Lingcod Fishing Articles
Salmon fishing articles about British Columbia, Alaska, Washington and salmon fishing news

Lingcod Videos

Lingcod Fishing Articles

Lingcod Recipes


Lingcod Fishing Tackle Store

Lingcod Articles

Lingcod Photos

Lingcod Guides

Lingcod Fishing Links

The Underwater Secret Lives of Lingcod 

Our jumbo-sized white curly tailed worm lay motionless with a big hook sticking out of its side. Flat ocean seas combined with sunny skies gave us a perfect, can’t miss picture of the ocean sixty feet beneath our boat. As we watched and waited patiently for one of the curious 10-plus pound lingcods to bite the tail instead of just stare at it and swim by, we developed a quick but accurate assessment – lingcod do not like dead bait

At first glance, the lingcod, whose Latin name, Ophiodon elongates means long toothed snake, looks so ugly only its mother could love it. In reality though, its mother would eat it without giving it a second thought and have a toothy, I’m-still-hungry-grin afterwards. Lingcod may be ugly, even grotesque in appearance and attitude, but they are one of the finest eating fish in the world – and they will bite a variety of baits and lures if you know how to trigger the lingcod into a feeding frenzy. 

The underwater camera tracked several lingcod that approached our motionless lure before we decided to confirm our theory. Years of experience without the benefit of a peeping tom camera lens in the lingcod’s eat-or-be-eaten underwater world also confirmed this theory. Now we could put our experience to test and confirm our findings on film. 

To test the theory we employed the best weapon against lingcod that we know. With a short sweeping motion of the rod, the white worm came alive as if it had to flee for its life. The camera sent us real-time, high-resolution color images of the previously lock-jawed lingcod springing into attack mode after the now lively worm. Lingcod mouths opened wide exposing dozens of flesh and lure tearing teeth. Two seconds after twitching the worm upward the rod sent waves of energy down its length to confirm what our camera had relayed a split second before the rod shook violently. 

First and most important lesson learned about lingcod – they want active lures instead of dead, motionless baits and lures. After viewing hundreds of hours of underwater footage while filming “Underwater Secrets of Catching Halibut, Rockfish & Lingcod” with co-producer Chris Batin, this lesson became the most important and repeated lesson about lingcod. 

During our always fascinating but sometimes boring filming, we wondered if we were watching lingcod or they were watching us! We did learn that lingcod can be one of the most curious fish near the bottom. After lowering new offerings, whether using dead herring or a motionless jig, lingcod approached very closely and oftentimes just stopped side-by-side as if waiting for its quarry to play a deadly game of tag. Lingcod seemed too thoroughly enjoy a sporting pursuit. 

Years ago, a commercial lingcod angler told me a trick that helped him put many lingcod on his commercial pipe jig off the coast of Washington. He told me after pounding his lead-filled pipe on the bottom he would reel as fast as he could thirty feet off bottom, stop reeling, free spool the jig six feet, reengage and jerk. He demonstrated the technique to perfection. As he explained, after creating lots of noise with his jig on the bottom, the action of the jig fleeing triggered the lingcod into an attack mode. As the lingcod pursued the jig it opened wide enough for the jig to fall down its throat, literally. Since his powerful display of professional lingcod fishing, I too have used the super effective technique. A pipe jig or leadhead jig paired with skirts or curly tails makes a life-like jig and allows the angler to beat the bottom with sound emitting vibrations. 

Commercial lingcod anglers also used gear called “dingle bars” that bounced noisily just off bottom. This technique worked extremely well because it took advantage of the lingcod’s curiosity to sound, vibration and the lively looking jigs attached to the contraption. Our filming confirmed what commercial anglers know as fact, that lingcod are attracted and very curious about underwater sounds and vibrations. When we temporarily lost control of our multi-thousand dollar camera and it hit an outcropping or huge rock, we silently cringed and hoped the accidental collision did not cause any damage. The noise almost always brought curious fish, including lingcod, that wanted to see what the commotion was about. 

My son Christopher, who grew up and became a commercial diver, also confirms this fact. During his last visit after Christmas, he sport dove Puget Sound’s frigid waters “just for fun.” That night he excitingly told me how lingcod moved toward him and seemed very curious but kept just out of his reach. Lingcod are very curious predators that inspect anything, regardless of size, to see if it will fit in their mouth. 

Some anglers call lingcod “hitch hikers,” “ride alongs,”  “cling ons,” “high jackers,” or “rough riders” because they commonly grab fish already hooked by anglers. On numerous occasions I have caught lingcod that refused to let go of rockfish, greenling, other lingcod, and sometimes salmon too. A friend of mine once landed a 50-pound lingcod that bit and held onto a 30-pound lingcod that bit and held a 12-pound coho salmon in its mouth. 

Three years ago, while fishing in Alaska, I hooked a chicken-sized 12-pound halibut. After a few seconds of battle, my smallish halibut turned into a monster of a fish and fought hard from 310 feet on the bottom. Peering into the inky waters a dark, toothy image emerged, with my halibut sideways in its mouth. The 55-pound female lingcod refused to let go, even with some gentle coaxing. We finally pried the ling’s mouth open, held it up for a quick picture and lowered it back into the water. My halibut lay motionless and dead from multiple lacerations on both sides of its body. 

In addition to underwater filming, I have experimented with numerous colored lures for lingcod. During one memorable trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands, I found a nearshore lingcod lair filled with dozens of 10-plus pound lingcod in just 30 feet of water. Luckily, I had all of the primary colors to send to the bottom and watch through the crystal clear water, which color of lure the lings preferred. They reacted to two colors so favorably it became obvious they loved chartreuse and hot pink. At first, I thought these colors would only be their favorite in shallow water, but further experiments proved they love the same two colors even when fishing for them beyond 250 feet deep. They also love white, another top-producing lingcod color. 

Best Baits

Live baits, where and when legal, work extremely well wherever lingcod live. Live herring, sardines, small sand dabs, greenling or rockfish are the same to a lingcod as offering a Starbuck’s Grande Latte to a three cup-a-day coffee addict stuck in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. Spreader bars are a good choice when fishing bait. They allow you to send the bait to the bottom rapidly without tangling the mainline. To avoid loosing anything but your weight, tie a 20-pound test, 24-inch leader to the swivel on the bottom of the spreader bar, then tie the leader to the 8- to 24-ounce weight. 

Best Lures

Leadhead and pipe jigs work extremely well when kept jigging up and down and occasionally pounded on the bottom. Point Wilson Darts, Stingers and other baitfish imitating jigs also work well, but must be kept off bottom and out of the rocks. These baitfish jigs weigh less than pipe or leadhead jigs and offer a completely different element of sport. When using lighter jigs, light weight rods provide more fun and fight, especially when fighting big lingcod. And with lighter jigs it is much easier to maintain a lively presentation without wearing out your body.

Where Lingcod Live, Work, Date & Eat

Male lingcod inhabit rocky, rough bottom terrain nearshore and offshore in depths ranging from 50 to 150 feet deep. Mature males range in size from four to 12 pounds – almost never exceeding 14-pounds. The male will guard his territory all year in hopes of attracting a female during spawning season. This territorial behavior results in bone-jarring hits that fool you when trying to guess the size of fish hooked. Most summertime fishing pressure is from private boat anglers fishing nearshore shallow reefs. Some female lingcod, ranging in size from 12 to 60+ pounds, also inhabit these areas, especially after spawning season. (Large female lingcod should be released to help sustain healthy populations). 

Most mature female lingcod inhabit offshore underwater reefs and banks surrounded by much deeper water than where males call home. These offshore rugged and rocky bottoms range in depth from 150 to 600 feet deep. Female lingcod spawn annually from November through April, depending on location and water temperature. During their spawning cycle, they move from deep waters into shallow, inter tidal zones that have rocky bottoms or lots of crevices to hide and deposit their eggs. Depending on their size, lady lings deposit 60,000 to 500,000 eggs. The bulky mass of eggs attach to a rocky substrate. A male will then fertilize the eggs, stand guard and fan water over the eggs for approximately six weeks until they hatch. 

The "ideal" location to find hungry and aggressive lingcod will have steep, rough, rocky crevices with strong tidal currents flowing over the reef or bank.  "Lingcod tend to lay in the upside of the current flow over a rock.  They wait for their prey to flow over them so they'll lay in these hydraulic liaisons and jump on prey going over them," explained Tom Jadiello, Washington Department of Fisheries Lingcod Biologist. 

How to Look For Lingcod Habitat

Use large scale nautical charts (1:10,000) or (1:40,000) to look for extreme changes in bottom depth. Look for reefs and banks. With the use of a fish finder/GPS unit, you can locate areas from your chart. Once you stop on a likely looking lingcod area, ALWAYS fish downhill, from the top of the structure to the bottom, while drifting with the current. Proper planning of your drift will keep you from losing expensive lures. 

While the bait or lure is moving down the steep terrain, keep letting out enough line to keep it as close to the bottom as possible without snagging.  Whether using bait or artificial lures, bounce the jig or weight on the bottom, never drag it. Every few minutes, reel the bait/lure off the bottom 30 or 40 feet, then free spool back to the bottom. If the jig or bait stops or in anyway pauses, jerk, it might be a lingcod. 

Size Limits & Restrictions

Always be aware of size limits when lingcod fishing. Many areas now have slot limits that only allow anglers to take lingcod that fall within this range. This size range allows us to keep the best eating size lingcod in the 8 to 18-pound range. Large females should always be released and respected for their spawning value. If forced by regulation or you make the choice to release a lingcod, for whatever reason, rest assured, they will survive the ordeal. Unlike rockfish, lingcod do not have air bladders – they can swim freely throughout the water column without injury.  

Proper care of your catch will result in "prime" fresh fish.  Immediately after landing a lingcod carefully measure its size. If legal, cut through its gill-rakes and allow it to bleed out. Put your catch on ice immediately and it will be among the best white fleshed meat you have ever brought home. 

About the Author

John L. Beath is the Northwest editor and lives in Monroe Washington. He began fishing for lingcod at age eight, 40 years ago. His video, Underwater Secrets of Catching Halibut, Rockfish & Lingcod  & lots of lingcod fishing tackle can be purchased at the lingcod fishing tackle store on this site. Fishing Tackle Store Alaska Fishing Reports

This page last updated: March 08, 2009

Copyright 2009  & John L. Beath