An Irish Anglers World

Winter Codling, the Shore Angler’s Favourite.

There is only one species of fish that defines the sport of sea angling while also underwriting the tackle industry associated with it and that is the codling. A child of the sixties I grew up reading articles by John Darling, Clive Gammon, and Ian Gillespie on beach fishing off the Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, and Sussex beaches for cod and codling, with the result that place names such as Dungeness and Dover breakwater were as familiar to me as Kilcoole and Killoughter. Les Moncrieff advanced beach casting techniques, subsequently taken to an even higher level by John Holden, and ABU were eventually overtaken by then custom rod makers such as Zziplex and Century. Ian Gillespie helped in designing the breakaway lead, probably the most significant invention because it allowed lighter gear to be used, and an industry was born.

Quality winter fishing for codling and dab.

The catches that these guys enjoyed and highlighted are the stuff of dreams today, bumper hauls and twenty pound cod from marks such as the “dustbin” off Dungeness point, Dengemarsh, and Orford Ness. Commencing my shore fishing career in the early seventies local venues such as Killiney beach below the Holy Child convent, and latterly the river on the south beach Greystones became Mecca. Lugworm were dug on Booterstown and or Seapoint strand, and with rods strapped to the crossbar and a haversack across the shoulders, many a trip was made down the steps to my favourite spot slightly south of Killiney station.

From August codling would appear ranging between one and four pound, and on occasions double figure bags would feature. Having obtained my drivers licence at eighteen a whole new world was opened up, and the north Wicklow beaches began to become a permanent fixture in my life once the autumn chill took hold and the nights closed in. The point on south beach Greystones transformed into Dungeness and many a night was spent catching double figure hauls of codling and big coalies which really gave you the run around when hooked.

Winter codling, image courtesy of Rob Hume (UK).

The codling never reached the size of their North Sea or English Channel counterparts but that did not matter, the rod tops nodded and my beach fishing friends and I went home happy. The biggest codling landed probably went no more than six pounds, although after one memorable trip I went home with 44.lbs of codling represented by ten fish. An average weight of 4.lbs 6ozs, not bad and that was after a night fishing session in the last week of June 1981 no less. Big shore cod though did feature occasionally with a fifteen pounder landed by one of the Fogarty’s, on the Gannon’s I think, making the headlines back then.

In 1985 I moved to Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow and living not five minutes from the beach was able to indulge in a spot of shore fishing at the drop of a hat. If the tide and weather conditions were right and bait was to hand, sessions could be organised at short notice covering key taking times which resulted in some cracking hauls. Alas by the early nineties the best of the fishing was over due to stocks of Irish Sea codling being decimated by over fishing, as a result the once great cod shoals ceased to run the shingle banks between Greystones and Wicklow. Creating a void which couldn’t be filled, I mothballed the surf poles and didn’t beach fish for a decade. The north Wicklow beaches, which once were illuminated by Tilly and Coleman lamps from September to January lost their magnetic pull, eventually suffering the final ignominy of being removed from the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board list of quality shore marks to fish.

A small codling from an Irish east coast beach.

So there you have it a quick potted history, but what goes today? Well, and I might be sticking my neck out, there is the real prospect of a bumper shore codling season this winter. For the last two summers inshore waters off the south coast of Ireland have been chock a block with codling in the two – three year old bracket. From Kilmore Quay to Castletownbere these fish averaging 1.5 – 2.5 lbs, with a good number larger, have been providing sport for boat anglers in particular. This writer has enjoyed wonderful shore sport on two occasions, once last October 2010, and again in May 2011. Both sessions produced numerous codling to four pounds including double headers, the shoals appeared prolific. If these fish are given a chance then prospects do look good for this coming winter.

Recognised venues such as Youghal, Monkstown and Cobh in Cork harbour, and the Waterford estuary should produce. To those I would add certain rock marks on the Beara peninsula and the south Wexford beaches. The shingle banks of south Wexford for me come closest to recreating the cod fishing of yesteryear, steep to, allowing access to deep water and swept by strong lateral currents especially towards Carnsore Point, marks such as the Coombe and Rostoonstown have delivered in recent years for those anglers prepared to put the time in. Cod to double figures have been landed although the average run is about a pound and a half. The codling start to appear in September adding an extra dimension to the autumn bass fishing. With the bass moving out around mid November, if the weather and tidal conditions allow codling will continue to show right into January.

Wexford angler Frank Flanagan sports a grand beach caught cod.

Winter fishing can be difficult, anglers having to contend with rough seas and bitterly cold frosty nights. The best sport usually occurs after dark and it is vital to be equipped and clothed properly, any chink in the armour or preparation will be found out. I use standard beach casting gear, 12 – 14 foot surf poles and 6500 size reels. Two hook paternosters and or single clipped down rigs allied to a range of grip weights from 4 to 6 ounces baited up with lug, lug, and more lug, make up the business end. Do not scrimp on bait and fill those hooks, tipping off with frozen mussel meat can add an extra dimension, coalies if they are around certainly approving of this cocktail.

For comfort invest in a beach buddy and a Tilly or Coleman lamp. Most serious beach anglers today seem to have dispensed with the latter piece of kit relying solely on their headlamp. Fine if bass fishing and wanting to remain discreet, however in the depths of winter, besides throwing a far superior pool of light they also provide a source of heat. Add to the above a one piece suit or light chesties (no wind up the back), fingerless gloves (you’ll be surprised the amount of heat lost through the back of ones hand), a woolly hat or balaclava, and a hot flask of soup, tea, or coffee, and you are more or less set. Double up on the socks, (some guys have been known to wear there wife’s nylons), include a wind and waterproof jacket and scarf, and do not wear wellies (your feet will be like ice blocks in no time), but invest in a pair of leather hiking boots.

The right set up for successful winter beach fishing.

Kitted out in the manner described above any would be cod fisher should be able to manage any situation or venue, all that is required is for the fish to show up. Taking times are usually best over the turn of the tide, with two hours before and one hour after a good rule of thumb. How far do you cast? Well depending on the venue anywhere between the gutter and a hundred meters plus. Rough conditions can bring the codling close in feeding on tit bits washed into the gutter by tide and wave movement, on the other hand frosty calm nights can mean belting it to the horizon in search of a bite. The best piece of advice would be to carry two sets of kit and fish one in and one out until the fish are found, then work away.

Cod bites are an unmistakeable thump, thump, thump of the rod top, or a thump followed by a slack line. Hit the former, and run like billy-o up the shingle while reeling hard for the latter. Decent size codling will chuck away on the retrieve and kick hard in the wave wash. To be honest it’s not about the fight, more the sight of a mottled brown backed, and large headed, barbuled chinned beauty lying on the shingle that gives the rush. Cod are not striking like bass, but they are handsome, and there is nothing like fresh fish and chips. Yes, you can have sport and provide a nourishing meal as well.

A fine winter haul from a County Wexford, Ireland strand.

If all goes accordingly this coming winter and those codling which were swimming off our southern coasts are still around, then it most definitely will be time and money well spent to plan and engage in a few beach sessions between now and the end of January. Gadus morhua has taken a commercial pounding in recent decades so depriving modern sea anglers the opportunity to experience catching the species which kick started their sport. But if my hunch comes true, and I am hopeful given some of the shore codling catches I have taken within the last twelve months, then this winter could be a codling fest. Here’s hoping…..

See also: Winter Codling on the Beara Peninsula.

See also: Lugworm, a versatile bait.

Ashley Hayden © October 2011