Two Atlantic Cods Swimming Underwater

Atlantic Cod Fishing (Comprehensive Guide)

If you hopped in a time machine and headed to New England in the year 1594, what would you see? Probably a Native American catching cod with a hook made of bone.

That’s pretty cool. 

Natives knew where to fish for cod, and taught Captain John Smith and the pilgrims how to fish them.

Natives thought sharing this knowledge would bring them good fortune.

Pilgrims set up fishing stations in cities like Salem, Dorchester, and Marblehead —basically, modern-day Maine.

Over 4 centuries later, we can see that fishing cod on the east coast is still alive —from New England down to Carolina.

As time passed by…

Things have greatly evolved, although we still don’t have time machines —which is a real bummer.

However, anglers do have better ways to catch Atlantic cod —improved hooks, tackle and bait. 

What’s the Difference Between Cod and Scrod?

Some people think the word “scrod“ refers to a small cod, but that’s not entirely true.

People in New England snicker at this misunderstanding. 

FUN FACT

To save yourself from future embarrassment, here’s the skinny on scrod— Scrod is basically any small whitefish. It refers to small Atlantic cod and many other types of fish

More importantly, It’s not a “species” of fish! It’s just a common nickname for small white-colored fish that have firm, flaky meat.

So keep that little factoid in your back pocket if/when you visit the east coast.

Caught Atlantic Cod Piled on Boat Floor
Caught Atlantic Cod Piled on Boat Floor

Now that I got that worm out of the can, let’s talk about specific types of saltwater cod. Remember, there are 3 different kinds

What are the Different Species of Cod?

Atlantic Cod 

These deep-dwellers are located along the east coast of the US, from Maine to North Carolina. They have a dark grey/brown color, or sometimes a reddish hue.

Blunt snouts and barbel-whiskers are trademark traits of Atlantic cod

They also have dark speckles along their sides and spotless underbellies. 

They’re the biggest cod species, and many say they’re the best-tasting. Their average weight is 8 – 25 pounds, but some are giants —so don’t freak out if you hook a huge one. 

DID YOU KNOW?

Atlantic cod can weigh over 100 pounds, and grow to 6 feet in length.

I’ll talk more about how to be prepared for those mammoths a bit later. 

Distinct Flavor

Atlantic cod have a reputation for packing firmer, chunkier flakes of meat…

Compared to the other species. Atlantic cod have a reputation for packing firmer, chunkier flakes of meat.

They’re also said to have the “sweetest” flavor making them great to eat.

According to reports, because their meat is so tasty, they were commercially overfished.

Many cod fisheries on the northeast coast shut down in the 1990s. New England is still reeling (no pun intended) from the effect it had.

Newfoundland cod fishery: Lessons not learned?

As a result, there are a couple of places in New England where it’s prohibited to catch Atlantic cod.

There are several places to enjoy New England cod fishing, but you have to be mindful of the rules and regulations.

Where is Fishing for Atlantic Cod Illegal?

Atlantic cod and other whitefish were heavily targeted by commercial fishermen for years, and it greatly reduced the population.

A 10 year rebuilding plan was put into action in 2014 to replenish the population.

A “no catch” rule remains in effect for the Gulf of Maine and New Hampshire.

Although fishing cod in those 2 locations is currently off-limits, you may still fish for Atlantic cod on Georges Bank and places south of Cape Cod.

TIP

Don’t let regulations scare you off. There’s lots of good Atlantic cod fishing spots along the northeast coast.

These rules are in place to let fishermen catch cod, improve cod population and save the species.

Pacific Cod 

This species resides in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, from the Bering Sea to Southern California. “P-cods” span as far west as the Sea of Japan, and are concentrated in Alaskan waters as well. 

Also known as grey cod, this species isn’t overfished like Atlantic cod. There is a stable population across the west coast, to the Bering Sea. 

Pacific cod tend to dwell in water 400-800 feet deep — and resemble Atlantic cod. They have a grey/brown color, with dark spots along their sides and a pale belly.

FUN FACT

They don’t grow quite as big as Atlantic cod but you may still catch a lunker. Large adult Pacific cod weigh about 30 pounds and grow up to 4 or 5 feet in length.

Greenland Cod 

This species spans from Alaska to West Greenland, and south along the Canadian coast.

You can also find them down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Cape Breton Island.

They have a dark-brown or green color, with a silver-tone along their sides.

Typically, they’re the smallest species of cod, but they are able to grow to around 30 pounds.

Also called arctic cod, this species thrives in cold waters and resides in deep water.

A close cousin of the Atlantic cod, it also has a reputation for having nice, flaky meat.

Let’s not stray from the main topic…

What Kind of Rod and Reel Do I Need to Fish Atlantic Cod?

The Best Kind of Rod for Cod —

cod are chunky, deep-water fish. You’re going to need a rod that’s sturdy enough…

As I mentioned, cod are chunky, deep-water fish. You’re going to need a rod that’s sturdy enough, and capable of making long casts into deep water.

This is especially important if you plan to catch cod from the shore.

I recommend using a 6 1/2 – 7 1/2 foot rod with fast or extra-fast action. Using rods with good length and action gives you longer casts and better hook sets.

You also need a good rod that can handle big jigs and large sinkers…

Going after Atlantic cod means using large diamond jigs and heavy live bait —so make sure your rod can handle all that heavy stuff.

TIP

It’s important to pair your rods with a good reel when catching cod. When it comes to choosing the best reel, there are a few features you need.

Best Kind of Reel for Cod Fishing —

Collection of Fishing Rods
Collection of Fishing Rods

Whether it’s a spinning reel or a baitcaster, ensure that you get a good reel rated for 50 pound braid line.

This line can handle heavier fish, plus braided line is the best choice for a couple more reasons —

  • Braided lines helps you set the hook better in deep water and land more cod
  • It makes reeling easier because its thin diameter has less water resistance. 

But it’s not all about the fishing lines…

When you’re going after Atlantic cod, you need a reel with a high gear ratio. Gear ratio dictates how fast and smooth your reel will retrieve your lure/bait.

This helps with lure presentation, plus it reduces re-bait time when using live bait.

Remember, you’ll be fishing at depths over a hundred feet, and you don’t want to spend all day reeling line.

Gear Ratio

A lot of cod lures need a fast, steady retrieve so I suggest going with a minimum 5:1 gear ratio.

Some cod fishermen won’t go with anything less than 6:1. If you want a faster retrieve, roll with a 7.1:1 to 9.1:1 ratio.

Couple that with a reel boasting at least 7 ball bearings to give yourself a fighting chance.

Ball bearings control how smooth your reel casts and functions. Ensure that you don’t settle for a reel with a subpar bearing count.

Last but not least, you want a reel with a strong drag system. Atlantic cod can grow pretty darn big, and it’s easy to “get caught slipping” when dealing with large cods.

Row of Fishing Reels
Row of Spinning Reels

Reel

Make certain that your reel has a durable drag system with anti-reverse. This feature allows you to “back-reel” if you choose, rather than engaging the drag.

Along with a back reel feature, look for a saltwater reel with at least a 15-20 pound max drag.

As I said, cod can grow massive —so you better come prepared to land a lunker.

Now you know what to look for in a rod and reel for cod fishing.

But what kinds of equipment and tackle do you need?

Come Prepared to Make a Cod Bait Rig

As for tackle, you’ll need the right components to make a basic cod bait rig.

This rig is ideal to bring for bottom fishing with live bait like shrimp, sea worms and sand eels.

Be sure to bring the following on your trip—

  • A 100-pound barrel swivel
  • A 50 – 80-pound fluorocarbon leader
  • 6 – 20-ounce sinkers 
  • 5/0 bait-holder fish hooks
  • 6/0 bait-holder hooks
  • 7/0 bait-holder fish hooks

Maybe you’re wondering… “Hey… how do you make a cod bait rig?” Well, it’s easier than you might think —

  1. Tie a dropper loop knot 1 foot above the sinker
  2. Then tie a second knot 2 feet above the first knot
  3. Put a 5/0 bait-holder hook on each loop knot, with your preferred bait 

Different Rig Set-up

If you like to get fancier, you can roll with the go-to rig of the northeast coast.

It’s basically a high-low rig with a three-hook dropper.

Put on a few 6/0 bait-holder hooks, some live bait and a little bling.

The term “bling” means anything that adds sparkle or color. For example –beads, surgical tubing, and bright-colored curly tails.

If you’d rather use a cod diamond jig rig, simply add a diamond jig and a 7/0 hook.

Use a chrome diamond with a high width-to-length ratio —they flutter much better in the water.

This subtle flutter is often what triggers cod to bite, so it’s worth getting a high-width jig.

While you’re at it, add a soft-bait teaser on a 7/0 bait-holder hook about three feet above the jig.

This gives you another sweet tandem rig that Atlantic cod can’t resist.

TIP

Remember to use artificial lures or bait that match the area —whether it’s squid, mackerel or herring. Make certain that you’re mimicking their natural food supply and matching the environment. Matching their natural food source will give you better chances.

Now that I brought up cod baits and lures, it feels like the right moment to talk about which ones work best. Let’s leapfrog over to that —

What Are the Best Atlantic Cod Lures?

Soft Plastic Diving Shad 

These lures have such excellent details that cod are not able tell them apart from the real thing.

Be certain to get one that’s colorful and realistic in color-detail and size.

Plastic shad are ideal because you can use them for bottom fishing, or in the shallows.

If you’re fishing the ocean bottom, remember the water likely has less visibility.

So be sure to fish your shad slowly.

RECOMMENDATION

I suggest utilizing the wounded baitfish technique — jig your shad up and down on the ocean bottom until you get a bite. You can reel it in a bit as well, to give it a more natural movement.

Soft Plastics on Shallow Waters

If you’re fishing in shallower water, reel your shad straight in.

Just ensure you do so at a consistent speed.

Cod tend to follow baitfish, if they notice a sign that something is “fishy” they lose interest and you also lose your chance.

Crippled Herring Spoon Jig
Crippled Herring Spoon Jig

A steady retrieve gives you an extra weapon as well. –The shad’s rubber tail emits a vibration that attracts cod.

Try to keep your presentation realistic like a scared, running shad.

NOTE

Remember, shad are a part of a cod’s diet —not just eels and clams —so don’t be afraid to try to tie one on.

Crippled Herring Spoon Jig 

Cods love the shiny appearance and tantalizing action of this metal jig lure.

It works best when you jig it on the ocean bottom near high volumes of baitfish.

Cods love the shiny appearance and tantalizing action of this metal jig lure…

Pro cod anglers say to let the jig hit the bottom, then raise it about a foot off the floor.

If you do this in repetition, the spoon resembles an injured herring close to the floor.

Cod tend to strike it as it falls back towards the bottom.

Switch Things Up

Most fishermen say that a slower presentation works best for catching cod.

However, it doesn’t hurt to take a chance and switch things up if you’re having no luck.

You can also use a fast, erratic presentation if you like.

Let the spoon hit bottom, and sit for a few seconds. Then reel it straight in, fast and steady to imitate a running herring.

Sometimes this triggers a lurking cod to chase it down and eat it.

Don’t hesitate to try different presentations.

Skirted Jigs 

When the water rolls through a skirted jig the right way, these jigs remind cod of squid and baby octopus.

For that reason, their presentation looks best in the water current.

They don’t snag easily on rocks or structures, so try casting jigs into areas with cover where cod lurk.

If possible, let the water current make it “dance”. This really entices cod to come out of their hiding hole and strike.

NOTE

Keep in mind that skirted jigs are pre-rigged with hooks. These hooks should be replaced with stronger ones. You don’t want to take a chance on losing a lure or missing a cod due to a faulty hook, so it’s best to take this simple measure.

Okay, that was 3 artificial lures for cod that work like a charm.

Now let’s talk about utilizing live bait —which many anglers say is the best way to catch Atlantic Cod.

So, what are the top live bait choices?

Squids On Display
Squids On Display

Best Live Bait for Atlantic Cod 

Squid

Squid is a favorite on the menu when it comes to Atlantic cod’s palate.

The trick is to cut the squid into thin slices. For some reason, cod prefer food they are able to easily gulp into their mouths.

Sea Clam

Clams may be an all-time favorite food because they’re easy targets and perfect for gobbling.

Using a clam as bait works especially well when you cast it into shoals. Lots of experienced cod anglers even bait clam and squid at the same time by using a tandem rig.

Shrimp and Crabs 

Pretty much any protein-filled crustacean is subject to being eaten.

This is the case with shrimp and crabs, so slap them on a basic cod rig. Let’em sit on the bottom until a hungry cod comes along. 

Whiting, Herring and Shad

Atlantic cod feed on schools of fish, so it makes sense that these 3 baitfish are on the menu.

If you’re fishing for cod in the shallows, just go where the baitfish are and cod will surely be nearby and ready to pounce.

Okay, all this talk about food is making me hungry. Kidding! I mean, sushi is okay..but let’s not go overboard. 

But seriously, on that note, I’m going to switch gears and ask a question…

Where Can I Catch Cod?

Atlantic cod can be caught off the Eastern Coast of the US, from New England down to North Carolina.

New England has a mystique and allure that makes it feel like the best place to search and fish for cod.

George’s Bank

This large area of elevated sea floor is located between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. It’s a cod sweet-spot in New England, that’s still open for recreational fishing.

It’s located furthest west of all the great Atlantic fishing banks.

People travel from surrounding areas to experience its cod fishing. 

Prohibited Areas

But keep in mind, there are places where it’s illegal to fish cod —

Cod fishing is prohibited north of Cape Cod, but it’s allowed year-round, south of Cape Cod.

You’re allowed to fish Atlantic cod at least 23 inches in length, with a limit of 10 fish per person.

You can also fish Atlantic cod off the coast of North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.

All these states offer onshore and offshore cod fishing options.

Fishing For Anlantic Cod
Fishing For Anlantic Cod

Do I Need a Fishing License to Catch Cod in New England?

You do not need a license if you’re a recreational fisherman or if you just like to experience catching cod.

Only commercial fishermen need a license to fish for Atlantic cod in this area.

Shoreline Cod Fishing

Onshore cod fishing is fun, but you can’t get to the depths where big cod are.

That means you might catch smaller cod from the shore.

If you’re salivating to catch a fatty, then you really need a boat.

Oh, but you’ll like this — Check out this video about Shoreline Fishing

Fishing For Big Cod From The Beach

Atlantic cod come into the shallows to feed on baitfish and crustaceans.

If you’re landlocked, try some night-fishing and see if you can catch them feeding near the shoreline similar to the video above.

Offshore Cod Fishing

For the most part, cod dwell hundreds of feet below-surface.

They love cold water. This is exactly why getting out on the ocean is the best way to fish for big cod.

Cod gravitate toward shipwrecks and muddy-bottom environments.

They like these areas because mussels and other mollusks tend to concentrate there. 

And by the way, if you like to gain a slight edge, you may use a fish finder.

They work great and can save you a lot of time and energy —

Why Use a Fish Finder for Catching Cod?

Since cod suspends hundreds of feet below-surface, it can save time and money to use sonar technology.

This comes in especially handy when jigging the ocean bottom with plastic lures.

It also reveals structures like wrecks and rocks that attract cod and other fish.

Some say it’s cheating, but when you’re out on the ocean every little advantage within reason feels justified.

FUN FACT

Cod tend to congregate —though they don’t actually travel in “schools”. If you search for them, chances are, you’ll find them lumped close together in substantial numbers.

Seasonal Changes

Keep in mind that Atlantic cod change water depth, depending on the season.

They lurk at around 100 -130 feet during spring.

But they seek deeper waters during summer and fall months —going to water with depths of 200 feet.

Honestly, cod prefer deep water year-round —although they do come into the shallows.

If you can time it right, you can even snag some nice-sized cod from shore.

But coming from one angler to another —Atlantic cod are best caught in a boat, especially if you want to hook a mammoth. 

Wrapping up…

Well…folks, this ride is coming to an end. I’ve expunged all my cod-fishing wisdom —so I hope you soaked it up like a sponge. 

From knowing where to fish for cod, to the best ways to catch them — every little bit of knowledge is crucial.

It helps accomplish the ultimate goal —catching cod and having fun!

Please take at least a pinch of this, and sprinkle it on your next cod-fishing endeavor. And if you happen to catch one worthy of a pic, please send it our way.

If you think these tips could be helpful to people you know. Share away!

We’d love to see examples of the regrowing cod population, so please don’t hesitate!

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