Offshore Cod Fishing Tactics

Offshore cod fishing tactics have really moved on. Long flowing traces with mackerel flapper or squid baits, jigging metal pirks up and down, or working two-hook killer gear have long since lost favour.
The 21st Century has seen lures and tactics become better developed to one of the most effective methods for targeting offshore cod, not only improving the numbers caught, but also increasing the chance of getting that coveted 20-pounder. Another factor is that inshore cod fishing, especially in autumn and winter, has lost its predictability, while offshore, on the deeper reefs and wrecks, the fish retain more traditional habitation and migration patterns, making them easier to target.

Cod begin to head off for spawning, depending on their region of residence, from late January, though sometimes as late as April. A percentage of the smaller adults move away first, leaving the larger female cod, often in the high teens of weight or more, to pack on bulk. Offshore wrecks hold big cod for the longest period, and any deep-water wreck is likely to have its resident cod.

It is these larger-than-average fish that cod anglers are most interested in, but the tactics employed will take average-sized cod just as well. The same tactics work for summer and early-autumn cod too, with a slight adaptation of technique when these tactics are applied to reef fishing for what are generally smaller sub-10lb fish.

Offshore Tackle
Even with big cod in mind, you need to fish as light as possible for maximum sensitivity, and to work the lure effectively. In most areas, a 12lb-class boat rod is all you need for wrecking. In very deep water and fast tides you might require a 12/20lb outfit - the upper English Channel coming to mind. Rarely do you need to go heavier, and doing so affects sensitivity and makes the lure work less effectively.

Greys GR75S Boat Rod
Match the rod to a modern, compact, size 15 multiplier reel, such as the Penn Fathom series or similar reels from other companies. Star-drag reels are fine, but a lever-drag has more finesse when adjusting drag settings mid fight.

Penn Fathom Lever Drag 
Regarding mainline, 30lb braid is ideal, but select the right type. A lot of braids naturally float, so when a lot of line is out and being worked at an angle with lighter lead weights, it can arc upwards in the middle, reducing bite sensitivity. You can partially combat this without using heavier weights to tighten the line by choosing a true sinking braid. This helps maintain a straighter line between the rod tip and the terminal tackle, thus improving bite detection and sensitivity. Small margins can really make a huge difference.

Some anglers tie braid direct to the terminal tackle, but it's better practice to use a short section of fluorocarbon to give you a visual space between the coloured braid and the terminal tackle. Some anglers say it makes no difference, however some top sea anglers will attest that their catches are far better when using a fluorocarbon leader. It is advisable to make your leaders about one and-a-half times longer than the length of the rod.  This puts some leader on the sea reel when playing a fish close to the boat.

Berkley Trilene XL Fluorocarbon
Over reefs and in shallower water, or wrecks with little tide run evident, then a bass spinning rod of about 8ft in length, a 4000-sized fixed-spool reel loaded with 20lb braid and a 20lb fluorocarbon leader is an ideal outfit for offshore lure fishing for cod. In very light tidal areas, you can often tie the leadhead direct to the leader.

Penn Spinfisher VI Reel
Rig Choice
The traditional flying-collar rig is still the most widely used for working artificials but is not useful for targeting cod. One of the best rigs to use is the Whitby rig. It's simple, cost-effective regarding tackle loss, and versatile across a wide spectrum of tactics. It is also quick and straightforward to make too. Take a large size 2/0 to 4/0 American snap link and tie it to your leader. To the same top eye of the swivel, tie on between 4-8ft of 20-25lb fluorocarbon. The lead weight is then attached to the link. Add your lure to the free end of the fluorocarbon, and you’re ready to fish.

Whitby Rig
Lure Choice
To catch a big fish, you need to work percentages by fishing for one bite at a time. Choosing to fish a bigger than average lure, say a rubber shad 10 inches or more, may eventually get big cod, but that could be on your fourth or fifth trip with fewer smaller cod caught. Shads in the 4-6in range, either the weighted  or unweighted with a leadhead added, are excellent. Some of the favourites include the weighted Shakespeare Devil’s Own shad and Berkley Ripple shad.  Fish those with an added leadhead.

Shad Selection
Clear-coloured shads can be deadly, as can a mix of red and clear, or black and clear. Black and red give a good silhouette when viewed by the fish against any surface light, but in deeper water, or if there is a hint of colour in the water, try brighter colours such as white, orange and yellow. Pink shads can also be deadly for cod.

Weighted sandeel patterns, such as Sidewinders and Berkley Power sandeels, remain effective, but sizes can be increased to 10in because they have a slimmer profile. Many top anglers favour the more modern, fat-headed worm shaped lures with a wobbling tail. These offer a better target area than the slimmer sandeels, and have that pulsing tail that gives off masses of vibration for the cod to 'feel' and chase.

A good one to judge others by is the Berkley Havoc Grass Pig pattern. Black, pink or pearl white are deadly. They work best with a 1oz leadhead attached. Make sure the hook is big enough to exit the body enough to give an excellent hook-up ratio.

Cod Behaviour
To make lures work effectively, especially, if you are targeting cod, you need to understand how the cod work around wrecks. Unlike pollack, cod tend to be in among the wreckage hunting and scavenging during the faster tide flows. As the tide eases, they move out on to ground slightly away from the wreck, especially vessels that have loose bits of wreckage strewn across a wide area.

Cod also stay relatively close to the seabed but will rise up off the bottom a short way to target shoals of baitfish, but that rarely exceeds 20ft, and usually, they are within the first 10ft of the seabed when feeding. They will follow lures up a little way as they attack, so a near-vertical retrieve that can be successful for pollack and coalfish is not going to work that well for cod.

In The Zone
To target cod, you need to keep the lure in the zone closest to the seabed for as long as possible. On the drift, the way to do this is to time your lure descent to hit the seabed just before the boat actually floats over the wreck. Pay a little line off, say 30 yards, more if the drift is fast, then click the reel back into gear and begin a steady slow retrieve. This brings the lure up over the wreck at a shallow angle and keeps it in the taking zone longer.

Yes, you are risking the loss of tackle, but if you want to hook cod, this is the only way to work the lure where the fish are located. As you come over the wreck, take note of anyone that snags up, then immediately drop your lure back down. This will likely put your lure on the ground just downtide of the wreck, and again right in among where the cod are likely to be feeding. A good skipper will be continually shouting out where you are in relation to the wreck, so keep listening.

Wreck Caught Cod
Hopping Method
On slower drifts, you need to shorten the fluorocarbon hooklength to 4ft or so, and when you feel the weight hit the seabed, lift the weight up roughly the height of the hooklength, so about 5-6ft. Now, just lift the rod tip up and down repeatedly a couple of feet to hop the lure just up off the seabed.

This up-and-down action is the killer tactic to find cod on wrecks and in among scattered debris. The cod invariably hit the lure hard as it starts to descend after a lift. Occasionally, release some line to keep in contact with the seabed and then readjust the height of the bottom.

Both tactics work on reefs too. Leaving the lure on the seabed, letting off plenty of line, then bringing the lure up at a shallow climbing angle is highly effective at finding reef cod. If the ground is very rough, then try the hop method, which is equally successful. If you vertically retrieve, you’ll only be fishing for a maximum 20 per cent of the time as you’ll be fishing well above the cod.

When you hit a fish, bully them up away from the seabed and the snags as quick as you can. These tactics take bonus big pollack, ling and coalfish too. When hopping the lure, it's sometimes worth using 40lb fluorocarbon to combat any debris or teeth abrasion, but even 25lb will land most ling unless it’s a lump as most are lip hooked on lures.

Whether it's the retrieve or hop method, both are proven tactics that specifically target cod. They are relatively simple to fish and highly effective. In each case, the key is to judge the drift speed of the boat in relation to the wreck or rough ground and keep the lure working in the near seabed hit zone for the maximum amount of time.

This article was brought to you in association with Sea Angler Magazine.