Missing the Bite – Surfcasting for Cod

The spiked rods nodded gently toward the ocean as the gentle surf caught the lines and released them. I watched them from the warmth of our beach fire, squinting to see the black rods against the black background.

I don’t usually like making fires while fishing for the same reason I try not to shine my truck’s headlights on the water I plan to fish—I believe it spooks fish. But on that night, the warmth from the fire kept OTW photographer Eddy Stahowiak and me fishing long enough to satisfy our curiosity about whether cod still swim in the winter surf.

Every year after the stripers leave and my surf rods begin to accumulate dust, I become jealous of the fishermen from decades ago who enjoyed year-round surf fishing thanks to a bountiful population of codfish. The surfcasting old guard is full of stories about warming their gloves on a truck’s manifold while waiting for cod to knock the ice off their surf rods. Frank Daignault wrote two stories for On The Water Magazine about catching big cod on clams and plugs in the Rhode Island surf.

It’s no secret that codfish have fallen on hard times. And, with fewer cod in the ocean, there is less of a chance enough of them will venture into the surf so that we can target and catch them. But, I still dream that, somewhere, a tight-lipped old salt is catching cod off the beach while the rest of us are pulling perch through the ice.

For the cod, I bought several cherrystones at a fish market, which I then shucked and salted so they would hold the hook better. For the fishermen, I bought a few nips of blackberry brandy which, according to several decades-old accounts of winter surfcasting for cod, is an essential beverage.

I’d amassed an impressive list of places where cod were once caught in the surf, including Deer Island, Nauset Beach, the Cape Cod Canal, and Matunuck, among others. We chose one that required minimal walking distance from our trucks to the surf, as in addition to our surf and camera gear, we had a large bundle of firewood to carry.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I hoped to find another truck adorned with fishing stickers. Finding another surfcaster out there fishing for cod would be almost as good as actually finding the cod. However, the lot was empty except for a deer that bounded into the dunes as we approached.

Eddy built the fire while I rigged and baited the rods. A few minutes later, with the fire warming our backs and two clam baits milking scent out into the cold Atlantic, we twisted the tops off our nips, tapped the tiny plastic bottles together, and toasted to beating cabin fever.

During our three hours of fishing, we caught no cod, but we did find some life in the surf. On every cast, our hooks were stripped clean by crabs, and at one point, I felt the distinctive tap-tap of a small, hungry fish. As we packed up our gear, Eddy and I agreed that we’d missed the bite—by several decades at least.

Still, one fishless trip means nothing when it comes to the potential of surfcasting for cod. I still believe that somewhere in the Northeast, codfish swim into casting range in the dead of winter, and that an old surfcaster knows just where to find them.

33 on “Missing the Bite – Surfcasting for Cod

  1. Mr. C

    Years ago I caught a cod by accident off the South jetty of Plum Island. This was before the jetty was rebuilt. I heard a lot of old timer stories about catching cod on PI.

  2. Cam

    I tried in the canal last year with no luck. I was debating trying some of the beaches in Rhode Island this year.

    1. William

      Right across the way from Nahant, @ Revere Beach… right between Beachmont and and Winthrop. That section of water off that ittle stretch of causeway there, is about 35 40 feet deep and has a rocky bottom…perfect for Cod. I do very well there every Feb March and April.

      1. Eddie

        Have you had any luck there this year so far?

      2. Cam

        I’m planning on trying where you’re describing in April. Having trouble putting a location on it. Could you explain a little better?

  3. Pierce

    That the funs of fishing,no matter bite or no bite, we all still go venturing the fishing zones.

  4. Don loosman

    Go south my brothers go south! Though you may not catch cods. You will catch amess of other tasty fish! Believe me been surf fishing here for 28 years!

  5. Gerry F

    Late 50’s, early 60’s along Humarock, Rexhame and Fieldston beaches we.could pick up some cod near the rocky areas.
    Not now, not even from a boat in those areas at anytime.

  6. Louis Bourget

    Marginal way
    Maine saw some nice ones come out while visiting wished I had my stuff

    1. DAMN ALEX

      Buying ”FISH” from a supermarket! ‘Da’mn’ man! You have something wrong with you!

  7. Paul Sek

    Lynn harbor channel by gas wharf, Nahant all along south facing shoreline,Red rock Lynn and Deer Island at the wharf/pier. Why fish you can’t keep them you’re just hurting the fish. There still there.

  8. Paul

    Lynn harbor channel by gas wharf, Nahant all along south facing shoreline,Red rock Lynn and Deer Island at the wharf/pier. Why fish you can’t keep them you’re just hurting the fish. There still there.

    1. Altroy

      Point of Pines gets them in thick now…seen the sizeable schools of Cod and Pollock chasing bait in January all along the beach. Clams are the go to, soak em in Sambucca, same recipe for trout marshmallows also works for Cod. Saw a Asian dude catch a 15 lber there last Dec.

  9. Mike

    40 years ago we use to catch them off the Salisbury jetty. Some were good size. Always brought a few home for the frying pan.

  10. Richard Fortner

    60’s and 70’s I caught cod and stripers in February on Plymouth Beach. Also caught cod in the canal from January to March.

  11. John

    I caught 5-6 small (6 inches) cod on the bottom of a Sabiki on a cripple herring this summer in 100 feet of water in cape cod bay, may a sign of better times to come

  12. Derrick Dunstable

    There is still a viable inshore fishery for these, especially since the last few years cod have pretty much been shut down in the entire GOM area. These are mostly an inshore class of fish, which usually appear bright red to even orange in color, and are sometimes accidentally caught in fairly shallow water in Cape Cod Bay, as has been evidence by many kayakers probably targeting bass in under 80′ of water. Probably the best place to target them form a kayak (if it’s worthwhile, since you can’t even keep one fish in even state waters any more) would be on the Scituate/Marshfiled/Duxbury area; from the shore, Boston Harbor and upwards, preferably areas with a running channel and depth of 20-30′ or more (night time is best from my experience). Either way, look for bait and sudden changes in depth (like Stellwagen Ledges) and you’ll almost always find the cod. I used to catch many good sized cod in the north shore area in October-December and then again in April-May (sometimes even June), fishing from a pier in Boston Harbor, and over 20+ fish a night was very possible. Of course I haven’t done that since the mid-90’s and much has changed, but I do get reliable reports from those fishing close to shore that there are definitely cod in catchable numbers close by. However, all this was on the north shore and Cape Cod Bay side of things; not sure what the action was ever like on Cape Code side of the arm.

  13. Greg W

    Years ago I talked a buddie in to heading to a north shore spot my dad recommended for winter shore Cod. No sand to spike holders we stood on a boulder in the dark holding our rods.
    At some point my friend got bored and felt confident in not catching opened his bail and put his rod down. Some point later we heard what sounded like a chime or soft bell ringing. I swept the rocks with my flashlight just in time to see his rod bounce down the rocks and disappear in to the ocean.
    I fished there 2 more times that winter but that was the only action.

  14. George Pominville

    Would catch some nice size cod in the winter at night at the rotary end of Revere beach using a glow tube tied to the end of my surf rod and having a cup of Kelly’s clam chowder.

  15. Jim Leary

    ahh – the memories this article conjured up. Mid 70s go early 80s – fishing the incoming tide at night in the Merrimack just inside the Newburyport south Jetty – one night we ran out of bait for fish from throwbacks to this fisher held up- right thru mid winter.
    The canal in mid November at night from split rock to portugee hole – easterly tide at night – there was a huge sand eel run at that time and the fish would gorge on them. Sharpies at the time would cast bank sinkers and red-gills off a leader above the sinker. I would use seaworms as they would catch cod and really big flounder. One night caught an honest 5lb flounder stuffed with sand eels (yes a flounder not a fluke) – also brought in cod up to maybe 10lbs. The rocky bottom claimed a lot of terminal gear in the canal – this was not a problem in the Merrimack. Our elixir of choice for those Newburyport trips was peppermint schnapps imbibed next to a small fire. In the canal it was maybe one can of beer as one had to be clear minded to negotiate the slippery rocks down to the water.

  16. andrew

    last year in the spring I caught one in surfcasting range in a boat while fishing for stripers

  17. Rooster

    As a kid fishing the south jetty with my brother throwing Hopkins lures and banging good size cod, pollock and yellowtail flounder. Boy, I miss those days

  18. John M Ceriello

    Caught cod in the mouth of the Merrimack River at PI in March and Beginning of April in the 70s . There was always a good number of fisherman and a good number of fish. Often think about giving it a try but never do . Often had a fire on the beach and a few times even pitched a tent.

  19. Dennis

    Point of Pines, Revere…just off the private beach or across the yacht club at the pier….Dec-Feb incoming tide early morning before sun up. Clams and seaworms do the trick. Another spot is Deer Island at the dock just before the gate and farther up the beach is OK but Cod usually run smallish-2-4 lbs, it’s not anywhere as good as POP where I have seen 15 lbers caught regularly. PS: the locals don’t want anyone to know these spots because of the parking so do your DD.

  20. Bgfish

    Back in late 70s caught cod up to 18 lbs at Plymouth nuclear plant from jetty we’d see them breaking water in front of jetty that was in late nov.

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