When sea fishing in Norway is mentioned, many people still think of fishing with heavy rods and heavy pirks for big cod. Although this rather crude way of fishing can be quite effective, fishing with rubber shads and much lighter tackle is most of the time not only much, much more effective…
…but offers also much, much more fun! And besides cod there are many other interesting species to be caught in the extremely rich waters of Norway.
March & April are famous months for the huge numbers of big ‘skrei’ cod, which are coming down from the Barents sea to spawn in the rich waters of Northern Norway and attracts thousands of anglers each year. Find the right spot and one big cod after the other is hauled aboard.
Fat 20 kg+ and even 30 kg+ fish are no exception in this period. Sounds nice and easy, but the downside is that fishing is done quite often in rough (and cold) conditions, days are still short and apart from (very) big cod there is not much else to catch.
By the end of May, the last ‘skrei’ cod have spawned and have returned to the Barents sea, but for me this is when my favourite period starts in Norway! From June till August you have almost 24 hours of daylight and you can fish whatever time of the day it is.
You can also expect all kinds of species: cod of course, but also coalfish, pollack, haddock and halibut! You can catch all of these on light spinning tackle too. September and October are the prime months for halibut, huge coalfish and big pollack.
With a spinning rod of 40 to 120/150 gram, a medium sized spinning reel and 18 to 25 lb braid, you can catch the biggest of cod, coalfish and even big halibut of over 50 kg if you are patient and your reel has a smooth clutch… and enough line on the spool! You can fish even lighter with a 20-80 gram rod and 13 to 15lb braid to have even more fun.
But that depends how deep you have to fish and how strong the current is. The big advantage of fishing with light braids is that you can use much, much lighter jigheads or pirks than when you would be fishing with 30/35 lb braid for instance. This will help a lot for a natural presentation.
Talking about presentation: many people still think that fishing for cod and halibut has to be done close to the bottom like we do in the shallow North sea amongst old shipwrecks and rough ground. However, often the opposite is the case in the deep water of the fjords and the sea around the rugged coast of Norway. Most fish here prey on schools of herrings or small sei (coalfish) and they like to hang out at various depths using the whole water column, often also close to surface, especially towards dusk.
Find the baitfish and you will find the predators who will hang around these huge schools. Sometimes they hang out below, but more often on the side or above these baitfish schools. If you fish just close to the bottom, as a lot of people still do fishing with pirks and bait, you will not only miss the majority of the fish, but most likely also the bigger ones!
The great advantage of fishing with rubber shads, instead of the more traditional way with metal pirks, is that you can fish much slower if needed and that you don’t need a lot of current to present your bait in an attractive way. Another great advantage is that besides fishing vertical with shads, you can also cast out a shad and fish it back diagonally to the boat and in this way not only cover much more water, but also present your bait in a much more natural way.
The tail of shad will work with just a little speed or current, swinging enticingly from left to right all the time. If you are drifting (either with the wind or current) you can even let the shad hang at a certain depth and it will still work for you. You can even place a rod in a rod rest as a kind of ‘sleeper rod’ and you will be surprised how many times your shad will be attacked. This is something which works very well for both big cod and halibut.
Actually, I should say go & stop! Reeling in your shad at a certain speed – depending on the mood/activity of the fish and different species – and then stopping if for a couple of seconds is often a deadly effective way of enticing a strike. Fishing with a heavy metal jig, this is impossible, getting most bites when your pirk is fluttering down on the fall.
But with the tail action of a shad, it is even more attractive when it stops swimming, like a wounded fish. A lot of times you feel first some tail bites, thinking it might be small fish nibbling, but when you suddenly stop the retrieve, the shad is often completely engulfed by a big fish. A sudden speed up, or the opposite, slow down the retrieve a bit, can also be very effective. A bit like the now very popular ‘slow pitch jigging’ technique.
Best time to target big fish is when the tide is running hard, which will make the fish much more active. But a big tide will cause problems to control the drift when the wind is also blowing in the same direction. The boat will drift too fast which means that you will have very little control over your lure and that you can’t fish a hotspot for a long time. Not something you want!
To control the drift, big drogues (drift anchors) are an essential attribute to slow down the drift and we often use two, or sometimes even three drogues with big winds/strong current. Most rental fishing boats in Norway are very good ‘fishing machines’, well equipped with good (4-stroke) engines, fish finders, GPS, chart plotters etc., but they don’t come with drogues so you will have to bring them yourself. But is it one of the most important items if you want to be successful! It can make or break the fishing some days.
The other important item is of course your fish finder/chart plotter unit, something you cannot do without, even though sometimes you think it doesn’t matter as there seems to be fish everywhere in the rich waters of Northern Norway. The fish finder/chart plotter not only shows you where the schools of baitfish are and interesting features like underwater plateaus or steep ledges, it also shows you the way you drift and how fast.
More often than not it is crucial to find the right spot where the bigger predators are waiting in the current for an easy meal. Sometimes upstream from an underwater plateau or slope, sometimes downstream, often at a certain depth, where they like to hang out at that moment. Finding the right spot and the right drift will result in many more fish.
All the species mentioned above are very good to eat, and of course it doesn’t do any harm if you take some fish to your cabin for a nice evening meal, or even home deep frozen… But killing all fish you catch is a waste when you catch so many fish and catch & release is so much nicer. Fishing from a small boat you can often land fish by hand, without using a gaff, so a fish can go back unharmed.
Catch & release of coalfish and halibut is no problem, even when they have been hooked in deep water. Even returning cod is possible if you take care during the fight. Let a fish deflate in the last stages of the fight so it can release air from its swim bladder, and it will swim back unharmed, no matter how deep you hooked the fish. In the crystal clear cold water it is such a nice sight to see a big fish swim back to the depths!
In the next two articles I will focus on the main species of interest for the dedicated spin angler: cod, coalfish, pollack and…halibut.