Being well prepared and heeding the advice from a collection of veteran skippers should go a long way toward making you a better cod fisherman.
A cheer can be heard along the coastlines of New England, New York and New Jersey as the ever popular and tasty winter king continues to flourish in the chilly waters of the Northeast. The apparent abundance of cod through late fall and early winter has generated excitement among “dye in the wool” cod fanatics, and also for a new generation of beginners looking to master the skills necessary to put their share of cod into the cooler.
While some anglers prefer to hop aboard their own vessels and do their own thing when it comes to cod, undoubtedly jumping aboard one of the party and charter boats sailing throughout the winter up and down the Northeast Coast is not only fun, it’s safe. Mother Nature is notorious for throwing us a curve here and there, and the unpredictability of the weather makes hopping aboard a party or charter boat with an experienced skipper a prudent choice. Sure there are picture perfect days of mild weather and calm seas, but there are times when those calm seas can change at a moment’s notice, despite what the forecast says. Even on fair weather days, it can get uncomfortable out on the ocean if you are not properly equipped for the occasion. And while this cold weather fishing may not be for everyone, choosing the right day can make for a pleasurable and fun experience that can go a long way toward breaking up the monotony of winter, not to mention providing a supply of tasty cod fillets.
With all of the above in mind, I spoke with some of the best party and charter boat captains in the Northeast, skippers with decades of experience when it comes to winter codfishing. I picked their brains and got their take on the best jigs, rigs, baits, methods, tactics, and best of all, some of the best tips and pointers that will certainly benefit any cod fisherman, whether a beginner or a veteran sharpie. We also put together a “Think outside the Box” for items we may forget to bring along that will make the day more pleasant and comfortable.
Cory Blount, son of the legendary Frank Blount of the Francis Fleet, Point Judith, Rhode Island: Block Island and south of Block Island is where the Francis Fleet spends most of the winter fishing for cod, targeting the 40- to 160-foot depths, all depending where the baitfish are stacked up. Anglers who choose to fish clam baits on a basic double hook cod rig do so using 5/0 to 7/0 octopus hooks, sending them to the bottom with bank sinkers between 8 and 12 ounces. During moon tides, sinkers to 24 ounces may be needed to hold bottom. While these rigs seem to be standard, the main attraction that has been out fishing the basic rig at a 5 to 1 ratio is simply adding a Mann’s 9-inch Jelly Worm right to the hook to mingle with the clam bait. Strawberry, grape, white and motor oil green are all hot colors and are a must if you want a limit of cod and a shot at the pool. For those who prefer to jig, breakout AVA chrome or gold plated jigs with a hammer finish between 8 and 10 ounces (up to 16 ounces on the moon tides), and a Jelly Worm teaser on a dropper loop about 2 feet above the diamond jig. Fishing the jigs can be productive throughout the entire season. Savvy anglers employing this tactic who add a blue or green plastic skirt on the hook of the diamond jig are catching more and bigger cod on the jigs. While most of the terminal tackle is available on the boat, Cory recommends bringing along your own in case they are out of stock on some of the hottest gear.
Capt. Russ Benn of the Seven B’s Fishing Fleet Point Judith, Rhode Island: Capt. Russ fishes cod year round but from January through April, surgical tube teasers above a diamond jig, and as trailers on the jigs, provide a distinct advantage when it comes to catching fish. Red or green tubes are favored over all else by Capt. Russ. While many customers opt for the jigs and others choose to fish clam baits, the outright deadliest tactic to keep you knee deep in cod is the use of Shimano Butterfly Flat Side Jigs between 280 and 325 grams (10 to 11-1/2 ounces) in green/silver or blue sardine. Capt. Russ likes tying these jigs directly to the leader and working them right off the bottom. The only drawback to the jigs is fishermen who don’t know how to read and fish the bottom can lose more than their share of them and at $18 a pop, things can get pretty expensive rather quickly. However if loot is not an issue or you have that knack to feel a rocky bottom, then you can expect to fill a cooler in no time, providing the fish are there.
Capt. Tom (Cod father) Cusimano of the charter boat Sea Wife IV from Viking Landing Montauk, New York: Here is a skipper with several decades of fishing experience under his belt and has quietly been filling the fish box for his charters with everything from porgies and sea bass to sharks, tuna and cod, with an emphasis on cod during the winter months. Capt. Tom is one of only a few charter captains who sail throughout the winter in search of the winter king. He noted that first and foremost, the way you bait the hook makes all the difference in the world. Globbing two or three whole clams onto a hook at one time is wasting bait and will make cod wary since that much bait on the hook will cause your rig to spin and tangle. Instead, Captain Tom prefers to take a fresh or lightly salted whole clam (stay away from the heavily salted clams) cut it in half with belly connected to both pieces. Thread half the clam up the hook and into the leader with the belly facing down, then take the other half of the clam and impale it on the hook only once with the belly dangling from the hook. Tom likes to use this on a two hook cod rig with a pair of snelled 5/0 bait saver hooks extending away from the leader about 6 inches. He does this by using stiff 60-pound nylon to snell the hooks. The captain will also separate the main line of 40- to 60-pound test to the 80-pound mono leader with a barrel swivel to help keep the rig from spinning. Tom uses this set up for both drifting and when anchored. If you decide to charter the Sea Wife IV, just bring your lunch, Capt. Tom and his crew will have all the goodies you need to fill the box with tasty fillets.
Capt. Ken Higgins of the Captree Pride sailing from Captree State Park, Babylon, NY: With nearly 50 years of fishing experience strapped to his name, Capt. Ken likes to start with a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader approximately 8 feet in length tied to the main line of 40-pound braid using an Albright Knot. An 8- to 10-ounce bank sinker connected to a sinker loop on the bottom, with a dropper loop waist high connecting a 5/0 octopus hook directly on the loop. This works well when the current is moving at a moderate pace. When the tide slows, use a 5/0 octopus baited with half skimmer clam attached to a 12-inch leader and a standoff with six wraps. Cast your rig as far as you can away from the boat, lock the reel and get ready. Another option that can be very effective in place of clam bait is a 6-inch Gulp! Alive Swimming Mullet in either pink or nuclear chicken works well at times. You may want to bring along some glow, pearl white and new penny Gulp! as standbys. The advantages of using this set up is that you don’t have to contend with dogfish nearly as much as with a clam baited hook, and you don’t have to keep taking your gloves off to re-bait on those really cold days, and the cod find the Gulp! quite appealing.
Capt. Howard Bogan, of the open boat Big Jamaica in Brielle, New Jersey: The Bogan family has been a staple to the New Jersey fishery for more years than I have been alive. If there is one thing they surely know, it is how to fish deep water wrecks and how to pluck lots of monster fish off them with codfish being one of them. For those deep water drops, hi/lo rigs with 5/0 to 7/0 hooks with clams are simple and get the job done. If you would like to get fancy, pink, red and blue skirts with silver specks seem to have an edge. You’ll need 16 ounces of lead to get to the bottom. Should you want to jig, Capt. Howard strongly suggests that you know what you are doing. It sounds simple enough but diamond jigging on the deep water wrecks is not that simple and requires lots of experience and skill. You’ll fare much better if you stick with clams and rigs. However, if you are adamant about using jigs, the captain suggests bringing along 12- to 16-ounce hammer finish diamond jigs and adding one of those blue skirts with silver specks to the hook as anglers have been scoring exceptionally well with the add on. Lastly, Captain Howard recommends bringing coolers with ice. Although the air temperature may be cold, it doesn’t do much good for the fish in the coolers. Nothing beats a slush bath of ice and seawater when bringing those fish to the fillet table especially if you bleed your catch before placing them in the slush. Your fillets will be like night and day.
Dressing for the Occasion
Staying warm is critical to maintaining concentration when fishing in cold or inclement weather. If you dress properly and utilize the gear modified in today’s market, you won’t notice the weather, instead you’ll feel the telltale tug of the cod that are waiting for your bait down in the deep. Your base layer is your first level of clothing, which serves two purposes; the first is to insulate your body’s natural heat and keep it from escaping; the second is to wick moisture away from your skin to the outside of the fabric so it can evaporate. The moisture wicking process is very important because if you begin to sweat and it dries on your skin or saturates your clothing, your ability to stay warm will be severely hindered. Under Armour thermal underwear comes in varying thicknesses. The undies and a good pair of insulated socks make for a good base layer. Speaking of socks, since your feet do not move much while fishing, it is very easy for them to get cold. As with the base layer, the moisture wicking capability of your socks is essential to staying warm. A good option is to have a thin liner sock that wicks moisture away and then a thicker sock to insulate your feet.
The mid layer is meant to keep your natural body warmth in while keeping the cold out. For me, the mid layer is usually a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. I prefer polyester sweatshirts rather than cotton because polyester has much better water resistance than cotton. Under Armour makes many good options for more water resistant sweatshirts. The outer layer’s main purpose is to keep the wind and cold out. That is where Grundens All Weather gear comes to play with waterproof PVC raingear, outer layer water resistant breathable tops and everything you need to keep your head, hands and feet warm and toasty. Their full line of products is just a click away at www.shop.grundens.com.
Keep Your Tummy Happy
While probably not what you would expect on this list, having a full belly is more important than you might think during a cold day on the water. Your body produces more heat when digesting food, especially foods that are high in proteins, fats, or complex carbohydrates. Obviously, if your body is producing more heat, you are warmer, it’s as simple as that. Also, be sure to keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water, some juices and a hot cup of coffee never hurts. Keep the hard stuff and spirits at home for the proper occasion. A long day of fishing on the Big Pond is not the place to celebrate for all the obvious reasons. If medications are part of your day’s routine, by all means bring it along. If you are prone to seasickness, my suggestion is to pay your doctor a visit, and ask if he/she could prescribe Scopace patches. The patch is placed behind the ear the night before sailing. I have been told that this patch works great without the drowsiness effect suffered by the over the counter products, which I’m told is not always effective.
Well the next time you set foot on one of the fine open or charter boats listed below, be sure to follow their advice. The tutelage they gave us for 15 minutes of reading, took them years to master. Look at it as a good head start, and I’m sure limits and pool winners like the pro’s will come a lot easier than if you just turned the page.
|Sea Wife IV||Capt. Tom Cusimano, Viking Landing, Montauk||631-680-1025|
|My Joyce III||Capt. Ken Hejducek, Viking Landing, Montauk||516-641-2138|
|Fin Chaser III||Capt. Keith Williams, Liar’s Saloon, Montauk||516-643-0940|
|Viking Fleet||Capt. Paul Forsberg, Viking Dock Montauk||631-668-5700|
|Jenglo||Capt. Mike Boccio, Orient by the Sea, Orient Point||631-323-2618|
|Captree Princess||Capt. Rob Andresen, Captree State Park||631-404-6817|
|Capt. Al||Captain Tom Weiss, Point Lookout||516-623-2248|
|Super Hawk||Capt. Steve Kearney, Point Lookout||516-607-3004|
|Starstream VIII||Capt. Mike Wasserman, Freeport||516-623-5823|
|No Time||Capt. Nick Savene, Oceanside||516-889-1968|
|Capt. Dave III||Capt. Dave Paris, Sheepshead Bay||917-251-2628|
|The Francis Fleet||Capt. Frank Blount, Point Judith Rhode Island||800-662-2824|
|Seven B’s Fleet||Capt. Russ Benn, Narragansett, Rhode Island||401-789-9250|
|Booked Off Charters||Capt. Tony and Capt. Wade Point View Marina||401-741-2580|
|Big Jamaica||Capt. Howard Bogan, Bogan’s Deep Sea Fishing, Brielle||732-528-5014|
|Jamaica II||Capt. Joe, Bogan’s Deep Sea Fishing Center, Brielle||732-458-3188|
|Paramount||Capt. Mike Bogan, Brielle||732-528-2117|
|Gambler||Capt. Bob Bogan, Point Pleasant Beach||732-295-7569|
|Dauntless||Capt. Willy Egerter, Point Pleasant Beach||732-892-4298|
|Big Mohawk||Capt. Chris Hueth, Belmar||732-974-9606|