Winter Cod Fishing

The whole cod fishing experience drives anglers throughout the winter months. Strong winds, hard running tides, cold weather, fishing in the dark and catching a fish that could weigh 20lb+ make’s it a unique experience.
Making the most of that experience requires effort and although factors such as casting ability and rigs can affect your catch rate, being in the right spot at the right time has the biggest impact. My sessions are planned well in advance, although initially the planning is a bit loose. I’m quite lucky to work shifts and although the work periods are quite intense the benefit is several days off in between. Initially I’ll keep an eye on catch reports on the web, from friends and from coastal tackle shops. By keeping this information flow going you soon build up a picture of the local coastline, knowing what areas are fishing well and what’s not. Fish can be very localised on occasions, moving in to specific areas to feed, then moving on to others as the food availability changes.
Over a period of time you can build up a comprehensive picture of your local coastline and almost predict where the fish will be at certain times of the year. But local, up to the minute information is very important and being part of the angling ‘grapevine’ ensures you know what’s happening. Getting to a venue and finding out you ‘should have been here yesterday’ is bad enough, but worse is finding out you should have been here two weeks ago!
Having selected a venue the next criteria is tide. In general cod move closer inshore during the bigger ‘spring’ tides that coincide with full and new moons. Also some venues fish better on flood or ebb tides. Around my coast I am generally happy fishing either tide as it’s the movement the fish seem to respond to. However your regular checks into the ‘grapevine’ should tell if either tide is fishing particularly well. Some beaches definitely respond better to one or the other but sometimes one tide will be better for a period then the complete opposite. Only the fish know why, but it’s important to find out.
With venue and tide selected you can plan look to what day. I watch the weather constantly. Changes in pressure have a big effect. Fish don’t like high pressure and as this often brings settled, sunny clear days it’s even worse. Under those conditions night time is likely to be better. Basically I’m looking for a rough up. Cod like movement in the sea and plenty of colour.
Your fishing location will determine which winds work best. On the Norfolk / Suffolk coast S or SW winds works well in Suffolk but not so well in Norfolk. A wind from NW to SE can be good anywhere although any wind with east in it may not work initially. After a day or two of easterlies the fish seem to feed again. Basically perfection is a strong wind, rough sea then wind dropping or swinging to come off the land and the sea left with a nice swell and plenty of colour. Then daytime can be as good as darkness. Being there as the sea calms can be difficult, but try to get there as soon as you can.
Having arrived at your chosen venue the next choice is fishing position. If you can go midweek it should be a lot quieter and you should have a good choice of spots. At weekends the popular venues get busy and you may have to make do with where you can get in. If I have to fish at busy times I try to go at times when it’s a bit less busy or get there early to get the spot I want.
All beaches have better areas. Sometimes these are obvious such as headlands or deep water areas. Again the ‘grapevine’ should give you the information to make a start. However over a period of time you will find the better areas and then narrow it down to specific spots. Always keep your eyes open. See where others fish and what they catch. Matches are really good for that. With anglers fishing only yards apart along a stretch of beach the better spots soon show. You don’t need to fish the match, just take the wife for a walk along the beach and see for yourself. Of course don’t let her know you are doing it for your fishing but just taking her out for a nice walk! Throw in lunch and that’s more brownie points for the next few fishing trips! Try to take in as much information as possible. Weather conditions, tide state, how far they cast, what bait they use, what trace set up, anything you think could matter. All these things can and do make a difference. It’s no good fishing a hot spot at 150 yards if the real hot spot is only 80 yards out. Or on the flood tide if the fish only move there in numbers on the ebb tide.
Finding hot spots yourself can be done but it’s harder. If the beach is shallow and the tides moves a long way in and out then features such as rocky areas, shingle patches, banks, gullies are revealed. These can be feeding areas or highways the fish pass through and can increase fish concentration and catch rate. If the tide doesn’t move far then banks and gullies will show during periods of rough weather if the water is shallow. On deep venues it can be very hard as you never really know what’s beneath the waves. When retrieving you can sometimes feel the resistance increase as you pull up a bank and then decrease as the sinker drops into a gulley.
Often the initial steep slope of the beach gives way to a flatter profile below the low tide mark. Food often collects here and fish will move in quite a tight band. Finding the right range is important. Headlands or ‘points’ along a beach sometimes give access to deeper water or increased tide flow and are often good places to try. By fishing as often as possible in varying conditions you will soon assess a beaches potential. However be aware the sea bed is always changing and a severe storm can see last year’s hot spot no longer hot. Even yesterday’s hot spot can be useless if the fish have moved on!
However, generally the better you plan, the more informed you are, the better your catches will be. It’s not easy but in the end worth it. A good catch taken by thought and planning is immensely satisfying. Good luck!