Picking out the best baits for a particular species can be a subjective topic. In this article, we outline our top five favourite cod fishing baits, in no particular order.
Having the right bait at the right time is essential to successful fishing, especially when targeting specific species. The food fish eat is dictated by the seasons, but also by current weather conditions and the food available on the mark and ground you are fishing at the time that make certain food items more abundant. Fish respond then, by becoming preoccupied with specific food types, often ignoring alternatives. The wrong bait at the wrong time means limited catches at best. Put the right bait at the right time in front of fish actively hunting that food type, and success is almost guaranteed.
Our top five cod fishing baits in no order…
Black lug can grow up to a foot or more in length and can be as thick in the upper body as a man’s thumb but vary in size. They are found close to the mean low water level on beaches that offer some shelter from the prevailing winds, typically lee corners, or lee beaches. They burrow vertically or nearly so into the sand and can be more than three feet down, but generally are around 18-inches to two feet deep and identified by a swirl of sand on the surface that is excreted through the body as the worm feeds and burrows deeper. They tend to be deeper down when the tide is ebbing, but will rise in the sand to a shallower level just after low tide as the new tide begins to flood in.
Digging is best done either with a fork, or better still a narrow ditching or trenching spade that cuts deep but lifts minimal sand to make for easier digging. Another popular way to extract lug is with a bait pump, such as the Australian Alvey Bait Pump, placing the pump over the swirl or cast of surface sand, pumping out a short 12-inch section of sand initially, then a couple of longer lengths following the burrow until the worm is drawn into the pump and extracted.
Black lug will bruise and rupture quickly after digging if left whole and should ideally be used fresh to be most effective. Alternatively, nip the heads off, use the thumb and forefinger to push the guts out of the body, nip the sandy tail off, then lay the empty black lug body on to spread out cling-film individually and separated from each other. Now wrap them up in a roll and turn the ends of the cling-film over to fully seal them in a sausage shaped parcel. Have no more than say ten worms per parcel. This helps you judge what you need for the trip and reduce wastage. They will keep in the fridge like this for a couple of days and will also freeze well like this for later use. Never freeze them only in newspaper as this allows air contact and dries the worms out over time.
When buying black lug from tackle shops they will invariably be wrapped in newspaper. This is okay for immediate trips, but for longer reservation and for freezing, rewrap them in cling film.
When targeting cod and baiting with black lug, thread the worm over the hook point tail end first and slide the whole worm around the bend of the hook and up the shank and onto the hook length the hook is tied too. Depending on the size of the black lug, us enough worm or worms to finish with a bait about six inches long for general fishing when after smaller codling, but for big cod fishing baits can be up to 10-inches long with several worms on the hook or bulk up the bait by adding splints of lugworm alongside the worm on the hook and binding with bait elastic.
Single hooks are okay for presenting single smaller worms, but for bigger worms and bigger baits mount a second hook above the first to put two hooks in the bait and give a better chance of hooking a fish that may take the bait either from the lower hook end, or from the middle as it follows the worms scent trail to source. This is called a Pennel rig and is the most effective hooking system of all.
Black lugworm is best used for cod in the autumn and through the Christmas period until roughly the end of February, when storms and rough seas scour out the beaches and expose the worms to the fish naturally. This fish is actively looking for lug at this time, as a consequence.
Blow lug are a separate species to black lug and smaller in overall size attaining a typical length of no more than four to five inches body length, but often smaller. They are found more in estuarial mudflats and on very sheltered beaches in muddy sand. In contrast to black lug, the blow lug lives in a shallow U shaped burrow usually less than 12-inches deep with a blow hole and a swirl of excreted sand marking the burrow. They are more densely populated than black lug and therefore much easier to dig.
They can be dug either side of low water when the mudflats are fully exposed using a long-tined potato fork and just trenching out an area of sand to expose repeated worms. Blow lug are not dug individually, it is far quicker and more effective to just trench much as you would dig a vegetable garden. Like the black lug, they feel the tide and will lift in their burrows and be easier to dig when the tide turns and is on the flood.
For almost instant use blow lug can be washed in fresh sea water to remove the sand, then dried lightly by placing them on newspaper, then put them in a plastic bait box on to clean and dry newspaper with no more than say a dozen to 18 worms in the one box. You can also divide the worms into two separate lots by putting several layers of paper between them to reduce contact, as some will be damaged and if they bleed they will contaminate the others. This method of storage is also ideal for keeping them in the fridge for up to three or four days, but you need to check every day and remove any damaged ones immediately, but three days or so is about as much as you can hope for. Blow lug will not freeze due to the soft nature of the body.
Blow lug are also available fresh from good tackle shops and bait suppliers, but still need to be kept cool when fishing to keep them effective and alive.
Blow lug are placed on the hook tail first so that if they burst during baiting up or casting, the juices are towards the hook end. Use several worms to make a decent sized bait about six inches long and add bait elastic to better secure them for long range casting.
Due to the juicy nature of the blow lug, these are excellent cod fishing baits and many successful cod anglers choose to bait up with black lug but tip off at the hook end with two or three blow lug to add that highly attractive lug blood to the bait which the hunting cod will home in on.
Blow lug is a great autumn and winter bait and will catch spring codling that show from late March through April, but it is less effective than in the colder months.
King ragworm can grow to over 20-inches in length but are typically between five inches and ten inches in length. They are a brown/green colour mixed with orange but carry good scent and are lively adding movement to a hook bait. They are a good cod fishing bait fished on their own, especially over mixed rocky ground and in estuary channels. We don’t rate them as effective as blow and black lug, but they are still a popular and effective bait in many areas.
They are found mainly in estuaries and muddy shores where mud and gravel, or light stone mix. They can be dug using a long-tined potato fork mainly trenching, but also looking for small round holes that secrete water as you tread on nearby ground. The biggest worms tend to be found close to and around the base of large, exposed boulders where previous digging has been evident.
Baiting with king ragworm is much the same as for other worms sliding the worm tail first over the hook point, fully around the bend of the hook, and up the hook shank and onto the hook length line. A length about six inches is okay for smaller codling but use several worms to form a bulkier sausage shaped bait adding worm splints to the main bait to bulk it out and secure it with bait elastic. Cod fishing baits do not need to be neat. Far more important is to have scent oozing from the bait to allow the fish to first smell, then chase the bait down and eat it.
King ragworm is often used as a combination bait with black lug, using the black lug as the main bait, but then tipping off by the lower hook with ragworm, or adding a splint of ragworm alongside the black lug and using bait elastic for security. Often a combination of two flavours will catch better than just using a single bait, and this lug/ragworm combo is one of the best, especially when fishing near a freshwater outlet, such as a stream flowing on to a beach, or at the head of an estuary. Also, when casting into rough ground that has some sand and mud mixed in.
Ragworm is again an effective cod fishing bait mainly in the autumn and mid-winter period, but is less effective as February arrives.
Peeler crab are normal green shore crab that are in the process of shedding their hard shells to grow bigger. They do this by using chemicals from seawater to weaken their original shell while growing a new soft shell underneath. This is the peeling stage. Once they squeeze out of the old shell, they become soft crab and need to hide in mud and under stones, again using chemicals extracted from sea water to harden the new shell. While this process is undertaken, they are vulnerable, and cod actively seek out peeler crabs during the peeling season.
In southern areas of the UK, the crabs generally peel from mid-March onwards through to mid-October, but it can be all-year through in Devon and Cornwall where air temperatures are milder. Equally, further north, the crab peel may be a month later, depending on conditions at the time. The spring crab peel in mid/late March coincides with an influx of spring codling in some areas taking advantage of the new food supply. If a spring codling run occurs, then having a supply of peeler crab will give you a big edge.
Peeler crab are generally found in estuaries in muddy ground with weed, or where they can get under stones and hide from both predators and from the cold nights. Some anglers are allowed to stake out old tyres which the crabs will crawl into for protection while they moult, though upturned drainage pipes in short sections and even old guttering, or just stones laid to leave a gap underneath will all attract crabs looking to peel and make collecting easier.
Peeler crab can be identified by their soapy feel as the shell is weakening, or by gently pulling the end section of a back leg off which will show a soft new leg underneath and does no harm to the crab.
Peeler crabs are best kept in wet fresh seaweed in a plastic container in the fridge and providing you give them a dip in fresh sea water every day to give them a drink, they can be kept, with care and removing dead and peeling ones, for a couple of weeks at least. Do not leave the crabs in seawater all the time as this will help trigger the peeling process almost immediately.
To prepare peeler crab as a cod fishing bait, remove all the shell, remove the legs, then cut the body in two equal halves. Push one half up and on to the hook and just on to the hook length line. Now push the second half of the body onto the hook to but up against the first half. Now bind together to form a rough sausage shape with bait elastic. Add more halves if you want a bigger bait as splints down each side. Something no bigger than a golf ball is about right.
Peeler crab is most effective when fishing into estuary channels or into mixed broken or very rough ground. It is also good when surf fishing on to clean sand, such is the pulling power of the scent from a peeler crab.
Squid is a more selective cod fishing bait typically used when targeting bigger cod. This can be bought from supermarkets fresh and frozen, or frozen from tackle shops. It is sold in small packs of four or five squid, but a better way to buy is to purchase 1lb boxes, which are ideal for a single fishing trip if two of you are fishing.
The squid needs to be kept in a cool box, ideally on freezer packs, and only take enough out for immediate use. Squid is also cost effective as it can be refrozen a couple of times, which seems to enhance its ability to catch big cod.
Cod have big mouths, so a single whole squid about 6-inches long is ideal. The way to present this is on the two hook Pennel rig sliding the squid tail first up the lower hook until it reaches the top hook, then putting the top hook in to the tail end of the squid to hold it. If you make the top hook adjustable on the hook length line so it can slide up and down, you can easily adjust to any length of squid, too. Now bind the whole body on to the hook with bait elastic. Make sure you fold the squid tentacles back and bind these to the body, as cod, and other fish, can nip the tentacles off, but leave the main bait untouched.
You can also make a bigger bait by adding another whole squid alongside the first squid and binding with bait elastic. Squid is a tough bait and releases scent slowly, so it’s ideal to use when you want to leave a bait out for a long time, or when crabs are eating normal baits away too quickly and not giving hunting fish time to find it.
Whole squid is most effective from late December through to mid-February when the bigger double figure fish move closest to shore prior to heading offshore for spawning.
You can also use squid as a splint to add extra flavour to worm baits and to make the bait more secure alongside bait elastic thread for long-range casting. Alternatively, as a strip to tip big worm baits off with.