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A Cure for Cabin Fever - Go Cod Fishing!


By Hugh Carberry, Principal Biologist
Artificial Reef Program Coordinator
February 17, 2016

Do the winter doldrums have you down? Is your boat pulled for the season and your outboard motor winterized? For many anglers the winter means boat shows, fishing seminars, fishing flea markets, repairing tackle and getting ready for the spring. But why take a break from your passion? Some of the best fishing opportunities exist right now! Cod are being caught off New Jersey and party boats are your ticket to getting there.

Several party boats that call New Jersey home offer 12 to 14 hour cod trips to reefs and wrecks. These vessels have heated cabins and many are handicapped accessible. Some even have heated hand rails! As with all party boats, you can bring your own fishing equipment or rent from the boat for a small fee. The prices per head vary depending on the length of the trip but typically range from 60 to 80 dollars.

If you are considering planning a trip a great place to start is by looking through the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife's Charter and Party Boat Directory. Keep in mind that many of these vessels require reservations this time of the year. It is also advisable to call the selected party boat at least 12 hours before the departure time to confirm the trip is still on. Winter weather is dynamic - don't be surprised if your trip is cancelled once or twice before you are actually able to go.

Young angler with cod
A nice winter cod!
Click to enlarge

Depending on the water temperature, cod are found off New Jersey until late March/early April. The size limit is 21 inches and there is no possession limit in state waters! Federal regulation have a 22 inch size limit and bag limit of 10 fish. Cod are solid muscle and a 25-pounder can bend your rod in half. Any rod and reel combo fitted with braided line for black sea bass and tautog is a good choice.

Youngster with winter cod
Winter cod fishing yields rewards
Click to enlarge
Cod can be caught with large diamond jigs and top and bottom rigs baited with clam or soft artificial baits. Bring plenty of terminal fishing tackle and heavy sinkers in the 5-10 ounce range because offshore reefs and wrecks in deeper water are the primary fishing grounds. There is a wealth of information on the internet and other sources on various rigs and techniques. Do your homework ahead of time and be prepared to adapt. If you are using one rig and the person down the rail from you is slinging fish over the rail, swallow your pride and switch. There is no room on the boat for ego when the air temperature is near freezing.

Fishing this time of the year is not for the weak-hearted. Ice may form on the guides of your fishing rod and your hands may go numb. Wind chill factors and a cold spray of ocean water hitting you in the face is a real wake up call - however the potential reward is well worth the pursuit. Cod are excellent table fare which can be realized at any supermarket selling fresh fillets for upwards of 8 to 9 dollars a pound. Don't be surprised when you fillet your catch if you see intermuscular worms in the meat near the caudal fin. This is a normal occurrence and there is no health risk. The worms can easily be removed with tweezers.

Cod fishing aboard a party boat is a great way to get together with old friends and make new ones. In addition to cod you may catch pollock, haddock and ling. To say the least, you will come home with a cooler full of fresh fish and memories.

Tight lines!

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Last Updated: February 18, 2016