There was a time when we had enough cod off the coast of Delaware and Maryland for a directed fishery by charter boats sailing from Ocean City and Indian River. It was an interesting fishery. The captain would run out to the wrecks in the ocean, and along the way he would set out galvanized wash tubs of long lines baited with clams or squid. I believe you got three or four per charter, and if you wanted more, they cost $50 per tub.

Roger Burnley with a cod caught on a New Jersey head boat. Photo by Eric Burnley

Once the tub trawls were set, you went to the various wrecks and bottom fished for cod. Sometimes you actually caught a few, but mostly you caught sea bass and tog.

Then it was time to pick up the tub trawls. The captain would run the boat at a slow speed while the mate brought in the long line. Any fish were quickly unhooked and placed in a cooler. Junk fish such as skates and sharks were tossed overboard.

I went on a few of these trips with the late Captain John Nedelka, and we always came home with a decent number of fish. Not a lot of cod, but plenty of sea bass and tog.

If you are up for a bit of an adventure and can stand a bit of cold weather, you can catch some cod by fishing on head boats out of New Jersey, New York, or Massachusetts. These are overnight trips and require a commitment of time and travel, but they are quite an adventure and give the avid angler something to look forward to during the winter.

Prior to writing this article, I went online and tried to look up the schedule for head boats running from New Jersey and New York. Unfortunately, they didn’t have their winter schedule up at that time, but I feel certain you will find them up by the time this article is published.

Most of the long-range head boats will have bunks available on these trips. I do recommend getting one. Last year I went on the Big Jamaica out of Brielle, NJ, and having that bunk for the six-hour run to and from the fishing grounds was priceless. The bunks are just a bare mattress, so you will need a blanket, a pillow, and a sheet.

I would also suggest bringing a complete change of clothes. Even if you wear plenty of protective outerwear, there is the chance of getting wet. You don’t want to spend a very long and cold time shivering in wet clothes.

I always bring everything I plan to eat, even if the boat has a galley. Pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, water, cans of soda, or bottles of iced tea in a soft cooler. I always include Tastypies.

Dress for winter: layers of warm clothes with an outer shell of rubber foul weather gear from Helly Hansen or Grundens. You should wear rubber boots that are made for walking on boat decks. They are known as deck boots. Hunting boots won’t work.

I have the largest boat bag that Bass Pro Shops makes. It was a Christmas gift from my son Roger, and I can fit everything for one of these trips inside.

As for fishing tackle, this is no place for the light tackle crowd. You will be using at least 16 ounces of lead and perhaps more. Bring a rod and a reel that can handle that much weight. Braided line with a top shot of mono is the norm.

As for your rigs, the normal top-bottom rig will work just fine. My friend Tim Coleman, who used a Diamond jig with a teaser about 12 inches above the jig, did very well on cod. Prior to the current laws he made good money selling his catch at the dock.

The boat will supply the bait. It will most likely be clams. I have no idea if any of the artificial baits, Gulp!, Fishbites, Fishgum, or whatever will work on cod in that deep, cold water. You might want to bring some along and give it a try. Putting a Glow Stick above your rig might help as well.

Try to bring a cooler that will fit under the bench seat that goes around the outside of the cabin. This way your cooler will not be a hindrance to folks trying to walk down the outside of the boat. I use a Coleman cooler on wheels. 

Good luck! 

By Eric Burnley