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Event: Fishing for Lingcod

Fishing for the Lingcod, the ugly king of all bottom fish

Date: 10/24/02
Location Santa Cruz
Cost 50 Dollars
Reviewer: Zander

Introduction: Lingcod are ferocious predators of the deep that have an appetite that is only matched by their ugly appearance. These dwellers of the ocean bottom are prized game fish that provide a great deal of action from the minute they hook up. TackleTour recently challenged these fervent fish to a tug of war from the bottom of the Pacific Coast.

 A popular live bait for fishing Lingcod...these anchovies wait their turn in the livewell

About Lings: Lingcod (ophiodon elongatus) is a Pacific marine species that is valued both as a sport and commercial fish. Lingcod have large mouths armed with fanglike teeth, and feature a distinct large dorsal fin that spans the entire body of the fish. Young Lings are slender, but as the fish mature they develop their enlarged heads and signature jaws. The largest Lingcod is recorded at 70lbs, but it is common for anglers to bring in 50-60lb fish from premium waters. Even the largest Lings rarely grow over 5 feet in length, with the female fish growing larger and at a much faster rate then the males.


Braided lines offer more power and sensitivity when fishing so deep

Where to find Lings:
Lingcod are bottom fish that can be found from California to Alaska in depths ranging from shallow 20ft waters to over 400 feet. Lings typically forage near underwater structure and large rock formations. It is not surprising to encounter large Lings among schools of rockfish. On one of my first rock fishing trips I was surprised to see a Ling charging after a blue rockfish that I had hooked on flies. These fish are aggressive and if enticed will charge away from structure, even chasing prey all the way to the surface. This unadulterated aggression is one of the reasons that this fish is so popular among saltwater jigging experts.


Anchovies are lively and when properly hooked will attract plenty of attention from hungry bottom fish


Types of baits: Lingcod are not shy when it comes to gobbling up an assortment of prey. Typical baits for Lingcod include:


1. Live bait: Live bait is irresistible to Lingcod. This can consist of anchovies or squid simply deposited on j-hooks.


2. Shrimp Flies: Flies are a real favorite among bottom fishing anglers due to their ease of use. Flies from manufacturers like Black Belt and Jorgenson are very productive for a wide range of rock fish. These flies are usually no more then ribbon, feathers, or plastic grubs on hooks. It is common for multiple types of fish to come up on the same line when fishing is hot. Fishing regulations often change for the maximum number of hooks, so depending on current rules anglers may need to cut off one of their flies. Most of the time smaller Lings hit flies, while the larger fish are more attracted to more sizable baits.


3. Jigs: Lingcod jigs come in a million sizes, shapes, and colors. these heavy baits are designed to reach the bottom quickly and usually sport treble hooks on the bottom of the jig. These baits can range from solid metal bars to minnow shaped flashers with holographic tape, and time tested diamond jigs. Some anglers prefer to customize their lures with special paints, reflective tapes, and enlarged hooks.


4. Combos: It is common to double up techniques to increase the effectiveness of these lures. If you are fishing a jig with little success you can add a shrimp fly on top of the jig, this is called a "teaser." Many anglers that prefer the snag free fishing of shrimp flies will hook pieces of squid or anchovies on their flies in an effort to lure more substantial Ling to strike.

Deep sea jigging is a test of patience and perseverance as anglers must navigate rocky structure deep below (jigs can range from simple diamond jigs [left], to flashy Yozuri jigs [right])

The Tackle: Lingcod tackle can go two routes depending on your favorite bottom fishing techniques. Some anglers relish the fight and prefer lighter 6 to 7 foot rods with thin stiff tips and mid sized butt sections so that every vibration while bouncing their jigs on the ocean floor can be clearly felt. Seeker and Loomis make a variety of these "finesse" deepwater jigging rods. Then there are anglers who want more muscle in their rods and are willing to sacrifice sensitivity for sheer power. These rods are excellent for fishing live bait and flies when multiple bottom fish hookups are common. Examples of these mammoth rods can be found in product lines from offerings like Fenwick Pacific Sticks, Calstar West Coasts, and the ever popular Shakespeare Ugly Stiks.


I recently compared a number of rods in both the finesse and power categories and found the Loomis Pelagic series rods excellent for jigging thanks to ease of casting, excellent sensitivity, and surprising power available when you hook into those big Lings. For sheer power at the right price the Shakespeare Ugly Stik is still the king of the pack. These rods are built "ugly tough" and provide a good match up for even the largest of Lings.

The reel you choose for Lingcod fishing depends on the depth of your quarry. If you plan to fish shallow waters (anything up to 50 feet) you can go with a small conventional Shimano Calcutta or Daiwa Millionaire, this allows you to finesse the lure and cast farther with less effort. On the other hand if you plan to fish in deep waters (50-100+ feet) you will need a larger reel for more line capacity and cranking power. Good reel choices include Penn Graphite, Senators, and Internationals or Shimano Charter Special, TLD, or Trinidad reels. Most importantly pick a heavy duty saltwater rated reel that makes use of no corrosive metals like magnesium. Reels can be spooled up with 20-40lb mono line or braided line which is top-shotted with mono or fluorocarbon. As with all saltwater tackle it is a good idea to wash all your gear thoroughly in freshwater after each trip.


Thumb your line to control the fall rate and positioning of your jig

Techniques: Fishing with shrimp flies is as easy as lowering your flies to the bottom of the ocean and waiting, once in a while changing depths if there is no action. If you fish flies with no success for an extended period try changing to brighter flashier flies, or adding a piece of squid on the lure.

Jigging, in stark contrast to shrimp flies, requires the angler be constantly active and aware of the position of the jig. Advanced anglers can navigate a jig along the rock bottom, effectively avoiding major snag ups. The beginner may find jigging to be frustrating, and expensive, if they are constantly snagged up and donating jigs to the ocean floor. As with all fishing, practice leads to more hookups and an uncanny ability to work snagged lures off the rocky outcroppings below. There are a lot of jigs on the market but my number one choice without a doubt is the old fashioned diamond jig. This lure can be fished with success off the shelf or can be dressed up with holographic tape and a bucktail on your treble hook.

When your chosen jig is rigged and ready go ahead and cast away from the boat and allow the jig to sink to the bottom. Some anglers will drastically slow the rate of the fall by putting the reel in gear or clamping down on the line. I find a better technique is to lightly thumb the spool and control the drop. Once the jig touches down on the bottom tighten up any slack and pull up on your rod, this will bring the jig up and closer to the boat. Once the jig settles again reel in the slack line and repeat the process until the jig is directly under you, at this point simply retrieve the lure vertically and start again. At any point in the process if you feel a thump or feel the lure fail to settle, set he hook!

A Ling mangles this fly before breaking free

The Fight: One you are hooked up with flies hold onto your rod and reel up in a constant steady motion, don't pump your rod. One of the reasons I like to use heavy duty braided lines (though many party boats don't like them because they can be nasty to untangle) is because Lings will often try and run into the rocky structure resulting in sliced mono lines. When fighting Lings make sure at all time your drag is not set all the way up as big fish can yank the rod right out of your hands if they bolt away from the boat. While fishing for Lings you will undoubtedly hook up an array of rockfish. One of the most exciting things about bottom fishing is you just quite aren't sure what you have hooked into until it comes close to surfacing. A couple times I fought fish that I was sure were Lings and later turned out to be huge Cabezons. If you are lucky enough to see a Ling surfacing at the end of your line do your best to keep the fish's head in the water. Not only can Lings fight all the way up but they have a nasty habit of initiating huge bursts of thrashing and diving as they break the surface. If the Ling is too small (check your local regulations) you can try and shake him off or pull him into the boat to be unhooked. If it is a lunker then yell for the gaff!

Zander holds up a good sized Ling taken on a plain diamond jig

Lingcod fishing is extremely exciting for both amateur and experienced anglers. Beginners will relish the simplicity of fishing with shrimp flies while more seasoned Ling anglers have deep sea jigging down to an art. While it isn't impossible to catch a large Ling on flies, the largest Lings are usually taken by jigging. Finding good fishing areas can often be tricky in itself, and I always recommend that you charter a party boat that specializes in locating good rock fishing. Lingcod are strong fish that will get your heart pumping and your muscles aching as you constantly reel in from the depths. Though many consider Lingcod among the ugliest fish in the sea, when you find yourself holding up that trophy catch only one word comes to mind....beautiful.









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