If you prefer celebrating your New Year’s with ice underfoot rather than in a glass, things aren’t looking very good. However while kibitzing with a few fellow kayak owners, I came up with an interesting saltwater alternative.
Those of the hardcore, hardwater community already know of anglers who were out on slivers of ice but for all but the most reckless that is just not in the offing for the foreseeable future—even for those willing to travel to northernmost New England. While I did get reports from nether regions of New England of icy endeavors, we cannot suggest them with a clear conscience. Conditions just aren’t safe at the moment, even Captain Patrick Barone of Charter The Berkshires who hails from the Hadley area and is as familiar with “Hilltown” hardwater as he is with the back of his hand had no sensible reports to pass along.
By now, those who are relatively new to the game doubtless are tired of the tails of cod during the “offseason”. The truth is that we who simply switched gears in November from blues and stripers to Gadus morhua never looked at the late fall through winter period as the offseason since catching a cod was at least as celebratory as catching a striped bass. After all, stripers were the state fish of Maryland, our state fish was the Atlantic cod! Fresh from talking to Captain Pete Santini of Fishing FINatics in Everett, who shares similar roots with yours truly, it was pretty easy to project what would be the quarry this time of the year off of the new Deer Island pier—that would be cod!
Secondly, while hobnobbing with another hardcore holdover-chasing Hobie owner, he brought up the cod thing. This dude who is a never-say-die kayak angler to the extreme told me of a recent excursion off the North Shore where he and a kindred fanatic found all kinds of cod in just 50 feet of water! If you know the North Shore at all, you know that from Nahant through Halibut Point it doesn’t take much distance to clear 50 feet of water.
With less committed effort from commercial entities due to the pandemic and regulatory restrictions we have seen a bounce in cod numbers. If you spent anytime haddock fishing this year, you may have even regarded them as a nuisance—they were that common! But you didn’t have to cruise all the way out to Jeffrey’s Ledge, Tillies Ledge or Stellwagen Bank to figure that out—for much of the season “bycatch” cod were slamming speed jigs intended for stripers by the PR Can as well as relieving anglers of a hook or two as they attempted to Sabiki-up a rack of macks off Egg Rock.
And of course, unlike striped bass the cod are still out there! There is no denying the elephant in the room however that save for a few sacred weeks in September, recreational anglers cannot keep cod in the GOM and adjacent inshore state waters. But catching and releasing an 8-pound cod isn’t all bad! Prominent piers such as what you’ll find off Nut Island, Castle Island and now Deer Island are all good places to start! Any rocky promontory on the North Shore could very well have cod sniffing around now. And then of course there is the small boat or kayak option, just use common sense, buddy-up and by all means don’t even consider a launch unless conditions are perfect.
Bait shop clams will catch cod, but you’ll fare better if your industriousness enough to turn over some mud and (when legal), harvest goodies underfoot such as seaworms, bloodworms, tape worms and clams. If I had to pick one bait above all that cod love it would the invasive and ubiquitous green crab which swarm most any local bridge/marina that you’ll find. Patronize your local bait shop for a crab trap and the wherewithal to shorten the learning curve on how to catch them. As to how the kayak crew are getting cod, they’re using soft plastic/jig combinations such as Hogys. Should you catch small pollock, sea herring, or mackerel don’t be afraid to chunk or even live-line them, cod are nothing if not opportunistic and aggressive.
If you’re willing to forego normal creature comforts and give it a go in winter, you’re already a tough bugger but there’s one more particular that often makes a difference—nights are better. In fact, a buddy of mine who lives in Nahant has been watching a few fishing Lynn Harbor at night under the glow of lanterns! Could they be into cod?
Fishing Forecast for Massachusetts
I was fully expecting to enable hardwater junkies to get their New Year’s fix with some prime ice fishing opportunities but for now Mother Nature has other plans. Much to the chagrin of the frozen water fraternity there are still plenty of open water options which we don’t get every year at this time. There are no shortage of ponds and lakes throughout the Commonwealth which are teeming with trout. However, if you’re really looking for a shot at something salty, even if it’s a long shot there are catch-and-release cod swimming close to shore right now! Happy New Year one and all!