Catching Coldwater Cod

By Rod Mackenzie

While I am not a big fan of the cold it does provide some excellent cod fishing opportunities if you know where to look. In the dead of winter most cod encounters are at the bucket mouthed end of the brag mat where on average of a meter or more is the mark. 
Two notable things happen when the water cools down the first of these is the mass schooling of bony bream. These small shiny baitfish are the number one food source for giant cod. This is a significant event as it shifts the balance of available prey from well spread to that of clustered mass. This in turn triggers the second and most bizarre feeding habit I have ever seen in Murray cod. In many cases cod now turn from cold, calculated ambush predators to that of open water hunters. The feeding traits of these fish now take on a pelagic style where they will openly hunt and not just as a single fish but often in small groups. 

During winter large underwater clouds of bait are present along many sections of the river. If you are lucky enough, it’s not uncommon to see flocks of cormorants pushing these bait balls to the surface where sea gulls, pelicans and whistling kites join the free for all. No doubt there are a few giant cod cashing in on the underwater carnage as well. While bait balls can be found in many locations those that hold in the deep holes are the ones that draw the most predators. A few seasons back a single deep hole less than a hundred meters long held a significant amount of bait for several weeks. There was no reason to stop and fish this location as there was no bank side structure or any other fishy features that might draw the angling eye. The only give away to the underwater happenings were several sea gulls and a pelican sitting mid river. First pass over this section on the troll was to reveal a steady flat bottom of about 6 meters that undulated into a 10 meter hole. The mid water bait ball holding at this location took up a good portion of the sounder screen and hung like a large orange cloud. As the lures made contact we were smashed simultaneously on both lures and while only one fish stuck, it was a ripper at 112cm. We had been so close to a double hook up on meter plus cod in the middle of what looked to be a plain snag free stretch of river. After a few snap shots of the fish the lures were recast and once again trolled mid water through the schooling bait. We had hardly found depth and another meter plus cod had scoffed the lure and was now being led to the net. Over the next two days we pulled five meter plus green fish and several close to the mark from this exact location. During winter most drop offs or deep holes attract large schools of bait. The reason behind this is unclear but the fact that giant cod cash in on the bounty provides us the knowledge needed to actively target these fish at certain locations.

While trolling is often productive and enables you to cover more ground casting the shallows in the cooler months is perhaps the most exhilarating way to target giant Murray cod. We use two specific lure styles to draw a response from big fish at this time of year. Large shallow running hard-bodied lures are a favorite and can be cast and worked through the worst of snags with relative ease. As the lure bumps up against a log a slight pause will see it rise and clear before it’s once again wound back to depth. Many takes are hard and smashed within a few feet of the surface, the best of these churning the water with a large boil indicating a sizable fish. The strike is often clean with an excellent hook up rate due in most to the ferocity of the take. Opportunities to feed in the cooling waters are limited so they are calculated and executed with precise accuracy. What follows is a detonation of green fish fury that can go either one of two ways. 

If you are soft in hand and light on drag your first encounter will be short lived and very violent as any large cod that finds its head will return to the snag scoring itself a shiny new lure. Big cod in the shallows require a deliberate approach where a well weighted drag and solid rod work are mandatory to stall or stop a turning fish. This is confusing to a giant cod that’s used to having its way and will most often see it spook and bolt for open water. My outfit for casting hard-bodied lures to cold water cod consists of a Calcutta 200D loaded with 50lb braid. This is coupled with a 6-10 soft plastic Raider. This outfit provides the weight and sturdy reel control to deliver large hard-bodied lures accurately over distance. It also couples as a great trolling outfit for mega sized cod lures that exceed the 150mm mark. Big lures place a lot of pressure not only on the rod but the reel itself. Smooth and sturdy the 200D has no slop at all during the retrieval of large cod lures. 

When casting larger spinnerbaits the 12-16lb G-Loomis Mossy Back provides extra feel allowing you to stay in touch with the rotating blades. This rod is coupled with a Curado 200G5 and once again 50lb braid. 

For more than a decade now we have studied the habits of winter cod and used the knowledge gained to have regular encounters with these iconic fish. Cold water cod fishing can be a little slow and yes a lot of the time it does get very cold, but all this is quickly forgotten when a monster cod engulfs your lure and desperately tries to remove your arms from their sockets.