Kent Coast Sea Fishing Compendium

Cod (Gadus morhua)

Studies on the reactions of cod to objects and tastes (scents in water) have been made. A series of tanks were used into which different particles or juices could be introduced to cod of between two inches and three foot in length.

Cod were shown to detect food in mid-water by sight and rarely missed any moving food. Even large cod could see tiny particles of food as small as one millimetre in diameter, but four millimetres was about the smallest size to be taken consistently (nine times out of ten). Large pieces of food, laying on the stones on the bottom of the tank, were also detected by sight but small pieces were found by taste. The cod swam along near the bottom of the tank with its barbel and the tips of the long, thin pelvic fins brushing the seabed. When any of these three antennae, all of which are well armed with taste buds, touched a piece of food, the cod backed up and swallowed it.

No doubt haddock, pouting and poor cod use their barbels and pelvic fins in a similar way. The taste of many different seaweeds, invertebrates and fish could be detected. Food hidden beneath stones or gravel was also found by smell/taste and was uncovered by digging, which involved the fish lifting away stones in its mouth or rolling them away. A group of fish would cooperate in digging to uncover food, though food buried under sand was not detected. The feeding behaviour of one fish attracted others to the area. This is a good indication that, as in the case of flounders, attractor spoons and flashers really are worthwhile in cod fishing.

It is of some interest that in very cold water of less than 2°C cod are not able to open their mouths widely and this limits the size of food taken.

The response of cod to chemical attractants in water has also been studied. They used a circular tank in which a current could be produced in either direction. An extract of squid in sea water was used as an attractant. In the absence of food or introduced squid extract the fish swam steadily downstream. The cod would pick up a piece of squid placed on the bottom of the tank but ignored the little pipe through which squid extract was to be introduced. Squid extract was trickled in upstream of and behind a fish, which had just swum past the pipe. On its next circuit the fish sensed the extract, turned upstream and swam towards the pipe, searching from side to side and occasionally darting forwards. If it passed the pipe the fish turned and swam or drifted downstream until it again detected the scent. The mouth of the pipe was usually located in less than forty seconds.

There is some evidence that other members of the cod family use a similar searching pattern in the sea, drifting with the tidal currents until the scent of food is detected and then turning upstream and following a scent trail. This method of search would be particularly important at night and in deep or dirty water.

Cod has also been the subject of study to determine odour preference. In order of preference the three most attractive odours were:

  1. conger eel skin
  2. the Nerine worm, and
  3. water used to rinse human hands.

The Nerine worm (Scolelepis squamata, Bristleworm, also known as Nerine cirratulis), is found in the mid to lower shore of exposed beaches, mainly in sand or sometimes muddy-sand in vertical burrows lined with mucus. Well-draining beaches of coarse to medium grained mobile sand, generally on exposed coasts, support populations of burrowing amphipods and the isopod Eurydice pulchra. The degree of drainage appears to be a critical factor in determining the presence of polychaetes; only Scolelepis squamata appears to be capable of tolerating the well-drained sediments of this biotope.


Extracts of spider crab and butterfish were the most strongly repulsive to the fish.

Examples of the food found in small and large cod:

  1. small cod - shrimps, swimming crabs, porcelain crabs and butterfish (despite the fact that the scent of these fish were repulsive to the cod used in the experiments)
  2. large cod - Norway lobsters, sea mice and whiting

Cod is not a conservative feeder and its feeding habits present opportunities for experiment with both visual and scent\taste attractants. Generally when fishing from a beach you get better results in the dark when cod fishing. The cover of darkness draws cod into shallower water in search of their prey. They tend to like broken ground where crabs, prawns and smaller fish live, using rocks and weed as cover.

The season is dependant on the water temperature, but runs from September to late February, starting later and finishing earlier in the south of England.

Most cod beaches are steep shingle banks and fish best around a big tide, trying to find the currents and use them to spread the scent of your bait is important to attract cod. After a big storm and a high tide are the best conditions for catching cod from the shore. The storm has scoured the food and there are strong currents to draw the cod into the beach.

Lugworm is a preferred cod bait - thread lots on the hook to create a big scent trail. Another favourite bait at the start and end of the cod fishing season is peeler crab. Other baits include fish, squid and mussel.

The best beach casting rigs for cod are a 2 hook paternoster which can be clipped up or down with size 3/0 or 4/0 hooks or, if fishing very rough ground or the cod are at distance from the shore, use a very simple pulley rig which handles a heavy powerful cast from a beach caster.

Different members of the cod family take different foods - haddock feed largely on brittle stars and hoppers, poor cod and pouting feed almost exclusively on crustaceans, and whiting and hake eat other fishes.

"The Art of Angling, Rock and Sea Fishing: with the Natural History of River, Pond and Sea Fish" (1740) Richard Brookes at page 138 to 142

Of the Cod or Keeling

The Cod, in Latin Asellus major vulgaris, is a fish of about three foot long or upwards; those that are small are call'd Codlings. It has different names from the places where it is taken, and from the different method of curing it: hence it is call'd Green-Fish, Iceland-Fish, Aberdeen-Fish, North-Sea-Cod, Stock-Fish, Poor John and Barrell'd-Cod.

It is a thick round fish, with a large head and a prominent belly. It is brown on the back, white underneath, and is full of yellow spots. The scales are small and stick close to the skin; the eyes are large, and cover'd with a loose transparent skin; on the lower jaw is a barb of about an inch long; the tongue is broad, round, soft and smooth; there are several rows of teeth in the jaws, one of which is longer than the rest. There are likewise teeth on the palate and in the throat.

The stomach is large and is often found full of small fish, particularly herrings; the liver is large and divided into three lobes; the gall-bladder is large; the kidneys run all the length of the back; the swimming-bladder is thick, strong, and connected to the back, and is by most people call'd the sound.

The flesh is exceeding good, and highly esteemed. It is greatly in use as well fresh as salted; and in Lent it goes by the general name of Salt-Fish. The head of a large Cod is thought, by those who are judges of nice eating, to be a most excellent dish.

Fresh Cod, that is Cod for present use, is caught everywhere on the coast of Great-Britain; but there are particular times of fishing in particular places, because they are then found in great plenty. Thus form Easter to Whitsontide is the best season at Alanby, Workington, and Whitehaven on the coasts of Lancashire and Cumberland: On the west part of Ireland from the beginning of April to the beginning of June: On the north and north-east of Ireland from Christmas to Michaelmas: And on the north-east of England from Easter 'till midsummer.

But the chief support of the Cod-fishery are the banks of Newfoundland, which are a kind of submarine mountains, one of which, call'd the Great Bank, is four hundred and fifty miles long, and an hundred broad, and seventy five from Newfoundland. The best, largest and fattest Cod are those taken on the south-side of the Bank; those on the north-side are much smaller.

The best season for fishing for them is from the beginning of February to the end of April, at which time the fish, which had retired during the winter to the deepest parts of the sea, return to the Bank and grow very fat.

Those that are taken from March to July keep well enough; but those in July, August and September, soon spoil. The fishing is sometimes done in a month or six weeks, sometimes it holds six months.

When Lent begins to draw near, tho' the fishermen have caught but half their cargo, yet they will hasten homewards because the markets are best at that time; and some will make a second voyage before others have got a sufficient cargo for the first.

Each fisher can take but one at a time, and yet the most expert will catch from 350 to 400 in a day. They are all taken with a hook and line baited with the entrails of other cod, except the first. This is very fatiguing, both on account of the heaviness of the fish and the coldness of the weather; for tho' the Great Bank lies from 41 to 42 degrees of latitude, yet the weather, in the season of fishing, is very severe.

The usual salary allowed to the captain and sailors is one third of the Cod that they bring home sound.

They salt the Cod on board the ship in the following manner: They cut off the head, open the belly, and take out the guts; then the salter ranges them side by side at the bottom of the vessel, and head to tail, a fathom or two square: When one layer is compleat he covers it with salt, and then he lays on another which he covers as before; and thus he disposes of all the fish caught in the same day, for care is taken not to mix those of different days together. After the Cod has lain thus three or four days, they are removed into another part of the vessel and salted afresh; and then it is suffer'd to lie 'till the vessel has its burthen. Sometimes they are put into barrels for the conveniency of carriage.

The principal place for fishing for Cod which is design'd to be dry'd, is along the coast of Placentia in Newfoundland, from Cape Race to the Bay of Experts, within which limits there are several commodious ports for the fish to be dried in.

In this fishing vessels of all sizes are used, but those are most proper which have large holds, because the fish have not a weight proportionable to the room they take up.

The time of fishing is in the summer season for the conveniency of drying the fish in the sun: On which account European vessels are obliged to set out in March or April: For as those that begin their voyage in June or July, their design is only to purchase Cod that are already caught and prepared by the inhabitants of the English colonies of Newfoundland and the neighbouring parts; in exchange for which we carry them meal, brandy, linnen, molossus, biscuits &c.

The fish which they choose for drying is of a smaller sort, which is the fitter for their purpose because the salt takes more hold of it.

When the fishing vessels arrive in any particular port, he who touches ground first is intitled to the quality and privileges of Admiral, has the choice of his station, and the refusal of all the wood on the coast.

As fast as they arrive they unrigg all their vessels, leaving nothing but the shrouds to sustain the masts; in the mean time the mates provide a tent on shore, cover'd with branches of fir, and sails over them, with a scaffold 50 or 60 foot long, and 20 broad: While the scaffold is building the crew apply themselves to fishing, and as fast as they catch any fish they open them and salt them on moveable benches; but the main salting is perform'd on the scaffold.

When the fish has taken salt they wash them, and lay them in piles on the galleries of the scaffold to drain; after this they range them on hurdles only a fish thick, head against tail, with the back uppermost. While they lie thus they take care to turn and shift them four times in every twenty-four hours.

When they begin to dry they lay them in heaps, ten or twelve apiece, to retain their warmth, and continue to enlarge the heap every day 'till it is double its first bulk; at length they join two of these heaps into one, which they continue to turn every day as before, and when they are thorough dry they lay them in huge piles as large as hay-stacks.

Besides the body of the fish, there are the tripes and tongues, which are salted at the same time with the fish and barrell'd up. Likewise the roes, being salted and barrell'd up, are of service to throw into the sea to draw the fish together, particularly Pilchards. The oil is used for dressing leather and other purposes in the same manner as train-oil.

When Cod leave the Banks of Newfoundland they go in pursuit of Whitings, and it is owing to this that the return of the Whitings is frequent on our coast.

On the coasts of Buchan the Scots catch a small kind of Cod which is highly prized; they salt it, and dry it in the Sun upon the rocks, and sometimes in the chimney; but the greatest part of it is spent at home.

The Watchman, Wednesday 2 September 1840

Swallowing the News

As Mr. Driver, a fishmonger residing in High-street, Shadwell, was engaged in his business, he had to cut open a codfish of about eighteen pounds weight, in the stomach of which he discovered a ball of paper compressed together very close. He succeeded with great difficulty in getting it partially open, when he found it to be a copy of the London Morning Chronicle, of February 11, 1801. The paper is as stiff as parchment, but the reading is tolerably legible, and from its appearance there can be little doubt but it has been in the maw of the fish a considerable time. The fish was caught off the Scotch coast, and it is supposed that the newspaper must have been blown overboard from some ship and have been gorged by the fish, this species invariably swimming with their mouths wide open. It is no uncommon thing to find stones, nails, and pieces of wood inside a codfish.

"Prose Halieutics or Ancient and Modern Fish Tattle" (1854) Reverend Charles David Badham M.D. at page 333

Chapter XVI

Gadeans and Pleuronects

With regard to our trivial name for the caput of this tribe, "the word cod," says Cuvier, (what ears some naturalists must have!) "is derived from gadus, which it resembles in sound". Cod meant originally a purse … and the fish was so called, says an ingenious finder of strange similitudes, "ab aliqua marsupii similitudine". Aliqua, indeed ! Morue, its French equivalent, comes, says Belon, from the English merwel, a word which, like Cuvier, we are unable to find in any English author of our acquaintance. According to Aldrovandi, the word morrue is a Marseillais patois for a person with thick blubber-lips, and is thence applied by metonymy to a fish like the cod, whose labial appendages are in character with one of this description.

Editor's note: "ab aliqua marsupii similitudine" translated is "resembling a purse".

"The Book of Household Management" (1861) Isabella Beeton at pages 120, 121 & 122 [2]

To choose cod

The cod should be chosen for the table when it is plump and round near the tail, when the hollow behind the head is deep, and when the sides are undulated as if they were ribbed. The glutinous parts about the head lose their delicate flavour, after the fish has been twenty-four hours out of the water. The great point by which the cod should be judged is the firmness of its flesh; and, although the cod is not firm when it is alive, its quality may be arrived at by pressing the finger into the flesh. If this rises immediately, the fish is good; if not, it is stale. Another sign of its goodness is, if the fish, when it is cut, exhibits a bronze appearance, like the silver side of a round of beef. When this is the case, the flesh will be firm when cooked. Stiffness in a cod, or in any other fish, is a sure sign of freshness, though not always of quality. Sometimes, codfish, though exhibiting signs of rough usage, will eat much better than those with red gills, so strongly recommended by many cookery-books. This appearance is generally caused by the fish having been knocked about at sea, in the well-boats, in which they are conveyed from the fishing-grounds to market.

Preserving cod

Immediately as the cod are caught, their heads are cut off. They are then opened, cleaned, and salted, when they are stowed away in the hold of the vessel, in beds of five or six yards square, head to tail, with a layer of salt to each layer of fish. When they have lain in this state three or four days, in order that the water may drain from them, they are shifted into a different part of the vessel, and again salted. Here they remain till the vessel is loaded, when they are sometimes cut into thick pieces and packed in barrels for the greater convenience of carriage.

The sounds in codfish

These are the air or swimming bladders, by means of which the fishes are enabled to ascend or descend in the water. In the Newfoundland fishery they are taken out previous to incipient putrefaction, washed from their slime and salted for exportation. The tongues are also cured and packed up in barrels; whilst, from the livers, considerable quantities of oil are extracted, this oil having been found possessed of the most nourishing properties, and particularly beneficial in cases of pulmonary affections.

The food of the Cod.

This chiefly consists of the smaller species of the scaly tribes, shell-fish, crabs and worms. Their voracity is very great and they will bite at any small body they see moved by the water, even stones and pebbles, which are frequently found in their stomachs. They sometimes attain a great size, but their usual weight is from 14 to 40 lbs.

The habitat of the Cod.

This fish is found only in the seas of the northern parts of the world, between the latitudes of 45° and 66°. Its great rendezvous are the sandbanks of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and New England. These places are its favourite resorts; for there it is able to obtain great quantities of worms, a food peculiarly grateful to it. Another cause of its attachment to these places has been said to be on account of the vicinity to the Polar seas, where it returns to spawn. Few are taken north of Iceland, and the shoals never reach so far south as the Straits of Gibraltar. Many are taken on the coasts of Norway, in the Baltic and off the Orkneys, which, prior to the discovery of Newfoundland, formed one of the principal fisheries. The London market is supplied by those taken between the Dogger Bank, the Well Bank and Cromer, on the east coast of England.

The season for fishing cod

The best season for catching cod is from the beginning of February to the end of April; and although each fisherman engaged in taking them, catches no more than one at a time, an expert hand will sometimes take four hundred in a day. The employment is excessively fatiguing, from the weight of the fish as well as from the coldness of the climate.

[2] Key to plate: ① Red Mullet, ② Grayling, ③ John Dory, ④ Mackerel, ⑤ Cod, ⑥ Whiting, ⑦ Salmon, ⑧ Herring, ⑨ Plaice, ⑩ Flounder, ⑪ Gurnet, ⑫ Crayfish.
Click The Book of Household Management to read online

"Sea Fish & How to Catch Them" (1863) William Barry Lord at pages 53 & 54

The Cod

Few fish are there possessing more interest in a commercial point of view than the cod, which forms such an important commodity, in its preserved state, for export to foreign countries as well as for home use, the daily consumption of this fish in London alone being enormous. The banks of Newfoundland, the Dogger Bank, &c., have long been known as places of resort for myriads of fish of this description, and recent investigation has proved the newly discovered fishing-ground near Rockall to be a perfect "El Dorado" of cod-fish, swarming there in numbers never before equalled, and of a size rarely reached by cod in other localities. By the crews of two fishing smacks twenty-seven tons were taken there in five days; and expeditions which started subsequently to this great success appear to have been equally successful in their results, so that little doubt exists that this lonely and scarcely known spot on the ocean's surface is destined to become a rich mine of wealth to the hardy cod fishermen.

Few of my readers, I apprehend, are likely to adopt cod-fishing as an amusement, as few occupations are attended with greater hardships. Still it perchance may happen that they, in their wanderings, may be thrown where cod are to be captured.

They are to be taken with the hand-line, fishing very deep with heavy sinkers; line of the description universally known as cod-line, and hooks made expressly for this purpose. A good mode of mounting is by passing a small iron rod about two feet long with a ring at each end through a hole in the sinker, exactly in the same way as that spoken of as chopsticks in the article on Bream. Bait with sand launce, sprats, &c. Bolters should be set where cod are to be met with, as bolter fishing is a most successful mode of taking them.

Great numbers of small cod or codlings are also to be taken in some places, particularly the southern coast, either by the chop-stick arrangement before described under that head, or by throwing a leaded line mounted with three or four hooks, No. 3 or 4 Portsmouth pattern, baited with whelks or soldier crab, as far out into the coming tide as possible: some little practice is needed to ensure a long clear cast. A small stiff stick about three inches long, tied to the line just above the sinker, will serve to give a hold for the fingers in throwing, and much increase the power of the thrower over the line; pouting, basse, and other fish, are frequently taken whilst fishing in this way.

The Illustrated London News (7th July 1883)
Our Fishing Industries: Line-Fishing for Cod

The Illustrated London News (3rd July 1886)
Sea-Fishing as a Sport: Shore Fishing for Cod
"Baiting", "Coming Ashore", "Sinker and Baited Hook", "Cod's Head and Shoulders", "Hauling Him in", "Casting"

The Graphic 1886
Long-Line Fishing for Cod in the North Sea

"Angling in Salt Water: A Practical Work on Sea Fishing with Rod and Line from the Shore, Piers, Jetties, Rocks and from Boats" (1887) John Bickerdyke at page 3

In autumn, however, there are usually many whiting, and in some places numerous cod and codling, to be taken on the south and southern portions of the east coast. The Downs off Deal, Walmer, Ramsgate and Broadstairs swarm with whiting in November …

"Sea-Fishing on the English Coast" (1891) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 97 & 98


The best cod-grounds (e.g. Dogger Bank, &c.) are at least thirty miles from land; and it is therefore surprising that amateurs should ever catch this fish. But on several parts of our coasts (vide Deal, Bexhill, &c.) very fine cod are to be had quite close to the beach.

… The best bait is the whelk (known to cod fishermen as "buckies"), which may be caught in a fish-net baited with offal. Next ranks a fresh sprat, but it is useless if it has been dead for more than two or three hours. A large lug is far better than a stale sprat, though inferior, as a rule, to a fresh one. Pilchard is another good bait; there are also on record cases of large cod taking white flies and a spoon-bait.

"The Sea and the Rod" (1892) Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Thomas Paske & Frederick George Aflalo at page 96

The Cod

There is also some good cod-fishing during the late autumn from Deal Pier, the favourite bait being sprats or lugworm, and the best tackle, as usual, the "paternoster". Pieces of squid and herring form at times a deadly variation in the baits, the oleaginous nature of the latter being especially attractive - the fish being first slit open and then carefully boned and cut diagonally.

"Hints and Wrinkles on Sea Fishing" (1894) "Ichthyosaurus" (A. Baines & Frederick George Aflalo) at pages 24 & 25

Natural History and Sport

Cod are an autumn and winter fish, being seldom sought with any success by the amateur until November. Deal is a favourite place for this fishing, and the sprats, of which the cod come in pursuit, are the most effective bait, but must be used perfectly fresh. At Bexhill, where these fish are hooked over the rocks, just off the beach, lugworm is the chief bait, and the end of October the best season.

Codlings - so one calls the young cod averaging a pound or less in weight - are taken in the greatest numbers early in September, the best baits being lugworm or mussel.

"Practical Letters to Young Sea Fishers" (1898) John Bickerdyke at pages 249, 250 & 251

XXV: The Cod

… is extraordinarily prolific. If one out of every thousand eggs were hatched, and the resulting fish attained maturity, in a few years the sea would become one dense mass of codfish … The eggs of a cod weighing a little over 11 lb were once counted, they amounted to nearly two millions ! … They grow at an extraordinary rate. Even in an aquarium they have been known to increase from ¾ lb to 7 lb in sixteen months. They will eat almost anything at times, and most remarkable things have been removed from their stomachs. Generally speaking they are a bottom-feeding fish … When hooked they play in anything but lively fashion. A big cod after he has taken the bait sometimes appears to ignore the angler altogether, and simply swims slowly along the bottom of the sea in a manner which no ordinary tackle used on a rod can resist. But he will nearly always stop before all the line has run out, and after making several other irresistible swims in various directions, will as likely as not suddenly give up the ghost, something having gone wrong with his air bladder, and come floating to the surface on his back, when he may be compared to a fat alderman who has been engaged in a tug of war.

Among the many baits which cod will take are rag worms, mussels, squid, sprats, pieces of herring, mackerel, and sand eels. But what is a good bait in one place will not always succeed in another. For advice on this point we can nearly always rely on the professional fishermen.

… For cod of ordinary size - say anything up to 20 lb or a little more - there are few better tackles than a paternoster, and for these fish I like the lowest hook link prolonged, and bearing two hooks …

"Sea Fish" (1898) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 5, 18, 139, 182 & 183

… at Deal, it is usual to try the sprat bait for cod when the water is clear, the lugworm when it is thick. The distinction is merely that between those baits that are found by sight and those others that are traced by scent.

… the cod is for the most part a fish of deep water, though a number approach the coasts in winter, and are then angled for, especially at Deal. This fish is found more particularly, though not exclusively, in cold seas, and has the family beard, the young, or "codlings", being spotted. It is caught on our shores weighing 50 lb; but the amateur will not in all probability meet with any of more than half that weight. Though found indifferently on the sand or among the rocks, the edge of a reef is found to be the best ground for inshore cod.

Cod … This large and important fish is caught from Deal pier between October and Christmas, when, unless the water is too thick, anglers are to be seen almost any fine day either at the end or half way along, their rods projecting from the upper deck. The favourite tackle is the paternoster, some local fishermen being in favour of a light lead only, which drags on the sand. I believe this is a method much used by Mr. Sachs, the veteran of Deal pier. Lug-worm or mussel are always good baits, but sprat or fresh herring will answer as well, indeed few fish are more catholic in their tastes. Cod show but little fight. There is a stately assertion of strength in any fish over 5 lb, but after this first move, the cod soon turns up the game, coming to the gaff like a lost anchor. Codling and silver whiting are also caught on the same tackle and baits and at the same season, but the hooks may be a size smaller.

The cod, caught in some numbers on Deal and other piers, does not come in shore until the fall of the year … and the third week in October right on the end of the year will be found the best time. There is not much to be said in the way of special instructions for this cod-fishing, for, truth to tell, it is all a matter of the fish passing your boat; and I have more than once seen a new recruit catch the finest cod of the week on his first outing, scarcely knowing what bait was on his hook. This does not, however, detract much from the undoubted enjoyment of a day off Deal on a fine crisp November morning, when fish of twelve or fifteen pounds are taking the sprat or lugworm freely.

The smaller cod, or codlings, are caught inshore throughout the year, especially in May and June, and one of the best spots for them that I can call to mind is, or was, the parti-coloured buoy outside Ramsgate harbour.

"Practical Sea-Fishing" (1905) P. L. Haslope at pages 80, 81 & 82

Sea-Fish: Their Habits and Capture

Every reader is probably well acquainted with this fish, the pursuit of which provides a useful as well as remunerative calling to numbers of our sturdy fishermen …

… Hooks should be of the largest size to provide for a secure hold upon the mouth of this fish. Different kinds of rig will be used according to the locality, and in many places the boat-shaped gear is in favour. As cod-fishing is generally carried on during the winter months, when these fish attain their best condition, it does not always come within the scope of the amateur. On the east coast, however, large numbers of cod are taken from the shore, and from the piers at Gorleston, Yarmouth, Scarborough, and at other places good catches are often made …

Pieces of fresh pilchard, herring, or cuttle are good baits for cod; but mussels or lug-worms are sometimes preferred. The "queen", a kind of scallop, is also used when other bait is scarce. Being essentially a bottom-feeder, their food principally consists of small crabs. It is always interesting to open a large specimen and examine the contents of the stomach, many curious things being found therein. Naturalists often purchase the inside of the cod for this purpose. Small fish, ranging in weight from about 5 lb downwards, are known as codling.

"Sea Fishing" (1911) Charles Owen Minchin at pages 43, 49, 50 & 53 to 57

Chapter IV: The Cod

… The cod then continue their growth at a great pace. At one year of age they average about 5½ in, and (according to Cunningham) 10 in to 12½ in at two years, 17 in to 18 in at three years, and 27 in at four years. By the time that the females have reached that size they are coming to maturity, and the males have usually attained years of discretion at a smaller average length.

… In the North Sea the study of the results of trawling prosecuted by the Scottish Fishery Board affords some evidence that codlings (as the immature but marketable cod are called) are to be found in the shallower waters near land so long as the weather still has some warmth; but when the water has been thoroughly chilled the large full-sized cod are found (probably with a view to spawning) near the land, while the codlings are out in deeper (and slightly warmer) waters far away to sea. On the coasts of England and Ireland there are often in autumn and early winter enough cod to be found to give amusement to amateur fishermen, though not enough, if it were not for other fish, to afford a livelihood to the professional hookers.

… It has been remarked that the cod found in the south part of the Flemish Bight and the eastern end of the English Channel are stouter built and heavier, length for length, than those of the Dogger Bank, but until marking experiments have been carried out to a considerable extent it would be premature to postulate that the "Downs' Cod" are, in fact, a separate race from their northern kinsfolk, though decidedly there is a marked difference in appearance quite obvious even at a casual glance. As evidence, for what it is worth, that the Downs' cod are local it may be mentioned that after a great scarcity for some seasons an enormous number of codlings from 20 to 24 inches long made their appearance in 1908; the next year there were many fish about 5 lb in weight, and the following winter captures of thirty to fifty full-sized fishes of 10 lb and upwards were often made by the long-liners. There is a proverb which says, "Do not prophesy unless you know", but it does not deter me from risking the prediction that if fishermen will try the cod-grounds near the South Goodwin Light and in Old Stairs Bay in November and December, 1911, they will find some large fish waiting for them.

In the other style of fishing, where rare and occasional cod are on the same ground as the whiting, a different rig is desirable, for it is a waste of time specialising for a big cod (which most probably will not come along) with only one large hook, while the water is full of excellent whiting quite anxious to be caught, but unable to get the big hook into their mouths. An adapted paternoster should, therefore, be used, with the two upper hooks appropriate for whiting, which swim just a little off the bottom, and the third and lowest one arranged for cod, which in the day-time generally root with their noses to the ground. Wire bars are unnecessary for the whiting-hooks, which can be simply looped to two swivels set endways into the trace. Just above the lead a longish wire boom should be mounted, and the cod-hook should be at least 2 ft from the end of this boom. It ought to be mounted on double stout marana gut, this being at once stronger and less visible than the twisted mounts generally sold by tackle-makers. The boom is necessary to keep the trace of the cod-hook from fouling round the lead or tangling with the other hooks. In this sort of fishing, which is usually in rather shallow and cloudy water, the cod feed better and are more on the move when there is a strong run of tide; but, in any case, it is necessary for the lead to find and hold the bottom, even if it be at a considerable distance astern of the anchored boat. The rod-point should be raised high from time to time so as "to keep drawing of the fish", as the boatmen say. Cod do not bite sharply, but mouth the bait very softly at first and then draw, or rather push, on it, for they seem to feed up-stream, so the drawing away of the bait when the rod-tip is lifted tightens their hold and enables the bite to be better felt. Somebody, probably Mr. Aflalo, has said that a hooked cod "comes up like a lost anchor", which is rather a calumny, for though the cod does not, it is true, plunge with the desperate rush of a pollack, or run out a lot of line like a large bass, it can on occasion put up a very good fight. The male fish is more given to sulking than the female, and will often hug the bottom, from which it is not easily dislodged; but a hen fish in full condition will do battle to the last, and make short dashes, in which she displays more activity than might be expected from her clumsy build; and as there is generally "a good bit of tide running", the resistance of one of these fish, with its great spread of fin and tail, is considerable when broadside on, and may prove too much for any but strong tackle …

For the best way of handling a cod when hooked no general directions can be given except that as the fish are often rather shy feeders in the daytime, and are consequently very liable to be hooked merely in the lips which in some parts are soft and tender, it is better not to reel in violently or exert unnecessary force for fear of tearing out the hook. If the bait has been swallowed down to the stomach no harm will happen from an extra five minutes' play, for the cod having no teeth in the jaws will not bite the snood, and if it is hooked in a soft place there will be less danger of enlarging the wound and releasing the barb of the hook.

As to bait, the common lugworm - especially the large dark variety (vulgarly called "yallers") - is the best, and next comes the hermit, alias "farmer", alias "soldier" crab. Shore-crabs in the soft or the "peely" state are better than either, but, unfortunately, very scarce at the time of year when cod most abound, for the breeding season of this crab is in the summer, and that is the time when the female crab is in the soft shell and easy to be found; but the cod do not come near the land until later in the season. Curiously enough, cod are rather greedy for mackerel, though that is a food they can rarely indulge in under natural conditions; and they will take a whole sprat or a good slice of fresh herring at times. Shelled whelks and even sea-anemones have proved fatal, and so have mussels, "two to a hook". A good catch of cod has been made before now on oysters (not so costly a bait after all, for two good baits can be made out of one blue-point); but most people will probably think that the proper place for the oyster is not to serve as bait, but to appear as companion to the cod in his last moments.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1921) Francis Dyke Holcombe at page 174


For the autumn cod fishing on the English coast the staple bait is mostly lugworm, with sprat or herring as a change. In any case a large bait should be used, except in very clear, bright water, for the cod is rather a greedy fish. He is said to have an eye for colour, and some sea anglers make a practice, when using lugworm, of putting a small piece of scarlet flannel on the hook as an additional attraction. A live prawn … fished on the slack of the tide is also an excellent bait, at any rate for the smaller fish, but is only obtainable of course during the summer months; while hermit crab is another good bait. Cod do not bite sharply, so the novice must be on his guard against striking too soon, and in playing the fish he will find it better to be rather "tender" with him, in case he is lightly hooked.

"Sea Fishing Simplified" (1929) Francis Dyke Holcombe & A. Fraser-Brunner at pages 22 & 23

Chapter III


Although, so far as our E. and S.E. coasts are concerned, he is usually considered an autumn fish, the cod (or codling, as he is called in his earlier stages) may sometimes be met with in the summer months along that coast, while in the West Country, as also in Ireland and Scotland, he is often caught at that time of the year.

Cod grow to a large size; the record one for rod and line weighed 42 lb., and was caught by Mr. Ian L. Stewart at Ballycotton, Co. Cork. I don't know the exact weight at which a codling becomes a cod; probably the difference between the two is about the same as that between a jack and a pike. Cod do not haunt the rocks quite so closely as pollack, wrasse and the breams, all of which are true rock fish; so they may sometimes be found on sandy or gravelly ground among, and probably in pursuit of, whiting. On such ground you should use Wadham's paternoster, pattern 3, fished with a modification of his flowing trace, in the shape of about a yard of "Olympic" gut of the same size, made fast to the lead link or to the lowest boom, and terminating in a hook two or three sizes larger than the others on the tackle.

Cod will at times take a variety of baits, and they do not object to one which is rather stale. Lugworm is very commonly used, as also pieces of mackerel, pilchard, sprat or herring, while hermit crab is another excellent bait for cod. They do not usually bite sharply, so that it is a mistake to strike too soon. As food, the fish is too well known to need remark; but you will find a freshly caught codling, especially if you have taken it yourself, much superior in flavour to the one you buy at the fishmonger's.

"Modern Sea Fishing" (1937) Eric Cooper at pages 197 to 200

The Cod, Whiting and Pouting

As the cod is a very voracious fish, taking everything that is edible as well as at times many things that are not, the angler will never find himself in difficulties with regard to the bait question. Sandeels and herring are reputed to be the best of the fish baits; mussels and limpets the best of the shell-fish. It is very fond of worms. The lug is the staple bait for the cod on the east coast, where in the autumn and winter the fishing is very good. At one time Deal was a well-known place for winter cod, but to-day it is no better than any other town on the Kent coast and does not compete with places north of the Thames estuary.

The paternoster is the best tackle for cod-fishing where the fish run small, but for the larger fish a single hook, with a trace hanging below the lead, is preferable. Artificial gut is all that is necessary for catching these fish; they are not going to be put off having their food because they see the tackle, nor are they particularly discriminating as to the freshness of the bait. Whatever bait is used it should make a good display on the hook, for the cod is always hungry and more likely to turn aside from hunting the small inhabitants of the deep if he sees a large mouthful awaiting him.

The angler wishing to catch cod should try for them between the end of October and the beginning or middle of January off the east coast, where it is the principal fish caught at that time of the year. They come very close in-shore, good catches often being made from the beach. If you intend to fish only from the shore, those places where there is deep water off a quick-shelving beach should be selected.

The cod does not bite in such a determined way as the whiting, which will hook itself, nor does it put up very much of a fight. It does not call for any special skill for its capture and, apart from a few mild "tugs", comes to the gaff without a kick left in it. Being bottom-feeding fish, as are all the other members of this family, the air-bladder becomes distended when the water pressure is reduced. It is for this reason that the fish put up such a poor show when brought to the upper layers of the water and why they will be seen lying on their side on the surface when reeled up alongside the boat.

Young cod, which are often very variable in their markings, are known by many names locally. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to when the fish can aspire to the name of cod, but it is generally taken that, unless they can turn the scales at 6 lb, they must be referred to as codling.

"Sea Angling: Modern Methods and Tackle" (1952) Alan Young at pages 96, 97 & 98

Other Fish

Cod (Gadus callarias)

Cod are widely distributed in the seas around the British Isles, but are most numerous in waters north of a line Thames - Bristol Channel. They are a winter fish.

The best results in terms of numbers and size are likely to be obtained from a boat in deep water, but good cod are caught from the shore and from projections. They are plentiful off the east coast, and some large cod (over 30 lb) have been caught recently by beach fishermen using handlines on the Lancashire coast.

From a boat, cod can be fished for with a single hook, about 6/0, hanging from a boom fixed above the weight so that the bait is two feet from the bottom. From the shore a single-hook paternoster is as good a method as any. Strength of tackle must depend on the situation. Cod give practically no sport and come in easily, and as they do not have to be played there is no object in using light tackle, especially in places where conger may be hooked.

Cod take any of the accepted baits, but mussel is most commonly used.


No one in authority has yet laid down when a codling becomes a cod, but cod below 4 to 6 lb - the standard changing with the locality - are classed as codling. They are extremely useful fish for the shore angler, for though they give no more sport than their elders, they are very numerous, and fill the bag and the pot during the winter months.

They can be caught on ledger or paternoster tackle from shore and projections, and any bait can be used. The mouths of even the smallest specimens are very capacious, and a really big lump of bait is advised. The bait should lie on the bottom. Results are best in the deepest water the shore provides, and the cloudier it is the better.

"Sea Fishing with the Experts" (1956) Jack Thorndike at pages 20 to 23

Cod run to a large size … By and large, however, the greatest number of cod taken by the sea angler will be fish averaging 3 to 4 lb. in weight and these go under the name of codling. John Bickerdyke classified codling by length and not by weight and called a fish under 20 inches a codling, a fish between 20 and 30 inches a sprag and, thereafter, half-cod and cod.

… Spawning varies from January to late spring and the cod fishing season generally begins in September. Codling or cod fishing is carried out in the winter months and the big cod only arrive close to our shores about Christmas. The cod may not be a tough fighter, but the angler who seeks him must be tough enough to stand in winter on a wind-swept, lonely beach, or enjoy a trip aboard a pitching tossing craft on the short days when saner men remain by their hearths. The East Coast sees the first codling arrive about the end of summer, though these will average but a pound in weight. However, a few weeks later, sizeable fish begin to be caught and the season for cod will be in full swing by November.

The cod being catholic in taste and voracious in appetite, proves a most accommodating fish from the standpoint of bait. In Scotland limpet and lugworm, together on the same hook, are popular: whereas your south-east angler will prefer to present his hooks suitably baited with lug or sprats. Herring is a good all round bait and easy to obtain from a fishmonger. On the north-west coast the anglers prefer to use peeler crab. But whatever the bait used there is one point to understand and that is large cod like a large bait and an angler who fishes for cod with small hooks and a miserly portion of bait gets the fish he deserves.

… Cod feed on or near the bottom and therefore a paternoster has been found by experienced anglers to be the most suitable rig. Large hooks with at least half-an-inch gape are essential; for preference I use size 4/0 or 5/0 for general cod fishing …

But whatever the bait used there is one point to understand and that is large cod like a large bait and an angler who fishes for cod with small hooks and a miserly portion of bait gets the fish he deserves … Cod feed on or near the bottom and therefore a paternoster has been found by experienced anglers to be the most suitable rig . large hooks with at least half-an-inch gape are essential; for preference I use size 4/0 or 5/0 for general cod fishing …

… the procedure to adopt is … retain hold of your rod the whole time when fishing and strike sharply immediately a fish is felt. The angler who lays his rod in a rest … and waits for movement of the rod tip or the tinkle of a warning bell, is wasting his chances; by retaining his rod he is ready for the slightest knock and is able to realise at once whether a fish is actually interested or whether the movement below the surface is caused by weed, crabs or other non-sporting intruders. The angler who judges his moment by the movement of rod tip or warning bell is often deceived into thinking he has a fish when in fact there isn't a fish within yards of his baited hook.

Cod may be fished for in almost any depth of water - in but a few inches when the flowing tide covers the flat sandy coasts … I have often taken codling in water which came but half-way up my Wellington boots. These were days when the sea was calm and the tide rolled in smoothly, almost imperceptibly. I did not make long casts: merely some twenty to thirty yards out, and as I retreated in the flowing tide I would let out perhaps five yards of line, no more. It is only fair to add that the fish caught averaged 2 lb or just over: the bigger specimens were in the deeper water a hundred yards away, but their turn on the hook came at high water when they cruised well inshore. The temperature of the water has a bearing on this: if the weather is moderately warm the cod come right inshore, but if it drops, the fish seem to prefer, in mid-winter at any rate, a depth of not less than ten fathoms.

"Angles on Sea Angling" (1963) Captain S. Norton-Bracy at pages 11, 12 & 13

Fishing from Pier and Beach


There are plenty of cod in the sea - let's go after them. While the peak time for cod is between October and March, I took the biggest cod I ever caught in April … In the winter cod leave their northern feeding grounds and gather in great numbers down the east coast, right round to Eastbourne in the south. Two particularly good places for cod fishing are Deal and Dungeness, both in Kent.

When fishing an area with a strong flowing tide, it is essential to keep your bait in position once it has been cast - otherwise you will get black looks from your neighbour as you drag his tackle ashore.

A light nylon line with a streamlined weight attached to it is often sufficient to hold against the tide. If it is not, add a weight with spikes to act as an anchor. A wire boom will stop bait tangling with the weight. I think a single boom is enough.

… when a heavy surf is pounding the beach, it requires skill to land a big cod. Every effort should be made to tire out the fish before attempting to bring it through the waves. Watch out that the undertow does not carry it back.

And, if possible, try to have a second person standing by to gaff the fish once it is on the beach.

"The Sea Angler Afloat and Ashore" (1965) Desmond Brennan at pages 212, 213 & 215 to 218

Cod, Ling and Hake

The young fry are at first pelagic and do not assume their demersal habits for two to three months after hatching by which time they will have reached the shore and inshore shallows in numbers … The cod grows quickly and the fish that remain in shoals in the shallows all summer and autumn may be 7 or 8 inches long at the end of their first year … At this stage they are known as "Pickers" in many places and they remain on this type of ground throughout their second summer, growing fast, and by their second winter when they once again work out into deeper water, they are big enough to be called codling or tamblin (as they are known in some places). The codling remain in deeper water until the following winter (their third) or late autumn when they start their first inshore migration and by the following January many of them are mature and they assume the habits of adult cod in their fourth year.

Codling can be taken all through the year, but are best in autumn and winter. In summer, like cod, they feed intermittently during the day and feed best in the evening and early morning, i.e. for an hour before and approximately two hours after darkness descends. In winter they feed freely during the day but are more active after dark especially on a flowing tide. Where tides are strong (and codling like to swim against the tide) they take best near low water and on the early flood … Ordinary paternoster tackle will do for codling fishing, but I prefer to have one bait on the bottom so I usually fish one hook down leger fashion and another hook up the trace on a short link. There is little difficulty in striking because codling usually mean business and can be struck as soon as you feel the weight of the fish. The most useful baits are lugworm, mussel and crab but slices of mackerel, herring or squid will be taken readily as will such baits as razorfish, hermit crab and sprats. Strangely enough ragworm, so successful for other species, is a very indifferent bait for codling or cod. Hook sizes can be large as codling have big mouths. I use 1/0 to 2/0 but if cod are expected I would go up to 4/0. The size of the bait used will dictate the hook size and a large bait is usually more effective than small ones.

The cod begin to migrate inshore in late autumn or early winter (usually about November) and are preceded by the third season codling which are by now quite sizeable. When a codling becomes a cod has long been a source of argument and differs widely from place to place. In most areas anything under 6 to 8 lb is classed as a codling or tamblin while in others nothing under 10 to 11 lb would be deemed worthy of being called a cod. It usually takes an onshore gale to first bring the cod into the shallows in numbers. Indeed they seem to revel in windy conditions which stir up the bottom and are most active inshore in breezy weather. The first fine day after a storm when the water is still dirty is the best time of all and near the shore they feed best at dawn and dusk. They come closer to the shore after dark and are often taken from beaches in very shallow water.

The east coast of England gets a good winter run of cod and from certain beaches and piers from Dungeness northwards excellent shore fishing is to be had. The beaches are usually steep and backed by shingle and surf casting tackle as used in surf fishing for bass is the most suitable gear. Heavier weights up to 6 and 8 oz (spiked) may be necessary in places due to strong tides and heavy wave action. A leger or running trace is probably superior to an ordinary paternoster when beach fishing for cod but where distance is essential it cannot be cast as far and the use of a paternoster may give that (at time so necessary) extra 30 to 40 yards. The running paternoster … is easier to cast than the orthodox leger. A useful tip is to use a length of heavy monofilament as a leader. It should be long enough to reel back on the spool to absorb the shock of casting and for pulling fish clear of the surf. It is best attached by whipping to the main line or by a double blood knot …

Piers, apart from a few isolated instances, are not noted for their good fishing and the angler would be better occupied on a beach, in an estuary or fishing from the rocks. Winter cod fishing is, however, the exception and there are many piers which are excellent for cod. Paternostering is as good a method as any for pier fishing but again I would prefer one bait on the bottom. If there is a run of tide to swim out the bait a paternoster trot tackle will place the bait on the bottom.

The end of the pier is not always the bets place from which to fish though it seems to have a magnetic attraction for many anglers. The type of pier, i.e. whether it is solid or constructed on piles or threstles, the nature of the sea bed and the set and strength of the tide all have an effect on the location of fish and as on the shore certain parts of the pier will be better than others or will fish well in certain conditions or stages of tide. In one spot it may be best to fish close to the piles, in another a longish cast may be necessary to reach productive ground. In pier fishing as in any other form of fishing you must think and not just slavishly walk to the end of the pier and cast seawards as far as possible. The angler who lowers his bait down to the bottom on the inner end of the pier may quite easily fill his bag while you go home empty handed. The fact that you are fishing in deeper water is no guarantee that the fish are out there too. The reverse is very often the case.

"Popular Sea Fishing" (1968) Peter Wheat (editor) at pages 92 to 103

Cod Fishing (Cyril Precious)

… The minimum size at which the species can be taken is set at 12 inches; at this age the codling - as immature cod are called - will be 18 months old. Growth rate is fairly steady and by the time they reach three years they will have grown to a length of about 25 inches. Growth rate is fairly steady and, by the time they reach three years, they will have grown to a length of about 25 inches. Codling swarm inshore with the approach of winter in September and October, while the bigger, mature cod move in during November and December remaining until they return to deeper water for spawning. From then on the beach angler can expect only smaller codling until late March or perhaps the end of April.

… Although the beach angler seeks sport mainly with immature codling weighing between 12 oz at minimum to between 7 and 9 lb, the offshore boat angler will be more concerned in the winter with catching cod to 30 lb - even as early as the autumn bigger cod can be caught at the Varne Bank which lies well offshore …

Tackle should be on the strong side. A single piece boat rod for heavy fishing, plus a big centre-pin reel, or the well-known Alvey side-cast reel which has often been featured in boat angling programmes on television, a 40 or 50 lb B.S. line, 5/0 or even 6/0 cod hooks, and very heavy leads, make a good basic outfit. The tide-runs offshore are very fast and sometimes a lead weighing 1 lb is required to hold bottom. The fish, though, have a habit of feeding well on the top of the tide - high water - when the sea is quiet …

… Favoured grounds are found in the vicinity of buoyed wrecks where the sea-bed holds big whelks, attractive feed for cod … Our bottom tackle was generally a single hook on a flowing trace held well down. Interesting to note that many of the fish, when gutted, were found to be full of red shrimp. For bait we used inshore shrimp (Crangon vulgaris), lugworm, mackerel and herring strips.

A good plan is to give the boat 'the tide to the mark' - meaning that if, for example, there is a wreck to the south, you should launch the boat at slackwater on a neap tide, take it out into the tide-runs, and then motor down with the tide to the wreck on the inflow, catching cod on the top of the tide, and returning with the ebb. This is a much safer method and also easier on the engine …

… For codling fishing, my favourite and highly successful method is to study the sea-bed at low tide, decide when and where the fish will come on feed during the inflow, then fish quickly and take a double figure bag. There are many different types of fishing for codling on the beaches of the open coast, but the main two are surf fishing, and beach fishing from slopes, into gullies and holes along the sea-bed.

For fishing a swell, leger tackle is excellent. The codling will be after shrimps washed out of the sandy sea-bed, and even though they chase the shrimp pretty fast they will still accept a lugworm presented on a fine shank using a free running leger - with such a terminal rig they do not feel the lead weight when making off with the bait. By the time they are aware of the hook it is fast somewhere, often right down the gullet.

In a rough and choppy sea when fishing from sandbanks the Holderness tackle is deadly. The spike grip, 6 oz lead is wired for 2 inches so that should it become buried in the sand the line cannot fray. This weight is tied direct to the end of the main line. Two imitation booms are made out of the main line, one set about 4 inches above the lead and the other 2 foot higher. Size 3/0 to 5/0 hooks are tied to snoods of about 18 inches and mounted on the booms - these must be of equal length or they will tangle. Using such a rig in an inter club match I have beaten an entire opposing club of sixteen rods ! Simplicity is so often the keynote to success …

The lead used on these rough bottoms is the Scarborough 6 oz flat lead, wired as usual. Gullies and pools fish very well - sport is quick, more exciting, brief in duration and requires the utmost skill.

When an angler 'studies the grounds', he is trying to decide where currents, entering the pools and gullies, will scour away the sand and fine shingle bordering the rougher bottom of stones. Here the feed is washed out of the sand and tries to escape into the protection of the little gaps between the stones - a skilled angler will take a dozen codling in an hour from such a spot, then it is all over. The tell-tale marks are there if you know how to read them. Currents cut out little banked grooves of sand, washing the feed into the open where the codling follow like hounds on the trail closing for the kill. But along the open coast each change in direction of fresh or heavy winds will alter the sea-bed, so the angler must, to enjoy the best sport, constantly observe and inspect the area lying between high and low tide marks. Unable to see, hear, or smell fish, and aware of the fact that they leave no trail behind them, he relies on his skill in reading the signs of the beach and exposed sea-bed to tell him where the fish will come to next time, and when they will be on feed.

Yet so expert is the veteran matchman that taking part in a five hour contest he may spend an hour studying the grounds, having lunch and a chat, before starting to fish. Then he will bait up in time to meet the shoal moving in and fish on until the bites cease or the match ends. Such is the sport along the open coast.

But there are other venues such as Dungeness made famous by long distance casting expert, Leslie Moncrieff and his fantastic cod catches from the 'Dustbin' mark. Many anglers who visit this venue lack the essential beach casting ability to get the best from the fishing. It is a good idea to buy the best beach casting outfit you can afford, then practise and practise until you can get a good distance time and again without tangling.

… Along Filey Brigg two different types of bottoms can be used. The Filey champion Mr F. Collings, uses expendable tackle or what are known locally as rotten-bottoms. The main line is heavy, say 60 lb B.S. tied to a three way swivel. Between the swivel and the lead there is a line of much less breaking strain which is called a rotten bottom. The hook is fitted by snood to the side of the swivel. This provides that if a cod is hooked and the lead remains snagged, it can be broken but without losing the fish. The other type of bottom is the Scarborough bottom, with one hook mounted well above the lead for rough fishing. The 6 oz Scarborough flat lead can often be freed by local anglers expert in this fishing. Many anglers still give preference to the traditional Scarborough reel which has no gears to strip. There are, however, places along Filey Brigg where a cast of 100 yards is required to get into the cod marks, and multipliers are being used more and more for this purpose …

Estuary fishing for cod and codling is carried out just inside the heads of the estuaries, like the codling bank at Spurn Head. There the fish are brought down by the fast ebb which always hits the codling bank at an angle that keeps it steep. One hour before slack water to one hour after is the crucial time … However, on a rising tide with the wind in your face, I would heartily recommend that the hook be attached above the lead …

… January, the big cod move off-shore to the deep spawning areas, but there will still be hordes of immature codling from about 1 lb to 7 lb for the beachcaster and rock angler. In this month the cod often begin moving to the sand from the rocks after fresh feed. February is also good for smaller fish inshore, but the boats can do very well if the weather holds and they can get out. In March, sport begins to drop off amongst the rocks, but often remains good over sandy bottoms now the common shrimp is migrating inshore. April sees rock fishing quiet, beach fishing falling off, but sport from the inside of the estuary head can be reasonable. In May, the beach angling finishes, and from then until September, the boat fishing offshore provides the sport.

Cod fishermen must study the data for the feed. In the spring, the common shrimp migrates inshore in large numbers. Favourite feed in summer is the offshore red shrimp. Herring shoals appear off the Yorkshire coast about Hull Fair time in mid-October, and the sprat season lasts from November to March. Alas the movements of the sprat shoals are often unpredictable. February to March is the time when we see the little crabs coming inshore. Whiting spawn inshore during the early days of the new year, and the eel-pout bring forth their young during December and January. All this information gives the angler a sound idea why cod move about and the sort of feed they are seeking. In my opinion the two baits which work best are peeler crab in season, and lugworm …

"Sea Fishing" (1969) Clive Gammon at pages 64 & 65

Cod more than other fish are the quarry of most shingle beach anglers. So popular are the Kentish beaches within reach of London that an early start has to be made to ensure a good position on the beach, and even then many anglers will have arrived in the dark hours, not to mention those who fish right through the night.

For large numbers of anglers the area is a favourite not only because it is within easy reach but also for reasons connected with the seasonal movements of cod.

The best months for this fishing are from October to January, though in good years the season will be extended. (This refers to big cod, up to thirty pounds or so. Small codling can be taken almost throughout the year.)

A combination of two factors brings the big cod into places like Dungeness. Spawning is the first of them, an inshore migration taking place in each autumn. The stocks of fish come from the North Sea and far out in the Channel, and the past five years have seen them come inshore in enormous numbers although, as we have seen, the necessity for very long casts means that the most skilful and best-equipped anglers take a disproportionate share of the catches.

The second factor is the movement of sprat shoals, which is important. The sprats tend to move about a great deal, and many of the cod follow them, so that an offshore movement of the bait fish can mean poor sport. Cod, of course, will take bait of many kinds besides sprats. Herring also (cut in strips for angling) is well liked, but the cod is not too choosey. Other baits include razor fish, lugworm etc.

The best conditions occur after a gale, when the sandy bottom has been torn up, and thousands of small creatures are swept inshore. The effect of a gale can be clearly seen at Dungeness, where astute locals beachcomb the tide-line, picking up lugworms and shellfish in quantity, and selling them to anglers from the city, who are quite unaware that the harvest is there and free for all!

Cod are not such tearaway feeders as bass, and the rod can be safely propped in a rest, the angler waiting until the jerking of the rod-tip indicates a well-hooked fish. The heavy tackle used makes landing all but the biggest cod an easy matter. The only dangerous moment comes when a fish is brought onto the shingle: then the undertow can put an enormous strain on the tackle. Using the wave action to beach the fish is the best method, and a gaff is a great help as well.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1970) Richard Arnold at page 45

The Round Fishes


Codling is the term usually covering cod up to about 4 lb in weight, though some fishermen may name them by size and not by weight. Thus a codling would be less than 20 inches in length, a fish half as long again would be named a sprag. There are other names used also, coupled with weight and size of fish, such as half-cods and cods. Cod can run to a large size and fish up to and over 20 lb are not uncommon.

The best fishing months for cod are the winter months. January and February with gales and cold weather generally coincide with the best cod fishing. The season usually runs from late September until March.

The cod is a ground feeder with an enormous mouth and a catholic taste for food. It has, in fact, been called the sea-ostrich. Large hooks and large baits are therefore indicated. The best rig is leger tackle and the paternoster a good second but it should be stressed that cod fishing takes place in the season when winds are strong and tides fierce, so that these factors, coupled with the size to which the fish may run, really make it necessary to use stout tackle and strong lines. Baits recommended are sand-eel, squid, mackerel, herring, lug-worms, ragworms, sprats (whole), soft crab, and almost any fresh bait will do. An artificial bait which has proved itself in the past is the white rubber sand-eel, but natural baits should be used if possible.

The cod has excellent culinary properties, though choice would perhaps be given to the larger codling, or Tom-Cods as they are termed, for sweetness of flavour rather than to the larger specimens.

"Competition Sea Angling" (1970) Bruce McMillen at pages 59 & 60

4. Species

Cod and codling

… These fish will take a surprising variety of baits, including soft and peeler crabs (which are truly deadly baits for this species), lugworm, ragworm, various shellfish, strips of fish cut from herring and mackerel etc., whole fish such as sprats, pilchards, small garfish or the greater and lesser sand-eel. They will also take feather lures (particularly if they are baited with strips of fish), imitation sand-eels, various types of 'jigging' lures and occasional spinners.

In this country however, bottom fishing with bait is the accepted method of angling for cod rather than with a lure. The appetite of a cod is a really remarkable one, for the stomach contents have in many instances included trinkets, small trays, empty and ancient oyster shells, lead sinkers and a variety of glittering objects. All of these were, of course, in addition to the more normal diet of crustacea, worms, shellfish and other fish.

… The addition of an oil attractor, particularly pilchard oil, to the bait or by placing it in the near vicinity, quite definitely improves one's chances in competitive angling, and particularly so when fishing for cod. I strongly recommend the angler to use the pilchard oil sinker described (here).

Another way in which one's chances of success can be enhanced when cod fishing is by remembering that this species have enormous mouths and, accordingly, the bait used should be correspondingly large. Hooks can vary in size from 1/0 to 6/0 or even larger - much depends upon the size of the fish you expect to catch, but do not be afraid to put a number of lugworms on one large hook. Indeed, many large cod are taken on bait 'cocktails' which consist of lugworms, mussel and pieces of fish. However, when baiting in this manner it is advisable to ensure that what you are offering, unless it happens to be soft, does not completely mask the hook point and barb.

Whilst fishing deep but very clear water I have noticed one aspect of cod fishing which may be of some comfort to anglers cursed with bait-robbing crabs. Once I saw a bait of lugworm which had attracted such a number of crabs and shrimps that it was virtually covered with them; when suddenly a codling took it all. Cod and codling are particularly fond of crabs, whether they be hard or soft, and just so long as sufficient lugworm bait remained on the hook to attract the crabs, the crabs in themselves probably attracted the cod …

The terminal tackle used for these fish is largely a matter of individual taste. Some prefer the standard three-hook paternoster, or variation thereof, while others favour leger tackle. I believe that the larger cod are more likely to be taken on leger tackle, but the trace must be long and one's chances of success are further enhanced by attaching an additional hook anything from 12 in to 36 in from the terminal hook.

… Generally speaking, dusk or darkness is probably more productive than daylight and cod are normally more prolific during the winter months …

… There are two schools of thought regarding whether or not the angler should strike at a cod bite. My own experience, particularly in pier fishing competitions, is that the angler who holds his rod is likely to catch more cod than one who does not. The cod may hook itself but it may take your bait without becoming hooked and feeling the weight and restrictive influence of the line, reject what it has taken before the hook is set.

Therefore we come back again to previously given advice: always hold your rod and be ready to strike immediately. This can make all the difference between losing or winning a competition.

"Successful Sea Angling" (1971) David Carl Forbes at pages 78 & 79

… the cod is not a discerning feeder. It takes almost anything which is edible, some things which are not, and there is no doubt about when it takes a bait. A rush at the bait invariably results in the fish hooking itself, and so one seldom needs to strike as such but rather to lift the rod in a controlled movement to ensure that the hook is set. When very large hooks are employed, it pays to take no chances and to strike hard. Having set the hook, you keep the rod tip high to absorb the shocks of a plunging fish, giving line only if the fish is really big and retrieving with a pumping action.

Tackle rigs should be as simple as possible, with whatever weight prevailing conditions demand, and these rigs can run to extremes, for cod fishing is a pastime of variance. Early in the season it may be almost flat seas, with codling of 5 or 6 lb coming readily to the bait, and then, after October, rough seas and howling winds, and great fish of 20, 30 or even 40 lb.

Many anglers get by with one standard size of hook, whatever conditions, but popular hook sizes are 4/0 for the early codling and 6/0 or 8/0 for the winter giants. For these big fish, with their huge, gaping mouths, it would be difficult to think of a conventional hook which would be too large, but one has to bear in mind that the large hook has a maximum holding power only when it has been powerfully set, and the larger the hook the more force required to set it …

Baits can be chosen from marine worms, various shellfish, cuttle, fish cuttings, or small, whole fish set on the trace with a baiting needle. Artificial baits of various kinds can also be used, and the best of these are heavy metal lures.

The author was introduced to the effectiveness of what seemed to be monstrous metal lures off Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1959. These lures, virtually just lengths of scrap metal and anything up to 10in long, very heavy and dull coloured, accounted for cod averaging 30 lb, but it was difficult, to say the least, to convince British angling friends of the effectiveness of such a piece of metal. While 'rippers and 'murderers' have been successfully used by commercial fishermen for over one hundred years, it is only in very recent years that anglers have begun to appreciate the merits of the more refined versions of such lures. These lures are now known as 'pirks', and at least one firm markets them for cod fishing.

The method of use is simple but effective, and the British record rod-caught cod of 46 lb from the Firth of Clyde was caught on a metal lure. The lure - it could weigh anything from 3 to 10oz - is lowered to the seabed and then line is retrieved to leave it dangling a few feet clear of the bottom. Now the rod tip is raised and lowered continuously to impart movement to the lure, and the more erratic the movement, the better the chances of fish …

The Daily Express, Friday 27 December 1974 at page 10

Fishing by Clive Gammon

Never mind the cold - go for that record specimen now

In the old days, once Christmas had gone by, you could take your pick of the best cod beaches, the best pike lakes and the best coarse fishing stretches.

When the temperature dropped sharply, as it often does from the New Year on, a lot of anglers behaved like carp going into hibernation. They stayed at home to tie flies or to work up a few convincing details for their big fish stories at the Angling Club Dinner.

Not any more. Down my way it is impossible to book aboard a weekend boat fishing trip until at least March. You can't take a quiet walk around the park lake for fear of being hit by a pike spoon.

It has finally got home to the majority of anglers that the turn of the year is a great tune for specimen fish.

The heaviest cod come from January on, as do the biggest pike. It often, means tough fishing in hard conditions, but it is well worth it.

There are plenty of good January targets. In salt water the most glamorous is a big cod, heavy with roe, that could weigh more than 40 lb. If you find it too chilly sitting in an anchored boat waiting for a bite try pirking.

This is a way of fishing that started in Scandinavia and spread to Britain in the 1960s, although it is still a technique used by only a minority of anglers.

A pirk is a cylinder of shiny metal up to a foot long, and an inch or two across. It is furnished with a big treble hook.

The angler, fishing from a drifting boat, allows it to hit bottom and then jerks it up a foot or so from the sea bed, and keeps repeating the process.


If you are shore fishing for cod don't imagine that you can only catch them by casting into deep water.

On the Sussex coast this winter some big ones, 20 lb. And more, have been taken by anglers fishing shallow shore marks that were thought to, be suitable only for summer bass.

Big pike will also respond to pirking, especially if you are boat fishing on deep lakes. It is possibly the best way for winter pike fishing on extensive waters such as the lochs of the Lowlands of Scotland, where many big pike specialists head these days.

You have to scale down the size of the lure. A six-inch model is fine for pike, and on even smaller ones you could run into quality perch.

The Daily Express, Friday 7 January 1975 at page 11

Fishing by Clive Gammon

Shake a leg and reel in those cod

The old chair leg that skipper John Rawle swings nonchalantly as you climb aboard the "Aquamanda" has clearly seen better days. It is one of those claw-footed, elaborately carved jobs that the Victorians were keen on.

But someone has been to work on it since. Along its length are 21 raw white notches. Each one of them represents a cod of 20 lb. Or more swung aboard Rawle's craft since his winter fishing started in November.

That's a fine record in this season, of not-too-brilliant cod catches, but you have only to reflect that it is barely 7 a.m. to see part of the reason why. Most skippers reckon 9.30 a.m. a civilised hour to start and they'll have you in by teatime.

Ask Rawle when you're coming ashore, though, and you'll just get a terse: "when the fish stop biting." It turns out that he is just as mad keen a rod fisherman as any of the anglers who charter his boat.

For the record, when I fished with Rawle last week we finally crept into the estuary of the River Crouch in Essex at 8p.m. after a fishing stint of 13 hours.


Oddly, though it is so close to London, much of the Essex coast is hardly explored by sea anglers. That's because its maze of creeks and sandbanks are not easy to fish compared with, say, the Kent coast.

But In the last year or so the catches that Rawle and his clients have made cannot be ignored. Last summer they discovered superb bass fishing which had not been suspected before in the area. They also caught large numbers of big sting-ray and smooth-hound.

But now in the cold pre-dawn this January morning our thoughts were on cod. In darkness we slipped through the estuary channels and made a detour of nearly seven miles to get to the seaward side of a vast sandbank. We travelled for almost two hours. When we finally dropped anchor it was in a grey, lonely, world, the only sounds the gulls and the distant rumble of artillery from the Shoeburyness range far to the south.

"We won't get much for an hour" John said "and not till the tide turns." He wasn't absolutely right. We caught some prime dabs as we waited, well over the 1 lb. Mark. But by the time the first cod came aboard the boat had swung to the ebb tide and sport improved as it quickened. Then the main function of the chair leg became plain. As it came aboard, each fish was dispatched with a quick, merciful blow - a big improvement on normal sea fishing practice in which they are left to flap their lives out on deck.

By mid afternoon, though we had taken some good double figure cod, we hadn't managed to add a notch to the chair leg. That honour was left to an Australian angler with us who go a 23 pounder in the gathering dusk.

"Catch More Cod" (1976) Paul Cartwright at pages 31 to 33

Chapter Three: Beach and Pier Fishing

Bites and Strikes

Most times the cod will give you a tremendous bite. Depending on the kind of tide you're fishing in, it will either almost pull the rod out of the rest or will come rushing towards you, dropping your line slack and sometimes making you wonder if you are ever going to catch up with it. I am not a believer in holding the rod: providing you're right next to it and can hit the bite straight away, then the number of missed fish will be minimal. On average there will always be some that you'll just never contact or will lose on the way in, but if the figure rises above fifteen per cent then there's something wrong somewhere.

I firmly believe that you have to strike a cod. If you're fishing with a grip lead the fish is partly hooking itself by pulling against a solid resitance. Even then, if you've got seventy or eighty metres of monofilament between your rod tip and your weight, you need a fairly hefty strike to set the hook. Often for speed this entails a 'running strike' backwards up the beach or across the pier. This is a very efficient and quick way of connecting with slack line bites.

However, if you're sitting right by your rod and are watching the tip every second, then you can normally connect with the fish before it starts moving towards you. Quite often the fish gives a warning bite - a slight quiver of the tip. Even if it's only two or three seconds before the first lunge, it gives you time either to pick up the rod or to get into a crouching position with two hands ready on the rod to pull back and start winding immediately the rod tip really goes down.

Playing a Cod

The golden rule when playing a cod (as with most fish) is never give it any slack line. Don't force the fish - let it do what it wants, within reason, and if it wants line then give it line. But under pressure any sudden slackness at all will give the fish the opportunity to throw the hook. When you're bringing the fish in, let the rod do all the work - pump and the retrieve, keeping the rod as high as you can at all times.

When there's a surf running on a beach and you're getting your fish near to the shore, then let the waves do the work for you. Don't try to pull against the backwash. Keep a tight line and if necessary let the fish go back. With the next wave comes your opportunity to bring the fish in. If you've got a companion with you then he should be standing at the edge of the surf waiting to get behind the fish at the first opportunity either to gaff or lift it out of the water.

"Sea Angling with the Specimen Hunters: Big-Fish Tactics of the Experts" (1977) edited by Hugh Stoker at pages 191 to 198

28 Cod Peter Grundel

Shore fishing for cod around the east and south east coasts, where I live, is mainly a winter pursuit. The advance guards of fish move shoreward during late October, after the water has been stirred up and coloured by the first big autumn gale. The numbers of cod rapidly build up during November, until they reach a peak in December and early January. February sees a sharp decline in catches, for this is the month when most mature fish move out to spawn; but in late March and throughout April, until the water gets too warm, there is often a secondary, though less predictable, inshore run of lean spring fish.

Examination of the stomach contents of cod reveal that this species is ideally adapted to feed on virtually any kind of food, and although small fish, crustaceans, molluscs and gastropods figure most prominently, any other edible items (and sometimes inedible ones too) which prove small enough to become engulfed are also eaten. From this evidence it would be easy to conclude that choice of bait is of relatively minor importance, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the murky underwater conditions prevailing inshore at this time of the year the fish, through force of circumstances, are obliged to rely on sense of touch plus their extremely well developed sense of smell in order to locate their food. From the shore fisherman's point of view, the cod's keen sense of smell is of vital importance, because by employing baits which exude a strong scent trail, which can be detected by the fish from afar and tracked down to source, he is not merely relying on the occasional cod stumbling by accident across his offering as it lies on the bottom. In my experience lugworms and soft crabs come into the top category of cod-attracting baits, although the latter are often difficult to obtain during winter. Alternative baits include squid, razorfish, mussels, the oily fishes such as herrings and sprats, together with slipper limpets, hermit crabs and ragworms. When a lot of inshore food is freely available cod sometimes become overfed and finicky, and at such times baits often prove more effective when used in combination. The ingredients of some of my favourite 'cock-tail' recipes are, lugworm and squid, lug with razorfish, and lugworm tipped with slipper limpet. Notice, though, that each of these bait combinations includes lug, one of my prime choices.

Correct presentation of the bait is equally important, because in order to be most effective the offering must not be allowed to trundle around in the tide, thus dissipating the scent trail and making it difficult to follow up. Many of the most productive cod beaches, such as Dungeness, Orfordness, and much of the Kent and Suffolk coastline, comprise a steep-to shingle shore with deep water close in and a strong lateral current flow. In order to hold out firmly over this type of ground, particularly when long distances must be cast in order to reach the feeding zone, tackle arrangements will benefit by being streamlined down to the bare essentials to minimize the effects of air resistance and tide drag. My favourite terminal rig for this type of work comprises a simple one-hook nylon paternoster. This is made by tying a 9 in. nylon snood and sharp fine-wire 5/0 hook to my 35 lb shock casting leader about 2 ft above the strong lead attachment link-swivel. I use a 5 oz spiked lead, but it is important to use the right sort. Sinkers with fixed anchor wires can prove very vexing. Because of their habit of fouling the bottom at awkward moments, they have cost me quite a few large fish. Fortunately we now have 'Breakaway' type release leads incorporating collapsible anchor wires which are either tensioned by means of beads, which snap into recesses moulded in the lead, or by an elastic band which holds the spikes in position. Both types of release lead work effectively, anchoring the bait firmly in the strongest tide; yet, if tensioned correctly, the wires collapse immediately upon striking, making them virtually snag-proof. I can thoroughly recommend them.

In order to cast a 5 oz lead plus a big bait to distances exceeding 100 yards, a pretty powerful beachcasting rod is required. Personally I prefer a fairly steep-tapered blank which transmits the power more effectively to the tip than in soft actioned rods, but the final choice must depend to a great extent on your own casting style. A word of warning here - many anglers tend to purchase rods which prove far too long and heavy for their own physique under the misapprehension that big, powerful rods always equate with longer casts. Nothing could be further from the truth, for if you overload yourself casting distances will suffer, and in this respect all of my cod fishing poles are home-built from blanks, equipped with lightweight rings, but unadorned with unnecessary fittings which will add extra weight to no good purpose. A small plastic-spooled multiplier loaded with 100 yards of 15 lb nylon monofil is my own particular choice in reels, but now that we have line-release buttons, which prevent the line cutting into your forefinger during casting, there is no reason why a large fixed-spool reel should not be employed.

The technique of holding out firmly across a strong flow of tide is simple once you understand the principle of letting the current assist you. Move well upside of your fishing position before the cast, and when the lead hits the water do not tighten up but walk back to the rod rest, simultaneously allowing plenty of slack to belly from the reel after the sinker has hit the bottom. When you reach the rod rest, engage the reel - by which time water pressure acting against the belly of the line will have driven the anchor wires into the sea-bed (Fig. 28.2.).

When fishing to an uptide position in this way most of the cod bites will be signalled by a hard thump on the rod-tip, followed by the line falling slack as the fish picks up the bait and drops away downtide. It then becomes necessary to reel in all slack line quickly, and hammer the hook home hard.

No discussion on winter cod fishing would be complete without reference to whiting, a closely related species which tends to impose its attentions at some time or another upon all cod fishermen. Your attitude towards these small, free-biting fish will largely depend on your own psychological make-up. You may decide to regard them as an added bonus, temporarily giving up ideas of cod to take advantage of the active sport which these fish offer - in which case similar baits, but scaled down in size and presented on much smaller hooks, should prove effective. Or alternatively, you can sit it out and wait for the cod to show up, suffering the indignity of having your hook stripped repeatedly by the frantic rattling bites of the whiting. Cod fishing during a whiting invasion becomes a constant battle of attrition when soft, easily shredded baits such as lug and soft crab are employed - a battle, incidentally, which is usually won by the whiting!

Although a big cod will eagerly take a hook baited with a live whiting, it is virtually impossible to cast a live whiting over long distances. Even if you achieve the distance, impact with the water will kill the bait instantly, making it far less attractive. A useful ploy, however, is to whip a small whiting hook an inch or so below a big 7/0, baiting the small hook only before casting out.

If things work according to plan, up swims a whiting to take the bait and it remains, all alive and wriggling, tethered close to the big hook until a cod comes along and completely engulfs the lot. I do not pretend to have caught a lot of cod by this method, but it has sometimes produced the odd few fish when normal tactics have failed dismally.

So far we have examined fishing methods likely to prove productive during the main winter run off the steep-to shingle beaches. However, as I mentioned earlier, there is often a second inshore movement after spawning has taken place. Lean spring cod mainly prefer much shallower water, seeking out those beaches where the ebb tide strips off a long way to reveal weed-festooned reefs intersected by muddy gulleys and lagoons. In spring this type of shoreline provides potential shelter for a great variety of life, with several types of crabs, prawns, shrimps and small fish such as rockling and blennies sheltering in the pools. All of these make acceptable meals for cod. Most of the fishing is short-range work, and casting accuracy is essential in order to place the bait into a snag-free gulley rather than into the rocks - from which the tackle is unlikely to be recovered. In these relatively current-free conditions much lighter tackle can usefully be employed, and on light bass tackle the true fighting qualities of cod can really be appreciated.

While shore fishing provides, in my view, the most pleasurable way of taking cod, it must be admitted that boat fishing consistently produces the bigger bags and also the very largest fish. Much of what I have written before applies to inshore boat work during winter. The baits are the same, and the basic method, too. That is to say, when the water is coloured you should present a bait on the bottom which can be tracked down easily by the feeding fish. No highly specialized equipment is needed for this type of fishing, and in most circumstances a 20 lb class boat rod used in conjunction with a large diameter and fairly low-geared multiplier will be adequate to deal with the largest cod you are liable to hook.

Many anglers favour a long flowing trace terminating in a large hook baited for cod, with either one or two small hooks attached higher up the trace in order to catch whiting. I disapprove of this method most strongly, because all too often a big cod will be hooked on one of the whiting hooks, and this usually leads to disaster. Falsely assuming the cod has taken the large bait, strong pressure is brought to bear and the hook becomes broken or straightened. My maxim is either to fish for cod or for whiting, and not to combine the two. At least if you employ specific tactics, should you hook a cod on the whiting gear you know exactly where you stand, and provided that you play the fish lightly you have an excellent chance of boating it.

As the inshore water temperatures rise in spring there is an outward migration to cooler, deeper waters. From May, and throughout the summer, cod are to be found in the vicinity of wrecks, in troughs between offshore sandbars, and around rocky ledges on the sea-bed, usually in depths exceeding 20 fathoms. Under these clear water conditions the fish become far less dependent on bottom feeding, for they can hunt by sight, rising up to attack shoals of pout-whiting and sandeels which also frequent such locations. The method conducive to the heaviest catches during summer is to fish from a drifting boat around all likely marks, keeping a dan buoy handy so that as soon as a shoal has been located this can be slipped overboard to mark the hotspot. Normally heavy shiny pirks or feather jigs will be employed, and in this context it is totally unnecessary to work these lures violently. Over-enthusiastic jigging, apart from becoming completely exhausting in a very short while, often leads to a good many foul-hooked fish. The most effective method, I find, is to lower down to the bottom, reel up a turn or two, and then raise the rod-tip in a series of long, smooth, slow lifts, subsequently lowering the lure gently down again. Cod are often concentrated into tight-packed shoals in summer, and naturally when this happens the competition for food becomes very intense.

Not infrequently when a shoal of cod has been found everyone aboard is simultaneously into fish. For this reason, if feather jigs are employed, I prefer a sturdy 3-hook set tied up on 6/0 hooks on extra heavy nylon, rather than a totally inadequate mackerel flight.

Although a lot of cod are taken by drifting methods, bottom fishing with natural baits from an anchored boat can also be successfully employed providing the tide is slack enough. In this context lugworm and shellfish baits, so successful close to shore, are far too pouting-prone for my liking, and I prefer a really big bait such as a whole side of mackerel or a medium-sized squid. By anchoring the boat well up-tide of a wreck it is possible, by carefully selecting the right weight of lead, to bump the bait along the sea-bed right up to the rusting ironwork, thus searching a good deal of ground. Should fishing the uptide portion of the wreck prove unprofitable, the anchor warp can be lengthened so that the boat is lying directly above the hulk, and the downtide section of the wreck can then be searched. Remember that in many instances a deep bore-hole gouged in the sea-bed by the swirl of currents often lies a long distance from the wreck itself - this is always a place worth trying.

Although cod may be my objective when fishing these deep water marks, there is always the likelihood that other species will intrude - conger, tope and spur-dogs in particular, all of which possess sharp cutting teeth. For this reason I tie my hooks to steel traces, even though this is not necessary for cod. A single-hook 6 ft flowing trace is my normal terminal rig, with the lead attached by means of a Kilmore boom so as to enable the sinker to be changed quickly as the current varies.

"How to Improve Your Sea Fishing" (1978) Melvyn Bagnall at pages 9, 10 & 12 to 17


Shore Fishing

For most of the year the stocks of cod stay far from shore but they begin their inshore movement in September. Shore fishing prospects for cod depend on a number of important factors and anglers who take these into account will always obtain the best results. Shore fishing is infinitely better in the dark hours. Cod move much closer to land at night, probably because only then do they feel safe to do so. Shore anglers can catch two cod at night for every one taken in daylight. Only a small proportion of Britain's cod anglers are prepared to give up a full night's sleep to maintain a dusk to dawn vigil over their cod rods. But hundreds do that every weekend when the season is in full swing, braving snow and frost in the process.

Tides are important. The effect of tides tend to vary in relation to the shape and length of each beach but, as a general rule, the period around high water is considered best in most places. That is not to say that cod cannot be caught either at low water or even on ebb tides. Of course they can, but it does pay to ask for local advice before committing oneself to fish a particular tide. Periods of still, clear water produce poor results. Onshore gales quickly put colour into the sea and, although the sea may be too rough for fishing at such times, anglers can take immediate advantage once the wind dies away. Prospects remain good for as long as the water colour lasts.

Frost is also helpful. The fall in temperature seems to prompt fish to move inshore. Early frosts are welcomed for another reason by most anglers. The reduced water temperature sends the crabs scuttling off out to sea - where they are out of casting range and will not then be able to steal the bait from anglers' hooks.

Dead water times, when the sea is standing between tides, are usually less productive. The peak times are immediately before and immediately after high water.


… Distance casting demands that a casting leader is used. This is a length of stronger line which takes the stress of the casting. Ideally it has a breaking strain of 35 lb to 45 lb. A casting leader should have three turns around the reel spool while running the length of the rod to the link swivel which connects either to the paternoster or lead. This means it needs to be around 16 feet to 18 feet in length. The casting leader is tied to the main reel line with a five-turn bloodknot (see figure 2a).

A 6 oz lead is most commonly used, although there is one school of thought which takes the view that 5 oz is better. It is rarely possible to fish with leads lighter than 4 oz because of strong tides. At times it may even be necessary to use 8 oz of lead to hold bottom. But the 6 oz is the easiest to cast.

Long range casting demands simple terminal tackle. The more cumbersome the hook rig the greater the resistance it creates during the cast and the shorter the distance it will be propelled. That is just one reason why experienced cod anglers prefer to fish with a single hook. They believe that there is no better chance of catching a cod with two hooks anyway.

The simplest rig involves a three-way swivel which is tied into the casting leader some three feet above the weight. The hook is tied on to a 10 inch length of line, known as a snood, which in turn is tied to the tree-way swivel with a bloodknot (see figure 2b).

The angler's choice of hooks varies widely. Sharp, slim-shanked hooks, sizes 4/0 and 5/0 are favoured along the east coast, but when big cod are around it can be safest to fish a 6/0 or even a bigger one. Size 2/0 hooks can be very effective for small cod and whiting, but they have often been known to fail when hooked into big cod.


The primary bait is the lugworm, although ragworm and peeler crab will also prove effective. When fishing lugworm it usually pays to thread sufficient worms onto the hook to provide a bait which is up to nine inches long. The worms should be changed every 20 minutes to ensure that they continue to emit their pungent juices to the sea, thus helping to attract cod.


… The layback is a simple style. This involves the angler extending the rod tip as far up the beach behind him as possible. The lead is 'dropped' to secure compression of the tip and then the cast gets underway with the rod tip passing over the angler's shoulder at the 11 o'clock position. The lead is not flung idly out to sea. The angler must place the lead in an uptide position so that it settles onto the sea bed anything from 10 yards uptide to square with the spot where he is standing.

If the lead is either cast or carried downtide it will be dragged inshore and valuable distance will be lost. And because of the amount of 'belly' in the line it is always much more difficult to strike and hook a cod from the downtide position. The wire prongs on the casting lead can only get a fast bite into the sea bed if the line is left slack immediately after the cast has been made. The line can be tightened once the lead grips the bottom but not before (see figure 3).

The best leads in general use these days are called 'breakaway' leads. The wire prongs rotate backwards under pressure from the rod to allow them to pull cleanly out of the sand when the weight is to be retrieved. These leads also have the advantage that they do not foul bottom during the retrieve or when a fish is being brought through the breakers.

Given the time to do so, cod will frequently hook themselves. It is, in fact, better to give cod too much time rather than too little. As they take the bait and tug they pull against the lead weight gripped into the sea bed and hook themselves. Hooked fish are allowed to swim inshore with as little pressure from the rod as possible. A big fish is likely to put up good resistance when just beyond the breakers and it is best to let the fish tire in the open sea rather than let it display its energies when being brought into a breaker. Fish should be brought up the beach on the crest of a wave. The inward power of the wave will fling the fish up the beach, and when the water has receded, leave the cod almost high and dry.

Boat Fishing

… All around the east, south east and south coast of England the cod fishing done inshore from small boats involves bottom fishing, with the boat at anchor. The rod is short - casting is not necessary - and, because the bait is simply dropped over the side and allowed to settle on the bottom wherever the tide allows, the multiplier reels have the stronger metal spools. Lugworm remains the most effective bait.

… Drift fishing with any of the variety of imitation sand-eels now available is always likely to produce cod - and they can be big fish. It is very rare for cod taken off wreck marks to weigh less than 14 lb and many top 20 lb. It was from an offshore wreck that George Martin caught his 53 lb record-breaker. That was the captor's first-ever day of boat fishing. He was talked into going by friends, was not at all keen, caught the biggest cod to date, and refused to be at all overawed by his fish!

Wreck cod are taken deep down in the water, frequently at depths of 200 feet or more. The imitation sand-eel lures are fished on a long lead-free trace which allows them to be carried around in the tide and thereby presented attractively to the fish.

"The Bait Book" (1979) Ted Lamb at page 179

Sea Species

Cod Besides being Britain's most important commercial fish, cod build up notable inshore populations on the south and east coasts during the colder months of the year, and are the mainstay of much winter angling. The cod is none too fussy about food, taking just about any bait you could offer - some have even been caught containing plastic cups jettisoned from Channel steamers. Small whole fish like sprats and sandeels, worms, and especially large lugworms bunched on a big hook, squid in strips or larger sections like a head, fish strips of up to 6in, bunched mussel and soft crab are all good baits. Use hooks from 4/0 - 8/0 and strong tackle. Legering from beaches, piers and rocks, and deep-sea legering over wrecks and reefs are the usual fishing methods, but drifting with a large bait is good wherever there are big shoals of cod.

"Two Hundred Sea Fishing Tips" (1982) Ivan & Ivor Garey Tip 69

11. Natural Bait

69. Rubber bait-stops

In the course of our experiments we were inspired to use small pieces of rubber to hold soft bait more firmly on the hook. The results exceeded all expectations. The 8x8mm (half-inch square) bait-stops are cut from fairly thin inner tyre tubes. After mounting a piece of bait a stop is pushed right up against it, preventing it from sliding down. The process is repeated until the hook is effectively baited (for codling). When rebaiting the hook, the rubber stops are simply torn off and discarded. Never use such a bait stop for a second time. They cost nothing, after all, for any garage will be only too pleased to give you an old inner tube. Mussels and other soft bait can be mounted in this way as well as large sea worms from the deep freeze.

"Cod Fishing" (1987) John Rawle at pages 7, 8, 16, 19, 20, 26 to 29, 41 to 48 & 54 to 62

The Cod - About the Fish

… A large female cod can lay over 20,000,000 eggs, usually in January and February. They come inshore to feed up prior to spawning and move back offshore as the water temperature reaches the correct level to stimulate them into spawning. After spawning the fish usually venture back inshore to feed up and regain the weight they have lost. This is often called the Spring Run in the North Sea area. This can last into April and if you go far enough out, into May.

… At a year old they are 4 to 6 inches long and are feeding avidly on shrimps, small fish and just about anything edible. At times these tiny colding come inshore in huge quantities usually in April and May. They pack on weight and in their next year grow about 10 inches in length. These 14 to 16 inch fish usually weigh about a pound and a half. From now on they really put on weight. At 3 years old they normally weigh 4 to 61b. At 3 years old about 25% of the fish reach spawning maturity and at 4 years old about 60% to 70% reach spawning maturity. Usually the fish then weigh between 7 and 10 lb. Few now live to five years old, but those that do weigh in the 12 to 161b region and about 90% of the survivors are sexually mature. If any of the brood live longer they put on about 3 to 41b per year depending on where they are.

Location of Cod

Summer Boat Fishing

The Thames estuary is relatively very shallow. There are cod to be caught in the summer months from one or two offshore wrecks but because of the distances involved these are not really a viable proposition on a commercial basis.

Moving onto the Channel coast, Ramsgate, Deal and Dover from the wrecks and also the Varne Bank. The Varne Bank and the Ridge which lies slightly south of it are very prolific areas for cod in the summer months. Several charter boats leave Folkestone most days to fish these grounds, and this area also has several wrecks that can produce the goods.

Moving west past Hythe to Dungeness and Rye, this again is a very productive area not only from the mid channel Bullock Bank or the wrecks but from the gulleys of rough ground fairly close inshore. Charter boats leave Rye and the east side of Dungeness Point to fish these grounds.

Winter Cod Fishing

You are now coming into really prolific winter cod fishing with Dungeness. This prominent peninsula of Kent has turned up over the years superb fishing from both boat and beach at a very consistent level. Both Dungeness and Denge Marsh beaches fish well after a big blow either south west or south east, ideally on rising spring tides. Big lug baits tipped with squid, razor fish or sea mice. Charter boats fishing the area round the point can be boarded from Rye or Dungeness point itself where they launch from the beach.

Moving east to Hythe, Folkestone and Dover, all three ports have charter boats available and have consistently over the years produced very good consistent cod fishing throughout the winter months. Hythe and Folkestone in particular consistently turn up a string of big fish from marks fairly close to the shore. October to January are the best months. Large lug cocktails seem to be the best bait. All round the South Foreland up into Sandwich Bay past Kingsdown, Walmer Castle and the Sandwich Bay area are all very good and have the added advantage that any wind with west in it is off your back, making fishing and casting a lot easier. Lugworm is the best bait generally with peeler crab better over the rocky areas. Dover's southern breakwater and Admiralty Pier turn up good cod catches consistently to anglers who can master the strong tide run. Charter boats leave from Dover, Deal and Ramsgate and all have very productive grounds at their disposal.

Moving up past Ramsgate, Margate and into the Thames Estuary, this area, unlike the summer fishing for cod, is very productive in winter months. Some of the best beaches are off the rocks of Ramsgate. Herne Bay's Reculver beach is good especially after a north-easterly blow. The south side of the Thames doesn't have a lot to offer the cod angler because of the extensive shallows. If there are a lot of cod about they sometimes venture as far up river as Gravesend although this hasn't happened in recent years. Coming down the north side of the Thames, Tilbury, like Gravesend, can produce a few if there are a lot of cod about …

Beach and Shore Fishing


Casting is a very important part of shore angling for cod. I am the first to conceed that it is far from being the be all and end all of it but being able to cast a long way is and will always remain to be a very important weapon to have in your armoury. It doesn't take a lot of working out. Sometimes the fish are likely to be in range of the average man's best casts but sometimes they will not be. If you can cast a long way then you can reach the fish on most occasions, whereas the man who can only manage a hundred or so yards with a lead and about 70 to 80 yards with bait, will struggle a lot of the time. Another very big advantage of being able to cast a long way is when you are fishing in adverse conditions, such as a gale or the aftermath of one in a very heavy sea. These are often ideal conditions but to enable you to make the most of the opportunity it helps if you can put a big bait and heavy grapnel 80 or 90 yards out so that it can hold out there in a heavy swell. Some of my best catches from Dungeness and Dengie Marsh and other South Coast beaches have come in really had conditions when you have to give a cast all you have got to get a suitable bait and lead far enough past the huge undertow that builds up with a big sea running.

I remember one day in Dengie Marsh in December with a force 6 south westerly blowing in and across the beach. All but my two mates and myself had packed in because it was virtually un-fishable. I put on an 8oz grapnel, a big wodge of lug and whacked it as hard as I could. I suppose it went about 80 yards before the strong cross wind stopped it dead. I put the rod on the rest holding it up as high as I could to keep the line above the first 2 or 3 breakers that were full of weed and kept dragging your line down into the shingle. It held out there for a couple of minutes and then started to drag slowly over as the weed started to build up on the line. The rod tip sprang back, I thought because of the build up of the weed. On retrieving I started to pump in the heavy weight which I thought was a mass of weed. There was a lot of weed but also an 11 lb cod …

I taught myself to cast reasonably well by practising over the field a couple of evenings a week and once you have achieved the sort of distances you are after it is like riding a hike, you don't forget, providing you fish fairly regularly.

The pendulum cast executed correctly, with good gear, will give you over 160 yards without putting much effort into it. Once you have the technique sorted out and start putting some power behind it, you will start getting further. I won't go into pages and pages of how to go about it because there are two very good books on the market by people who are much more qualified than I to write about how to cast: Long Distance Casting by John Holden and Long Range Casting and Fishing Techniques by Paul Kerry both describe and illustrate long distance casting very well. All I will say is it is a lot easier than most people imagine if you put your mind to it and make a determined effort to learn to cast a long way.

I made my mind up a few years ago that I wanted to learn to cast better. I was getting 150 to 160 yards by using a modified pendulum technique. I spent a couple of sessions with my mate Mick Toomer who was into tournament casting at the time and got a few flaws ironed out and then just practised a couple of evenings a week. After 4 or 5, 1½ hour sessions I was averaging 180 yards. Two or 3 sessions later I was getting 190 to 195 and after only ten short practice sessions I started to pass the 200 yard barrier. I got up to about 225 yards fairly consistently after a bit longer, then eased off on the practising. I now nip over the field every now and again for an hour and have a few casts just to keep in touch. What I am saying is, that it is not that difficult providing you are determined and apply yourself to it. You haven't got to cast 200 yards but being able to put a lead over grass 170 to 180 yards means you can put a bait 130 to 140 yards out to sea in reasonable conditions and 80 or 90 yards in rough conditions and this is more than adequate for 99 out of 100 occasions. If you can cast you can always drop short if the fish are in closer. If they are a long way out and you can't cast you will not catch. Good consistent casting is the shore cod angler's biggest attribute, so if you can't then go out and learn, otherwise you are giving yourself a big handicap.

Fishing Methods

Once you have decided what beach to fish, if possible get down there early or at some time prior to the trip at low water and have a look round. Look for any deviation in the bottom if the tide recedes far enough - a ridge, a gully, a patch of rough ground, any feature that is likely to attract fish to it. In rocky areas look for gullies between the rocks, areas of clean ground amongst the rocks. On a lot of beaches breakwaters are situated along the beach at intervals. Cod will run round the end of these and root around for food in the trench caused by the tide, downtide of the end. Put your baits just past the end of these on the downtide side. It doesn't pay to fish uptide of these groynes because they block the fish if you fish inside the length of them and if you fish past the end any fish that you hook will probably swing round the end and snag you.

… Most South and East coast beaches have a lateral tide. Bear this in mind when casting. I always have one or two casts with just the lead to (a) get the line wet, (b) get your casting warmed up a bit, (c) check out how much tide there is at the time of starting fishing. When you start fishing walk a little way uptide from your fishing position and cast straight out there, then walk back to your base camp. This allows for the tide swinging your tackle round a bit plus the bow in the line caused by the tide. In doing this you finish up fishing straight out in front of yourself. If it still pulls round walk further up the beach before casting until you get it right. If the tide is very strong go through the same procedure but after the lead has settled let out a bow of line as in boatcasting. This helps the lead to hold by giving a more lateral pull in line with the tide instead of across it, as if you held a tight line.

Bites when fishing like this will nearly always be drop backs as the fish pulls the lead from the bottom and releases the tension on the line. Hitting bites from a beach is not a problem. 95% of beach caught cod hook themselves. All you have to do is maintain the pressure so that the hook pulls itself in. There is no way that you can strike at a 100 yards range with a tide bow in your line. Once the bite is seen pick up the rod, wind down until the fish is felt then lift the rod into it and then maintain steady pressure. Most cod from the beach don't do a lot until they get in near the beach then they may make a few lunges and a few head shakes but nothing dramatic. Take your time and use the sea to beach the fish. Do not rush it and try and hold it in a big backwash; let it go and bring it in on the next one. Always, if the sea is not too rough, I try to get behind the fish as it comes in and either grab it or get my foot behind it as the wave recedes. A small gaff is handy for big fish but most cod can be landed safely without one in open beach situations.

… On a lot of beaches weed can be a real problem when codding. It is a real pain, building up on your line eventually dislodging your lead, clogging up on your leader knot and generally making fishing unpleasant. There are a couple of things you can do to ease the situation. Firstly hold or prop your rod up as high as you can get it to keep as much line out of the water as possible. Often the weed is only in the breakers and getting your line clear of these can ease the problem. Another way of making it easier is to use a heavier main line with no leader. Have your rig attached to the main line by a snap link and every time you retrieve just unclip your rig and let the weed slide off. This doesn't prevent the weed building up on the line but it saves you a lot of time in clearing it and it doesn't build up on the leader knot. Dropping your casts short can help as well. Sometimes the fish are well in when there is a lot of weed in the water and a shorter cast might pick them up. I use about 281b B.S. when fishing like this. This is heavy enough to take a fair whack when casting and not too thick to create a load of drag. It is really a last resort but often it saves the day.

Because most beach fishing relies very heavily on the fish hooking themselves always make sure that your hooks are kept needle sharp. Check each cast because a touch on a stone or something can turn the point over.

Beach or Shore Fishing over Rough Ground or Rocks

If the ground you are fishing over is rough, either rocks or weed, than a plain lead will be better than a grapnel for obvious reasons. It pays to attach the lead by a weaker link in these circumstances so that if the lead snags you can break out without losing all your gear or a fish. When fishing this type of ground it is better to step up your line strength all round so that you can give the hooked fish plenty of stick to heave it clear of the snags. You can ease off a bit once clear of the bottom but initially you need to heave it clear. The same applies to hooks. Step them up a bit like the ones used for conventional boat work. Light fine wire hooks are good for open beach situations but no good for yanking fish out of weed. The beefed-up tackle is handy for lifting fish out in these situations as it is not always possible to get down to the fish with a net or gaff of any kind.

… In rocky or weed infested water you have got to be on the ball when it comes to hitting bites. Treat the bites as you would any bite; when you decide to heave into the fish do so and wind down and heave into again to get it clear of the bottom. A few seconds of slack is all that any decent fish needs to get some momentum up and reach a snag. Wind down, heave into them and keep it up. Keep them off balance until you can take it easier near the top.


Cod and codling run up a lot of estuaries … In the Thames they travel up past Tilbury to Gravesend and that is 30 miles or more upriver …

Beach Fishing Rigs

There is, in my opinion, a big misconception about the actual amount of sensitivity and direct contact involved in most beach fishing situations. If you are fishing at a 100 yard range in a medium strength tide there is no way that you can nor even hope to achieve anything better than a slightly more sophisticated long line. No amount of running leads, tight lines, sensitive rods or violent striking has any bearing on your final catch. If a bite is registered positively on your rod tip from that sort of range the fish has eaten your bait and is trying to get away. It has almost certainly hooked itself. Working on this principle there is, in my opinion, no need for anything other than fixed lead and hook rigs for a majority of beach fishing. The only times that variations are beneficial is when you are fishing over rough or rocky ground and a different rig will give you a better chance of landing your fish. Most open beach fishing for cod situations can be coped with very efficiently by using one of the single hook paternoster rigs shown in the following diagrams. If there are either a lot of fish or you haven't got to cast very far you can use a two hook rig but most times one is best. The bait clips on the rigs are best made from 16 S.W.G. stainless steel wire and sleeved onto the rig as shown. This clip considerably helps the distance you can cast the baited tackle and also helps the bait to remain on the hook as you want it.

Fishing from piers, jetties and harbour walls and the like a trace is sometimes better especially in very strong tides. You can make them up as a running trace - as in the diagram - but in reality it doesn't work like that. One good idea when using a trace over roughish grounds is to put a bead above the lead link and a stop a couple of feet up the line so that if you hook a fish and the lead snags you have a chance of the fish freeing the lead by pulling the line through the lead link until the stop stops it. This gives the jerk effect in the opposite direction to which the lead is probably snagged and clear it whereas with a running lead it will just run back and forth. A variation of the nylon paternoster for rough ground is the one shown on the diagram. This rig has the effect of keeping the lead clearer of the bottom or the retrieve once the fish is hooked, improving your chances of the lead remaining clear.

"The Graeme Pullen Guide to Sea Fishing Baits" (1988) Graeme Pullen at pages 111 & 112


The pirk is a fairly basic instrument, with a split ring and large treble at one end, and a split ring for attaching your mainline at the other. Many of the shop-bought models come with very strong hooks. Bearing in mind that you are bouncing that lure up and down in the lower four feet of water, the chances of snagging are high; with a strong treble you will lose every pirk you snag. What many anglers are doing now is to change the heavy-duty treble for a larger, thinner-gauge wire one. When you hook a fish you take it nice and steady and you shouldn't lose him. But if you snag in the bottom, you can lock the reel drag up, point the rod tip at the line and steam the boat away, letting the finer wire points spring out under pressure. They can then be bent back into shape using a pair of pliers.

As well as putting some strips of bait on the trebles for attractants, you can put some of those plastic squids over them. First you take the treble off the split ring, cut the tip off the squid head and slide it down over the treble eye. Then attach it to the split ring again. There is one fluorescent pale green squid that glows in the dark, and I have had success with this. Also you can add some flash to your old pirks by wrapping them in silver or coloured tape. Norman Message had a short stubby pirk with yellow tape bands around it, which he swore was the best he had ever used. I know whenever I fished with him, his catch rate exceeded those of the rest of us put together!

"Go Fishing for Cod" (1989) Graeme Pullen at pages 15, 18 to 30, 45 & 46

Shore Fishing

… Once you get into an area south of a line drawn from say, North Wales to the Wash, the cod are very predictable in putting in an appearance in any sort of numbers. The time to start hoping for them would be around the second week of October when they make a showing along the Suffolk beaches. They peak here from the middle to the end of October, and then drift away a bit. The next showing of cod comes from Rye to Dungeness on the south-east coast in mid-November. They stay in large numbers for about a month then thin out in January …

… It's best to break your shore cod fishing down into categories. There are those fish that come from the wide open shallow sandy beaches of the east coast - north Norfolk, Suffolk, the Thames Estuary and Rye. From Deal round to Eastbourne you have fairly steep shingle beaches, but still with a heavy run of tide …

Fishing from Sandy Beaches

… What you must do with these shallow beaches is to walk them at low tide springs. That is when the tide is out at its farthest point. What you are looking for is a slight indentation in the seabed about 80-120 yards out from the high tide mark. Even a small depression in the surrounding desert-like seascape will be a wash-around area for loose particles of food. The cod move along the coast and will obviously stop in this area longer, giving you a better chance. If you simply cannot get to the venue to coincide with low tide conditions you have to look for two other signs. The first and easiest is to look laterally along the beachline to see the level of sand deposited between the breakers. During each storm, varying amounts of sand or shingle are thrown up by the action of the surf. One set of breakers will always be a bit higher than another, so what you are looking for is the highest bank of sand or shingle over six or seven sets of breakers. While it is often thought that the deepest water between breakers at high tide means deep water out in front of you, the reverse is in fact true. Any sand deposited at high water will not be out in front of you so at high water you must surely have a greater depression in front of you, and thereby a food trap.

The other sign to look for was first shown to me properly by Joe Malat, a professional shore guide who ran a four-wheel-drive vehicle on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Here the fishing was from level sand beaches where the best fishing was located by looking for sloughs. A slough is a natural break in the wave pattern, which you look for just as the wave is starting to crest. If you look along the surfline and see a section that isn't surfing, then you know the water is deeper there. A surfline is caused by a wave travelling by natural momentum over hundreds of miles, affected only by the wind. It then hits the friction of the seabed as the water becomes shallow, which means the lower end drags while the crest topples, almost like tripping over. When the water is deeper the wave will not crest.

The Outer Banks guides … watch for the tiniest detail to put their clients on the fish. Since I was shown a proper slough, fished it, and landed red drum and bluefish from it, I have learned to apply the same approach to shore codding. The red drum and cod are not dissimilar, in that they both have the underslung mouths of bottom feeders. They won't punch through a bank of waves like bass or bluefish, so you need to look for anything that will create a 'feature' or holding point for food items. The same applies to shallow sandy beaches. You should walk along them or scan them with binoculars until you see that natural break in the wave pattern, through which the fish pass from the offshore sandbank to feed in the littoral zone close in. The littoral zone is the area just behind where the waves draw back, where most food items are likely to wash around.

Once you have located the slough or wave gap you need to fish a bait on the uptide side or edge of it. Off the east coast the tide run can be considerable, and you will also have the wind to contend with. Judge your cast carefully and place your bait on the uptide dropoff of that edge or slough. You may not be able to reach the break as the tide pushes you up the beach. But don't worry, take a bearing off the land behind you so that if you lose the wave pattern at extreme high water, you can still line up a cast to place the bait in a line with the 'door' through the offshore sandbank the cod will be using.

At high water it is often worth dropping a cast in short to fish the downstream end of the breakers (the food breakers). Food items washed up to the high tide line will be sucked around the edge and any cod swimming into the tidal flow will be attracted by this trickle of food. This is a tip worth remembering when you are scratching around to find fish at the beginning and end of the main cod runs. You need to have a good eye for such features if you fish the wide flat sand beaches.

Another tip that has given me some success is this. Watch, or ask, to discover when other anglers have taken their fish. Very often something in the tidal conditions switches the fish on, and they run the gap in the wave pattern together. I have had codling as soon as the lead has gripped bottom, and equally quickly they have switched off and an angler farther down the beach has taken them. It's easy to work out which way they are running, but a good general guide is that they will run through the breaker gap then feed into the tide. This gives them greatest scent coverage with the single barbel under their chin, which helps them obtain food. By making a mental note of when the fish have been on the bite, you should be able to return at the next tide, at exactly the same spot, but an hour later as the tide gets later each day. It's rare, once you have established the pattern, not to catch fish at the same state of the tide the following day. This only works when the weather conditions remain the same, and a shift in wind may alter the surfline patterns. If the conditions do remain the same you can generally bank on taking fish like this for around four days. I can vouch for this, having spent up to four consecutive tides on various Norfolk beaches!

Pretty much the same rigs can be used for both sand and shingle beaches. You can use a running paternoster, a fixed paternoster with a single snood, or a multiple paternoster with several hooks. It all depends on how much bait you have. On the sandy beaches lugworm will be the bait to dominate catches, and assuming you have an almost endless supply of them, use the paternoster with three snoods. Obviously the amino-acid scent trail percolating along the seabed from three worm baits has a greater chance of being discovered than a single worm. The ground will be almost snag-free so you shouldn't lose gear. The only time, other than a crack-off, when you will lose gear is at low tide, when a. big surf is running. You can cast out as far as you can, but unknown to you, the surf may be carrying a lot of sand in suspension. It will then bury your end gear which of course you don't discover until you try to retrieve. The only way to minimise gear loss is by wading out as far as possible, pointing the rod at the lead and walk backwards, having screwed the reel drag down first. It is better to break your line as near the lead as possible and thus reduce the chances of that loose line creating a snag. The hooks will soon rust away, but alas nylon monofilament is with us a lifetime. Most lines should break at the shock leader knot, so you only lose that, and not fifty yards of main line.

When fishing the flat beaches I would advise the use of baitclips, although I have found no requirement to blast a bait out 130 yards. Not only does it streamline the bait to get those extra few yards if you are a mediocre caster, but it prevents the worm bait either blowing up the snood or breaking up altogether. A good second bait would be peeler crab.

A final word on sandy beaches; never be afraid to move right or left several hundred yards in an effort to find the fish. If you cannot get there at low tide to check out the ground, or if you don't have a high bank of sand between the groynes to tell you there is extra depth, or if you cannot see a slough in the surfline, move about trying to find a few fish. If you catch nothing on that first session, don't write the area off as being useless. Try further along, or further back until you pick up something. Fish can be fickle creatures and rarely hang themselves on the hooks!

Fishing from Shingle Beaches

Catching cod from steeper shingle beaches is basically similar except that you will be unable to see any break in the surfline. You will already have deeper water in front of you, and tidal conditions may be much stronger.

From Rye round to Dungeness, many thousands of shore anglers fish the early winter cod, and apply a different approach to searching out the better fish. Here you will need to get the bait no more than eighty yards or so out to be in with as much chance as the next chap. What you will need is a lead that anchors a big juicy bunch of lugworm in that strong tide, so the cod can locate it easily. For this I use only one type of rig: a single-snood paternoster, with a long two-foot snood, and a double-hook rig at the end. You need to thread at least three good lugworms up the first hook, over the eye and up the line a few inches. Then the second hook is slid down and the first worm nicked through the end. This not only holds the worms securely for the cast, but it also acts as a hooking device.

I was first told about the advantages of the double-hook rig many years ago by Jim Ingledew, a famous East Coast cod angler, who drove all the way from Peterborough just to spend a session on the Norfolk and Suffolk beaches. At that time only a few anglers were using double-hook rigs, and then it was only to hold out the bait so it didn't bunch up on the cast. Jim was the first to realise that the angle at which the bait lay in the tide meant that the top or 'holder' hook actually hooked a higher percentage of cod. Whether you are a long caster or not I think you should employ a baitclip for a big bunch of worms like this. You can clip your bait either snood up or snood down, but if it is clipped down you can gain from the slipstream effect of the lead during the cast.

The tide run on a steep shingle beach will be either right-to-left or vice-versa. On busy beaches where there are a lot of anglers, there is always someone who doesn't use a grip lead, and finds his tackle dragging round in the tide to tangle with several other anglers downtide. We should all forgive mistakes once, even twice perhaps, but a persistent culprit should have either a copy of this book shoved up his jumper, or his line cut!

To fish steep tidal beaches effectively you should clip your bait up ready to make the cast, then walk uptide for about thirty yards. Make your cast straight out in front of you, but instead of dropping the reel in gear, allow it to free spool with the tidal flow as you walk back to your rod rest. Knock the reel in gear and the line should pull tight in the flow and the tip of the rod pull over. You always use a lead where the wires break out, but in extreme tidal conditions you need a nose-wired lead with long arms so that the tide, and sometimes accumulations of weed, cannot trip the wires. What you should get is known as a slack-line bite. The cod comes along, following the scent trail of amino acids laid down by that glorious bunch of juicy lugworms. He locates them, engulfs the lot and turns away to start looking for more. He pulls up against the grip lead with its wires buried in the sand and feels a tug. That's your first indication of a bite, when the rod top pulls down sharply. At the bait end the cod, now a bit alarmed at the restriction, bolts off and pulls the hooks in, while the lead drags across the bottom holding the tension on those same hooks. This breaks the tension of the tide acting on the line, and you get what is known as a slack-liner. The initial rod top jab is followed by a spring back of the tip, and the line falls slack in the water. The first thing to do is grab the rod as the fish is already hooked. Then wind down fast as the cod will be dropping downtide and may run into either snags, groynes or the next angler's line. Once you get all the stretch out of the line, give the rod a good thump backwards while you walk smartly back up the beach. That should drive the hooks in past the barb. Then with a pump and wind action bring the fish in towards the surfline.

My first initiation into a slack-liner bite was on one of the Norfolk beaches. I had a pair of rods fishing lug about ninety yards out, and it was low tide with the first of the flood just started. About a hundred yards to my left were Jim Ingledew and his partner Brian Flack. After the initial excitement I became bored, and setting the drags on the reels so line could be pulled off under pressure, I set off for a chat with Jim. As I stood talking Brian suddenly shouted, 'Hey boy, you've got a slack-liner!' I was amazed at how he could see what was happening to my rod at over a hundred yards, but what he had seen of course was the pair of rod tips bowed over in silhouette against the sky. When one stood straight and the other still curved it was obvious to him I had a cod. I started back with a slow casual walk, which developed into a full cavalry charge, splashing through the water, as I could see all the line washing around the monopod! I duly landed that fish, which if I recall correctly was over 8½ lb! I didn't deserve it of course, but it made up for all those other fish I thought I did deserve but didn't catch!

The exception to this anchored bait rule on steep beaches, is at slack high or slack low tide. Then you can change to an unwired straight bomb and allow the bait to roll around slightly. You can also use this tidal period to rig with a three-hook paternoster, using a single worm on a single hook. This method has given me a few good codling when I was not really expecting a lot of fish. As I have said, you never really know when the cod are going to come, so be prepared to experiment a bit. I know of anglers who just leave their rods in until the tide starts to move, but I'm a firm believer that it's a bait in the water that catches the fish, no matter what the state of the tide.

Big cod are very much a predatory as well as a scavenging fish, feeding freely on crustaceans, shrimps and any small fish they can catch. Even during daytime there can be little daylight getting through to the seabed, and I can only assume they locate these fish by noises given off during their feeding, or by sensory receptors in their lateral line. In the early seventies at big shore cod venues like Dungeness in Kent, a good many anglers had a tiny rattling bite, followed by a big slack-line bite, and a missed fish. Those initial nibbles were from the voracious whiting, which run the same seasons and grounds as the cod. It wasn't until anglers started to leave those 'nibbling' bites alone, and just watched the rod tops, that they began to realise the whiting chewing away at their worm baits were being snaffled by big cod! A few were landed on small whiting rigs, but many more were missed.

It then occurred to the anglers to develop a new rig that would allow them to fish these same whiting as a livebait. Winter whiting probably average six ounces to half a pound and are almost impossible to cast. Admittedly they could be lobbed out thirty or forty yards on a big fixed spool outfit, but anything more powerful attempted with a good beachcaster and multiplier reel was courting disaster in the shape of exploding bird's nests! Big baits are notoriously difficult to cast, and to fish them at distance as a livebait is impossible. The impact of both the cast and hitting the water usually kills any livebait instantly. The cod men came up with the idea of whipping a larger single hook, unbaited, a couple of inches above the worm-baited whiting hook. When the whiting came along and gobbled up the worm, the anglers left him to hook himself against the grip lead, which of course he was too small to break out. That way they knew they could fish a livebait for an unlimited time secure in the knowledge that the only bite they were likely to get would be from a big old 'lunker' cod. This method still applies, but I would advise its use only in the waters that produce double-figure fish with some sort of regularity. While a 5-lb cod probably does have a go at immature whiting, it is likely to pass up any tethered offering if it is more than half a pound in weight.

While a good many beach men feel it is only the whiting that arc taken by cod, I feel it is worth leaving any small fish moored out in the tidal flow. Surely cod come across a myriad of immature species while grubbing their way across the bottom, and a blenny, pouting or poor cod are just as likely to be thrown down the hatch as a whiting. It is true that during the peak runs of cod and whiting around the south-east of England in the months of November and December, the whiting are in so thick that this is the prime source of live fish food a cod comes across. Much as they glut themselves on the sprats of the Thames estuary during the month of January, so the cod will cash in on any whiting boom.

… With most steep stone beaches the constant scouring action of the tide means there will be few features on the sea bed. It can still be worthwhile walking the area you intend to fish at low water springs, marking down either mentally or in a small notebook features which might attract cod. Mussel beds are a prime feeding area, although they can give you heavy losses on terminal gear. Collect a few and hold them on your hook with elasticated thread. It always seems best to fish near the edge of the mussel beds, not because you reduce your tackle losses, although that helps, but to isolate your bait near a positive food source. Crabs love mussel beds and will soon strip a worm clean, leaving you looking at a baitless hook.

Another good feature is an outcrop of rocks or big boulders. Try to get landmarks from your high-water casting position to establish where they will be at high water, then aim to fish a bait at the edge of that area. Sewer outfalls, although unsavoury places to fish, invariably have a big steel pipe running out to sea. The pipe itself may be a feature on a tractless void of sand and it could be well worth fishing near one. As well as the usual crabs, the rich nutrients being discharged by the pipe will be an attraction to shrimps, prawns and other small fish harbouring around it. Try to fish a bait on the downtide side of each feature, then if you get trouble with weed dragging or breaking out the grip leads, you won't lose your terminal gear in the snag.

On steep shingle beaches, the one thing that seems to kill all fishing for cod is a flat calm with an easterly airflow. Easterlies generally make the water go clear, and for some reason this puts the cod off, although you would think they found it easier to locate their food. I assume the olfactory or smell senses are their primary food location device though surely a scent is just as strong in clear water. It is a strange phenomenon, but certainly worth noting if you have a long drive to the venue. These same beaches will invariably be at their peaks after a good westerly, south-westerly or even southern blow. The gales stir up the food, and the littoral zone, so close to the surfline in usual conditions, will be spread out to sea further by the action of the undertow. I would suggest the best of the fishing for cod is after a good 24-hour gale from this quarter, as soon as the wind begins to abate.

While lugworm predominates in cod catches from open, shallow, sandy beaches, areas of small shingle and stones will be better for peeler crab and squid. There will be a proliferation of crabs around the features of mussel beds, rocks and pipes. These in turn rarely thin out until the first really heavy frosts of January, so with plenty of crab about the cod will use them as a major food supply. Close to shore, cod are unlikely to come across any profusion of squid, so why this bait is a success is beyond me. Nevertheless it works, and should be tried if you want better than average fish.

Fishing from Rocks

… Cod must be treated almost exclusively as a bottom-feeding species. The partially underslung mouth should be an indication of this. The barbule on the chin is another pointer to bottom feeders, and doubtless helps in the location of food items perhaps by smell or vibration. Although I have known them landed on calm seas and in clear water, it is so rare it must be deemed a freak capture. The two best times are during the hours of first darkness on a flooding tide, and just after a good blow with the wind having been in a south or south to south-westerly direction. During both sets of conditions from October through to February you are very likely to take a shore cod. The absolute optimum period is when the wind drops after a good blow, coinciding with a flooding evening tide. In November, in the last couple of weeks, I would almost put money on being able to produce a cod from the shore.

They can be landed to a huge size by beach anglers, certainly to 40 lb, but the beginner should be content with the average size codling of 3 lb or so. It's also worth noting that in recent years, the really big shore cod in excess of 25 lb, have been coming from rocky marks rather than the wide shallow east coast sand beaches. This is not due to an influx of cod into those areas, but an influx of cod anglers, who are just starting to capitalise on the latest innovations and technical advances made within the tackle trade …

… Of all the requirements for shore fishermen hoping to take a fish, bait should get top priority. You really need concentrate on just four: lugworm, squid, peeler crab and mussel, or you can make a cocktail of any of them. Even if you have mediocre tackle, are a poor caster and can only leave work after high tide, you still have a chance of a cod if you have a good fresh bait. The only other point to concentrate on is time and location. Don't waste your time scouring areas where a cod hasn't been seen for a decade. Stick to the type of areas mentioned, and always get some local knowledge first. Although they are often termed the 'swimming dustbin' for their prodigious appetite, they can also be fickle feeders, moving into a littoral area of beach zone only when the food content is at its highest …

"Estuary Fishing Afloat and Ashore" (1995) Dave Lewis at pages 58, 59 & 60

Fish Species


Cod are greedy feeders and small, washed out unappetizing baits are unlikely to appeal. Several big, fresh, and juicy worms, threaded up the hook shank, a whole squid or two, a decent lump of prime peeler crab, a half dozen mussels gently lashed onto the hook with fine elastic, a whole 6in razorfish and, of course, livebaits; these are the sort of baits that consistently score with decent cod.

With the exception of live baits, cod locate their food by using their highly developed sense of smell - how else are they going to find food in the often heavily coloured waters of estuaries ? But even in a modest run of tide the juiciest bait will very quickly get washed out, and I can only continue to emphasize the importance of fishing quality baits. Twenty minutes is the absolute maximum that any bait should be left unchecked. Freshening up baits every 15 minutes or even less is a far more reliable policy. Cocktail baits often fish very well for cod, notably crab/rag, lug/squid, crab/squid and lug/razorfish - as long as it's big and fresh, hungry cod will be able to locate and then eat it.

Traces incorporating a Pennell rig are invariably the best to use for cod, both afloat and ashore. The Pennell rig makes presenting large baits far easier than if using single hook rigs, with the added bonus of extra hooking power. Many cod anglers stick to using a single fixed paternoster rig from the shore, and the running leger from a boat. Grip leads not only help to hold baits in the required position on the seabed, but they provide a firm anchoring point against which many cod will effectively hook themselves, as they engulf a bait and try to swim off with it.

The self-hooking livebait rig is one particularly effective for very large cod. A smallish hook suspended below a larger hook, on a short length of line is baited with a piece of worm or fish, intended to tempt a small livebait. The angler casts the rig out, hoping that a small fish will quickly hang itself onto the small hook, and will frantically flap about trying to free itself.

The theory is that when a large fish, such as a cod, takes the small fish, the cod also engulfs the larger hook. It is exactly the same strategy that carp anglers adopt when fishing a boilie off a hair rig; a sprat to catch a mackerel so to speak. Obviously the angler will not always be sure he or she has hooked a livebait so there will be an element of chance with this method. It is an excellent method to use with a second rod (Fig. 28).

Nearly all cod fishing afloat within estuaries is carried out at anchor, and uptiding is nearly always the most effective technique when conditions are suitable. It is possible to use the self-hooking livebait rigs afloat, but, without the need to cast baits as far as the shore angler, many boat anglers first catch their livebait, mount it correctly onto a hook and then either cast it uptide or fish is downtide by trotting it well astern of the boat. Which method is adopted will ultimately depend on the conditions on the day.

"Operation Sea Angler: The Second Wave" (2013) Mike Ladle & Steve Pitts at pages 56, 57, 60, 63 to 67, 70 & 71

Cod, Haddock and Ling

Cod senses

… The senses involving visible light and vibration are only useful to the cod when the food is close enough to give out a detectable signal. At greater distances the sense of smell is much more useful. Like most other fish, the cod has a 'nose' which is used only to perceive chemicals dissolved in the water. On each side of the snout there are a pair of nostrils (nares). Water flows in through one hole and out through the other. Within the nasal chamber dissolved substances are recognised and the information is quickly received and computed by the brain. The cod then takes appropriate action.

A cod searching for food, particularly in dark or murky water, will try to economise on fuel by swimming with the flow of water. If the fish is in luck and has chosen its feeding ground wisely, it may encounter a scent trail of substances drifting downtide from a suitable item of food. If you are well informed and have selected your fishing mark with care, the item of food could be your bait.

If your bait happens to lie to one side of the passing cod shoal it may be possible to draw their attention to it in several ways. The fish are most likely to catch sight of a large, contrasty or moving bait but only at fairly short range. Similarly, a vibrating, swimming or flapping bait or lure will increase the chance of it being found by the cod.

The best bet for attracting distant fish is obviously to send out a chemical signal from the bait or its general vicinity. Over the years we have tried several strategies designed to make the most of the acute chemical senses of the fish and, like most such attempts, the results have never been sufficiently consistent to prove whether our tactics were effective or not. A summary might stimulate others to improve on our ideas (not all of them original, of course).

Firstly, it seemed only sensible to make use of ready-made sources of attraction. Rough weather disturbs and injures many items of fish food and, inevitably, bait digging and collecting activities have the same effect. It may pay to fish over suitable ground that has, for example, been extensively dug on the preceding low water.

To enhance or accentuate this effect it is possible to distribute reject-bait or other suitable attractants within the proposed fishing area. Scraps can be dug in or placed under rocks. It is sometimes suggested that groundbait may be placed in canisters or jars, but in our view there is already too much litter on the beaches.

Large baits will generally produce a stronger, more enduring scent trail than smaller ones and it should be an advantage to provide a large surface area from which chemicals will diffuse by slicing up or scoring the bigger pieces. Where long casting is not necessary it can be an advantage to skin or partly skin fish baits such as herring. It is undoubtedly well worth changing baits frequently because the concentration of chemicals passing into the water decreases rapidly following immersion, although a compromise between this and leaving a bait long enough to be hunted down is necessary.

With regard to the attractive properties of dissolved chemicals in the water, it is well established that the extracts of most of the common bait organisms will attract cod and some of them also evoke a strong feeding response in the fish. The fish will detect quite tiny concentrations of a wide range of amino acids.

These responses are by no means as simple as they might appear. Russian scientists have shown that, while low concentrations of odours associated with the presence of other cod were attractive, higher concentrations had the reverse effect and repelled the fish. Such results may explain some of the strange observations of scientists studying the chemical senses of the fish and the even stranger experiences of anglers using bait additives.

Territories and behaviour

… it is hardly ever a good idea to leave your bait stationary on the seabed. Any movement you can impart, either by drifting the boat, fishing sink and draw, cast and retrieve or even by using a long trace which allows the bait to wave about in the current, has got to improve results …

Cod, haddock and your bait

… Quite a lot of cod fishing these days involves fixed tackle, either uptide of an anchored boat or pinned to the sea floor 80-150 yards from the beach. Clearly … not every cod that swims by is likely to take these static baits, but it seems to us that the best chance of improving catches must be to use a two-hook rig and when a fish is hooked leave it out there until another (hopefully bigger) fish finds the other bait. Similarly, anything you can do to give flash and movement in the vicinity of your bait (i.e. to make it look like a struggling fish) is likely to dramatically improve your catches.

The best bait

Scottish fisheries scientists … used an underwater camera to test the effectiveness of some set-line fishing baits … mussel, squid, mackerel and salted herring … For … cod … mussel was by far the most attractive of the baits … about seven times more attractive than salted herring and almost twice as attractive as either squid or mackerel.

Perhaps even more significant was the experiment in which baits were mixed, not as cocktails but on alternate hooks. This showed that mussel, combined with either squid or mackerel, was most attractive to cod and, even more surprising, the mussel/squid combination was 24 times as good as the next best combination (squid/salt herring) …

The fact that fish were attracted to lines carrying a particular bait did not mean that they always attacked the baits and still less that they hooked themselves and were landed … Cod … were equally enthusiastic about grabbing mussel and squid, slightly less keen to take the mackerel and definitely dubious when it came to the poor old salt herring … Even with tasty mussel baits only about one cod in 12 that attacked the baits was hooked and brought to the surface.

All in all, this study is a lesson in the inefficiency of waiting for fish to impale themselves on your hooks as opposed to feeling and striking bites. Perhaps it would be a different story if circle hooks were more widely used for static bait fishing … Again, the failings of the standard J fish hook when fished with a static line were revealed. While 80% of biting dogfish were hooked, less than 20% of the dabs impaled themselves. Well over half of both species were lost on the retrieve.

Cod hunting

In dirty water, or in the hours of darkness, the cod becomes most active. Studies, using radio tags, have shown that some fish may lie dormant all day but definitely wake up at night. The hunting fish drift or swim along in the direction of the tidal flow, but when they sense the taste of food in the water they turn and swim back against the current, swinging their bodies from side to side, until they find what they are after. Sometimes, if you are lucky, it will be your baited hook.

With all this 'search and destroy' equipment at their disposal it is hardly surprising that cod are greedy and voracious fish. So just what do they eat ? The broad answer is just about anything, although they do have certain preferences. If you open up the stomach of a cod that you catch it is a fair bet that you will often find crabs, shrimps, prawns and other hard but wholesome objects within. Molluscs such as whelks are also popular as are large worms such as the furry, iridescent sea mouse, a type of plump, hairy ragworm.

Adult cod tend to eat crustaceans and worms in summer and fish and brittle stars in winter, but they have large appetites and catholic tastes. At times the fish will leave the bottom to forage in mid-water. High on the cod's list of favourite foods are fish of many kinds. Just about any fish which is not too big to swallow is likely to find itself inside that capacious mouth. At certain times of the year the cod may feed almost exclusively on species that are unusually abundant. For example, in winter sprats or herrings are often the main prey.

All this fits in perfectly with the well-known list of effective cod baits. Crab, squid, whelk, mussel, worms and fish are all killers on their day. Perhaps fish is the most underrated of these because there can be no doubt that small live fish, such as freshly-caught pouting, are among the best cod baits of all. It seems that most anglers cannot be bothered to take the extra trouble of catching and using livebaits, even though these may be prime cod tempters.

Cod hunting

Cod hunt their food in cold seas. Generally these fish are to be found in water where the temperature ranges from 0-10°C (0°C is the freezing point of fresh water). This means that, throughout the winter, cod can be caught all around the coasts of Britain. In the summer months these fish remain in cool deep water, only venturing inshore when the temperature begins to fall. Generally it is just small codling that are caught from the shore in warm weather.

The feeding behaviour and activity patterns of eight cod in a Norwegian fjord, studied by means of acoustic transmitters, were observed continuously for three to eight days … Not all cod slept the daylight hours away. Some searched more actively for food in daylight than they did at night and caught faster-swimming prey in the daytime by using their keen sense of vision. However, the fish also used their excellent sense of smell to locate the baits, even during daylight. The fish were able to detect the scent of mackerel baits from a distance of several hundred yards and at once began to search for the baits by adopting a faster swimming speed.


"There is much confusion over the terms cod and codling. Although things vary from place to place a cod is generally classed as being 6 lb or over, while a specimen smaller than this is a codling. Cod found around the UK are actually a specific species called Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), even if they are found in the North Sea, English Channel or any other area. This is because there are two other species of true cod: Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) and Greenland cod (Gadus ogac). Both of these species are smaller than the Atlantic cod and are not found in British waters.": British Sea Fishing

"… A cod is not a cod until it grows to around 6 lb. Prior to that it is called a codling or a Tommy cod, although in many regions all codling are called cod. Cod caught by shore anglers are usually codling, often less than 3 lb.": Sea Angler

According to a codling becomes a cod when it is mature enough to breed (at around 5 years old). Back in the 1970s that was above 10 lb, but overfishing has caused a shift in the gene pool that favours individuals that spawn early which has reduced this weight considerably. Mature cod are around 50cm (20 inches) in length. The "legal" size for landing cod (codling) is 35cm (14 inches). There is no official weight and no such fish as codling - it's just a name given to an immature cod. The change from codling to cod occurs when the codling reaches sexual maturity and is capable of reproduction, the weight being irrelevant.

According to the FAO, cod are sometimes sorted into four size ranges for the purposes of sale, namely, cod, sprag, codling and small codling, but more usually into two sizes only, cod and codling. The following are the generally accepted lengths for each size range, but the dividing line between cod and codling is changed a little from time to time at individual ports to match the market demand to the size of fish available:

Under both the four and two size range systems operated by the FAO, codling of a length greater than 62 cm (24 inches) in length are classified as cod.

"The rate of growth varies considerably from ground to ground, depending on the food available and the temperature of the water, but in the North Sea for example a one-year-old cod will attain a length of 7 to 8 inches, a two-year-old will be 14 to 17 inches and by the end of the fourth year will be 24 to 27 inches long. North Sea cod usually reach maturity when three to five years old, but some may take only two years, others in Arctic waters as long as six to eight years. Growth is generally slower in colder water, and the average size of the adult cod is often less than in more temperate waters; for example a typical six-year-old cod from Bear Island would be about 25 inches long and 4 to 5 lb in weight when gutted, whereas a cod of the same age from the North Sea could be 34 inches long and 12 lb or more in weight. Five-feet-long cod from the Newfoundland area are usually 18 to 20 years old."

See FAO report "The Cod (2001)", section "Size".

According to the Angling Trust, the EUMLS for cod is 35cm (13¾ inches). The EUMLS are said to be "technical measures for the protection of juvenile fish". However:

  1. cod do not reach sexual maturity until they achieve a length of, or greater than, 60cm (23½ inches); and
  2. the approximate size of sexual maturity for species of the Gadidae family - including cod (60cm: 23½ inches), whiting (30cm: 11¾ inches), haddock (40cm: 15¾ inches), pollack (50cm: 19½ inches) and coalfish (70cm: 27½ inches) - can vary wildly depending on a number of factors.

With conservation in mind, and using the best available scientific evidence, the Trust has identified these approximate sizes of sexual maturity for females of species of the Gadidae family which represent the size at which 50% of those species have reached sexual maturity. The Trust emphasises that these are not recommended retention size limits, but anglers retaining fish above these sizes can be reasonably confident that these fish will have had the chance to have bred at least once.

"Sea-fishing as a sport" (1865) Lambton J. H. Young at page 106

Chapter III


The Common Cod or Keeling

… All the family of Gadidæ are in the best condition for table during the cold season of the year; the young ones abound at the mouth of the Thames and Medway during the whole summer - they are then about six inches in length; but as autumn advances, they gain both in size and strength, and are caught with hand-lines near the many sandbanks in the Channel; they are called when of the size of whiting, codlings, and skinners, and when larger, tumbling or tamling cod. They are usually from twenty to forty pounds in weight, more or less; …

"The Sea and the Rod" (1892) Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Thomas Paske & Frederick George Aflalo at pages 94 & 95

Chapter VII

The Cod

As far as the amateur is concerned, large cod form the exception on our coasts rather than the rule; the rod usually taking only codlings, ranging from 2 lb. to 6 lb. These nevertheless afford most excellent sport, and eat, if anything, better than their elders, owing to their being cooked whole, and the consequent obviating of that cutting up that so spoils fish for the table; for which reason too I should always select a small turbot in preference to a few pounds of a large one, of which all the goodness is perforce left in the fish-kettle.

"Hints and Wrinkles on Sea Fishing" (1894) "Ichthyosaurus" (A. Baines & Frederick George Aflalo) at page 25

Natural History and Sport

Cod are an autumn and winter fish, being seldom sought with any success by the amateur until November. Deal is a favourite place for this fishing, and the sprats, of which the cod come in pursuit, are the most effective bait, but must be used perfectly fresh. At Bexhill, where these fish are hooked over the rocks, just off the beach, lugworm is the chief bait, and the end of October the best season.

Codlings - so one calls the young cod averaging a pound or less in weight - are taken in the greatest numbers early in September, the best baits being lugworm or mussel.

"The Badminton Library: Sea Fishing" (1895) John Bickerdyke at page 380

Cod, Haddocks, Whiting, Bream etc

… the young cod, now an inch long, come shorewards and feed and are fed on, many millions doubtless being eaten by larger fish and sea birds. When a year old they seek deeper water. Fishermen call anything under twenty inches codling, from twenty to thirty inches sprags, then come half cod and then cod. They are such voracious feeders, and the sea is such a good feeding ground, that their growth is undoubtedly very rapid. According to Jackson, some cod which were in the Southport Aquarium grew from three-quarters of a pound to six or seven pounds each in a period of about sixteen months, and they would without much doubt grow still faster in the sea.

"Practical Letters to Young Sea Fishers" (1898) John Bickerdyke at pages 134, 136, 140 & 141

XIII: Bottom Fishing from the Shore

… Fish with which there is more certainty of sport than any other are cod and codlings, particularly the latter which, in the very late summer up to about Christmas, come along our east coast in great shoals …

After trying many and various forms of paternoster and ledger, the conclusion I have come to is that, for casting out from a shelving shore among a shoal of codling, there is no better tackle than the most simple form of paternoster illustrated on the opposite page - that is to say, a length of gut with a couple of loops in it, to which the hook links are attached, each bearing a single hook. Two hooks are usually enough, but three can be used, and a good general size of hook for the purpose is that shown in the illustration. For baits there is nothing better than lug worms, mussels, or live shrimp. The stoutness of the gut of which the paternoster is composed, of course, depends on the size of fish expected. Towards the end of August, when the codlings run rather small on our east coast, medium gut is sufficiently strong. More towards Christmas, when the fish get larger, or there is a larger run of fish - I cannot say which it is - then fairly stout salmon gut should be used. If expense is a consideration, medium gut, treble and twisted - at least for the upright portion of the paternoster. The hook links should always be a little less strong. The lowest hook link, by the way, should be placed about 3in. from the lead when the bottom is clear.

No booms are required on this paternoster, they are absolutely unnecessary for this kind of fishing. The weight of lead will entirely depend on the strength of the current running close inshore. Where it is very strong a half-pound weight may be necessary, but this is rather an excessive weight. From two to three ounces is usually sufficient. Even if there is no tide worth speaking of, if there is a swell, the waves from which break on the line, a rather heavy lead will be required to keep the tackle from being swept along the bottom and washed inshore …

It is not always that very long casts are needed, in fact, unless there is a heavy ground swell breaking on the shore, the codling come very close in to feed off the shrimps and other inconsiderable trifles which are stirred up by the surf. Some people find a great difficulty in keeping a mussel on the hook when making a long cast. I have not experienced this myself, and it is probably owing to their not understanding the proper way of placing a mussel on the hook … One way of over-coming the difficulty is to wind round the mussel a fleck of sheep's wool. Cotton wool will also do. Sometimes mussels are tied on with a piece of worsted, but this is rather a clumsy arrangement.

… With a rod and paternoster, on the other hand, I find I am able to catch quite nine fish for every ten bites (I am referring to codling fishing), provided I bait my hook carefully, and baits and hooks are all that they should be. The points of the hooks should be kept sharp by means of a file or hone.

I have referred to the habit of codling feeding close in shore. On more than one occasion I have found myself casting out beyond the fish, and having no sport, while local anglers with their primitive tackle, who were quite envious of the distance I could cast with my Nottingham reel, were catching fish almost in the breakers. But as soon as I realised that the fish were close inshore it was not difficult to make shorter casts, and obtain sport …

"An Angler's Year" (1904) Charles S. Patterson at page 191

Chapter XII


Sea-Fishing at Deal - November

It has always been a puzzle to the writer to know where a cod begins and a codling leaves off. Most sea-anglers, if other people catch such fish, call them codling; should they happen to fall to their own rods, they call them cod. The safest system seems to take the average of sexual maturity (3½ lb to 5 lb), and then to call all over 5 lb cod.

"Practical Sea-Fishing" (1905) P. L. Haslope at page 81

Sea-Fish: Their Habits and Capture

Small (cod) fish, ranging in weight from about 5 lb downwards, are known as codling.

"Sea Fishing" (1911) Charles Owen Minchin at pages 43, 49 & 50

Chapter IV: The Cod

… The cod then continue their growth at a great pace. At one year of age they average about 5½ in, and (according to Cunningham) 10 in to 12½ in at two years, 17 in to 18 in at three years, and 27 in at four years. By the time that the females have reached that size they are coming to maturity, and the males have usually attained years of discretion at a smaller average length.

… In the North Sea the study of the results of trawling prosecuted by the Scottish Fishery Board affords some evidence that codlings (as the immature but marketable cod are called) are to be found in the shallower waters near land so long as the weather still has some warmth; but when the water has been thoroughly chilled the large full-sized cod are found (probably with a view to spawning) near the land, while the codlings are out in deeper (and slightly warmer) waters far away to sea. On the coasts of England and Ireland there are often in autumn and early winter enough cod to be found to give amusement to amateur fishermen, though not enough, if it were not for other fish, to afford a livelihood to the professional hookers.

… It has been remarked that the cod found in the south part of the Flemish Bight and the eastern end of the English Channel are stouter built and heavier, length for length, than those of the Dogger Bank, but until marking experiments have been carried out to a considerable extent it would be premature to postulate that the "Downs' Cod" are, in fact, a separate race from their northern kinsfolk, though decidedly there is a marked difference in appearance quite obvious even at a casual glance. As evidence, for what it is worth, that the Downs' cod are local it may be mentioned that after a great scarcity for some seasons an enormous number of codlings from 20 to 24 inches long made their appearance in 1908; the next year there were many fish about 5 lb in weight, and the following winter captures of thirty to fifty full-sized fishes of 10 lb and upwards were often made by the long-liners. There is a proverb which says, "Do not prophesy unless you know", but it does not deter me from risking the prediction that if fishermen will try the cod-grounds near the South Goodwin Light and in Old Stairs Bay in November and December, 1911, they will find some large fish waiting for them.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1921) Francis Dyke Holcombe at pages 170 & 171

Chapter XIV: Cod

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the fishing at Ballycotton in 1919 was the presence in those waters of very large numbers of codling, quite an unusual feature there. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the bottom of the sea was fairly paved with them, the fish usually ranging in weight from 2 lb to about 5 lb or 6 lb apiece - a state of things which the writer believes to be due to the great diminution in trawling during the war.

"Sea Fishing Simplified" (1929) Francis Dyke Holcombe & A. Fraser-Brunner at page 22

Chapter III

I don't know the exact weight at which a codling becomes a cod; probably the difference between the two is about the same as that between a jack and a pike. [2]

[2] Editor's note: female pike grow much larger than the males and fish of ten pounds or more will be female. Smaller pike of less than five pounds in weight are commonly called "Jacks" although sometimes even larger fish of up to seven, eight or even ten pounds are referred to as "Jack Pike" - see "The Book of the Pike" by Henry Cholmondeley-Pennell (1865) at pages 17 & 18:

There has always been a moot point connected with the weight of this fish, viz., at what size it ceases to be a "Jack" and becomes a "Pike". Walton says at two feet; Sir J. Hawkins at 3 lb.; Mr. Wood at 2 lb.; Salter at 3 lb.; Hofland at 3 lb., or when it exceeds 24 inches in length; "Piscator" ('Practical Angler') says 4 lb.; "Glenfin," 3 lb.; Mr. Elaine, 4 or 5 lb.; Carpenter, 3 lb.; "Ephemera" 4 lb. in his notes to Walton, and 3 or 4 lb. in his 'Handbook of Angling'; whilst Captain Williamson recognizes no distinction, but, calls them indiscriminately Pike and Jack. Under these circumstances and considering that the distinction unlike that between the Salmon and Grilse is purely arbitrary, it would appear to be desirable that for the future an 'act of uniformity' be passed; and as the majority of writers seem to favour the 3 pounds qualification, that standard might perhaps be in future adopted by general consent as the point at which the young Pickerels cast off the Jack and assume the full dignities of Pike-hood.

"The Sea Fishes of the British Isles both Fresh Water and Salt" (1936, second edition, 1961 reprint) J. Travis Jenkins at page 140

The Cod

… Young cod are known to our deep-sea fishermen as codling, and are spoken of frequently as if they were a distinct species. The codling, however, is certainly nothing but a young cod. Cod at the end of their fourth year, when first mature, are about 2 feet long; the average length of a spawning cod may be taken to be between that and 30 inches. Cod grow to a length of 5 feet and more, and attain a weight of from 30 to 50 lbs …

"The Sportsman's Library: Sea Fishing" (1935) Major D. P. Lea Birch ("Fleur-de-Lys") at pages 127 & 132

Chapter VIII: Cod

The fish reaches maturity at the end of four years, when well grown specimens may weigh 7 to 10 lb. In the late autumn run on our east coast many codling of these weights are taken by anglers fishing from pier or beach, as well as from boats.

A hefty codling of 6 or 7 lb, though it may not do anything wildly exciting, yet makes quite an excellent fight. And afterwards, cooked fresh from the sea, it is a dish beyond all praise.

"Modern Sea Fishing" (1937) Eric Cooper at page 200

The Cod, Whiting and Pouting

Young cod, which are often very variable in their markings, are known by many names locally. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to when the fish can aspire to the name of cod, but it is generally taken that, unless they can turn the scales at 6 lb, they must be referred to as codling.

"Sea Angling: Modern Methods and Tackle" (1952) Alan Young at page 98

Other Fish


No one in authority has yet laid down when a codling becomes a cod, but cod below 4 to 6 lb - the standard changing with the locality - are classed as codling. They are extremely useful fish for the shore angler, for though they give no more sport than their elders, they are very numerous, and fill the bag and the pot during the winter months.

"The Sea Angler's Fishes" (1954) Michael Kennedy at pages 271, 282 & 283

Cod and Haddock

Local Names

Typical large cod have no special local names, but the smaller fish are commonly termed codling. In the trawling industry certain sizes are designated "sprags". In some places successive sizes are termed, respectively, "pickers" (second season); "tamblin" or "tamlin" (third season); "half-codfish" (fourth season); and "cod" or "codfish" (larger and older specimens) …

(Michael) Graham gives the following growth rate for the North Sea …

Age in Complete Years Average Length (inches) Average Weight (lb oz) Average Length (cm) Average Weight (kg)
1 7 14oz 17.8cm 0.397kg
2 14 1 lb 11oz 35.5cm 0.765kg
3 22 4 lb 4oz 55.9cm 1.928kg
4 27 7 lb 3oz 68.6cm 3.26kg
5 31 11 lb 1oz 78.7cm 5.18kg
6 35 15 lb 8oz 88.9cm 7.31kg

Editor's note: metric conversions added for comparison purposes.

Age and Size at Maturity

(E.W.L.) Holt gives the minimum length of mature cod (both sexes) in the North Sea as 22 inches, and the length of the largest immature cod as 35 inches … It would seem, therefore, that in our waters some (the more rapidly growing) cod become mature at three years old, when 22 to 23 inches in minimum length, while an occasional fast-growing male fish may become mature at as little as two years old. But some cod are five years old, or even older, before becoming mature.

"Sea Fishing with the Experts" (1956) Jack Thorndike at page 20

Cod and Whiting

… By and large, however, the greatest number of cod taken by the sea angler will be fish averaging 3 to 4 lb in weight, and these go under the name of codling. John Bickerdyke classified codling by length and not by weight, and called a fish under 20 inches a codling, a fish between 20 and 30 inches a sprag, and thereafter half-cod and cod.

"The Modern Sea Angler" (1958) Hugh Stoker at pages 92 & 93

Chapter Nine

Sea Fish Worth Catching - and How to Catch Them


… The rod-and-line angler, however, can count himself lucky when one of his fish tops the 10-lb mark, and in fact most of those caught from the shore will be considerably smaller. Those under 6 lb are generally referred to as codling.

"Sea Angling" (1965) Derek Fletcher at page 92

The Cod

(Cod) … may run to large weights, and, although anglers prefer the smaller fish (called codling for eating), the larger fish do provide good winter sport for the hardy. Just when a codling becomes a cod is a matter of opinion. It appears to be left to the angler and how good a tale he wants to tell. Generally anything under 5 lb is termed a codling.

"The Sea Angler Afloat and Ashore" (1965) Desmond Brennan at page 215

Cod, Ling and Hake

When a codling becomes a cod has long been a source of argument and differs widely from place to place. In most areas anything under 6 to 8 lb is classed as a codling or tamblin while in others nothing under 10 to 11 lb would be deemed worthy of being called a cod.

"Sea Angling" (1967) Alan Wrangles at page 64

The Quarry


Codling, fish between 1 and 6 lb, are caught around the south-east coast during March and April. By May they have usually departed, though the exact time depends, of course, upon weather and temperature.

Following the arrival of shoals of herring and sprat in the autumn, early October usually sees the return of the larger cod, i.e. fish above 7 lb. During the Christmas and New Year period the run is often at its height and some fantastic sport can be enjoyed by beach anglers.

"Popular Sea Fishing" (1968) Peter Wheat (editor) at pages 92, 93 & 102

Cod Fishing (Cyril Precious)

… The minimum size at which the species can be taken is set at 12 inches; at this age the codling - as immature cod are called - will be 18 months old. Growth rate is fairly steady and by the time they reach three years they will have grown to a length of about 25 inches …

… Although the beach angler seeks sport mainly with immature codling weighing between 12 oz at minimum to between 7 and 9 lb, the offshore boat angler will be more concerned in the winter with catching cod to 30 lb - even as early as the autumn bigger cod can be caught at the Varne Bank which lies well offshore …

… January, the big cod move off-shore to the deep spawning areas, but there will still be hordes of immature codling from about 1 lb to 7 lb for the beachcaster and rock angler.

"Pelham Manual for Sea Anglers" (1969) Derek Fletcher at pages 33 & 160

The Manual

Small cod, those up to about 6 lb, are known as codling and are very sweet for the table. No matter what their size they can accommodate really big baits and will take almost anything offered. Sprats are very good, so also are bunches of lugworm, but you will get sport on mussel, crabs, pieces of herring, squid, slipper limpet - all according to locality. As regards the best fishing time, there does seem to be a preference for a fast running tide, particularly at dusk or dawn, although fish are taken in all weather conditions, rough and smooth.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1970) Richard Arnold at page 45

The Round Fishes


Codling is the term usually covering cod up to about 4 lb in weight, though some fishermen may name them by size and not by weight. Thus a codling would be less than 20 inches in length, a fish half as long again would be named a sprag. There are other names used also, coupled with weight and size of fish, such as half-cods and cods. Cod can run to a large size and fish up to and over 20 lb are not uncommon.

… The cod has excellent culinary properties, though choice would perhaps be given to the larger codling, or Tom-Cods as they are termed, for sweetness of flavour rather than to the larger specimens.

"Competition Sea Angling" (1970) Bruce McMillen at page 53

4. Methods

Although no event would be settled without accurate scales, it is not difficult to imagine a situation where the following formula could be extremely useful. To ascertain the approximate weight in pounds of a fish: multiply the square of the girth (the measurement to be taken at the thickest point) by the length (from point of mouth to crotch of tail) then divide the result by 800. (All measurements should be taken in inches.) Example: 10in girth squared is 100; length 20in multiplied by 100 is 2,000; 2,000 divided by 800 goes exactly 2½ times, therefore the approximate weight of the fish would be 2½ lb. On the same basis, a 30in fish with a girth of 20in should weigh approximately 15 lb. In actual practice, it is surprising how accurate this formula is.

"Estuary Fishing" (1974) Frank Holiday at pages 107 to 109

Chapter Eight

Cod and Whiting

Methods: pirk or feathers

… not all anglers are interested in ultra-large cod, especially those who fish mostly for the pot. Codling of between 3-6 lb are a far better proposition for the cook than are the coarse-flaked leviathans. Most of these codling are caught from the open shore. Sea fishing in winter from a boat off the coast is both uncomfortable and hazardous except on very favourable days. Anglers therefore take advantage of the codling's habit of feeding against a beach, especially after dark. In estuaries, on the other hand, winter boating is entirely possible and a boat enables anglers to anchor in the deeper channels where the codling are likely to run.


Cod and codling are not very active fish when hooked. They tend to bore around, offering resistance mostly by opening their huge mouths. However I noticed when taking codling from relatively shallow water such as in the Solway Firth and in the Stour estuary at Felixstowe that these fish put up a better fight than those taken from deeper water. They are of course excellent food and Kennedy rates them next to haddock. Myself, I think a well-flavoured codling, properly cooked, is as tasty as anything in British waters, salt or fresh.

Fishing for codling is a traditional sport in many estuaries. The best rig is probably a simple paternoster carrying a 3/0 or 4/0 hook. Some anglers use two hooks on double snoods but this presents problems with wind resistance when casting, the baits for codling being fairly massive. Codling are such gross feeders that it is hardly possible to over-do the portion you offer them. Bulky baits such as squid are a favourite as well as large chunks of herring or frozen mackerel. Lug is also a good codling-catcher and thousands of fish are taken annually with this bait. Although large black lug are much sought-after as a codling-bait I myself prefer the softer red type even though they need renewing on the hook fairly often. Mussel is a traditional cod bait. For shore-casting it needs to be mounted as a 'cocktail', the tougher retaining bait - squid, for example - being placed on the hook last.

Boat fishing for codling in estuaries means first of all locating a good mark. Without a mark you may well catch a couple of fish or even several fish - but the bulk of the sport will be missed as the codling stream past on the tide. Rough ground that will hold the fish and keep them foraging around is the thing to look for. If the estuary dries out such places can be found at low water. In the case of big estuaries which don't dry out one can only study the charts, watch where local boats fish and conduct trial-and-error drifts. Drifting with a pirk mounted with a single hook is one way of discovering codling marks.

In the south-west and west there is a local race of codling which spend the summer offshore in deep water and turn up in estuaries during the winter when the herring arrive. These fish are reddish in the summer - perhaps because they lurk in beds of red seaweed - but they darken on coming inshore and there is then not much to distinguish them from ordinary North Sea codling. These fish are small - from 2 to 6 lb - and they seem to be a different type to the cod of the Severn estuary. They are variable fish and some years they fail to arrive at all. However this is true of all cod, relatively speaking. The inshore migrations, even in the prolific North Sea, are either a bumper harvest or fail to live up to expectations. We still have a lot to learn even about the humble codfish!

"Sea Angler's First Handbook (Pan Anglers' Library)" (1975) Alan Vare & Arthur E. Hardy at page 20

The Angler's Sea Fishes - Their Haunts, Food, Season and Weights

Cod and Codling

… Codling are simply smaller cod, under 5 lb or so.

"Fisherman's Handbook" (1977) Trevor Housby, The Marshall Cavendish Volume 1, Part 3 at page 72


Cod Gadus morhua

Fewer - but larger

It was commonplace ten years ago to take a boat not far out from Dover, Ramsgate, Deal, Hastings and other south east coast places, and bring in 50 lb of prime cod and codling (all cod of up to 6 lb are called codling). But the same does not apply today …

"The Guinness Guide to Saltwater Angling: Light tackle technique for British waters" (1977) Brian Harris at page 131

8 Cod

… cod weighing 2 - 6 lb (900g - 2.7 kg) are commonly called codling …

"Cod Fishing" (1978) Bob Gledhill at pages 8 to 11, 61, 63, 64, 66, 69, 71, 102 & 103


The great tragedy about cod trawling is the size limit. Logically, the size limit should be after the first spawning year. This way, although the cod is trawled up, it has had a chance to replace itself. This is the way size limits are operated with that other highly commercial fish, the plaice, which spawns at nine inches and can be trawled at ten inches.

Even a fast-growing cod will be 4 lb before it is sexually mature, and think how many cod under that size are trawled up. And dare I suggest that anglers take more immature fish than mature fish ?

Cod - the fish and how it works

It is not necessary to know much about the biology of the cod to be able to catch them on rod and line. But I think most anglers who have bought this book must have a degree of curiosity about the make-up of the fish.

The distribution of cod in the British Isles is governed largely by the temperature of the sea. Most cod are found in sea temperatures ranging from one to five degrees Centigrade. They will tolerate up to ten degrees or as low as freezing point, but water of minus two degrees Centigrade is lethal. In practical terms this explains why in Scotland, part of Northern England and most offshore areas (where despite air temperature, the sea temperature remains cool), cod can be taken all the year round.

The age of sexual maturity of the cod varies widely. The dense shoals of spawning cod that descend upon the Lofoten Islands off the North West coast of Norway every spring can be anything from eight to 12 years old before they mature. This is a direct result of poor feeding. Around the shores of Great Britain, where the feeding is good, cod can be as young as two or three years when they mature.

The amount of eggs a female cod produces (called the fecundity) ranges from two to ten million. During spawning, the male cod releases his sperm at the same time as the female releases the eggs, with the movement of the water and the fish mixing the two.

It is obviously an inefficient method of propagation, but in areas where the spawning cod are tightly packed, sperm and eggs from many fish will mix. After spawning the eggs float freely for a couple of weeks before rising to the surface. In this initial stage mortality of the young is incredibly high because of predation and the destructive force of heavy seas.

It has never been proved that a heavy spawning means a higher level of survival for the young cod; in fact the reverse may be true. With a heavy spawning the predatory fish may become completely preoccupied with feeding on cod spawn, and leave the spawn of other fish completely alone. So if, say, cod and coalfish spawn over the same ground and the coalfish spawning is very heavy and the cod very light, the coalfish spawn may be decimated and the cod spawn left alone.

The amount of food available when the eggs hatch is also critical. After the young cod has eaten the yolk-sac it must have an immediate supply of the right sort of planktonic food. If there is a shortage of this food, mass mortality will again follow. The warm spring sun brings with it a plankton bloom in the upper layers of the ocean where the eggs hatch, which is why cod spawn in the spring.

After three to five months the cod fry are between three and six centimetres long and descend to the sea bed to begin their demersal life. The growth rate of cod varies with the quality of the feeding. Rich, inshore waters provide a much higher growth rate than deeper, offshore areas. The average growth rate for inshore cod is shown in Figure I.

Growth Rate Scale for Cod (Fig I)
Age in Years 1 2 3 4 5 6
Average Length in cms 18 36 55 68 78 89
Length Increase in cms 18 19 13 10 11 -
Percentage Increase 100 52 23 14 14 -

… Many of the statistics on cod fecundity and growth that form the basis of study today comes from the pioneering work of Michael Graham who, in the 1920s-40s, made extensive studies of cod from the North Sea. His growth rate figures were 3¼in in six months, 6-7in after one year, 10in after one and a half years, 14in after two years, 17in after two and a half years, and 22in after three years.

Figures published in the late 1960s by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of cod growth in the Irish Sea were: one year, 8in (4oz); one and a half years, 12in (¾ lb); two years, 16in (1½ lb); three years, 20in (2½ lb).

Thirty years of research has done nothing to invalidate Michael Graham's work or to show any appreciable change in the growth rate of cod despite a considerable reduction in numbers.

Chapter Two


Fish Baits

… Big cod take some filling up, and whole fish makes up a large part of a big cod's diet. I've gutted dozens of cod over 20 lb, several over 30 lb and three over 40 lb and the stomach bag revealed mostly fish in all of them.

Fresh-caught mackerel strips make excellent baits. Frozen mackerel and herring I don't think are as effective, but at the time when a lot of cod fishing is carried on - winter - there are very few places in Britain where you can get hold of fresh mackerel.

I have not found fish baits to be very good from the shore. Worm or crab are far more effective. From a boat when you find a shoal of small codling in the 2-4 lb range, worm will be far more successful than fish. I use fish baits when I am prepared not to catch as many as I might, but have a better chance of a big cod.

… Using either live or recently dead whole fish such as pouting can be done either from the shore or from a boat. From the shore, tie a large hook to a foot of line and at the other end a link swivel. Cast out your line with just a lead on and tighten up. Then slip the snood onto the line via the link and let it slide down the line (with, of course, a fish impaled on the hook). This method works best in a strong tide run, when the force of the tide will carry the bait down the line until it touches the sea bed.

Chapter Three

Shore Fishing

Reading the beach

… This section looks at why cod come within casting range and how you can recognise the right conditions.

It is obviously the quest for food that brings cod close in. There are small fish, crabs, shellfish and all manner of other foods that the cod can find most abundant only in shallow water.

The common shore crab, which in summer months often forms the staple diet of cod, prefers water less than ten feet deep. In fact, below 30ft the shore crab is rare. Small fish such as rocklings, butterfish and gobies are also abundant in shallow water. Shellfish such as mussels, cockles and clams; the common brown shrimp; sand-eels; worms are all creatures that prefer the inter-tidal zone or just beyond. So that is the short answer to why cod choose to come within casting distance of the shore.

The above food is what can be rooted out in normal sea conditions, but should the sea become disturbed through winds or exceptional tide currents, then even more food becomes available. The surging water washes out from their hiding places the small fish and crabs and scours the sea bed, uprooting worms and shellfish. Inshore waters become even more favourable feeding areas.

This is why a lot of beaches fish best during - or just after - a heavy sea, and why a prolonged period of settled weather often spells poor cod fishing from the shore.

… I don't know of anywhere in England or Scotland where the cod fishing is noticeably better in daylight than in darkness. I can think of countless places where the reverse is true: where daylight fishing is much poorer than fishing in the dark. There is obviously a very good reason for this preference for feeding in darkness and I think it stems from a very basic instinct of the animal kingdom - fear. There is no reason to suppose that any of the inshore foods are easier to locate in darkness; in fact, without the help of visual contact it must be a bit harder.

… There is a logical reason why slack water should fish poorly: there is little current in the water to carry the smell of the bait downtide. No tide action to stir up the bottom and scour out small creatures …

… But just as it is true to say no beach is exactly flat, neither do many beaches incline at a straight angle. There are humps, bumps and hollows. These gullies and banks are more pronounced on some beaches than others, but even if the base of the gulley is no more than a foot below the highest point of the bank, it can influence cod movement.

These gullies are where bits of rubbish and food are deposited. They are like miniature rivers, draining the beach off as the tide recedes, and as the water flows through the gulley, the heavy particles get deposited. Similarly, when the tide comes back in, it rushes through the gullies, bringing with it fresh deposits.

The things deposited in these gullies may not have a direct attraction for the cod, but the gulley is a magnet for things lower down the food chain, such as crabs, shrimps, small fish and syphonic feeders such as worms and shellfish. Not only does this lower order eat the deposits, but it may well find that the non-edible things deposited or uncovered by the tide, such as stones, bits of wood and household rubbish, make excellent hiding places.

… Having noted where the gulley is while the tide is out, you should cast exactly into it when the tide is in. The simple way to do this is to mark the line by tying a tiny knot of fine line at the distance between you and the gulley. If you over-cast, you just reel in. If you back up with the tide, slide the knot along the line as you retreat. This is especially useful at night when you cannot see how far you are casting.

… To get an idea of depth you can count the seconds between the weight hitting the water and settling on the bottom. The line has a drogue effect, as does the bait, but six feet per second is a fair estimate.

… The best piece of general advice on locating cod is to keep on the move. If you have done your homework on the beach, are casting to the spot where, logically, the cod should be but they are not, don't just sit there puzzling, get up and move to another likely spot. There might be half a dozen possible places on a beach where the cod might be feeding. Unless there is a great quantity of cod about, they can only be in one spot at a time, and might remain in that spot the whole tide.

Chapter Four

Boat Fishing

Other Lures

The baited spoon is a method very rarely used seriously in cod fishing, and its exclusion is understandable considering the existing variety of methods already practised, but because it is little used, don't think it isn't much good. If you can gauge the circumstances right, the baited spoon can be a deadly way of fishing.

The first time I saw an Abu Rauto spoon used, the angler who used it latched into a cod of 43 lb. When his next cast produced one of 35 lb and I was still only finding fish in the 12-15 lb range, I thought it time to take a closer look at the spoon.

There are two schools of thought about why the baited spoon catches cod. The first is that the cod picks up the vibration of the spoon, sees it flash, and its curiosity sends it over to find the source of the disturbance. It finds a nice piece of food and takes it. The other idea is that the spoon works when the cod are bloated out with food. At times when natural feed like sprat, shrimp or sand-eel are plentiful, the cod are disinclined to take big baits because physically they can't manage any more. But they see and feel a flashing spoon, and possibly through bad temper as much as curiosity, move over to snap at what is causing the disturbance. The cod sees a piece of food, not a huge lump of fish which it couldn't possibly manage, but a tiny morsel. Rather than let it go, the cod snaps the tiny piece of bait up. You or I couldn't manage a steak right after a seven-course banquet, but we'd find room for a nice little piece of Stilton.

Both ideas sound reasonable, but both rely on the angler moving the spoon frequently to keep up the vibrations. A good way of fishing with a spoon is to use it in conjunction with a steel paternoster, tied on a short snood. Lift the tackle up and down in the tide almost continually. You will probably have to modify the spoon by increasing the line strength and the hook size, as most are designed primarily for catching flatfish.

The rubber sand-eel is something I've had great fun with for catching cod. I would never describe it as a deadly method, but it's so different from the way cod are normally caught from a boat that it is very pleasurable. There is no better eel than Alex Ingram's Red Gills. I think the long-veined tail has a lot to do with it. If you hold one in a current, the tail wiggles away sending vibrations in all directions.

To tackle up with an eel, use a French boom and attach the eel by at least eight feet of line. This very long length allows the eel greater freedom of movement. The stronger the current you fish in, the better will be the action of the eel, in fact with very little current the eel won't have any movement at all. Apart from cod, there are many other sea fish that will go for an eel in this way. To get a fish in, you reel the tackle to the rod tip, then handline the long trace to the side of the boat.

The Daily Express, Friday 19 October 1979 at page 43


Angling by Alan Bennett

Fancy a crack at the big cod and the chance of a tussle with a monster pollack thrown in?

Then go east, young man, to the breezy Yorkshire coast and its top-of-the-league angling spot, the harbour town of Whitby. There have always been good hauls by charter boats fishing out of Whitby, but recently catches have been surpassing performances on the Scottish sea lochs, the high-reputation south coast beaches and the Cumberland piers.

Forty Pounder

A mighty 2,860 lb. haul, which included Yorkshire record cod and pollack, was made by eight members of Rotherham S. A. S. fishing from Dennis Winspear's boat, The Boys, on a wreck mark two hours steaming from Whitby.

The cod, a 40 pounder, was boated by aptly named service supervisor John Fisher, and the pollack, 21 lb. 4oz, was hauled up by training officer Barry Evans.

Also included in the memorable catch were three 30 lb. cod, another of 28 lb. 13 oz. and several more topping 25 lbs.

"The fish were hitting everything we gave them, but we found that if we didn't use pirks we were getting smashed up all the time." said John. His monster fish has been submitted for the 25 lb. line class record.

If this kind of fishing continues, there won't be many charter boat places going spare in Whitby during the rest of autumn and the winter. The cod hunters will be arriving from all parts of the compass.

For me, the east coast's pollack potential is particularly intriguing. This is a wonderfully hard-fighting fish, much stronger than its cousin the cod. Pollack are sometimes confused with coalfish. The main difference is that the pollack has a deeper body with a lower Jaw which protrudes beyond the upper, and a dark-coloured lateral line curving up over the pectoral fins. Normally, they prefer moderately deep water where they can feed over weed-covered rocks and reefs.

During the day and in rough weather they hunt near the bottom, but at night or in thundery conditions they will rise and are often taken near the surface. They are greedy feeders, gobbling up smaller fish, sand eels, worms, crustaceans and sometimes molluscs.

Fish up to about 5 lb. shoal around piers, jetties, rocky coastlines and rock outcrops in harbours, but you need a boat if you are going for really big pollack.

Drift lining from an anchored boat with live prawn, sandeel or a 6 in. strip of fresh herring, is a killer method. The main point to remember is that pollack prefer a moving bait, so it is essential to use a sink-and-draw technique.

Streaming out

When you are trawling, the boat should be moving with the engine just turning over and the lines baited with feather traces, rubber eels, mackerel lasts or even ragworm, streaming out behind.

If you are using rubber eels or spinners, put a ragworm on the hook as well. If the fish takes a nip it's not likely to come back for another try, but if it gets a taste of the ragworm it's a fair bet it will come steaming in for a second bite.

For shore fishing, the ideal equipment is a light 10 ft. rod, centre pin or spool reel with 10 lb. breaking strain line, size 6 hook, a small sliding float and a small spiral lead weight. Often the best catches are made at dawn and dusk when the larger pollack come closer in to feed. If there are lights over pier steps there will be fish nearby. Some anglers fishing at night use powerful lamps to attract the shoals.

"200 Sea Fishing Tips" (1982) Ivan & Ivor Garey Tip 175

30. Cod and Codling

175. Cod and codling fishing

The record cod was caught by a beginner and weighed 53 lb ! It is not surprising that legions of anglers are addicted to cod and codling fishing. The smaller fish, up to 6 lb, are called codling; everything above that weight is proudly referred to as a cod. We modestly fish for codling, secretly hoping to catch cod. The codling season runs from October to April and codling fishing is therefore essentially an occupation for the hardy winter angler.

The Sunday Express, 3 January 1982 at page 29


It's the Catch of a Lifetime

There are cod in plenty around our shores and any patient, and persistent angler could pick up a big one like the 33 lb. 2 oz. beauty hooked at Denge Marsh, near Dungeness, by Steve Smith, of King Edward Road, Maidstone (writes REDFIN).

"It's the fish of a lifetime" he says. And no wonder. For his previous best weighed 18 lb. This latest one was taken around 9.30 p.m. and a lugworm he had had for two weeks was the tasty lure.

Steve used a 13 ft. rod, 18 lb. Line and 30 lb. shock leader, 5 oz. lead, 2/0 hook and 3 ft. trace and he was casting between 80 and 100 yards.

Dungeness beach was the place where Jim Birnie his neighbour Bruce Burton, both of Ash Keys, Southgate, Crawley, Sussex, eventually found the action after a long wait.

Four hours Fishing had brought them just one pouting and a whiting, both of which were returned. But then their patience was rewarded. Bruce hauled in a 23 lb. cod and, shortly afterwards, Jim struck into another of 28 lb., followed by "a tiddler" of 11½ lb.

They used similar gear … 15 lb. and 20 lb. lines with 50 lb. Leaders, standard cod traces and 8/0 and 6/0 hooks.

No other fish were caught along the beach. Perhaps it was because these two were casting between 100 and 140 yards while others were trying at about 60 or 70 yards.

The Daily Express, Wednesday 18 January 1984 at page 31

Angling by Alan Bennett

Why it may be Year of big Cod

Will 1984 be remembered as the year hunt saboteurs forsook their furry friends the foxes and attacked anglers?

Not on your life - surely the lasting memories will be of monster cod and mighty pollack. Out at sea there's a winter wonderland with incredible catches from Land's End to John o'Groats.

In the last week of the old year I reported a 39 lb cod from the Needles and forecast it would be toppled within a week or two. Well, three intrepid anglers soon proved me right. Two miles off Dover last week David Ashe, from Barking, Essex, hauled up a breathtaking cod of 46 lb cod on a baby squid.


Earlier, Glenn Knight, from Dibden Purlieu, Hampshire, brought an eye popping 41-pounder, also from the Needles, aboard Chris Savage's Lymington – based boat 'Private Venture'. This one fell for a frozen squid and Chris Cardwell, from Greatstone-on-Sea, Kent, patrolling off Dungeness in his boat 'Sea Venture', took another great cod, a 40-pounder, on a brace of juicy black lug topped off with a succulent queen cockle.

We expect big cod at this time, but most anglers think of pollack as a summer fish. Perhaps the gales have stirred up appetites.

Plymouth angler John Morton certainly found them in a feeding frenzy when he fished from Harry Hayler's boat 'Hunter's Moon' over a First World War wreck 38 miles east of his home port. In an amazing angling performance John took 20 pollack over 20 lb in two days.

Smaller fish in the 5 lb class shoal around reefs and outcrops, piers and jetties . In this territory they fight twice as hard as fish twice their size in deeper water.

And they're tasty - every bit as good as cod which was fetching a record £120 for a ten stone box at Grimsby recently.

Redgill lure with 7/0 hook to 25 lb. line was the killer bait.

The Daily Express, Friday 1 November 1985 at page 45

Alan Bennett's Angling Column

Winter of Content for Cod Fans

All Signs are Pointing to a Bumper Season

Sharpen up those glant-size hooks lads - there's a wonderful winter for cod in prospect.

Now that's no idle forecast from the old sea dog at the end of the breakwater. It's the official verdict of leading fishery scientists who are constantly monitoring Britain's bulging cod stocks.

It takes just the right conditions for a really successful breeding season and happily everything - last year and this – clicked perfectly into place.

Cod breed in the spring. When the the eggs hatch in April they rise gently to the surface and the tiny codling begin to feed on the billowing clouds of plankton.


If the season is a cold one, the plankton bloom is not enough to feed the teeming hordes of hungry tiddlers, and millions die.

But the last two springs have been bountifully warm, and the codling stocks have thrived. Last year's hatch have already hit the beaches and are averaging a plump 2 lb. Even this year's youngsters are a succulent pan-sized 1 lb.

Now these are the spots to head for if you want to get in on some vintage rod-walloping action.

North West: The Cumbrian beaches are fishing better this autumn than for many a long year. Hot-spot is Braystones, a tiny village just south of Whitehaven. Use lugworm and fish on the incoming tide. Fleetwood is having a revival with up to 10 cod a session being caught by anglers using lug over high water at Cleveleys beach, and boats are coming in with boxes full of plump young fish.

South Wales: The early run of small fish should be giving way, to the "biggies" any time now, and then it will be the charter boats that will do best with Swansea to Newport the most prolific grounds. The tide here is very strong so plenty of wired sinkers are needed. My tip for these Welsh heavyweights – cram as much fresh lugworm on the hook as you can.

South Coast: Give me the choice of just one cod mark and I would plump for the Needles, off the Isle of Wight. It never falls to produce jumbo cod. Favourite bait a whole Calamaris squid fished on a 8/0 hook. Meanwhile shore anglers will flock to Dungeness, possibly the best loved cod mark of all. But why not give it a rest for once. There's an equally worthwhile and far less crowded beach at Dengemarsh where tight fishing with lug will soon fill your freezer.

East Anglia: The golden rule here is to pick the big spring tides and wherever possible fish at night. Beaches to try include Hopton and Corton, both of which fished especially well last winter.

North Wales: Many more small codling than usual in the Menai Straits, around Britannia Bridge. Much bigger cod to boats fishing the wrecks out of Conway.

Scotland: Small codling in the 2-4 lb region galore around bottom end of Firth of Clyde. Sport really picking up in Ayr Bay.

"Go Fishing for Cod" (1989) Graeme Pullen at pages 12, 13 & 14


Codling are generally regarded as smaller fish, though at which stage of its life a codling becomes a cod is unknown. The term codling I have seen applied to a fish of 10 lb and that I would almost certainly classify as a fully grown fish. In my mind a codling can be called a cod when it reaches a weight of about 3 lb. If they weigh under one pound they can be called codlets, and anything under four ounces is a fish finger! It's hard to become conservation minded with this species as it is such a primary food source and is not under direct threat of extinction, although commercial fishing must surely be taking its toll on stocks …

… Cod are prime white-fleshed eating fish. In most angling circles you would be deemed a bit short in the brain department if you put them back alive, as it would be like emptying the cash register over the side. However, I respect the individual views of each angler, and if your mind is set on the preservation of the species through conservation then by all means return fish. What I should point out, however, is that those fish returned, with the exception of beach-caught fish, have little chance of survival. They have a swim bladder, and when pumped up to the surface blow up with air and are unable to swim back down if released. Some species can have this air bladder punctured by a sharp ice-pick which pops the air bag just behind the pectoral fin. I have done this with 50-lb amberjacks off wrecks in Florida, and it has been proved by tagging that they will survive. Even when that air bladder is pierced, however, the cod can't muster enough strength to get back down to the sea bed, and is simply swept away on the tide. It is better to keep them for eating, than see them go to waste due to misguided conservation efforts. If you catch more than you can eat or freeze down, either find a market for them or simply give them away to friends and relatives.

"The Complete Book of Sea Fishing: Tackle and Techniques" (1992) Alan Yates and Jed Entwistle at page 54

6. Beach and Promenade Fishing for Bass, Cod, Rays and Flatfish

Beach Fishing for Cod

The angler fishing from a clean storm beach in search of cod is most likely to encounter fish under 6 lb (3.2 kg). These are classed as codling, and are found in large shoals which feed on virtually all marine life forms.

"Cod Fishing: The Complete Guide" (1997) Dave Lewis at pages 12 & 14

1. The Life-Cycle of the Cod

When cod are one year old they are about six inches long, and feed heavily on small fish and shrimps and just about anything else which is edible. These small immature fish are often caught in large numbers by anglers, who should treat them with great care and return them unharmed as soon as possible.

By the end of their second year these fish will have packed on a lot of weight. Now they will measure up to 16 inches, with an average weight of about 1½ pounds. The legal size limit for taking codling in the UK is 14 inches.

At about three years old codling weigh between 4 and 6 pounds, at which age about 25 per cent of fish reach spawning maturity.

By the time these young fish are four years old the biggest fish will weigh over 10 pounds, and somewhere in the region of 60 to 70 per cent of fish are mature. It is worth noting at this stage that anglers in most areas class fish of less than 5-7 pounds in weight as codling, and bigger fish as cod.

Sadly, very few cod live to five years old, another reflection on the near constant and heavy commercial pressure which the fish are exposed to throughout their lives. Five-year-old cod average around fifteen pounds in weight. From now on, cod add approximately four pounds of body weight per year [1], a factor which depends very much on the availability of food, which itself is generally a reflection on where the fish live. Fish in the North Sea and Irish Sea are slow growing when compared with those fish which live in the western approaches to the English Channel, though in this instance these slower-growing fish tend to be more prolific.

[1] Editor's Note: applying the author's formula for cod growth of 4 lb of body weight added in each year after the fifth gives the following age\weight ratios for mature cod:

Age (years) 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Weight (lbs) 15 19 23 27 31 35 39 43 47 51 55

Chart (below) showing weight designation (in pounds) of "codling" by 25 authors of sea angling books published over the 105 year period 1892 to 1997

Put simply, because (a) a codling becomes a cod when (if) it achieves sexual maturity, and (b) sexual maturity in cod is variable, a "rule of thumb" is required to protect the species: so, if it's shorter than 2 ft (60 cm) or weighs less than 6 lb (2.7 kg) return it alive to the sea (the "6/60 rule") …

Table (below) showing the median (6), average (5.28), mode (6) and standard deviation (1.06) of these designated codling sizes

Sustainability of Commercial Cod Fishing

Chart (below) showing "official" (i.e. UK and EU) minimum "retention" or "landing" sizes of cod (by length) from 1740 to present alongside published cod maturity sizes clearly demonstrating the persistent failure of the UK (and more recently the EU) over the past 280 years to conserve cod stocks in the light of known and published scientific data regarding the minimum breeding size of cod

Chart (below) showing (a) proposed solution to the problem of unsustainable overfishing by the motorised trawler fleet, (b) current decline in cod stocks created by the commercial fleet encouraged, aided and abetted by UK and EU legislation, and (c) proposed solution to ensure sustainable catches of cod. On average sexual maturity in cod is achieved at 24 inches (60cm) so set the MLS at that length. This solution was first acknowledged in 1895 and is as valid today as it was 125 years ago …

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