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Fortunately, fisheries management and conservation measures have led to a slow but steady improvement in codfish stocks.
It’s been one heck of a year with the entire globe suffering from a virus that has affected all of mankind in some form or another. Despite the chaos, by mid-June, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed charter and open boat captains to run their operations, providing they adhere to stringent regulations which included masks and social distancing. Thank goodness the maneuver continues to be successful with families and fishermen alike enjoying one heck of a summer run of stripers, fluke, sea bass and porgies.
Then as the fall season moved into full swing mode, many of the party and charter boats headed for the rocky deep waters by Block Island filling buckets and coolers with jumbo sea bass, silver platter size scup and an exceptional by-catch of market size green cod ranging between 6 and 15 pounds. The quantity and quality of the cod comes with welcome arms, which bodes well for December and January.
Thankfully with the return of the winter kings, several open and charter boats will be on the chase until the end of December. Going forward from January, the Viking Fleet will keep the party going. Therefore if you like to put a few baccala into the cooler, now is the time. Before heading out, you may want to familiarize yourself with some suggestions that will surely assist in putting a few extra fish in the box.
A Good Showing
Fortunately, fisheries management and conservation measures have led to a slow but steady improvement in codfish stocks. In fact, the combination of stringent regulations acted in several states and the abundance of small cod southeast of Block Island the past couple of years point to positive signs. However, at times when the codfish seem to put on a disappearing act, it’s not due to a lack of fish, but rather their winter migratory path confluence by the Labrador Current, which brings cold water from the North Atlantic, and the Gulf Stream. These currents make the region home to a wide variety of species.
The perfect example for the Labrador Current are the waters southeast of Block Island, such as Coxes Ledge, which is where the water remains cold year-round. With the exception of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Montauk is as close to these fertile grounds as you can get. The clash of the currents make the water temps rather comfy for a good duration of December and January. In addition, the bottom contour of these grounds are a codfish dream with rocks and ledges only they and other groundfish can love, compliments of the glaciers during the Ice Age.
Get Ready For The Party
With the cod fishery on the incline once again, party and charter boats are cashing in on the bounty with eager anglers hitting the rails in the wee hours of the morning in hope of old whiskers. Most of the boats depart Montauk Harbor by 5 a.m. I suggest calling the boat you plan to fish \or check their scheduling a day or two in advance for the exact sailing times as it may be as early as 1 a.m. if the cod are biting best just before dawn.
Also check for sailing dates since some boats may sail daily, while others may only sail three or four days a week. Most of the boats provide all the necessary tackle if needed. However with COVID 19 still a serious threat, you are responsible for bringing along your own mask and for reserving your spot at the rail since space is limited with social distancing.
Staying Warm And At The Rail
First off, staying warm is critical to maintaining concentration when fishing in cold or inclement weather. If you dress properly, you’ll feel the tale tug of a cod on your line rather than feeling the cold to your body. 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 consideration is to wick moisture away from your skin to the outside of the fabric so it can evaporate. The moisture wicking process is relevant in case you begin to sweat and it dries on your skin or saturates your clothing, your ability to stay warm will be severely hindered. Thick thermal underwear 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, they can get quite 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. Lastly the outer layer’s main purpose is to keep the wind and cold out, which comes in the way of waterproof PVC raingear. Outer Layer water resistant breathable tops and everything you need to keep your head, hands and feet warm and toasty can be found online and can be delivered by the time cod season is in full swing.
Tackling Cod And Strong Current
Fast tapered graphite rods in the 6- to 7-foot range equipped with conventional reels in the 3/0 to 4/0 class filled with 30- or 40-pound braided line are best suited for the task that awaits. Braided line is essential over monofilament these days due to the braid’s sensitivity and strength. In addition, you may have to deal with strong currents which the thin diameter of the braided synthetic will help cut through the force of the current which will allow you to reduce the weight of sinkers or jigs, making it easier to feel the most subtle hits in deep water with a strong current. Bottom line: you’ll appreciate the extra sensitivity that will increase hook ups versus swings and missing, which often results in strikeouts.
While braided line has many advantages over mono, the material is highly visible which can be a negative when pursuing codfish since their eyesight are as sharp as a pencil and they can at times be quite line shy. Therefore, a 30- or 40-pound fluorocarbon leader approximately 8 feet in length tied to the main line of braid via an Albright Knot should eliminate any shyness some cod may be feeling. For some reason I can’t explain, I find that an 8-foot shock leader of 30-pound pink Ande mono often produces better that a leader of fluorocarbon. Some food for thought that can make a significant difference. Hence, it must be pink and it must be Ande, which is all I know that has worked well for me over the years.
Rig Or Jig
Many anglers believe that since hi/low rigs and sinkers are the standard practice when fishing for the winter kings, that they spend their lives along the bottom. The fact is cod will chase their quarry better than halfway up the water column to appease their appetites. When the captain’s fishfinder paints a picture of cod chasing bait way off the bottom, it’s time to bust out the jigs and tubes. Chrome or gold-plated hammer finished diamond jigs between 6 and 12 ounces, and a Mann’s strawberry Jelly Worm or a red or green surge tube teaser on a dropper loop approximately 2 feet above the diamond jig has been on fire off Block Island during the winter months. Savvy anglers employing this tactic often add a green or blue skirt with silver specks onto the diamond jig hook experiencing an enormous difference in their catch. Don’t discount smooth finish diamond jigs since there are many days when the cod will switch off to smooth jigs for an hour and then decide they want a hammer finish to jig an hour later. Should you decide to go this route, it is paramount to understand that diamond jigging over deep water rockpiles and wrecks requires experience and skill since most fishing will be done on the drift and can get quite costly quickly.
Should you spare no expense, Shimano’s Butterfly Flat Side Jigs are codfish candy, and should there be cod under the boat, you’ll be the first to know. Both the 280 and 325 grams (10 to 11-1/2 ounces) in green/silver and blue sardine are best applied directly to the leader, jigging them right off the bottom. Be advised these jigs in inexperienced hands fishing rough, rocky bottom can be lost rather quickly. And at $18 a pop, things can get ugly rather quickly. Try to keep your line as close to straight up and down as possible to avoid, or at least minimize, the snags on the bottom. The closer your line is to 90 degrees to the water, the less likely your hooks are to find something to hold onto.
Should the tried and true hi/low rigs that has stood the test of time be more your forte, a simple rig consisting of a 5/0 baitholder hook slipped through a 4-inch Dropper Loop 4 feet and another of the same 2 feet above the sinker. I will rig the hooks onto the leader, which allows the bait to lay in a natural manner with minimal twisting avoiding spooking off any weary cod.
Dress To Impress
Clams is the bait of choice on most of the open and charter boats Fishermen that apply two or even three whole clams on a hook at one time is wasting bait and causing the cod to be weary since the blob will cause the rig to spin and tangle. Instead, take a whole clam, cut it in half, leaving the belly on both pieces. Thread half the clam up the lower hook and onto the leader with the belly facing down, then take the other half of the clam and impale it on the top hook only once with the belly dangling from the hook. This presentation is effective whether you are drifting or when anchored.
If you prefer to elude the clam bait, the 6-inch Gulp Alive Swimming Mullet in assorted colors will works its magic. Simply thread the Gulp on to the hook, keeping the curly tail dangling. The pro 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 extra cold days. Besides, the cod find the Gulp quite appealing.
Hopefully on your next cod trip, you’ll find this feature resourceful, maybe even going home with a pool winner. Remember, a good day of fishing is not judged by a cooler full of fish. Please practice self-restraint by taking enough for dinner and releasing the rest for another day.