Fishing for Cod: Gadus morhna
The cod (Gadus morhna) is hardly likely to be mistaken for any other species encountered, around these islands. It is not a particularly beautiful fish to look at — the seemingly disproportion. Ate size of the head and jaws and the characteristic pot-bellied look are enough to rule out such a judgement — but it is not an entirely ugly fish either, with its greeny-brown sides marked with yellow and brown spots and the distinctive broad white lateral line. Let it not be thought that it is repulsive in the way thatand similar ‘animals’ are. Maybe it is something to do with the wintry environment in which we catch them, but a good cod always looks clean and cold to me, and a worthwhile prize. Other characteristic features are the triple dorsal fin and the single barbule on the jaw.
In British waters, cod spawn in the spring, in March and April. After spawning, they shoal in water of considerable depth, well off shore, and, except for the occasional big ‘rock’ cod taken by deep-water fisherman, do not come into the inshore angler’s programme until late October or November, when there is a general movement of fish towards the littoral shallows.
From November on, cod are taken from the shore in favoured localities, from piers and sharply shelving beaches. They are also taken by boat fishermen operating close inshore. November and December are the best months, with a gradual falling off in the New Year until the cod leave once again for the banks on which they spawn.
The seasonal movement inshore may depend, for the particular direction it takes, on movements of shoals of fish on which the cod feed — sprat and herrings in particular. Generally speaking, however, they turn up at the sanie places year after year, though some years, undeniably, are better than others.
Most cod are taken over clean ground, sand or mud, or over patchy, stony ground. They are bottom-feeders — this may be stated axiomatically — and for any success at all the angler must ensure that his bait is on the bottom. The big ‘rock’ cod, how ever, are occasionally to be found over a reef in deep water. These fish are much more reddish-brown in appearance than normal cod, and so far as I can make out they are rarely present in the big shoals one expects in the winter.
Cod have a marked liking for estuaries, especially ones which have a strong run of tide. As a rule they do not penetrate far into the brackish water.
At most places where the cod fishing is good, there is usually a ‘cod corner’ which is a particularly good mark, and this, I’ve noticed, is often a patch of weedy stones adjacent to clean ‘’ground. It is very important for the anglers to locate these cod ‘patches’, since the movement of cod may be very localized, so that even though you may be only a few metres off the mark you may miss the fish altogether.
Quite a lot is known about the natural history of cod, which is not surprising when you consider that the species is the most important food fish in the world. They are fast-growing fish, and, of course, very prolific. They have to be to survive — consider the millions of tonnes of cod landed each year by the trawlers. The figures we have for North Sea cod show that a year-old cod weighs nearly 500 g (11b) and measures a little more than 17 cm (7 ins). Second-year fish weigh about 1 kg (2 lb). By its sixth year, a cod may have reached a weight of 6.7 kg (15 lb). Cod probably become sexually mature in their third year. The maximum weight a cod may reach is very great indeed.