Des­ti­na­tion cod city!

As their stun­ning winter fish­ing con­tin­utes, Bristol Chan­nel an­glers are ex­pect­ing a spring bo­nanza too

Sea Angler (UK) - - Contents - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by Jansen Teakle

The Bristol Chan­nel cod bo­nanza will con­tinue.

There was much spec­u­la­tion about how the Bristol Chan­nel cod sea­son of 2015-16 would pan out. With healthy num­bers of codling landed from a lot of shore marks dur­ing the pre­vi­ous year, it was log­i­cal to ex­pect a fair pro­por­tion would re­turn hav­ing piled on the pounds. I can’t re­call, though, a sin­gle an­gler pre­dict­ing ex­actly how it would go with any ac­cu­racy.

Last year’s fish were pre­dom­i­nantly small, around 2lb, but it was a real strug­gle to find any bet­ter ex­am­ples. Even the spring run, which hap­pens here dur­ing March when the fish move in to feed on crabs as the water tem­per­a­ture starts to creep up, failed to pro­duce the fat­ter fish that we would have ex­pected fol­low­ing a winter of din­ing on high-pro­tein sprats and other bait­fish.

That spring run of fish left the chan­nel, as they do at the end of ev­ery sea­son, and although hopes were high for the fol­low­ing in­flux in the au­tumn of 2015, no one was ex­pect­ing the ex­cep­tional sport we have en­joyed through De­cem­ber and the new year. This is not so much a story of quan­tity, but one of qual­ity.

Pris­tine fish with in­cred­i­ble mark­ings and bulging bel­lies have been taken the length of the Bristol Chan­nel, and at the time of writ­ing, there seems to be no let-up. Not that we are com­plain­ing, of course! These fish, full of fight and fin per­fect, are reg­u­larly hit­ting the scales at 7-8lb. I would say this has been the average size catch for most an­glers I know who have been for­tu­nate enough to get out there and milk it.

Even the thorn­back rays have con­tin­ued to fig­ure in catches, in­clud­ing many into dou­ble fig­ures. Not since the mid-1990s have we seen sport on this scale, and it re­ally has been a year to get out there and do your best to set a new per­sonal best.

I have heard of more dou­ble-fig­ure cod, in­clud­ing at least two over 20lb and one closer to 30lb, landed by shore an­glers this sea­son than prob­a­bly the last five years or more. The added bonus is that just re­cently we have been seen a fresh in­flux of im­ma­ture codling, which bodes ex­tremely well for sea­sons to come. Just for now, though, I’m go­ing to fo­cus on the present and of­fer a lit­tle guid­ance on how you could find your dream fish this spring.


I’ll start off by re­ally throw­ing the cat among the pi­geons by en­ter­ing the day­light ver­sus dark­ness de­bate. For as long as I can re­mem­ber, it was drummed into me that ow­ing to the clar­ity of the Bristol Chan­nel, or rather the lack of it, that the time of day was ir­rel­e­vant to catches.

The water is for­ever coloured due to near per­ma­nent silt sus­pen­sion, so the fish feed just as con­fi­dently by day or night.

Or do they? Some­times we do need to think out­side the box to get the bet­ter of our in­tended quarry, even if it means go­ing against the grain.

The cod that we fish for in the Bristol Chan­nel dur­ing the winter have spent their sum­mer in the clear wa­ters of the chan­nel ap­proaches, so are more than fa­mil­iar with the stark con­trast of day and night. What’s to say that they don’t form a body clock in the same way that we do and con­tinue to feed more ac­tively, as we are led to be­lieve, dur­ing the hours of dark­ness, regardless of the water clar­ity?

An on­shore blow may colour the water in some re­gions, but do the cod feed dur­ing this time be­cause of the on­set of some cover of­fered by the cloud of sed­i­ment, or sim­ply be­cause the seabed larder has been smashed up in the storm?

Look­ing back over my diary, the tail end of Novem­ber and the en­tire month of De­cem­ber was a very pro­duc­tive time. I was for­tu­nate enough to land a healthy num­ber of cod, but what I found most in­ter­est­ing was that the vast ma­jor­ity of these fish were taken in dark­ness.

You could say that it was a mere co­in­ci­dence, that I chose to fish at night and that’s when I caught the fish. How­ever, when talk­ing with pals who had fished the same marks by day and had drawn a blank, it got my brain tick­ing.

It wasn’t just a co­in­ci­dence, these were guys who are sea­soned Bristol Chan­nel an­glers with a sprin­kling of ‘twen­ties’ to their names over the years.

I re­alise ev­ery tide is dif­fer­ent, but on one par­tic­u­lar oc­ca­sion I knew of 10 rods casting baits over the same mark I had fished the night pre­vi­ous, with not a fish be­tween them. I made fur­ther en­quiries and, time and time again, ev­ery­thing

pointed to the dark­ness the­ory. I’m not go­ing to go out on a limb here and say that the Bristol Chan­nel pro­duces more cod in the dark, but when pre­sented with this ev­i­dence, I could be for­given for sug­gest­ing so.

I’m sure many read­ing this will have landed plenty of cod in day­light, but I’ll leave you to draw your own con­clu­sions.


It’s also been an in­cred­i­bly mild winter, which has meant that any marine life that usu­ally takes an in­ter­est in your bait of choice has hung around a lot longer too. My usual first choice bait at this time of year, blow lug, was quickly found out to be a no-go as its time on the hook was short.

I started us­ing fresh gut­ted black lug and im­me­di­ately reaped the ben­e­fits of its hardier ex­te­rior, mean­ing it could be left to fish for a con­sid­er­ably longer pe­riod, giv­ing the cod just a lit­tle more time to home in on the scent.

Re­fer­ring back to my diary, I no­tice that all but one of my cod were taken on these tough worm baits, the ex­cep­tion be­ing a fish that fell for a strip of bluey.

With the water tem­per­a­ture still higher than it should be at this time, un­less we get a very lengthy spell of Siberian weather, we are well ahead of the game. By this, I mean that the high water tem­per­a­ture will en­cour­age a crab moult to take place ear­lier than usual, hope­fully en­cour­ag­ing the cod to stay in­shore.

Fe­bru­ary and March could pro­duce even greater num­bers of fish than we have al­ready seen, and it’s es­sen­tial to make the most of this run of fish. With cli­mate change and over­fish­ing re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar me­dia cov­er­age, there re­mains much spec­u­la­tion among the an­gling fra­ter­nity as to the po­ten­tial of cod sea­son’s to come.

Pre­dict­ing the move­ments of these won­der­ful fish has be­come more of a crys­tal ball af­fair than one based on cir­cum­stance, so it re­ally is im­por­tant to make hay while the sun shines.

The vast ma­jor­ity of Jansen’s Novem­ber and De­cem­ber cod were taken in dark­ness

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