These tides and the next set in early January give the main cod shoals their last chance of a big feed before they start to think about making little cod and heading offshore. The tides fall just right this year starting to build in height on Christmas Day, and from the 27th of December right through to the 5th of January 2002 they are just about perfect.
The top areas will be the East Anglian beaches, the Kent Coast, Lancashire and Cumbria, and to a lesser extent the Bristol Channel and the Yorkshire Coast where catches peak just after Christmas but the cod linger here a little longer.
Those of us that enjoy a little Christmas codding will be watching the weather patterns over the holidays hoping for a decent blow to stir up the sea, colour the water and bring the cod in. Itís the Southwest to Northwest wind that does the business on the west coast, but in the east, then the southeast, east, northeast and even a northwest wind in certain areas can bring the fishing to a boil.
NIGHT OR DAY?
This can be key if youíre fishing shallow water on the East Coast beaches. Daylight fishing is pretty successful if youíre fishing permanently coloured water such as is found in the Bristol Channel and along the Holderness Coast. Outside these areas where the sea can be clearer, then nighttime will always give you your best opportunities.
Ideally you need to select a venue where the low water starts to flood actually in darkness. Tides that begin their inward flood during daylight can often fish poorly compared to those with the full flood tide through darkness. Cod are wary fish and are often spooked by daylight that penetrates through shallow water. Poor clarity of water and a night sky as the new tide starts are the best ingredients for cod.
STUDY THE GROUND
It pays to study the ground you will be fishing before actually going to fish. Look at the venue over low water. The obvious thing to do is to locate gullies that run the length of the beach, any deep scoured out holes, but especially areas where patches of rough ground or reefs appear. These are the key areas to fish.
It also pays to watch the surf in daylight. Note any areas where the surf tables are closer inshore. These indicate that there is deeper water closer in here and it can be a cracking place to fish. While the smaller codling up to 3lbs will happily swim in very shallow water just like bass, bigger cod over 5lbs tend to seek out the deeper areas, and locating these by checking the surf tables give you a much better chance of sizeable fish, without a drop in the numbers of smaller codling caught.
Donít be put off by weed in the water. Its inevitable that rough weather will add weed to the water and make fishing difficult, but the presence of weed is often evidence that cod are present too. Look along the upper shoreline and pick out areas where weed has washed up in specific areas. These wash-ups will also hold food and therefore cod as the tide floods in.
This depends on the venue youíre fishing. Without a doubt baits at 100-yards or more will tend to catch you more cod. I have friends on the Holderness Coast and they insist on fishing no more than 60-yards out. They catch lots of fish too. Iíve fished up there and found that I catch just as many fish as they do but at very long range which is something I need to do on my home Welsh beaches.
I suggest hedging your bets. Fish two rods. One at about 60-yards out, and the other as far as you can put it. In this way you cover all chances and can vary your casting distances to locate the cod feeding hotspots.
Do the same if youíre only fishing one rod. Try as far out as you can to start, but if no bites come, and then start dropping in shorter and shorter until you find the fish.
Use tough 5 to 6oz beachcasters, which youíll need to combat the rough conditions. If youíre fishing clean beaches you can match these to 6500 sized multipliers filled with 15lb line. In very rough seas full of weed and maybe fishing over snaggy ground, then change the reel for a tougher 7500-type multiplier filled with 20 to 25lb line.
An extending rod rest is another good ally in bad weather. By fully extending the legs, plus raising the butt cups as high up the rear leg as they can go, you can place your rod tips high and the line above the waves to minimise weed problems.
You need consider only two rigs.
The most consistent is a simple paternoster rig using an 18-inch hook snood with two Mustad Viking 4/0 hooks on, these rigged one behind the other pennel style. The baited hooks need clipping either in to a bait clip at the base of the rig or a Breakaway Impact lead to streamline the rig and bait during the cast and to maximise casting distance.
The other rig is a long and low rig designed for medium range casting. This uses a 36-inch long hook snood connected to a bead and crimp trapped swivel positioned close above the lead link attachment, again with the two Viking 4/0 hooks. A second inverted bait clip high up on the rig sees the snood passed over this top clip, then brought down and clipped in to the bottom clip. This rig casts well, but when the clips release, the hooks and snood on the long trace hugs the seabed and acts like a bolt rig when the cod takes the bait. At close to medium range this gives the best presentation and hook up ratio.
Black and blow lugworm are essential. These are the killer cod baits during the Christmas period. And make sure you use big baits. A whole large black lug with three or four blow lug at the bottom is not too much for a 5lb cod to swallow. A worm cod bait needs to be about 6-inches long, but 10-inches is not too much if there are double figure fish about.
Ragworm can work well in some areas, less in others. Worth carrying some for tipping off, but Iíd stick with the lug myself.
Donít be afraid to use combination baits. Worm tipped off with razorfish splints down each side and bound with elastic thread is a cracking bait. Worm tipped off with mussel is just as good. I also scour the shoreline after a blow hoping to find the big deep-water queen cockles. These prove a brilliant tippet bait to worm as these get broken up offshore during a storm and the cod feed eagerly on them.
One thing I always make sure to carry is some squid. Cod just love squid! You can either use a strip on the end of the hook below the worm, though Iíve had cod pull at this and fail to get the hook in their mouth. I prefer to either use the head of the squid as a tippet bait on the bottom hook, or put squid strip splints down either side of the lug bait and use elastic thread to hold it there.
Another good bait, especially if there is crab activity, is to fill a squid body case with mussel or worm, then bind the whole lot up with bait thread. The squid is tough and fairly resilient to the crabís attentions, but that scent and juice is still pouring out to bring in the cod.
HITTING COD BITES
One thing about cod is that they donít muck about when it comes to eating. The typical cod bite is a double thump down on the rod tip followed by slack line, as the lead is pulled free from the seabed. Donít trust on the cod hooking themselves though, still grab the rod, wind in the line until you feel the weight of the fish, and then lift the rod high to fully set the hook.
The other type of cod bite is just slack line. This occurs when a fish takes the bait, but swims in towards you creating yards of slack line. Again retrieve line until the fish is felt then raise the rod to strike and set the hook.
Cod fight by shaking their heads, which thumps on the rod tip. When they approach shallow water they will run parallel with the surf and use their weight against the push of the surf.
The danger time is when you have them right in front of you. It's best to wait for a good surge or wave and allow this to lift their weight and wash them ashore. You can help with this by keeping the line tight and walking them back using that wave, which dumps them on dry sand as it recedes.
To lift cod quickly before the next wave comes, either put your fingers inside the cod's gills and lift the fish, or use the index finger and thumb to grasp the cod inside and outside the lower jaw and pull it to safety.
ONE LAST THING
Donít go listening to the doom mongers that there arenít any cod. There are cod to be caught over the holidays wherever you live. Sure North Sea stocks look grim, but mates on the Yorkshire Coast are taking fish up to 6lbs fairly regularly, though with a few blank days in between. The Kent and Hampshire Coast hasnít had the best of years so far either, but then the weather has been mild and a sudden cold snap over Christmas can change everything almost overnight.
In contrast the Bristol Channel has been fishing very well with lots of fish to 7lbs, and double figure fish showing well too. The Lancashire and Cumbrian beaches are also pretty hot if you pick your mark well.
Get out there, give it a go, and good luck to you all!