To catch lingcod you need the right techniques to find their habitat and to entice their strikes. Lingcod is a predatory fish that aggressively attacks its prey and also aggressively defends its territory. Lingcod will attack many fish that approach including the common baitfish like herring but also many other species of rockfish, greenling, salmon, and other prey such as squid octopus and crabs.
The most common habitat for lingcod is a rocky bottom where there are massive rocks, boulders, and cliffs, with crevices. The lingcod like to lie next to these structures and hide, waiting to ambush their prey. We catch the majority of our lingcod using a drift-fishing technique where we drift over lingcod waypoints. It is almost like predictable clockwork when a lingcod will hit, generally as soon as the tackle gets to the suitable location the fish will hammer it. 50 yards either side and the bites are far fewer.
When fishing for lingcod, use your GPS and whenever you catch a ling, quickly mark the waypoint because the fish is most likely hanging out at a particular rock feature that provides it a cover advantage. It is possible that you could catch a randomly swimming lingcod but far more probable that you have found a lingcod lair. You may catch a few lingcod at the same point, and, more lingcod will likely move into the spot in the following weeks after you catch the former occupant of the spot.
I like the drifting technique for habitat that you find on your chartplotter with steep cliffs, rocks, etc, because you can prospect for lingcod (and other tasty fish like yelloweye rockfish) and over time build up a chartplotter full of lingcod lairs. If you start catching lingcod in a particular area it is worth drifting several times over the same spot to expand your understanding of the area and find out if there are more lingcod or yelloweye holding in the spot.
Lingcod may swim some distance to follow a scent trail and may be caught away from their preferred habitat but you will catch far more lingcod by strategically drifting directly overtop of them and then marking their locations and re-drifting over the same feature or very close. If the feature is a large and long underwater cliffline you can do multiple drifts over the cliff edge and likely find lingcod all along the cliff hiding out right at the edge. Once you drift past the feature then pull up your gear and return to the high point and restart another drift over the cliff edge. When you are successful at the drifting technique, in addition to marking waypoint, take note of the tide direction (in or out) and the magnitude of tide (eg is it a massive spring tide or is it only a minor tide swing). the direction and magnitude is important so that you can repeat the same drift direction on future trips. Record the waypoint, number of fish caught, time, direction, and magnitude of tide in your logbook for future reference.
You always want the current and wind to push your boat from shallow to deep to avoid snagging bottom. If the current is pushing you from deep to shallow then you should check your charts and find a different position where the current will push you from shallow to deep.
When picking tides for drifting, I like to go with a tide change of less than 10′. This ensures that the current will not be too fast. If there is more than a 10′ tide swing it can be possible to jig for lings but the current will be severe requiring heavier tackle. The high tide flows also tend to tear out kelp and debris and this is problematic for fishing. Another problem will be the speed of drift causing the boat to move past the hotspot fast, with minimal time on the hotspot before you have to relocate. The final problem with fishing during high tidal changes is that when a big current outflow or inflow stacks up opposing the wind, some very large and tight waves, rips, and whirpools tend to develop and this makes for uncomfortable (and unsafe) jigging conditions. You want to watch the weather and also watch the tides closely when picking days especially if you will be headoing out to offshore lingcod grounds.
There are a ton of tackle rigs you can use for lingcod. Some include metal jigs, leadhead jigs, various herring rigs, and live bait rigs. Anglers will catch lingcod on them all but what you really need to focus on is that the larger your jig is, the more that a trophy lingcod will like it. Small lingcod will also target monster rigs, so you should go ahead and use the largest rig possible. I use metal jigs (Norwegian Cod Jigs) that are around 20oz in weight. These are massive jigs about 12″ in length with massive treble hooks. These jigs are an excellent resemblance of a wounded herring baitfish, and in the deeper waters the light glints off them giving a mirror like shine that further attracts the lingcod. I like the large size because these jigs get down to the bottom fast and can stay there fairly vertically even if the boat is drifting along at a fast speed. I prefer jigs to bait because I don’t have to worry about the bait falling off. Also catching live bait can be difficult so going with metal jigs saves time for more fishing. Other jigs such as leadheads, pipe jigs, and many other jigs can also be used for lingcod although I find I get the highest catch return with the pure silver Norwegian Cod Jigs.
When jigging these rigs, using the “free jigging” from the boat rising and falling over swells, with the rod resting in a rodholder (which works for halibut), will not catch very many lingcod. All along your drift, you need to actively jig the lure, up and down 3-4 feet. Basically you want to jig rapidly the whole time, especially when you are right over your waypoint. If you are tired out as you drift over your waypoint, you need to go for the last bit of energy and resume jigging. This is absolutely what makes the difference between the guy on your boat who catches 4 lings and the guy who only catches one, or zero.
Here is a youtube video that I’ve put together that shows two excellent techniques to save wear on your body during a long day of deep-water jigging. One is the use of a particular model of rodholder for recovering the jig quickly from the bottom, and the other technique is how to hold the rod to create a pivot point for easier jigging. If you don’t have any of these rodholders you should get some, I dont use them for trolling mooching rods but for deepwater jigging for lings and especially halibut, they are the ultimate secret weapon.
Another important observation is that lingcod will almost always strike the jig as it is falling. Very often, when you first freespool the jig to the bottom, you will nail a lingcod just before it gets to the bottom. An extension to capitalize on this observation is to lower to the bottom, then use the following sequence: jig—jig—jig—reel-reel-reel-jig—jig—jig-reel-reel-reel-jig—jig—jig-reel-reel-reel, then when you are about 30′ above the bottom, hit freespool and drop back down, and repeat the process. This technique is good for two reasons, first, because the lings like to hit jigs a they drop, and second, it will keep you always near the bottom, in the strike zone, particularly if you are drifting off a deep cliff, you will need to keep letting out line to stay near the bottom.
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Writing about sportfishing for salmon, halibut, lingcod, rockfish, snapper, prawns, and crab, with tips and techniques to catch more fish by fine-tuning specific details.
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