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Written By Forum member “Blanko”
Once the Fireworks again appear in the shops in October, we turn our attention away a little from the traditional summer shore target fish and focus on the variety of winter species brought our way by the colder water and darker nights.
Many anglers fish throughout summer now though, with less folks hanging up the tackle for the hot months nowadays, enticed by the fat Plaice & Bass to be had on the North West’s sandy beaches, comfortable piers and breakwaters. Bass seem to abound for longer every year and for the more adventurous there are Smoothounds, Tope & Rays to be had if you put in the leg work, but when it gets colder and the more experienced anglers are all buzzing about when the Codling run will start, we need a re-think of the summer tactics somewhat.
Particularly around the North West there seems to be a flush of new starters, albeit not always youngsters and often …ahem..more mature ‘lads’ coming back to a sport they tried as kids 20-30 years ago. Hopefully this article will provide a few tips & pointers that will help put an odd extra Cod on the beach for you this back end if you’re feeling like you’re struggling to strike the vein of fish others seem to be tapped into.
For many anglers October is still the time they dust off the abandoned rods & curse the pitting that’s set in on the reel they’re SURE they washed & oiled before putting it in the box behind the bench in the garage. Rigs are thrown away in disgust as February’s last Pennell rig (complete with 2″ of Black Lug still aboard) smells strong enough to keep the kids away from the fire.
A look in the freezer for those lucky enough to have a bait fridge or VERY tolerant spouse will reveal some 3 times re frozen Black Lug, those Peelers you got in April and THAT box of squid again. (Was it re-frozen that’s best? or fresh white stuff?? – you never could remember so you popped it back hopefully, after all it cost the price of a pint, nearly)
We’re all familiar with the rituals of Cod season, the wife screaming blue murder at the smell from the jacket you tried to either sneak out from the bag under the stairs or worse tried to slip into the wash with her stuff – you WON’T win, they don’t understand it doesn’t matter if you stink when out fishing. You’ll need to find £100 to replace those chesties too – will anyone EVER make a pair that last more than one season???
Assuming you’re all set for tackle and it’s still complete & usable then it’s all systems go, off to the beach to pump some fresh Black to complement the Addams family’s freezer contents and we’re off!
Firstly, do away with the summer rigs – 3 hook flappers with the long shank kirby worm hooks are about as aerodynamic as a shoe, the whirling snoods will soon drag a great many yards out of your casting distance. If fishing many of our beach marks by daytime this can prove critical, turn up at a flat calm clear sea and you’ll often be on a hiding to nothing unless you can hurl a bait to deeper water to reach the odd fish that might be skirting the distant sand. Rigs with a single large (1/0-5/0-Cod have large mouths and big appetites) hook or Pennel 2 hook set up carrying a large bait, clipped tightly behind a chunky 5-6oz (150-175g) grip lead will carry better and for the fledgling multiplier user are much more friendly to cast into the darkness of night fishing sessions.
Pulley rigs work for you if fishing over rocky/weedy marks, even fishing marks like Heysham Harbour when having to negotiate hoisting a fish up the 45 degree wall with the greedy rocks & cracks ready to get a grip of any flapping tackle and relieve you of your prize. The pulley set up does as it says ‘on the tin’, get a fish on the hook end and it literally pulls the weight up tight into line with the leader & rig, so there’s minimal chance of the lead falling into a trap if you keep a tight line.
If you still want to fish multiple hooks then stick to larger sizes, strong patterns especially if you’re likely to be lifting fish and avail yourself of some bait clips to keep everything neatly in line for ease of casting. Three hooks can be an aid at times if bites are scarce, playing about with shellfish/fish/crustaceans,worms and anything else you can think of can pay dividends-if only to go home smug that only you avoided the blank. Soldiering on with just fresh Black isn’t always the only way, though Black lug is probably the ‘go to’ bait for winter Codding.
Armed with your new rigs you then need to make sure you’re going to keep them where you throw them. Winter fishing tends to be more productive in poorer weather, a good westerly wind and a bit of wave on the sea, coupled with a nice hot chocolate colour in the daytime will help a lot. Unfortunately this tends to coincide with a lot of rain and that means lots of garbage, weed, grass, baby wipes (and worse!) floating about helping drag your line where you really don’t want it dragging. You’ll need to stow away the little spinning rods and 2oz Bass rods from summer in favour of the 4-8oz sturdier setup. Up the shockleader on the reel to 60lb (15lb mainline’s fine on most NW venues) to cope with a 6oz or 150-175g lead for rougher conditions and be prepared to cast uptide a little if space allows – beaches can get crowded this time of year.
Tripods can be blown over surprisingly easily this time of year, I’ve seen about 6 to date this winter alone-if its blowing a hoolie then don’t set it side on to the wind, play about, turn it round so the rods are being blown into the tripod rather than lifted off it. Having rod tips high can help avoid the flotsam on the surface to a greater degree but then wind will make it hard to see bites, you’ve got to adapt to the conditions of the session as best you can given the weather. Very often winter Codding throws up inhospitable weather that leaves your tip bouncing hopelessly around so you’d never pick a bite in a month of Sundays. The many bite indicators on the market have varying levels of success combating this-sometimes you’ve got to just suck it up and hope for the best! Reflective tip tape and a headlamp still work brilliantly, little flashing tip lights do mean you can wander a few yards up the beach to yak to a mate though !
If you can spare time to have a recce round your intended marks then do so-sandy beaches do tend to change their features almost daily in heavier tidal conditions, finding a nice little gulley can pay dividends as its where fish will often lurk & hunt as food washes in there & holds up. For the less proficient caster it can prove more productive to find a mark like the Gynn Wall at Blackpool with a bit of water depth that’ll help even the odds for a shorter cast.
Night fishing is THE time to get a Cod-get out of your summertime comfort zone, get suited up in the long Johns & waterproofs/Geordie pyjamas, a nice flask of ‘flask coffee’ and a headlamp~essential and with the likes of LED lensers at £50 or less now its a must have bit of kit-usable LED lights are to be had for a fiver on internet auction sites–get the best you can afford but above all get one! The fish will come in closer at night, no question of that so it’s your prime opportunity to bag a sizeable fish. Its never the easiest thing casting into the teeth of a gale in the pitch darkness but you can take comfort in the fact that you almost certainly won’t help yourself casting 150 yards, often the fish are sub 50 yards and well within reach of less capable casters.
Of course there’s no substitute for practise, an afternoon with a mate who is an experienced caster can soon add 40 yards to your fishing distance but when night fishing you’ll have a great chance regardless.
Baits can be pretty similar to summer offerings. Ok Creeper(harbour rag/maddies) can be dispensed with as a rule, Rag isn’t the most productive either but after that, Blow lug, Skellies (like giant blow lug),Blacks/Yellowtails and the ever faithful Peeler crab (probably frozen stock now) along with the ‘supplementary’ shellfish and others that all have their day and shouldn’t be ignored. Shellfish can be worth a bash after a big storm, with the beach covered in smashed shells the fish can be really switched on to them-try ‘cocktailing’ a Mussel with some black or a crab, a sliver of white squid on the tip will both give movement and help keep it on the hook. It’s very satisfying to hit on ‘the’ bait and be the only one on the beach that’s catching, don’t be afraid to experiment but don’t neglect the essentials-I wouldn’t set foot on the beach unless I had some sort of fresh lugworm.
Bait elastic is an essential~forget casting frozen peelers and Mussels (or defrosted Blacks) without it unless you enjoy getting half of it back in your face as you let fly, nice fine stuff too-some favour the thicker stuff but I find it a nuisance to remove old baits whipped in heavy elastic, nobody needs a hook in the thumb when their mates are bagging half a dozen ‘takers’ each! The thin stuff is snappable to get old bait off, more resilient ones can require a fight to remove or some dainty scissor work!
Of course you’re going to bag up with Cod now, the chippie will be doing without your £10.60 on Saturday nights from now on won’t they ? Well no, probably not………….in reality its hard work-it wouldn’t be any fun if everyone could do it would it? You’ll most likely curse and rant as Dogfish blight early sessions, unerringly homing in on your baits like exocets, causing you heart stopping moments as you feel 10lb of resistance on the end of the line only to turn into 2lb mobile sanders that shred your hands when you get them to the shore. Then next time you’ll be driven mad by Pin Whiting, 30+ in a tide, whipping your baits up even if presented on 6/0 hooks.Then you’ll bloody WISH you could catch one for the next 5 sessions as you endure a run of blanks. But when its right, a westerly wind, preferably sightly calmer after a big blow and the session you’ve been waiting for comes along and your grinning mug is all over Angling Addicts the following day with a chunky Cod that’ll have hundreds of North West anglers rushing out to buy bait!
Don’t forget the old Silvers too-Bass are almost ever-present in our waters these days, a far cry from the fishing the older lads recall when it was May-September season, these days you could just strike a 5lb+ ‘Bonus’ Bass in mid winter.
And if all else fails, try the flattie marks again, reinstate the flattie rigs-this week in early November we’ve had lads bagging lovely chunky Plaice, don’t write them off either, they don’t go away in September as many still believe. The chance of a Cod should set us off to the Cod beaches but there can be droughts even during a peak Cod run, a few flats can help restore faith after a run of blanks!
Find an experienced buddy to go out with-from a safety aspect I’d recommend never setting foot on a night time mark unless you’re with somebody who’s fished it before or without having checked it out in daylight to get a feel for the tide range & speed. The usual common-sense advice about not crossing gulleys that can fill up behind you and cut your retreat off applies as ever, be safe above all, no fish is worth drowning for! There are loads of AA lads who’ll be happy to point you in the right direction or meet up for a session, don’t be afraid to put a ‘Going out fishing’ post on, you’ll probably find some company or at least advice on an alternative mark that’s fishing well!
Winter fishing’s not for everyone, many retire to their fireside chairs and many’s the time we wish we had too-but it can be the most eagerly anticipated time of year and lets face it what’s better than a tasty Cod fillet! Wrap up warm & get out-you’ll not catch anything from your armchair or on your keyboard!
Our thanks go out to forum member “Blanko” for writing this superb article.