Troy Dando re­veals how and how to catch big­ger blue cod

New Zealand Fishing World - - Features Contents - TROY DANDO Story and pho­tos by Troy Dando

Blue cod can also be a name for the UK sable­fish, but the one we’re talk­ing about is ex­clu­sively found in the shal­low wa­ters around the rocky coasts of New Zealand. Also known as sand perch, the Maori names for it are rawaru and pakirikiri.

Found at depths of up to 150m, this plump, easy to fil­let fish can grow up to 60cm and weigh in at 3kg. More com­mon around the wa­ters of the South Is­land, this fish­ery is com­er­cially har­vested and sus­tain­ably man­aged, with an an­nual catch of up to 2000 tonnes.

The an­gler's an­gle

To understand the best way to tar­get blue cod you must understand where they live, how they live and what feed­ing pat­terns they have.

Blue cod is a very slow grow­ing fish and typ­i­cally can take up to 10 years to get to le­gal catching size (30cm-33cm de­pend­ing where you live). Blue cod feed on other smaller blue cod as well as other small fish and crus­taceans, so when they are young they must learn how to hide and for­age at the same time. This gives us our first clue on the typ­i­cal area you will find cod in, it must have cover and a food source to sup­port ju­ve­nile fish.

Now, as we know not all blue cod are hid­ing in amongst the weed or rocks and if you dive you will be aware they are the most in­quis­i­tive fish you will come across. Th­ese larger cod for­age most of the day pop­ping out from be­hind rocks and weed and even ven­tur­ing out along the sandy bot­toms look­ing for any­thing that’s ed­i­ble. They’re un­likely to be tar­get­ted by ag­gres­sive male blue cod, due to their size, and have learned to look above for prey­ing bara­couta and king­fish. Gen­er­ally, the fur­ther away from cover a blue cod ven­tures the larger it is, con­fi­dent it can fight off an at­tack.

Find a rocky area along the coast hold­ing good amounts of bait fish, kina, and other crus­taceans. A good cur­rent stir­ring up nu­tri­ents seems to be bet­ter for an ag­gres­sive bite com­pared to slower mov­ing wa­ter­ways. From here I would move away from the shore un­til the rocks stop and move onto a flat seabed. Try to get a good drift line go­ing along this edge oc­ca­sion­ally drift­ing more onto the rocks and then more onto the sand is ideal. I also don’t mind drift­ing up to 50 me­ters away from the edge to tar­get those big males look­ing for a good feed be­yond cover.

Blue cod are the equiv­a­lent to the Labrador dog who will eat a meat flavoured mini car in two bites given the chance


The best thing about tar­get­ing blue cod is that you really don’t need any spe­cialised fish­ing tackle, but some things do work bet­ter than oth­ers.

I have found that as new tech­niques and gear have de­vel­oped you seem to get a hon­ey­moon pe­riod where the new gear will catch big­ger fish. This may be be­cause blue cod are clever. They give your bait a wide berth but when you in­tro­duce some­thing new, th­ese curious crea­tures drop their guard.

The catch and release move­ment has also changed the fo­cus of gear. The old small J hook setup was a killer rig for blue cod but really it left no doubt in my mind; a gut hooked fish was doomed. Back in the day, the quo­tas were 30 fish and they were thick as sand flies, but th­ese days with dwin­dling pop­u­la­tions and more smaller fish, re­turn­ing them in the best con­di­tion is the pri­or­ity. This has made the J hook a no go.

The of­fi­cial MPI (Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries) guide­line is to use a hook size no smaller than a 6/0 but even th­ese size hooks will gut hook a blue cod if the an­gler is not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the bite. This is where ed­u­ca­tion on how to fish is as im­por­tant as what gear to use. Us­ing very heavy sinkers, heavy line and a rod and reel setup that could stop a mar­lin is over-kill for a blue cod, and you can’t feel what’s go­ing on. Blue cod are the equiv­a­lent to the Labrador dog who will eat a meat flavoured mini car in two bites given the chance. One lit­tle bit of inat­ten­tion will end up with a bait and hook right down in the bow­els of the fish making release im­pos­si­ble.

I be­lieve some of the cod rigs for sale are great rigs in the right hands. The 5/0 to 8/0 hooks on a cir­cle hook ledger rig setup with flu­o­res­cent

tub­ing on the main drop­per to the hook keeps and bait pre­sented well and stops the drop­per get­ting tan­gled up when the blue cod does its trade mark bar­rel roll. It also stops the line get­ting mem­ory twists in it which ul­ti­mately ends in tan­gles, some­thing to be avoided.

Th­ese rigs fished with just enough sinker weight to get it to the bot­tom is all that’s needed. Keep in mind two hooks is plenty to fish on th­ese sorts of rigs (and it is a MPI rule in some ar­eas), as the three hook rig when loaded up just gets tan­gled up and can be dan­ger­ous.

Do­ing a jig

My favourite way to catch blue cod is by fish­ing slow or me­chan­i­cal jigs. It is also one method that doesn’t seem to re­sult in gut hook­ing a fish. Be­cause you are con­stantly in con­tact with your jig, when it does get hit you are al­ready lifting the rod or re­triev­ing line making it al­most im­pos­si­ble to gut hook the fish.

Crowd favourite jigs like the Daiwa Pi­rates and Catch Inchiku jigs are ex­cel­lent for cod and you never know what other by-catch you will get, like snap­per and John Dory, when tar­get­ing cod on the edges of banks, rocks and drop offs.

I’ve also used soft baits and while ex­cep­tional for blue cod I found their sharp teeth de­stroy the soft bait very quickly, which can end up an ex­pen­sive way to catch a fed.

As for the rod and reel setup it really doesn’t mat­ter that much what you use, just re­mem­ber to go for a lighter rod reel. As some blue cod can be caught in depths over 100 me­ters you would ob­vi­ously be us­ing a lot heav­ier setup than some­one fish­ing in 20 me­ters of wa­ter; just re­mem­ber to use the min­i­mum setup you can get away with for the con­di­tions and I can al­most guar­an­tee you will get more fish and less gut hooks.

Bait ba­sics

There really isn’t any blue cod favourite bait out there. They are not like snap­per that want A-grade pilchards snap frozen in the Hi­malayas in pure Evian wa­ter. Blue cod will eat the re­mains of a car tyre blow out and think they are liv­ing like kings. I’ve found fresh bara­couta and the old trusty squid work really well. A sliver of squid on one of my slow jig hooks and a shot of Se­cret Sauce up the hook skirt al­ways pro­duces the goods.

Once caught, make sure you al­ways iki the blue cod and bleed them out, then put straight into an ice slurry for per­fect eat­ing.

Large male blue cod can be tar­geted by fish­ing fur­ther away from cover on the sand. Their size al­lows them to be less wary of pre­da­tion and more con­di­dent when for­ag­ing.

Fig­ure 1: Marl­bor­ough Sounds Area (blue di­ag­o­nal lines), Chal­lenger East area (grey shad­ing), and the quota man­age­ment area for BCO 7 (black line in inset im­age).

Fig­ure 2: Marl­bor­ough Sounds Area (grey shad­ing), ‘in­ner’ sounds, which were closed in 2008 to recre­ational blue cod fish­ing (blue lines), and the Maud Is­land clo­sure (dark grey).

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