Greenlings and Lingcod: Family Hexagrammidae
Species: Ophidon elongatus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words ophis (snake) and odons (tooth), and the Latin word elongatus (elongate shaped).
Alternate Names: Ling, Pacific cultus, cultus cod, leopard cod, blue cod, gator, greenlinger, green cod and my favorites—slinky linky and lingasaur. Early-day names included buffalo cod, bocalao, card and testoni. Called molva in Mexico.
Identification: Elongate shaped with a long dorsal fin, large pectoral fins, and a large mouth full of canine-like teeth. Their coloring is gray to brown to blue, darker above (although some fish are a bright green and some older fish are a fairly bright yellow). The young are usually blotched.
Size: To 105 pounds in British Columbia. Most lingcod caught off piers are small, generally less than five pounds in weight. The California record fish weighed 56 lb 0 oz. It was caught at Crescent City in 1992.
Range: From Point San Carlos, northern Baja California to the Shumagin Islands, southwestern Gulf of Alaska.
Habitat: South of Point Conception lingcod are typically a deep-water fish; north of Point Conception lingcod will be found from inter-tidal areas out to deep water. The bigger the ling the deeper they tend to live and they’ve been found all the way down to 1,400 feet. Small juvenile lingcod settle into sandy areas at about three inches in length and stay there until they are about 14-inches long. The fish then move out into rocky areas, progressively moving into deeper areas as they age. Many, but not all, migrate into shallower water to spawn during the late fall and winter months. Lings are bottom-dwellers classified as ambush predators whose cryptic (i.e. camouflage) coloration allows them to blend into the background. When prey comes close, they will dart out using the power of their pectoral fins and grab the unsuspecting victim with their large mouth and long, pointed teeth. They are able to surprise and capture fairly mobile prey.
Piers: Most lingcod caught from piers are of one of two types. In central California, primarily from Avila to San Simeon, but also in Humboldt Bay and Crescent City Harbor, small juvenile lingcod will often move in around the piers (and sandy areas) during the summer and fall. In Central California, their appearance often will coincide with the arrival of schools of juvenile bocaccio. In Eureka and Crescent City, the young lingcod are often present the same time that juvenile rockfish, mainly small black rockfish, are using the piers as a nursery area. Sometimes the schools are mixed; at other times, it seems the lingcod swim just under the schools of rockfish. Most of these lingcod are small—under a foot—and they are illegal. At piers north of San Francisco, especially those located near rocks or reefs, anglers will see larger lingcod as one of the normal pier species. Most of these lingcod will be around two feet in length but larger fish are caught every year, especially in the fall and early winter. The best piers to catch lingcod are the Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Santa Cruz Wharf, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Point Arena Pier, and the Trinidad Pier.
Shoreline: One of the main prizes for rocky shore anglers in central and northern California.
Boats: A prize for boaters from central California north; a few are taken in deeper waters in southern California. Traditionally, the greatest catch was made out of Monterey and Santa Cruz although substantial numbers were also landed on boats from every port north of Morro Bay. In southern California some are taken from deeper waters of the Channel Islands and the Los Coronados Islands. All areas saw a decrease in the ‘90s but the species has been making a good comeback in numbers during the past decade.
Bait and Tackle: Anglers specifically fishing for lingcod need to remember to bring tackle heavy enough for the fish since lings over ten pounds in size are always a possibility. Almost any bait will work although a lively small fish makes the best bait. If live bait is unavailable, try a whole anchovy or a cut sardine or herring. Lings can also be taken on squid, octopus, shrimp, and even fresh mussels but moving bait is almost always better. Lingcod will also hit artificials, especially in the fall and winter months. Lures such as swimbaits and spoons seem to work best.
Food Value: Excellent, mild-flavored, flaky, and low-fat content meat. Lingcod meat can be prepared in almost any manner but I prefer to fillet it and fry it. Many people like to steak it and broil it, or cook it on a bar-b-cue, but the low fat content means it can dry out somewhat. Remember, low fat content means to add oil as in frying. High fat content means to remove the oil by methods such as broiling. Sometimes the flesh will be green-blue after filleting; don’t worry, it will turn white after cooking.
Comments: Lingcod are voracious in nature as well as being truculent, pugnacious fighters, one of the most prized fish a pier angler will encounter. Remember to watch out for those large, large teeth. Lings live to at least 20 years of age.
Large lingcod caught at piers
40 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Ray Springer, November 19, 1922
Source: Santa Cruz Evening News, November 20, 1922
25 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Emile Benett, August 8, 1930
Source: Santa Cruz Evening News, August 9, 1930
23 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, June 27, 1930
Source: Santa Cruz Evening News, June 28, 1930
22 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, “Monk” Avila, September 22, 1932
Source: Oakland Tribune, September 23, 1932
18 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Tony Vierra, August 5, 1940
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 6, 1940