February 4, 2016 Last Updated 1:24 pm

* Winter Boat #2 – Bait

Following on from “Winter Boat” part 2 deals with some harbour fishing with bait

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Winter Boat  – Bait


Following on from “Winter Boat” part 2 deals with some harbour fishing with bait


You have choices during the winter. You can fish with bait or you can fish with lures – the choice will come down to what the potential targets are and your favourite technique. Here we concentrate on bait fishing.

What are the “winter species”? Around Ireland anglers afloat will target, pollack, whiting and cod. There will be venues where flounder fishing is a great option. Apart from these main target species it will be common to pick up dabs and other flatties. Rays may be an option in some areas too. There’s also an option of chasing some minis but that tends to be a secondary target rather than the main event. I find that when we get a weather window to go fishing then the conditions will dictate my fishing as much as my wish to catch some fish will dictate the location and the target species.

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Nod, Nod, Nod! It’s a cod!

Securing bait can be tricky during the winter. Most skippers will freeze down some mackerel late in the season so fish baits should not be a problem. Crab and worm can be tricky if you fancy fresh bait. In cold conditions the chances of getting some peeler crab diminish. I know from experience that forty crab traps can yield less than a handful of crabs in the depths of winter. Some tyres will be so bleak that pickers will not even bother. Rag worm beds can be equally as tough for a dig in winter.

Much of the time I will resort to using frozen bait for winter sessions. I will usually have a selection of crab frozen down during the season . Combine that with some razor clams and some frozen mackerel, even some squid and you have the makings of a decent session. Many anglers swear by frozen black lug. I have not used black lug often enough to decide on its ability from the boat but it certainly has potential.

Plan to fish

When I am organising a winter boat session I will leave the conditions dictate where I will fish. I will try to pick an area that offers the best possibility of catching some decent sized fish. This is an important consideration in the winter time as places like Cork harbour can fill up with small fish that can prove to be a nuisance and a waste of good bait.

My first target on any winter trip will usually be cod. I like to fish for and catch some nice cod. Cork harbour can see a decent run of codling during the winter months and fish close to double figures are rare but possible. Obviously these fish provide the best possibility for getting a decent bend in the rod.

Water clarity is always an issue in harbour areas. The influx of dirty fresh water will yield less bites and can even put many fish off altogether. I like to leave the water settle somewhat before heading fishing. It might not be the first calm day after an unsettled spell but maybe two days after that when the best fishing opportunity will arise.

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Cod are a species of ground rather than marks. What I mean here is that you will find cod moving around on areas of ground rather than hanging on specific marks like bass. In Cork harbour areas like the harbour rock can yield some fine cod and codling during the winter. Sand banks can also hold cod interested as there can be ample food about between sandeel, sprat, brittle star and crabs.  Cod will also hang about on reefy rocky ground where there is an abundance of crabs and small prey fish like scorpions and poor cod. Cod will move into an area and will eat anything that moves. When an area becomes exhausted the cod will move on. Just because you catch in an area today does not mean you will catch the next day. The cod may just have moved on.

On very cold winter days it is better to be fishing at anchor rather than drifting. Bait fishing by its nature is more sedate fishing so being anchored up will offer some protection from the elements. It may be less active than lure fishing but when you have at least two rods on the go bait fishing at anchor can be a busy session indeed. It is at times like this that you are thankful for the cuddy on a Warrior 175. But needs must and you may have to drift to locate the fish.

I like to fish at anchor because I can fish two rods easily. Work rate keeps a body warm on cold days! I will nearly always use a leger trace when fishing at anchor. I think cod like the presentation of a leger. I will fish a trace of about three feet using hooks of at least 1/0 and depending on the action I may even change to bigger hooks.  I will use a boom and the amount of lead will depend on holding bottom. I will use as little lead as I can in order to be able to trot my gear back in the tide to search out fish holding areas. If the area is very rough a change to a home tied paternoster should lessen tackle losses.


Hard to beat crab baits for winter cod

Cod love crab! There is no doubt it. It is singularly the most successful bait for cod. I have seen guys fishing near me without crab while I have been hammering cod into the boat. There is no doubt it but to seriously target cod crab is a must. Rag and lug will account for some fish squid less so and mackerel even less. If the fish are scarce then crab will out fish all other baits.

I will usually flick away from the boat. As soon as the lead touches bottom I will take up the slack and set the rod into its rest. I do not like the lead to be bouncing around I prefer it to be steady on the bottom. I will then tend to my second rod. There doesn’t be much disguising a bite from a decent cod. The rod tip will just lunge down. Once you see a bite pick up the rod and wait for another lunge before setting the hook with a deft strike. If there is fish about the action will be nonstop and once there are a few fish about competition between them will ensure a good strike rate. Often you will find that you will fish one rod only if the action is good. Downtide fishing would be my preferred tactic. I have seen plenty of success using uptide tactics but on most of the ground that I fish on I have no need to flick uptide nor have I need for gripleads. If I can I will send a mini rigged rod away from the boat, just to see what is about.

Things do not always go to plan. Many times on that first drop you will see more tentative knocks that can only be whiting. Whiting can be a scourge during a session. Whiting have often saved a poor day.

A whiting of decent size will give a decent account of itself. A pin whiting is just a scourge. If there are little fish present you had better get out of the area and try someplace else as soon as possible. You can waste valuable time and bait on little fish for no success.  If there are decent whiting about and you want to target then, mackerel and squid will do very well and you can save your worms and crab for the cod.


I use a 6/12lb class rod for this style fishing. Any light rod will do fine. It is important to use light gear that will give the fish the best chance of expressing itself. A 6/12 and a reel like a Penn 525 or Abu 6500 or 7000, anything in that league, will be great. I use braid of around 30lb and this gives me the best trade-off between fighting fish and combatting snags. The thinness of the braid allows me to use the minimum of weight to hold bottom.

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Decent sizes hooks and make sure not to mask the point

What about a trace

I have said before that I like to use a leger for this style fishing. Unless the bottom is absolutely horrid and forces me to use a paternoster. This is rare though.

I will tie my own traces using 40-60lb mono. I will tie two hooks of the body of the trace and I will add an amount of bling – beads, blades, lumi-tubing all seem to attract winter species. Simple yet very effective.

Depending on my location I will fish smaller gear on my second rod. If I am fishing on sand this rod can do the business on flatties while the bigger gear and bigger baits sort out the cod. Depending on your location there are other possibilities for inshore fishing during the winter. In Cork Harbour Blonde rays will still be about. Thornback will also be still in the area though they may be lethargic. Opportunities for fishing can be scarce enough during the winter so I tend to concentrate of the cod. If the weather allows I like to head offshore to fish the outer reefs or wrecks but these opportunities are rare so the harbour provides the mainstay for winter bait fishing.


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frozen mackerel will be perfect for savage whiting!

In winter time bait elastic is more important than any other time. Frozen crab needs to be well whipped as it will not last on the hook. Even frozen mackerel can do with a bit of whipping as it is not as tough as fresh. The rubbery foot of razor will hook well but the remainder will need to be whipped to keep it together and to keep it effective as a bait. The Bait-Weaver is a nifty little item as a bait elastic dispenser. If you tend to mislay you elastic ( and many of us do!) the Bait Weaver is worth the extra expense. It is also an Irish design from an Irish company so it is worth a punt on a few levels.

A cod fight is a very distinctive affair. The guy that reckoned that cod do not fight well obviously never tackled them on balanced tackle. Once hooked a cod will make determined lunges to the bottom. A decent fish will have no problem screaming off some line! The fight will go from bottom to top. Generally the fish will be fairly pooped when it reaches the surface but I would still be quick with the net as many a decent fish has been lost at the surface. The typical cod fight can be described in one word: nod, nod, nod, nod! The variation of strength depends on size and tide.


A few decent whiting has often saved the day in winter time

If there was a common fault in cod fishing it would be anglers fishing too small and light. If there are cod about there’s always the chance of a lunker. A small codling will take a 6/0 hook without a bother. By the same token a decent cod can pulverise a fine wire 2/0 hook, especially if caught in the scissors of the jaw. An angler recently related a story to me: he was fishing a shore mark and was catching a steady stream of codling. An angler nearby hooked into a big fish. The fight was intense. The angler was nervous about applying too much pressure on the fish. His hooks were small. He eventually got the fish close to the shoreline. Just as he was about to wade into the tide to grab the fish the double figure fish shook the hook and was gone. The light hook had straightened. You could hear the cry of anguish all the way to Cork! Cod are fish with a serious gob. The deserve serious tackle. Match angling has led the charge to small hooks. Winter cod fishing is a serious business and deserves serious tackle.

The unfortunate thing about cod is that they do not always come ashore in all areas. In  late 2015 it looks like the south coast cod influx has stalled with only a few pockets of fish showing up on some beaches. We await decent fishing weather to see how 2016 will fair, but the omens are not good. Sometimes I love to catch whiting!

Recent years have seen an explosion in lure fishing. It is not all about bass and pollack. Some of the nicest fishing you can do with during the winter is a spell bouncing a soft plastic lure along the bottom….. Next Up… Winter Boat Lure.


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A bonus dab!


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