By Andy Martin | 03/28/2013
Moments after the first lead-headed jig and large curly tail grub hit the bottom, one of the anglers on my boat exclaimed “fish on” as his rod doubled over with a steady tug, tug, tug. The angler coaxed the fish to the surface, and with a quick stab of the gaff it was yanked from the water and set on the deck.
The lingcod angrily twirled on the floor of my boat, the jig still hanging from its jaw. A chunk of pinkish-red rockfish meat, used to give the jig a boost, also hung from the ling’s mouth. The scene was repeated more than half a dozen more times in a few hour period, and quickly the four anglers had their two-fish lingcod limits, along with a fish box full of black rockfish.
Right now, from late March through May, is prime time to catch lings on the Oregon Coast. Here are some tips to catch more and bigger fish, and quicker limits.
Jigs and bait
The action of a lead-headed jig is extremely effective for lingcod, and when combined with a chunk of bait is often too good to pass up for lingcod. The best bait to add to a jig is rockfish flesh, perhaps the main food source of big lingcod. Most anglers don’t want to waste rockfish fillets to catch lingcod, and you don’t have to.
When I fillet my client’s catch each day, I trim the rib bone from the fillets. Most people toss these small chunks of belly meat laced with numerous sharp bones. I save them, marinate them in Pautzke’s Nectar (sometimes red and yellow Nectar, others Halibut & Rockfish), and use them to tip jigs for lingcod.
The chunks of rockfish flesh marinated in Nectar add scent and color to the jig. The Nectar creates a potent scent trail to the bait.
How It’s Done
I place the rockfish chunks in a plastic bag and freeze them until I need them for bait. The morning of a trip, I put them in a small bucket and soak them in Nectar. Red and yellow Nectar both work well. If I know I’m fishing the next day, I’ll keep the baits fresh.
Depending on the speed of the drift, caused by wind and tides, 3- to 6-ounce leadheads are ideal, although sometimes 8-ounce or 10-ounce, or even larger, are needed. Twin tail or single tail grubs work well. Root beer, purple, glow, white and red are effective colors.
Lingcod like rocky, vertical structure. Areas of the ocean floor that quickly jet up, with sudden depth changes, are ideal. In the winter and early spring, lingcod move into shallow water to spawn. The larger females lay egg masses, and the smaller males stay behind to guard them. Sometimes several males will guard a single nest. Depths of 40 to 60 feet are ideal spawning habitat, and that’s where lings will be found this time of year.
Jigs work well on feeding lingcod, and also work the aggressive territorial behavior of lings guarding a nest into your favor. If a lingcod isn’t hungry, it often will still strike the jig because it views it as an intruder. If a lingcod isn’t interested in eating a jig that smells like a small rockfish, it will hit it anyway since it will also be seen as a small fish hoping to rob a nest.
High To Low
When setting up for a drift, start at the shallowest level and drift into deeper water. That will reduce the amount of snagged gear. If you drift from deep to shallow water, your jigs will hang up easier. Constantly tap bottom with the jigs, but don’t just leave them on the bottom.
Rigging for Rockfish, Too
I like to run a pair of shrimp flies or small grubs above my jigs. This will allow my customers to target rockfish along with the lingcod. Sometimes the lings will hit a small rockfish that is hooked on a shrimp fly.
It’s always important to slowly bring lings up in case they are “hitchhikers” and gaff or net them before their head breaks the surface. If a lingcod is holding onto a rockfish hooked on a shrimp fly, it often will hang on until it is pulled above the surface, even though the ling itself isn’t hooked.
Capt. Andy Martin is a longtime Pautzke Pro Staffer. He runs a guide and charter service in Oregon and Alaska. His website is www.wildriversfishing.com