Cod beware incoming Sidewinder!

“This will only be a short drift”, shouted Malcolm Jones, skipper of Sea Angler II. “There’s just a small pocket of fish hard on the bottom.” Reels went into free spool as the anglers dropped their gear all the way down, then it was ‘reel in 10 turns slowly, drop again, and then again’. It wasn’t long before two rods were bent over into fish and smiles beamed around the boat. Malcolm had found the cod.

Cod are thought of as winter fish, but what many are unaware of is that after a long hard winter a lot of cod ‘motor’ down to West Country waters for a spring holiday.

From March to July there is an influx of smaller cod to around 12lb, with the occasional slightly larger fish for good measure. From July on wards the smaller fish head on out to deeper water and are replaced by fewer, but larger, cod. These can sometimes be exceptional fish, but they to be targeted and fished for hard on the sea bed, because pollack will seize any bait of lure that is more than 10 turns off the bottom. It is easy to succumb to the screaming reel sport that the pollack are famous for, but they aren’t nearly as tasty as cod. Malcolm moors Sea Angler II at Queen Anne’s Battery marina just outside the lock gates of Plymouth’s Sutton harbour. My pals moor their boats on the pontoons just across the water from him and, as you can imagine, there’s been some good natured banter over the years. SO when Malc called and said only four anglers were on a planned cod trip, I didn’t asking twice.

It was 7.30am when I arrived at the marina and I could see the banners just stirring in a light wind that had a touch of the dreaded easterly in it – but it wasn’t much. We would get the best part of a day in before the flood tide would give wind against tide, which might make for a lively ride home – but by that time who cares?

The word on the grapevine was that Dartmouth boats further east had been finding a few cod, so if the fish were that far west, they would also be down our way. The problem with the Plymouth patch is that there are a lot of wrecks up to the east and you need an inside line on where the fish are to be found.

Sea Angler II haunts these wrecks week in, week out, so if there were cod to be found I had every confidence that Malcolm would know where they were. We sat in the sunshine watching the crew; they had done this before, each tackling up with plastic booms, 10ft leaders and shads.

The shads were the usual orange, red and yellow colours – you guessed it, rhubarb and custard Sidewinders, along with a few conventional unweighted shads in the same colours in case the fish wanted them.

As it turned out it was about evens between the orange and yellows and a small blue and silver shad. I think it quite likely that the cod were turning on to the massive influx of sandeels that happened in late May this year.

Accurate ID essential

We approached the first of the wrecks within an hour of leaving the moorings, a wreck that has several large lumps scattered within 50 yards of the main wreckage, and it is amid this tangle that the lures have to be presented if you want a chance of fish.

Using his superb touch-screen Garmen 5012 sounder Malcolm was able to pinpoint pockets of fish hugging the bottom and then set up short accurate drifts to put the lures amoung the fish. The real advantage of using such state of the art digital equipment is the speed of redraw on the sounder and instantaneous reaction to every movement of the boat.

This is light years away from the MK12 and 21 Decca sets that those of my generation used to try and find fish amoung the wrecks. The tide was moving Sea Angler II at nearly two knots, so it wasn’t easy to keep the shads in the target zone. Most ended up with a pound of lead on to keep touch with the bottom. It was tap the bottom, 10 turns, then free-spool to tap the bottom again, then another 10 turns, by which times it was up and around again for another drift.

Short accurate drifts, hectic fishing, but it wasn’t long before the first of the nodding rod tips gave a clue to the identity of our quarry. We attacked another two wrecks in the vicinity, skimming down the sides fishing lumps and bumps rather than aiming for the wreck each time.

The shoals of cod were not right on the wrecks, instead using the fast water around them to ambush bait-fish. With a dozen cod on the score sheet, Malcolm set a course for the Eddystone Reef. The week before he had a part out that had taken some superb reef pollack to nearly 18lb, and we wanted some of that. So the kettle went on and we dived into our nose bags as we steamed west.

It would be fantastic to say we ended up with half a dozen double-figure pollack but we didn’t. Shads produced fish to 6lb so, with the sea turning lumpy, we headed for home and yarned about the cod we had caught… and the ones that we had lost in the wreckage.

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