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How to Catch California Lingcod


Lingcod,Ophiodon elongatus, orling cod, is a fish of the greenling family. Lingcod are unique to the west coast of North America. They are found on or near the bottom, with most fish occupying rocky areas at depths of 32 to 328 feet. Starting in October, Lingcod migrate to near-shore spawning grounds. The males first, and establish nest sites in strong current areas in rock crevices or on ledges. Spawning takes place between December and March, and females leave the nest site immediately after depositing eggs. Males actively defend the nest from predators until the eggs hatch in early March through late April.

Lingcod love to hang out around rock piles of Southern California’s coastal waters. Well equipped with enormous mouths, they’re ready to feed on whatever swims by - including and anglers bait and even their catch while being reeling in. They often grab other fish as they’re reeled in and refuse to let go, holding on all the way to a waiting gaff or grab. This aggressive instinct makes Lingcod ideal targets for oversize plastic swim baits and larger live baits most smaller fish and other target fish will avoid, improving the angler's chance of catching the targeted bigger model Ling Cod. Lingcod are voracious predators, feeding on nearly anything they can fit in their mouths, including invertebrates and many species of fish like smaller rock fish and live bait, such as sardines or anchovies. One of their favorite foods are smaller octopuses, and they will also readily try to devour larger rock fish.

At a Glance:
What: Lingcod
Where: Channel Islands, California
When: Year-round except during January and February closure of Southern California rock-fishing
Who: This article is sponsored by CISCO's for Southern California angler's targeting Lingcod:
Go Fishing: Channel Islands Sportfishing 805-382-1612 channelislandssportfish​

How to Catch Lingcod Using Bait and Lures

Lingcod anglers typically use live bait or lures. Whatever your favorite plastic swim bait - Fish Trap, Big Hammer or the plethora of other California-based companies molding their own special mix of plastics these days, it's my favorite way of catching any fish including big, voracious Ling's. Use a heavy, sturdy plastic swim bait up to 9 inches long (Ling's are not shy fish!), heavy lead-heads and 7/0 to 10/0 hooks, these lures are made for Lingcod’s healthy, diverse appetite. California Lingcod typically aren’t as large as their Alaskan cousins. California fish commonly range from a nice 22-inch legal minimum size as of this article to far larger models of 20 to 30 pounds commonly caught on sportfishing vessels from San Diego area sportfishing landings to Channel Islands Sportfishing out of Oxnard.

For live and dead bait fishing the standard dropper-loop is the common rig for Ling's - if you can't tie a Dropper-Loop ask your deckhand for help. Swim the lure or bait as close to the bottom as possible by letting the bait bounce along the bottom, and keep it in there as long as conditions permit. When fishing from a sportfishing party boat, I like to cast from either the bow, the downwind corner of the stern or my favorite spot on any sport boat just behind the wheelhouse bulkhead - closest to food, drink and heads! For angler's fishing large plastics mentioned here, cast as far away from other anglers who are fishing traditional dropper-loop rigs to avoid tangles. I like casting plastic swim baits up current, especially in a strong current, and let the plastic sink in the current and watch for the line darting from slack to tight when being picked up by a fish. Depending on wind and current sink the lure as quickly as possible, and when you hit bottom, work the swim bait with a medium-slow retrieve to varying depths then frees pool and let it sink to the bottom again similar to yo-yo fishing iron for Yellowtail. If you don’t get bitten, free-spool back to the bottom and start again. As the boat drifts over and eventually away from your line, recast and start again.

Heavy rigs and big fish call for stout rods, such as a CalStar Grafighter 800 I personally use matched with a Daiwa Sealine 30sha an excellent mid-price combo with a load of butt for quickly turning large, fast predator fish from wrapping and breaking the angler off on the bottom. With thin-diameter lines, the smaller breed of saltwater conventional reels works great for this fishing, but a high-retrieve ratio on the Daiwa Sealine 30SHA or 40 SHA or similar new models series reels helps you gather line back quickly when fishing deep. Two-speed lever-drag reels pay off when muscling a big lingcod. For two-speed lever drag reels designed for the newer smaller diameter lines being used Accurate's DX2-500 is a good choice for higher end reel offshore fishing. I'm more old school and continue to do just fine even on a basic rent rod setup like a CalStar 670c or Seeker 7' Bait and Jig Rod and Penn Jig master 500 reel.

Terminal setup suggestion: a hook or trap rig similar to a halibut rig fished on a 10-inch-long dropper loop above 28- to 30-inch leader with a torpedo sinker. The weight of the torpedo sinker depends on water depth, drift rate and current strength, but ranges from 5 to 20 ounces.

Suggested Lingcod Tackle

Rods: 8- to 8½-foot fast-action 50-pound jig rods with a lot of backbone like CalStar Graphighter 800M or similar Reels: Lever-drag reels such as Avet MXJ, or similar - Fast retrieve Star Drag fishing reels like Daiwa's Sealine 30sha or equivalent for less experienced conventional reel casting Line: 50- to 65-pound braid with a few feet of 30- or 40-pound mono leader or for old school angler straight mono equivalent Lures: Kustom Kraft, Big Hammer, Candy Bar, Fish Trap plastic swim-baits on 4- to 8-ounce wedge-shaped lead-heads - Savage Gear Cutbait Herring swim-baits in 9½- or 16-ounce sizes. Terminal setup suggestion: a hook or trap rig similar to a halibut rig fished on a 10 to 12-inch-long dropper loop above 28- to 30-inch leader with a torpedo sinker. The weight of the torpedo sinker depends on water depth, drift rate and current strength, but ranges from 5 to 20 ounces. Live bait hooks - ask the landing the best choice for the current conditions when you depart and adjust this shopping list accordingly.

Bottom and Rockcod Fishing Trips

The nice thing about targeting Lingcod is all the other tasty bottom-dwelling fish you can and likely will catch like larger model vermilion and copper rock fish. For Lingcod fishing the key is to keep grinding into the fish until the rod is fully loaded. As long as you keep reeling, the fish is going to think the lure is a bait trying to get away. Even if a hooked slips off the hook on the way up, they often attack the lure again, as long as it’s moving so keep working the presentation. These are relentless feeding fish that seem to never give up a fight.

When you hook a Lingcod, they usually make an initial strong run back toward the bottom common to most bottom-dwelling fish. It’s important to "turn" and get the fish headed in your direction when having a heavy butt rod mentioned above comes into play. Once you move a fish up off the bottom, just keep steadily grinding toward the surface without pumping the rod. Another reason for the slow and steady reel "wind and grind" is that repeatedly lifting and dropping the rod tip causes the heavy lead-head to work loose from the fish’s jaw. Unlike rock fish., Lingcod don’t suffer the effects of deep to shallow, so they have fight in them all the way to the boat and makes releasing smaller or undersize fish better on the fish.

H&M Landing - San Diego

I will always be fond of the Malihini 3/4 day San Diego's daily deep-sea fishing boat for Rock Cod and Lingcod trips in the off tuna season and the Lengend or Jigstrike for charters for your school or group go rockfishing in the winter and spring and offshore for tuna in the summer. Go to for Legend open trips and H&M Landing for the Malihini.

Channel Islands Sportfishing Whale Watching Center

Boats like Pacific Islander out of Channel Islands Sportfishing Landing run frequent open party or private charter deep-sea fishing trips to the Lingcod mecca of the outer Channel Islands. Here, when conditions are right, you can fish giant plastic swim-baits with about a 4 ounce head in depths of 100 feet or less. As current and wind conditions get more difficult, move to heavier heads and adjust technique to a more vertical, up-and-down swimming action. I like a 6 to 8-ounce lead-head all-around choice. When conditions warrant, an 8-ounce head gets you down quicker and keeps you near the bottom longer. When the heaviest weight is needed use your favorite swim bait with 9½ or 16 ounces of weight is made for this style fishing. For color everyone who fishes plastic's regularly have their own personal taste and preference and for the regulars fishing out of Channel Islands Sportfishing, the anglers nice enough to help others are the anglers to watch and ask if time and conditions allow what baits they like and technique.

There's a whole fleet of boats fishing different length deep-sea fishing trips departing daily, especially the season opener in March. While challenging and elusive, the Lingcod are still not match for our knowledgeable Captains. The Lingcod are not schooling fish, so it takes considerable skill and effort to find the beasts' lair. We won't reveal out hot spots here, but rest assured, if the Lingcod are biting, the Channel Islands Sportfishing skippers will place you in position for the perfect ambush. Book online or call (805) 382-1612 to make reservations. Pick your favorite boat or call the landing to get and idea what boat and length trip to take for the fish you are targeting is best. Book your trip or ask questions about when is the best time and length trip specifically for fish mentioned here by calling Channel Islands Sportfishing at 805-382-1612 channelislandssportfish​ or

Suggested Saltwater Reels

Avet and Accurate Conventional Fishing Reels Great For Southern California Sportfishing

Accurate Boss Conventional Fishing Reels are one of the most popular Southern California angler fishing reel picks for Tuna and Big Game fish - Search or browse for the new Boss Fury single star best price point reel!

Best Fishing Reels Accurate & Avet for San Diego Tuna & Yellowtail

The Accurate Boss Single Speed Boss Series X Single Speed or for turning bigger game fish the BX-2 Series. Both Accurate Boss 400x, 500x or 600x have huge 6:1 ratio great for popular Southern California - San Diego deep "Yo-Yo" technique where dropping deep and cranking in at blazing speeds trigger the Yellowtail bite. Spend the money for an Accurate or Avet one piece aluminum body work horse reels for San Diego game fish like we witnessed in 2015!

Accurate Boss Valiant Fishing Reel

My favorite reel for local tuna and Yellowtail is Accurate Boss Valiant, a reel every Southern California angler needs in their mix of rods and reels. Help support if you buy one of these reels by making purchases from Amazon. I've searched and selected my local favorites for San Diego and SoCal sportfishing where diversity and several rod/reel combos come in handy when on a moments noticed you 60-80# Bluefin Tuna show up at the side of the boat. Here's the best deal on Amazon I found for the Boss Valiant BV-300 - Click image to buy now and support this website and more tips.

Link to buy Accurate Boss Valiant BV-300 for $399 at Amazon! Accurate Boss Valiant BV-300 - Link to Buy Now at Amazon for a great deal at $399 w/free shipping