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December 2013 - Codhopper

From the water’s edge

 

I hope that you find my journal interesting and entertaining. If, having read this, you think that I am talking rubbish then at least you have stopped and thought about it long enough to come to that conclusion which is something of a result in my book. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else relating to my website, please feel free to contact me using the adjacent form. Feedback is always greatly appreciated and very helpful when it comes to improving both my site and my angling. Thank you for looking.

I love fishing with lures for anything or in any new, challenging way. Today the target was cod. Neil has temporarily re- located from Littlehampton to Brighton in a bid to offer his customers more opportunities.
Anticipation for this new venture was rife among our crew; Tim, Wadey, Sharkey and myself. In fact couldn't sleep the night before, because I was so keen to get a chance at a big cod. There were downsides to be faced. For a start, everything I could find out about cod fishing in this part of Sussex, suggested that using lures in winter on this ground would be a waste of time, and that the only baits worth a candle were squid (horrible and slimy), black lugworm (horrible, slimy and smelly) or cuttlefish (horrible, slimy, smelly and filthy).
As if that wasn't enough, leads we were told, would need to be 6 to 8 ounces minimum and cod would be hard to pick from among the hordes of channel whiting that packed the area. It would appear that few cod had been caught of late from this mark, even by boats that have established reputations for catching them. We were warned that chances would be few and far between.
My plan was simple this time, the lures would be there for playing with once I had established the presence of fish by catching them on bait. Simple plans are invariably the ones that work best and I think that this one served me well today.
A visit to the tackle shop saw me breaking the habit of many recent years and buying bait fishing tackle. 4/0 & 6/0 hooks, were one thing, but the leads were the killer - 4,6 & 8 oz bombs!!. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a lot of pounds in both respects. Fully loaded, my bag would now have made a Falklands marine think twice about throwing it over his shoulder.
The recommended rig for this kind of fishing, over bland, clean ground was a pretty simple, running ledger. A link swivel carrying the lead would be stopped by a swivel 5 ft from the two 6/0 hook Pennel rig.
I couldn't for the life of me see why the lead needed to slide freely on the line because in practice we would be fishing nearly straight down at a depth of 60 ft. No way on the face of god's earth was any fish going to pull line freely through the lead at such an acute angle. I opted for a very simple rig known as a hopping rig. The only difference is that the lead is carried by the link swivel which is tied directly to the end of the braid mainline. The 5ft hooklength, clips to the lower eye of the link swivel. It's a bolt rig pure and simple and is generally used for fishing shads and twin-tails over wrecks and rough ground for cod and pollack.
We didn't have to travel far to the grounds, they were barely three miles off of Brighton marina, we didn't have to wait long for bites either. As soon as the assorted snot hit bottom, the rod tips started rattling away. It turns out that we were fishing in thick whiting soup rather than water. We all caught quite a few early on, along with the inevitable dogfish, but they did make waiting for that elusive cod bite a frustrating experience not dissimilar to a carp angler's worst bream nightmare. Ignore the constant rattling of the tip and inevitably after ten minutes, there was little enough left of the big smelly mess for a hungry cod to find.



 

 

There really weren't many cod there anyway, so we all got very excited, when Wadey found himself attached to something very substantial. Even if the bend in his rod wasn't clear enough, the sight of Neil bouncing around the boat like zebedeee on speed and pulling out bigger and bigger landing nets was enough to fire us all up. What a beast of a fish - what a beast of an angler come to that. Seeing that big white ghost emerging from the gloom after a lengthy spell of lifting and winding was a special moment. Seeing the scales pull down to twenty pounds plus an ounce or two, was another.
Fifteen minutes later, it was Mick's turn. The beauty and the beast double act was on good form and with this one bumping the scales round to 11lbs, everybody was buzzing for a while. Unfortunately that was it as far as the cod were concerned.




 

With two quality fish coming in just fifteen to twenty minutes, I couldn’t help feeling that a shoal had passed by giving us the opportunity to nick a couple of fish. After all we were at anchor, it wasn’t as though we were covering any ground.

All was not lost though. After lunch and with no more signs of the big fish we were after, we all turned our attentions to taking advantage of the huge numbers of whiting. Wadey and Sharkey scaled down to smaller single hooks and fished lug and squid strips to great effect. Frankly we lost count, but the day flew by with the constant activity.

Every so often we would pop a lure on and see what we could catch. In fact I used lures pretty much all the time once it looked like the cod were not there in any numbers. I figured that anything that reduced the attentions of the whiting would increase the chances of a cod finding the bait so I spent a lot of time fishing, fruitlessly it has to be said, with 4, 5 & 6" shads in a range of colours. I only caught one fish, a dab and that was hooked just outside the mouth on a 5" rhubarb and custard version. It could not possibly have eaten the lure, its mouth was the size of my thumbnail, but the hook was close enough to its mouth to make me think it was attempting the impossible.

Wadey had three whiting on 6" shads, but they were more obviously gaffed. Once again, the most successful plastic bait for me were the pink isome worms. I never sent one down without getting bites on it. I tried and in fact caught on a larger green ragworm imitation, but it was pretty ineffective compared to the little pink ones. I caught half a dozen dabs on them and plenty of whiting too.

We all found that we caught a lot more whiting by winding the lead up two or three turns from the sea bed and just letting the rig hang in the water. We would just lift sharply when the rattles became persistent and start winding slowly to see if they were hooked up.

We all had plenty of fish, but from where I was standing, I could see some big advantages with the plastic lures that suggest that they have enormous potential. There is no doubt about it, bait caught bigger fish, and generated a few more bites, but it was messy, and harder to present neatly. It goes off, it can't easily be kept until your next trip and worst of all is too easily stripped from the hooks by nuisance species. All (!!) I need to find is the right selection of lures to cover the whole range of baits.

 

So far I have one dead cert contender. Isome worms work very well indeed for plaice, dabs and whiting. I need to find effective replacements for fish strips and for bigger baits like whole squid and flapper mackerel. It may be that in shads and grubs I already have them, but have not had the opportunities to show them in the right sizes or colours to feeding fish.

 

Very few lures were really effective at generating takes but those isome worms were and that tells me that finding the right lure is the issue. It might have been the colour or most likely, as Neil believes it might be, the scent of the amino acids that they are soaking in.

I would have no problem with only getting half the bites than I could get on bait, if I was convinced that fish will take them regularly. Its bad news in some respects, I now have to buy more lures to try and with the next trip not until well into next year, it will be a long time before I get to try them out. The isome worms are too small really. I'd love to get my hands on some bigger ones. They are available, so I will be trolling the internet for those.

“I think we’re going to need a bigger net”

Sea fish can seem rather over-optimistic about what they can eat while others can clearly manage just about anything !

‘Ole bucket-mouth

I took out all my smaller lures before setting off today and that was a big mistake. On the plus side, I bought some new braid for this trip. I needed to step up from my usual twenty pound power pro to something closer to 30 lbs. Terry was recently using some new, incredibly thin stuff on the canal that he had bought from Artur at Lure-world. So I had bought some red, 12.7 kilo (28 lbs), Dragon jigging braid from him. This was nearly half as thick as my twenty pound power pro And today it paid off as I was able to use 8oz of lead and hold bottom directly beneath me, while Mick on the other side of the boat was using 11 oz and fishing much further downtide. It was way more effective than the power pro that I have been using on the lighter rod for bass, so I shall be replacing that asap.

The big issue will always remain for me - how can I fish light when 8oz of lead is required to hold bottom? The thinner braid is a big leap forward, and maybe if I was fishing at the back of the boat I could have got away with less fishing further down tide. Today the bait didn’t need to be on the bottom to get takes, but fishing too light when you are closer to the front of the boat is not fair on the people at the back because you are constantly tangling their lines.

Those whiting would have been twice as much fun on a lighter rod and without that heavy weight damping out their efforts. I was using a 60 gram rod and those fish would have put a better fight up on it if it wasn’t for the lead. As it was they were pulling the lead around in circles instead of pulling the rod tip down. Anything less than 2lbs was virtually undetectable on the line other than for an occasional rattle of the rod tip.
 

As the light waned, we headed back to port. Another great day afloat. Loads to think about and lots to look forward to next time out. In the meantime, lots of head scratching, and lots of money heading for the bottomless pit that is the lure angling trade.

 

It’s always easy to spot a successful boat.

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