When it comes to catching cod in the dead of winter, the waters off of Montauk and Block Island are tough to beat.
With good numbers of cod mixing in with sea bass and blackfish late in the 2016 season, things looked promising for a good winter run of cod off of Long Island’s East End. From late December into January, there were some very good catches being reported, with some slow days interspersed between the good ones. It was enough to inspire me to make the drive to Montauk.
As I grow older, it’s not usually the winter cold weather that bothers me as much when out fishing as the biting wind that frequently accompanies it. For this reason I attempt to schedule my cold weather cod fishing around weather windows that not only provide a break from winter winds, but also those biting cold days. Those days of above freezing temperatures seem more common recently and it beats trying to fish when temperatures plunge into the 20s or worse. Being a former airline pilot usually gives me pretty good insight into the weather patterns and an inkling of when a break in the frigid cold and wind might occur.
I looked at the forecast for a period in January and it appeared this might be the case, so I called the Montauk-based Viking Fleet and made a reservation onboard the 140-foot Viking Starship for a trip that departed the dock at 4 a.m. I met my friend, Marty Dowd there. The cod reports from the area southeast of Block Island had been excellent, with better quality cod being landed than seen in quite a while.
After arrived I greeted Marty, grabbed a spot at the rail and stowed my gear. I next headed to the wheelhouse to speak with skipper, Captain Carl Forsberg, whom I have known for many years. He informed me that the fishing had been excellent; the best he has seen in many years, with lots of fish landed that tipped the scales in the mid to upper teens, and a few hitting the 20-pound mark. This got my blood flowing because it had been seemingly countless years since I had seen codfish that size being taken. Whether this was due to overfishing or ocean warming is still unknown, but it appears that the cod are definitely making a comeback on the East End. Perhaps this will be followed by a similar occurrence on the western end of Long Island? Only time will tell.
During the approximately two hour ride to the cod grounds, I chatted with Mavros, the good-natured gentleman who runs the Starship’s on board galley where you can get some tasty freshly cooked chow. He’s also the person that sets up the rigs for people like me, who don’t have a full array of codfish terminal gear. As an aside, he is also one of the best codfish anglers I know. I had brought along two outfits. The first was my Shimano 8-foot medium-heavy Terez rod fitted with a Shimano Talica 10 reel with a 6.2 to 1 gear ratio.
The other was my Shimano 7-foot Terez stick with an Accurate BX-400. Both reels were loaded with 50-pound Power Pro braid to which I had attached a 10-foot top shot of Momoi 50-pound Diamond mono using an Albright knot. Both rods are lightweight, but powerful. I like the Accurate for jigging because it has a lower, 4-1 gear ratio, which translates into moving the jig slowly, which is important in the frigid water.
The other setup is a longer rod to, hopefully, keep me further away from the boat when bait fishing, which translates into fewer tangles. Mavros happily set me up with a pair of hi-lo Owner 7/0 Octopus hooks, with a light colored jelly worm teaser attached to both. I simply added skimmer clams to the hooks, which are provided by the boat, along with a 12-ounce sinker. If you don’t have a set-up of your own, you may rent one onboard.
We arrived at the cod grounds just as the eastern sky was slowly brightening. My “guesstimate” on the weather turned out to be pretty good. With only a slight southwest breeze Capt. Carl was able to drift over a few open bottom spots that had been productive a few days earlier. The first drift prior to sunup was kind of slow, with only a few keepers hitting the deck, along with some smaller throwbacks. On the next drift, however, the fishing really lit up, along with the sky, with frequent cries for the gaff heard around the boat. On my first drop to the bottom I could feel smaller fish, probably bergalls, pecking at the clam and when I reeled back in they had stripped me clean.
I immediately rebaited and quickly sent the rig down again. This time, I felt the distinctive thumping of a cod as it devoured the clam. I waited a few seconds and set the hook and a few moments later had a nice 12-pounder alongside ready for mate Steve’s gaff. The next drop immediately produced another almost-identical cod. With the arrival of the daylight hours also came the arrival of many other boats and the boat traffic apparently gave the cod a case of lockjaw.
After speaking with Capt. Steve, Jr. who was running the Viking Fivestar and fishing nearby, Capt. Carl sounded the horn and off we went to try some other select spots of his. On our next stop, I decided to give jigging a try, as Mavros had set me up with a 10-ounce hammered jig with a Gulp! teaser tied about 3 feet above it. I dropped down and after a couple of slow cranks off the bottom had a nice hit, landing a cod of about 10 pounds on the Gulp!. I tried the jig a few more times without success, so made the switch back to bait. Capt. Carl made a couple of more moves and I wound up the day with seven nice cod up to 14 pounds, but a number of anglers bagged their limit of 10 fish, with the pool going to a fish just shy of 20 pounds. The three mates, including Steve, Capt. Sarah and Capt. Steve D. were busy filleting fish all the way back to the dock.
If you plan on heading out on one of these trips, remember that it’s winter and that means the weather can, and does, change quickly. Dress accordingly, including warm winter boots. It’s better to wear too much than too little. And don’t forget to take care of the hard working mates who rely heavily on tips to earn a living.
|SAILING FOR WINTER COD
Viking Starship: 631-668-5700 – www.vikingfleet.com
Fin Chaser III: 516-643-0940 – www.myfinchaser.com