Bluebird Days: T-Shirt Cod - The Fisherman

Bluebird Days: T-Shirt Cod

2018 8 T Shirt Cod Catch Main
This chunky 32-pound cod was landed in Buzzards Bay in July while targeting black sea bass.

No one who knew Tim Coleman would ever accuse him of being a fashion icon, but stranger things have happened. The former Fisherman editor’s trendy outfits always included the obligatory wool watch cap, no matter the season. The hat was pulled down to his ears during the frigid March outings when we chummed-up reluctant winter flounder as well as during the August trips when we probed the wrecks in Massachusetts Bay and around the corner from the Race into the Atlantic. During those summer cod trips, I took a few slides of him with a white T-shirt and the moth-eaten watch cap, where one of the group back at the Duxbury pier referred to our outings as T-shirt cod fishing. “Where the hell do you catch two totes of cod on an 80-degree August day?” he inquired, “Did you run off the edge of the chart?”

Little did they know that the 25-pound steaker packed in ice was taken on a wreck less than 7 miles from the harbor. Growing up in a near-shore fishing community we always considered cod fishing a cold-weather endeavor. Weather-permitting, the boats I sailed on usually began searching for cod in late February, but by March we were in hot pursuit of the barbel-snouted “winter king” on the nearshore grounds. The first two months usually produced very good fishing, but as soon as the tautog and winter flounder bite picked up those long steams for cod came to an abrupt halt.

Just a few years ago I was snapping wire with a 2-ounce bucktail and Otter Tail at Warrens Point off Sakonnet Point, RI, over a rocky bottom in 35 feet of water when I caught two red-belly cod in the 24- to 26-inch class that elicited more excitement than the 12-pound striper I had caught on the initial pass. It brought back fond memories of my youth when fishing less than a mile from that location we could fill a few wooden boxes with cod of mixed-year classes. That fishery has been little more than a fond memory until the past decade or so when cod have become less of a rarity in catches of anglers pursuing tautog or black sea bass.

2018 8 T Shirt Cod Collection
The author’s summertime cod gear serves double-duty when targeting deep-water cod and fluke and includes 30-pound braid spooled on a small Maxel reel matched up with a Tsunami slow pitch jigging rods. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)

On June 5 of this year my friend Larry was sea bassing in 65 feet of water off Westport, MA where he caught cod of 24 and 30 inches on the jig and feather he was bouncing for knuckleheads. The rod and reel cod fishery that we pioneered over wrecks in Massachusetts, Cape Cod Bay and into the ocean around P-Town has been shut down east of Race Point, but it has been improving or at least holding stable around the corner in the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound. In those areas we found that we could catch fish all summer long, and not just resident red-bellies. Fishing over wrecks and structure we caught handsome white and green cod in depths over 100 feet, and on one of our wrecks off Highland Light I caught a 48-pound cod on a jig on a sultry August morning onboard Captain Roger Jarvis’s charter boat, Jazz.

There are fish on that wreck today, but over the past two years the last two trips there found pollock in the high-teen to 20-pound class in residence preventing our jigs from making it to the bottom. Friends and readers have been telling us about the fantastic haddock fishing in MA and Cape Cod Bay where a by-catch of cod has to be released, and most of them are distraught that many of those fish will never make it back to the bottom. That is not conservation—it is waste; however, that is a discussion for another time.The grounds east of Chatham, particularly around Crab Ledge and the remains of the Sword have always been a good bet, and it’s also a location where the tuna boats catch bait to live-line for giants. The current magnet for cod fishermen is the broken bottom around Block Island, which includes Sharks and Coxes Ledge, as well as much of the broken bottom surrounding it. From the occasional cod caught during the pursuit of knucklehead black sea bass, jumbo scup and the occasional slab-sided summer flounder we began catching cod, occasionally in surprising numbers and sizes, and it only got better. From the status of by-catch there is now a directed fishery for cod that extends from Southwest Ledge off Nomans Island off the Vineyard to the most popular grounds around Block Island.

2018 8 T Shirt Cod Catch 2
Doubles are not at all rare, and adding some form of scent makes it easier for the fish to find the rigs. (photo courtesy of Booked Off Charters)

The preferred jumping-off place to the cod grounds is Point Judith, but some of my friends and readers prefer to make the hour to hour and a half steam by water rather than fight the beach traffic at the point on a summer beach day. Our trips out of Newport take a direct course from Seal Rock to the grounds, which is about 1-1/2 hours until we make our first drop. Most of the fishing is done with bait in the form of sea clams, which give off a distinct scent that the cod seem to love. On most days the bait fishermen outnumber the jiggers, but I prefer the iron clams in the form of a 6- to 8-ounce jig or the 9-ounce Zing jigs, but Norwegian as well as all types of home-brewed hardware get their share of hits.

Most of my fish come on the teasers tied 20 inches above the jigs with a heavy preference for the Tsunami squids in either 3- or 5-inch size. One of the hottest teasers for black sea bass is the Tsunami glass minnow in either the tinsel or silicone skirt, and cod have been glomming this for me during the past two seasons.

Much of the prime bottom provides easy fishing, and unlike some of the nosebleed depths to 240 feet off the Cape beaches, most of the productive grounds are in less than 150 feet of water. One of my favorite locations is the edges of the East Grounds where the bottom falls off from 60 and 80 feet down to 125 to 150 feet.

2018 8 T Shirt Cod Catch
Capt. BJ Silvia of Flippin’ Out Charters with a summertime double for the cooler including a market cod and mahi, both of which were landed within 30 minutes of Block Island.

The possibility of a grand slam is always on the table with cod, black sea bass, jumbo scup, pollock, mackerel and bluefish not to mention everyone’s favorite—the doggies. I purposely didn’t mention the opportunity for some great spin fishing for mahi, which are an occasional—although not reliable—resident of the area under high flyers and flotsam. One of our most memorable days was with juvenile mahi that were hiding in the shadow of a barrel dragging a green tarpaulin in its wake. Although it’s not unusual for mahi to move this far east, there are years when there are enough to make it worthwhile to search for them. Many years ago, I recall meeting a Fisherman reader at one of our winter shows telling me about catching just three cod then saving the trip with a dozen juvenile mahi. If it wasn’t for the photo he provided I would have chalked that up to a gross exaggeration.

Look for edges and broken bottom, concentrating along the contour lines, and if you are using bait any one of the aforementioned species, except the mahi, will take a bite. I avoid the big moons and screeching tides like the plague and fish on days when I can tend bottom in 120 feet with jigs of less than 9 ounces. I always use a lot of scent; it’s dark down there and a shot of squid, bunker or herring juice just might make your day. If you get out there when it’s 85 degrees on the beach and drift along with a fair southwest breeze you shouldn’t go home without supper or perhaps much more than you bargained for!

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