Red Cod – Morid cods – Pseudophycis bachus – a good eating fish

Red cod; also called hoka

Pseudophycis bachus

Red cod are a fish that many anglers love to hate. A fish that has none of the sporting qualities of our more sort after species. There are no heart-stopping runs. No jumps or leaps from the water, and no head shaking attempts to throw the hook. However, around much of the South Island, in particular, it is one of the most abundant species caught by surfcasters.

In fact, the poor old red cod puts up no fight at all. Instead, it meekly surrenders to its fate, almost playing dead when hooked. It is for its food value, rather than sport, that many anglers target the humble red cod. The flesh is considered watery and too soft with a tendency to fall apart when being cooking. This problem can easily be solved by drying the fillets with a paper towel and sprinkling them with salt and leaving them for a couple of hours in the fridge before cooking. This process firms the flesh. Following this treatment, the red cod is excellent eating.

This red cod caught surfcasting at Amberley Beach, near Christchurch, is in good condition.

When first caught it is a pinkish grey colour, but once dead it takes on a more uniform light red. This is not a muscular fish. It is quite slim for its length. Roughly half its weight is in the first third of its body. This has the effect of yielding seemingly small fillets once the fish is gutted and the head removed. Its large head has a cavernous mouth with small feeble teeth.

There is a black spot on the side of the fish just in front of the pectoral fin. The skin is covered with very small scales and coated with a film of mucus that makes the red cod a slippery customer if picked up other than through the mouth or gill slits. I have noticed that when being gutted there is often a most unpleasant odour emanating from the gut, this however never transfers to the flesh.

Red cod are one of the easiest fish to catch around the shores of the South Island. They are particularly abundant along the east coast, in the Canterbury. Bight and off Westland. This species will take almost any bait being probably the least selective of all fish in this regard. Their diet consists of small fish, crabs, shrimps, squid and shellfish. I believe the best bait to be a strip of yellow eyed mullet. Fresh mullet fillets will catch almost anything that swims. I have had the most success with mullet, though at times they appear to ignore this in preference for shellfish such as tuatua and pipi. The common swimming crab, Ovalipes catharus, together with other crab species are known to form a substantial part of their diet, however, I have not often used crab as bait.

The secret to red cod fishing is to target them after dark. An area that during the day appears devoid of fish often yields red cod in surprising numbers after sunset. They will then bite all night disappearing at daybreak. Many anglers have made tremendous catches of red cod after dark in Lyttelton harbour for example.

Red cod caught surfcasting near the mouth of the Rangitata River, South Canterbury, New Zealand. Note that they were caught in the early evening when it was still light. The sea was blue and calm. The red cod where caught right behind the breaker line very close to the beach. They could easily have been taken with a hand-line. Long casts from this steeply-shelving shingle beach were not hooking up as the fish were in very close presumably feeding on prey stirred up by the breakers right on the beach.

During the winter months, they will come right into the lagoons at the mouths of the major East Coast rivers. Here there are targeted at night by keen anglers with anti-freeze in their veins. Many a good feed of cod being had following a chilly evening spent with a rod in hand and frost on the ground.

By one year of age red cod are about 22cm (9 inches) in length. After two years they measure around 35cm (14 inches). By the time they reach sexual maturity at four years they measure 50cm (20 inches) long. Large mature females may produce a staggering 30 million eggs in a single breeding season.

I use a large 5/0 hook on a ledger rig when red cod fishing. Although they can be taken on almost any terminal tackle it is best not to use too small a hook when surfcasting as the hook will tend to pull out taking a piece of the cod’s soft flesh with it. Seafood New Zealand on red cod.

Red cod are much maligned by those used to eating snapper and blue cod. David H Graham once wrote that experienced commercial fishermen who could choose any fish at all for dinner would often pick a big red cod in good condition.

Interestingly some years red cod seem to almost disappear from certain areas. This can last for two or three years before they are again caught in large numbers. One theory often talked about by salmon anglers is that when the red cod are plentiful the salmon fishing is also very good that year!

Allan Burgess with a red cod caught surfcasting from a beach near Haast, South Westland.

Red cod are a species that is much maligned. Regarded by some less knowledgeable types as poor eating and a hopeless fighter even on the lightest -line weights

Granted it doesn’t put up much of a fight, however, I have spent many a warm summer’s evening with friends surfcasting for this species and enjoyed it. See also Bastard Cod, and Rock Cod.

This red cod, taken surfcasting near the Rangitata River mouth, had been dining on sprats and smaller cod.

This post was last modified on 11/01/2022 4:10 pm

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