We might be able to hear the reactive screeches of outrage from up here; Mark Kitteridge, a JAFA (Just Another Friendly Aucklander) of almost 30 years, has the audacity to offer angling tips on that southern piscatorial icon, the blue cod...
Yes, I know, my geographical location is a great hindrance to my blue cod-catching credibility, but many readers may not realise I fished Wellington’s surrounding waters for almost 20 years – and I still get out after blue cod whenever possible.
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After all, while they do not grow particularly big and are not the hardest fighters, their delicately-flavoured fillets make them a very worthwhile target.
A bit about blue cod
First, we should get one thing cleared up: the blue cod, Parapercis colias, is not actually a true cod, instead belonging to the sandperch family.
A bottom-dwelling species, blue cod reside in relatively shallow waters right around the coasts of New Zealand, from the rocky shore to depths of at least 100m, generally over rough, weedy ground. While far more common south of Cook Strait, they can be found from the Three Kings Islands to the north, the Chatham Islands to the east, and the Snares Islands to the south.
As prime opportunists, adult blue cod will eat almost any creature of suitable size, with typical meals consisting of small fish, shellfish and crabs.
Coloured a bluish-green to blue-black above with white toward the belly, large specimens tend to be greenish blue in colouration, while smaller ones are a blotchy brown (these are often mistakenly called ‘rock cod’). A really big blue cod can reach 60cm or more in length and weigh up to four kilos. As they grow bigger, they can change sex from female to male.
The blue cod is strongly territorial, and this – combined with their voracious appetite and lack of fear – can make them susceptible to over-fishing, leading to special limits and fishing bans being implemented in parts of New Zealand. It therefore pays to check the local fishing regulations before commencing fishing.
How to catch blue cod
An aggressive and often hungry fish, blue cod will obligingly take most shellfish and cut-fish baits, as well as small- to modest-sized metal jigs and soft-plastic lures yo-yoed and jiggled near areas of weedy sea floor. So, in short, they will eat anything that moves and many things that don’t!
A suitable outfit: Although cod do not get very big and do not fight especially well either, anglers targeting them tend to use reasonably heavy tackle. This is mainly due to the weedy terrain cod prefer: by using at least 10kg, but more usually 15kg, it’s possible for anglers to rip rigs free of the weed. Consequently, any spin or freespool type outfit holding around 150-200 metres of 10-15kg line will do the job. However, if fishing in water deeper than 100 metres, especially at certain times of the year, it can pay to up your tackle to 200-300m of 18-24kg (40-50lb) line to cope with the occasional hapuku/groper also encountered.
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The rig: Here are a few things to consider and possibly incorporate in any rigs you make:
- When fishing in deeper water offering the chance of a groper/ hapuku being hooked, use trace material of at least 37-45kg breaking strain, and take the time to tie proper dropper-loop knots (as many other knotting options are REALLY weak!).
- As cod tend to spin around upon being hooked, causing droppers to become knotted and twisted during the ascent, the incorporation of specialised dropper-loop swivels will help to minimise/neutralise this problem).
- Do not tie dropper loops that are too long. Smaller loops (i.e. around 6cm) stick out from the rig’s backbone much better, making them less likely to catch or twist around it.
- Cod are a very inquisitive fish, so adding flash, lumo and fluorescent accessories to your rigs will help gain their attention, especially deeper down.
- Using the right size and shaped hook is particularly important. The cod’s big mouth means that small and/or poorly designed hooks are easily swallowed, leading to anglers either mangling the cod’s head and gills (also wasting time while retrieving the hook, which is no good for angler or fish, especially if the cod’s not of legal size) or cutting the hook off, leaving it deep inside the fish and possibly consigning it to a long, slow death. (That said, most still agree it’s better to cut off hooks rather than attempt deep, messy hook-retrieval operations if fish are to be released.)
- Up till recently, long-shanked hooks were the go-to model. Admittedly they do make deep hook retrievals easier, but can still cause a lot of bad injuries while being wrenched out of cod too small to be kept. That’s why circle (re-curve) hooks have attracted a big and dedicated following in a remarkably short time. The circle hook’s shape means that fish are usually caught in the corner of the mouth, causing minimal injury and enabling easy hook retrieval. Another advantage is the re-curve’s inward angling point, making it less likely to snag up on the bottom.
- If attaching circle hooks onto dropper loops, always feed the loop through the front of the hook’s eye, not the back; the aim is to create a nearly complete circle with the hook and dropper, even though this looks as if it’s most unlikely to catch anything! And yes, you will still catch some fish if you do it ‘wrong’, but you’ll catch even more if you do as recommended.
- To make snagging less likely, ensure the section of backbone from the bottom dropper to the sinker is of a decent length; upon touching down on the sea floor, you want the rig’s hooks to remain clear of the weed and rocks if possible. IF USING CIRCLE HOOKS, you’ll need to remember two basic rules:
- Only hook fish-strip baits or squid tentacles once (max. twice) through the thicker end, leaving the hook’s gape clear and the point and barb exposed (crucial for hook-ups to occur).
- Do not strike with circle hooks, as this simply bounces the hook out! Instead, a slow, steady lift in response to bites will see the hook slide up and into place around the jaw hinge
The fact that cod are so territorial has a big bearing on how they’re fished for. As they won’t move far, berleying has only limited effectiveness, and it pays to regularly move to avoid hammering any one place or area for too long.
Otherwise, if the wind’s not that strong, it can pay to try drifting over the bigger suitable areas. (As already mentioned, cod like rocky, weedy territory, although they can also be caught on nearby sandy areas at times.) This technique needs to be done quite slowly, so use a drogue to slow the drift if necessary, but be aware this can be dangerous if deployed from the transom in rough conditions.
Excessive amounts of snagging will make this a bad experience though, so ensure you have:
- At least 60cm to a metre’s distance between your bottom dropper and the sinker
- A streamlined sinker that will slip through the weed and rocks
- Sufficient sinker weight to allow a reasonably vertical presentation – too much angle causes more snagging.
While it’s true that blue cod will pretty much eat anything – even strip baits cut from their own (legal-sized!) kind – there will still be times when the fresher baits and preferred food items prove more effective. Here are a few tips to help your success rate:
- Even though a cod has a relatively large mouth, baits are best cut long and thin rather than fat and wide, as the latter makes the offering hard to gulp down. Baits on the bigger side – at least as big as an adult’s thumb, say – are less likely to attract small (illegal) cod, a worthwhile consideration when cod are around in good numbers and anglers wish to be keep the hooking and handling of undersized fish to a minimum.
- Try to cut the strip bait so there’s some skin on one side to help it survive the nibbling and ragging of other reef fish and small cod until a reasonable fish comes along. If necessary, secure strip and shellfish baits with bait-elastic to help them withstand small, nibbly mouths for longer. Or try salting shellfish and the softer fish-fillets down with rock/butchers salt to make them tougher.
- A section of squid tentacle from a large squid, a couple of tentacles from a medium squid or the whole head of a small one, makes reasonably tough, effective baits. Just hook these once in the fatter end and let the rest dangle free, or thread a big tentacle along the shank like a soft-plastic. Thin, dangly squid strips are also good, but tend to get washed out quite quickly (i.e. they lose their scent and flavour), so you’ll need to replace them more often than fish baits.
- Baits hooked in their middle tend to ‘helicopter’ when dropped down or retrieved, causing twisted droppers.
July - 2016 - Mark Kitteridge
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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