one of those elusive unicorns… They’re out there, you’ve just got to give yourself the best chance.

A haul of good sized cod
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