While most anglers spend the next few months visiting outdoor expositions, overhauling tackle or just plain hibernating, there is a different breed out there doing their own thing on the winter cod and ling fishery east of Block Island. The fact is fishing in the Coxes Ledge area the past several years has lit-up and savvy anglers have been taking advantage of a solid mix of the two. Best of all it doesnít take a rocket scientist to sock away at a pile of tasty filets, nor does it mean trailing the boat to the ramps. Nope, itís as simple as boarding one of several open boats from Montauk Harbor where the captain and crew will put you on the meat and potatoes.
Racking up a good score of cod and ling isnít unusual these days, particularly during the period of February through April along the waters east of Montauk where the areas such as Coxes Ledge is loaded with plenty of small to medium cod with a few pot bellies in the mix. Ever since the mid-70ís, codfish stocks along New York waters were on a decline due to foreign and American commercial exploitation. Then in the early 80ís, the cod fishing was once again showing signs of a come back when suddenly in the mid 80ís catches once again collapsed. Fortunately, over the past decade, fisheries management and conservation measures have led to a slow, but steady improvement in codfish and ling stocks. In fact, the combination of stringent state regulations and the abundance of small cod southeast of Block Island the last few years point to a positive future. Areas of open and strewn bottoms, which at one time teamed with an abundance of ground fish, are once again coming alive. This comes as good news since there is a good range of area to fish versus fishing the hard hit wrecks, which are usually picked clean and seldom given a chance to reload.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Cod and ling belong to the same family of about 60 species of cod and hake, which are all common fishes of cold temperature and arctic waters. The Atlantic cod can be distinguished by its three dorsal fins and three anal fins, in combination with a pale lateral line and a single large barbell at the tip of the chin. The color is variable. There are two color phases - the red and the gray. The red phase varies from reddish-brown to orange to brick red, while the gray from black to brownish-gray to greenish. The sides are covered with numerous dark spots. This species is taken in the North Atlantic from west Greenland to the Hudson Strait south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina where they occur in deep water. Spawning occurs from December to late March in about 20 fathoms of water primarily in the Gulf of Maine area. The cod lays great quantities of eggs with the larger females estimated to contain millions of eggs. Its eggs are floating, being at the mercy of nature. Like most other species, very few survive, succumbing to numerous predators. The very young cod feed upon copepods and other small crustaceans while they are found on the surface layers, after which they drop to the bottom and feed on shrimp, barnacles and small worms. As adults, they become predatory feeders mainly feeding upon clams, snails, mussels, crabs, lobster, squid and various small fish.
First and foremost, dress warm. Make sure to dress in thin layers as you can always remove or add on as needed. Make sure to have foul weather gear, insulated boots, gloves and hats. Anglers that donít come properly dressed usually end up inside the cabin trying to stay warm, while the well dressed gang has a blast.
As for tackle, a six to seven-foot graphite rod equipped with a conventional reel in the 3/0 to 4/0 class, filled with thirty to forty-pound test line are in order. These outfits are well suited to handle the strewn bottom and the required sinkers to hold bottom. With the exception of a full or new moon, current is often not a problem. Normally 10 to 12-ounce sinkers will hold bottom with possibly up to 16 ounces during the lunar phases. While braided line has the advantage when it comes to sensitivity; experience over the years has proved to me that pink Ande monofilament has significant edge over most other lines. I wish I knew the reason for this. However one thing is certain, high hook usually goes to someone using the pink mono. Unless you are planning to use a shock leader, cod are extremely line shy so it may be in your best interest to use mono, or if you are set on braid, make sure to use an 8-foot leader of 30 to 40-pound fluorocarbon or mono leader. Keep in mind that if you donít own your own tackle required for cod fishing, all your tackle needs are either provided or can be rented on any of the boats.
Rigs are usually hi-lowís consisting of 3/0 octopus or bait holder hooks tied a few inches above the sinker to sting the ling while a 5/0 hook similar hook pattern is placed between 3 and four feet above the sinker in hopes of a soaker cod. Little gizmos such as a plastic twister tail or plastic skirts are applied to the hook along with the bait as an added attraction. While the colors and styles vary, depending on preference, bring along some 2 to 4-inch orange twister tail plastics, which have been a red-hot attractant the last couple of years. My preference is to keep it to a simple rig which consists of a 5/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook four feet and one about eighteen inches above the sinker. This allows the bait to lay in a natural manner with minimal twisting of the line. When more than 12 ounces of lead is required, I will tie a three-way swivel 12 inches above the sinker and another three-way swivel about two feet above the lower one onto the main line. Then I will attach a 12-inch pre-snelled 5/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook to the center swivels. It may seem a bit cumbersome; however, it will assist greatly in avoiding the baited hook to spin wildly in a strong current, which can cause the cod to become hesitant in taking the bait. A small tip I can pass along is when using this style rig keep the bait on the smaller side, which will greatly assist in detecting even the lightest taps.