COD AND HADDOCK BAITS AND RIGS
It won’t be long now before we’ll be dunking our bait rigs into the briney deep in search of the spring run of ground fish. After a long winter of eating freezer stock I look to every April for the first meals of freshly caught baked haddock or fried codfish. Traditionally here on the coast of New Hampshire and Maine the charter/party captains will be looking for those “magic” edges out on southern Jefferies ledge for the first schools of spawning haddock. Farther south off the Massachusetts coast in the mass. Bay and especially on Stellwagon bank anglers will be dropping baits and jigs in anticipation of the spring run cod arriving to feed on sand eels. The perfect cure for
one’s winter cabin fever!
For the most part party and charter boats will supply cut clams to customers, some will throw in native shrimp and cut herring. These are all excellent bottom baits and will catch you fish. Here is a list of natural baits I have found to work well on cod and haddock.
1.CLAMS, it doesn’t seem to matter what kind, surf clam, quahog, razor or steamer, bottom fish love them as long as they’re fresh. The party boats do the best job they can of supplying a fresh product but with the volume they go through week they rely heavily on frozen surf clams. Again, these clams work well, however some anglers want that extra edge and will go to great lengths to acquire as fresh as bait as possible. Does it make a difference? Yes, without a doubt. I have seen happen many times among fishermen of equal skills, and in equal circumstances, the person with the fresher bait will win out with more fish.
Surf and any other large clam should be cut in strips with a piece of the brown belly attached to each strip of meat. I like to believe fish can smell the belly part, and when baiting my hook I start with the brown part and weave the strip onto the hook with the meaty firm part holding the belly secure, that way the fish won’t just nibble the bait off the hook.
Steamer and smaller clams should be left whole and threaded on the hook the same way as the clam strips. Razor clams can be sliced in half as they are long and slender.
If you are shucking your own clams, don’t throw out the shells or the scallops(the mussel that holds the shell together) but save them for chum. Yes you can chum bottom fish, and if you can get a good amount of shell and scrap meat under your boat it’ll make a huge difference, however this is a method that works well in spring and early summer before the hoards of dog fish arrive for the remainder of the season. If you are fishing from a party boat be sure to check with the captain or crew before you start dropping chum into the water.
2. SHRIMP, everyone, including fish love shrimp. Here in the northeast shrimp are a main diet for our bottom fish. These are the best for bait, the small, pink, gulf of Maine shrimp. These are caught commercially here off our northern coast in the winter by draggers and trappers. Most bait and tackle shops sell these baits frozen through the fishing season, but if you can get your own fresh from the boats or from the dock/co-ops, it can make a difference in your bait quality by freezing your own in smaller air tight plastic bags with a vacuum sealer.
When fishing use only thawed shrimp. Bait the hook by starting the hook first into the bait under it’s chin and sliding the entire shrimp onto the hook with the point sticking out from under the end of the tail.
3. CUT HERRING AND MACKEREL. Both of these fish make excellent bait, however there are times, places and methods for both. First off, freshness in these two baits is huge. Both fish will tend to get soft and smell bad with age to the point they will be counter productive if used as bait. If you buy these products from a bait store try and get fish put up in vacuum sealed plastic bags, and check for signs of spoilage discoloration, sunken eyes, and holes around the stomach area are the telltale signs.
Herring I have found will work on almost any fish, at any time of the year to a degree. This bait is especially effective from mid may to mid-late June for inshore large cod, and from August through October when the schools of large pollock show up to spawn in the gulf of Maine. For bottom baits fillet both sides of the fish and cut long strips from the fillets. Weave these strips onto your hooks making sure to pierce through both meat and skin, and leave a little sliver of fillet trailing off the bottom of the hook as a teaser.
Mackerel is a excellent haddock bait because of the oil content, and because when cut in strips and baited properly it is a hard bait for bait thieving haddock to pick off your hook. Also fillet this fish first and then cut into bait strips, be sure to hook through the skin and leave a trailer.
Another trick with mackerel is to cut long, body length strips from the white and sliver under belly for use as a teaser on a jigs treble hook when jigging for large cod. This method works especially well on those bluebird calm days by letting your jig hang just off the bottom and just giving it a twitch once in a while to wiggle the mackerel strip.
Both of these baits are a favorite of dogfish and unfortunately there will be days when you will have to abandon them to try and get through the sharks.
UNCOMMON AND EXOTIC BAITS
having fished with clients from around the world I’ve seen plenty of odd things go onto hooks, some worked and some didn’t. What follows is a short list of things that either worked or I feel have a chance of working.
Green crabs sliced in half. (Live ones)
hermit crab. (No shell)
sand eels hooked once through the head
small pin silver hake( usually coughed up after dropping a big cod on the deck)
pepperoni, a small sliver on a hook along with a clam strip seems to work well for cod.
SPRAYS AND CHUMMING
Do commercial sprays and attractants really work? Yeah, I think a lot of them do. Scent is a big part of how a fish locates food and if your bait or chum put a good smell into the water it’s going to attract fish. Which ones work best is up to you. I recommend any spray or solution that contains fish or shrimp oil, cod-liver oil, or anis extract. Haddock are especially fond of the anis. A few drops of pure extract in a bucket of clams works well. Here’s another trick, stuff a piece of rubber tubing with cotton and slide on your leader above your hook and soak in your favorite spray or solution for a longer lasting scent at your hook. Just about anyone and Everyone who has spent any time deep sea fishing has heard about WD-40 as a spray on attractant. Weather it does or not is still a mystery to me, I’ve seen days when it does work, and times when it didn’t. It doesn’t however seem to harm anything, so I guess if it makes you happy to do so, spray it on, but I’ll stick with the anis thank you .
Chumming is a good method to attract fish( especially haddock) under your boat. As I mentioned earlier clamshells, especially shells with clam meat still attached are an excellent chum, ground fish, fish and shrimp oil all will work fine. Getting the chum under the boat in 100-300 feet of water is the trick. A weighted steel cage works best, pack your chum in a fine mesh bag to keep the tide and fish from stealing your mixture away. It’s best to tie off your chum line on the bow to avoid catching it with your rigs. If you haven’t a chumpot a quick trick is to fill a paper sack about half full of chum, then tie a couple large sinkers on your fishing line and put the sinkers in the bag leaving a foot or two of slack line in the bag. Then close 5the bag with a strong rubber band and secure the bag to the line as well. The trick here is to lower the bag down to the bottom with your rod and let it sit a minute or two to soak well, then jerk your rod tip up several times like you are jigging so the sinkers inside the bag burst out the bottom and release the chum.
Another point about CHUMMING is the boat should always be anchored, no sense in drifting away from the fish once you get them to the boat.
HOOKS AND RIGS
As one travels to different regions methods and rigs will vary along with the types of fish and bottom. Listed here are a few tips and rigs for use in the Massachusetts bay and gulf of Maine.
Hooks. There are hundreds of types of salt water hooks on the market right now that will catch cod and haddock, and to go into each one would require a whole book on the subject. I like to use any type of super sharp J style in size 4-7. The smaller 4-5 are great for haddock, and I like the strength of a 6-7 for larger cod fish. I like a double rig with the sinker on the bottom and the hooks about 16 inches apart above it. Always top off the rig with a barrel swivel to attach to the mainline snap swivel. A hooked fish will always twist around on the way up and This will prevent the fish from kinking the line and twisting the hook out of its mouth. Using only one hook is a good idea when the pesky dogfish are around, remove the top one as the shark generally hang higher off the bottom than a haddock. This method also works well when larger cod and pollock are around. If you double up with too large fish they will try to swim in opposite directions and snap your rig. This brings up the question of what size material to use to construct these rigs.These ground fish are not all that skiddish, so Without getting fancy I will use most any 50 pound test monofilament for my rigs. In the late spring when large cod are around and if they are hitting herring or clams I will use 80-100 pound test and one hook, the same for late season large pollock.
There is a growing trend to circle hooks these days and I have tried them. They must be rigged differently than J style hooks because of their nature. Circle hooks are designed to catch the corner of the fishes mouth and to do that you have to let them take a little line first before reeling up. It’s important to remember with circle hooks not to set the hook before reeling, it will pull the hook past the jaw and out. These hooks work best rigged on a 20 inch leader of mono or fluorocarbon attached to the mainline with a 10-16 ounce egg sinker above the swivel to allow you to give the fish a little line after you feel; the bite. This rig and method are the same as used in the tropics for grouper and other warmwater species.
These are basic simple rigs that will catch you fish when fished properly. There are a lot of commercially produced ones out there on the market that will save you time from making your own, and will do a good job of catching fish. Any tackle shop along the coast will have ample varieties, and the shop workers will be happy to explain the different kinds once you explain what your plans are. Keep in mind if you plan on fishing from a party boat to keep the rigs simple without a lot of metal attached to your line as this will tend to make any tangles tough for the deck crews to deal with. Happy fishing!
DOLPHIN DONS TIDBITS
baked haddock in newburg sauce
grease a casserole dish with butter.
Place skinned haddock fillets in skinned side down, rub with sea salt and fresh ground pepper
make a newburg sauce by adding sherry wine to cream and milk and thicken.
Cover the fish with the thickened newburg sauce, add crushed Ritz cracker crumbs, and top with butter pads.
Bake for 20 minutes @ 350 degrees
serve with an orange squash and rice or sweet potatoes
enjoy a glass of pale ale or dry white wine
Filed under: Fishing