Destination cod city!
As their stunning winter fishing continutes, Bristol Channel anglers are expecting a spring bonanza too
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.
DAYLIGHT V DARKNESS
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.
REAP THE BENEFITS
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