Winter Cod: A Word From the Pros - The Fisherman

Winter Cod: A Word From the Pros

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With stringent regulations and commercial restrictions implemented for the past decade, it’s safe to assume that the codfish fishery, which at a time suffered a major collapse due to commercial exploitation, has done a pretty good job of rebuilding. Each winter hardcore anglers suit up for a few cold days on the Big Pond, and head for their favorite open and charter boats hoping to tangle with some of the cod that reside on the offshore banks, ledges and wrecks during the winter months. Although most cod veterans are well seasoned, no dog is ever too old for new tricks. Therefore before heading out for your next codfish adventure, you may want to keep reading as some of the most seasoned cod veterans on Long Island, share their many years of expertise that is certainly worth its weight in gold if you are looking to sharpen your own cod catching skills.

Capt. Tom Cusimano of the Sea Wife IV in Montauk is one of only a few charter captains that sail throughout the winter in search of the Winter King. He noted first and foremost, the way you bait your hook makes all the difference in the world. Anglers who glob on two or three whole clams at one time are wasting bait and causing the cod to be wary, since the blob will cause the rig to spin and tangle. Instead, Capt. Tom prefers to take a fresh or lightly salted whole clam (stay away from the heavy salted clams), cut it in half with belly on 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 connect 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. He prefers this choice when drifting. He also recommends chumming on the drift by smashing and doling whole skimmer clams, shell and all. Once the chum is set up in the zone, repeated drifts and continuing to chum will often produce an aggressive and steady bite as the cod get drawn to the chum. The captain also adds that it is imperative to have the reel in free spool while drifting, using your thumb to keep pressure on the spool. This technique allows the angler to feed out line as the boat drifts over drops, or lose touch of the bottom when the drift is faster than 1-1/2 knots.

Capt. Ken Higgins of the Captree Pride based in Captree, likes to start with a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader approximately 8 feet in length tied to a main line of 40-pound braid via 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, rounds out his rig. This works well when the current is moving moderately. When the tide slows, use a 5/0 octopus with a 12-inch leader and a standoff with six wraps. Capt. Ken likes to bait with a half skimmer clam and then cast as far as you can away from the boat. Lock the reel in gear and get ready. If you prefer, instead of clam bait, the 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 a stand by. The advantage of using the Gulp! 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. And, the fact of the matter is that cod find the Gulp! quite appealing.

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Capt. John Capuano of the Shinnecock Star in Hampton Bays states that 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. 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 the AVA chrome or gold plated jigs with a hammer finish between 8 and 10 ounces and a jelly worm teaser on a dropper loop about two feet above the diamond jig. Fishing the jigs is productive during the entire season. Savvy anglers employing this tactic and adding a blue or green plastic skirt on the hook of the diamond jig are also experiencing an enormous difference in the catch, both in better quality and quantity.

The captains of the Viking Fleet in Montauk agree that while many customers head for the jigs and many choose to fish clam bait, the most effective and outright deadliest tactic to keep you knee deep in cod is the Shimano Butterfly Flat Side jig between 280 and 325 grams (10 to 11-1/2 ounces) in both green/silver and blue sardine. Most of the captains prefer to tie the jigs directly to the leader and jig them right off the bottom. This technique is not recommended for fishermen that have a difficult time feeling and fishing the bottom since they could lose a bunch 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. Ron Onorato of the Capt. Ron in Montauk suggests when fishing those deep water drops, hi/lo rigs with 5/0 to 7/0 hooks with clams is a simple yet effective approach that will get the job done. If you want to get fancy, pink, red and blue skirts with silver specks seem to have an edge. Should you want to jig, Capt. Ron suggests using 8- to 12-ounce hammer finished diamond jigs and add one of those blue skirts with silver specks to the hook as anglers have been scoring exceptionally well with the add on.

Capt. Al Lindroth the Capt. Al out of Point Lookout says anglers are going to be playing with mixed size cod, therefore anglers are going to need rods with some back bone and the reels to handle the pressure when fishing in 80 to 140 feet of water. Braid is much preferred over mono, both for its sensitivity as well as to minimize the weight you will need to hold bottom. You want 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 the bottom. As for rigs, the old tried and true high/low rig with a healthy supply of red, white and chartreuse plastic twister tails and jelly worms, which should be added to your clam baited hook, is the way to go. He also suggests bringing along some hammer and smooth finish diamond jigs from 6 to 10 ounces fitted with twister tails. The skipper advised that you need to be flexible since there are many days the cod will switch to the natural bait for an hour and then decide they want jigs. An hour later, they may want the real thing again.

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Dress Appropriately

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 tell-tale 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 saturates your clothing, your ability to stay warm will be severely hampered. Under Armor 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 against the cold.

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 Armor 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 into 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.

The next time you set foot on one of the fine open or charter boats listed below, be sure to follow their advice. The advice they shared here took them years to master. Look at it as a good head start, and I’m sure limit catches and maybe even a few pool winners will come your way this winter.

Capt. Al, Captain Tom Weiss
Point Lookout • (516) 623-2248Captree Princess, Capt. Rob Andresen
Captree State Park • (631) 404-6817Laura Lee Fleet, Capt. Neil Delaney
Captree State Park • (631) 661-1867Sea Wife IV, Capt. Tom Cusimano
Montauk • (631) 680-1025

Shinnecock Star, Capt. John Capuano
Hampton Bays • (631) 728-4563

Starstream VIII, Capt. Mike Wasserman
Freeport • (516) 623-5823

Super Hawk, Capt. Steve Kearney
Point Lookout

Viking Fleet, Capt. Paul Forsberg, Viking Dock
Montauk • (631) 668-5700


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