Cod Hotspots

The colder months are primetime for cod. Stay warm through the winter cranking up trophy cod on New England’s offshore wrecks and reefs.
party boat cod fishing
Looking to catch some fish in the colder months? Consider going after cod. Joe Albanese

Cod may not be as abundant as they once were, but they still provide anglers in the Northeast with bent rods and tasty filets. If you live in the New England region, there are a handful of places where you can score your own cod. Boat still up on the hard? Don’t worry, as there are many party and charter boats hitting the cod grounds.

Portland, Maine

April into May is prime time for cod. We leave the dock at dawn and steam out through a brisk flat calm morning. In early spring the mornings are cold but by the afternoon everyone is coming out of layers. When I see storm petrels and shearwaters swirling over humpback whales I stop the boat. I watch my fish finder for bait and fish marks. I tell the party to make a drop and, if the fish are there, everyone is hooked up and hooting and hollering. After a few hours of mayhem, we fill the limit and everyone is spent. I turn the boat back to port and in a few minutes the party is telling stories and napping in the cabin. In early spring, cod move inshore to feed on schools of herring, mackerel, squid, sand eels and whiting. We find cod on ledges and humps in 90 to 140 feet of water.

The days of the heavy reel and broom stick rod are over. Use a compact 20-pound class reel and a medium-heavy jigging rod. Anglers use a two-hook bottom rig with a bank sinker and circle hooks. For bait we use mackerel, herring or a strip of squid. The biggest fish are caught on a Diamond jig with a bucktail teaser tied to the leader a couple feet above the jig. The average size of the cod is 5 to 30 pounds with a limit of two cod per person. In addition to cod, we catch haddock, hake, redfish, halibut and porbeagle sharks. —Capt. Lou Tirado, Diamond Pass Outfitters\

Belmar, New Jersey

We catch cod year-round but the best fishing is through winter and into early spring. Cold water pushes the fish south, so when we get a cold winter we usually see better cod fishing. We’ve had a couple snow events this winter, so I expect the water is cold enough for a good cod season. End of March and the beginning of April, I expect the cod to move into shallow rocky areas. Some of our best fishing takes place in the spring in shallow rocky areas less than 130 feet deep. We have a large area to fish including the Mud Hole, where there is natural rocky bottom, then wrecks and the Shark River artificial reef. If I mark fish and bait on the fish finder, I anchor the boat. When the fish are spread out on open bottom we will drift. When the fishing is good, we’ll bring up 50 cod off one rock pile.

One of my best trips was during a particularly slow March when we were catching next to nothing. Even when the fishing is bad I have guys who want to go. Slow fishing had me fishing deep. As I was coming inshore and decided to make a drop in 90 feet of water. When I stopped the boat, I saw marks on my fish finder that looked like sea bass. I told the anglers to drop their rigs. Everyone immediately hooked into a cod. It was amazing, they were catching cod one after another. We caught 400 fish in two hours. When word got out, I had a full boat the next day and we had six weeks of the best cod fishing I can remember. –Capt. Bobby Quinn, Ocean Explorer

Boston, Massachusetts

We have plenty of cod but strict regulations make them a challenge to target. The best fishing is in early spring and again in the fall. Right outside Boston Harbor we have 30-foot humps in 80 to 140 feet of water that hold cod up to 40 pounds. I use my fish finder to look for transitions in bottom composition such as the edge of a mussel bed. Cod are predators, so they will always be around bait. I drift across open bottom while jigging a 6 to 10-ounce Diamond jig or flutter style jig. When I’m marking fish but not getting a bite, I switch to an old fashioned two-hook bottom rig baited with clam. I use frozen clams, but when the fish are finicky, I feed them fresh sea clams. When the fish finder shows a good fish mark or I catch several fish at once, I’ll use the spot-lock feature on my trolling motor to hold the boat in position. –Captain Brian Coombs, Get Tight Sportfishing

Wakefield, Rhode Island

The nice thing about cod fishing out of Rhode Island is the water isn’t too deep. We fish in 110 to 140 feet of water, which is nice and manageable for most people. We have fish year-round, especially on deep-water structure, but the best time to target cod is end of December and beginning of January and we get another burst of cod between February and March. We fish Cox’s Ledge south of Block Island. The run is less than two hours and we can see the island in the distance. I tell anglers to keep it simple.

Use a two-hook bottom rig. Tie a perfection loop in the end for the sinker and a dropper loop a foot above the sinker and another dropper about waist high. Add a 7/0 baitholder to hook to each dropper loop and bait up with a whole clam or a scented soft plastic like Gulp! We usually drift over open bottom, but I anchor the boat to fish a wreck. When the boat is anchored the best fishing is in the bow and when we drift anglers prefer the stern. When I’m anchored, the bow is closer to the wreck. When I am drifting, the stern offers protection from the wind. To cover more bottom, anglers cast their rig a short distance and then work it back to the boat. —Capt. Chris Cullen, Island Current Fleet

Long Island, New York

Cod fishing in our area has two facets: wrecks and natural bottom. The biggest cod are on ship wrecks and artificial reefs in 100 to 200 feet of water. The second cod fishery is south of Montauk and off Block Island on natural shale edges and exposed rock hosting mussel beds. Our season is open year-round, but the colder months, after sea bass and other fish leave the area, is the best time to target cod.

I fish with a seven-foot conventional rod and 20-pound-class reel filled with 30-pound braided line. The rod should be capable of fishing a 6- to 16-ounce weight. A two-hook bottom rig with 5/0 baitholder hooks is a sure bet for cod. I like to use a teaser followed 12 inches by a 6 to 12-ounce Diamond jig. To attach the teaser, I add a dropper loop to the leader and add a 6/0 hook and six-inch curly-tail Gulp! So far, this year has been slower than usual, but that’s mostly due to lack of effort. As tuna and sea bass return, we’ll catch more cod in the mix. —Capt. Bryce Poyer, White Water Outfitters