WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — A lingcod won’t win any beauty contests in the fish domain.
Their buggy eyes, gnarly canine teeth, spiny fins and mottled brown skin deem them as one of the ugliest creatures in the sea.
Despite their beast over beauty appearance, many anglers are fondly attracted to them as a wonderful eating fish and hard fighter when hooked.
In 2008, I caught a 50-pound lingcod off Craig, Alaska, which ranks as one of my top-five catches.
Wanting to relive that experience, I couldn’t pass up a friend’s invitation to go lingcod fishing in northern Puget Sound, which opened May 1.
Andy Shanks, owner of Island Guide Services and guide Kent Alger, started our lingcod trip this past Wednesday near Meadowdale catching live flounder, one of the lingcod’s most beloved meals.
Fishing in 20 to 80 feet of water, we dropped small chunks of Berkley Power Bait herring strips on hooks to the sandy bottom. In a short span of time, we had enough flounder to head over to Possession Bar on the south side of Whidbey Island.
Lingcod are a non-migratory fish that inhabit the rocky bottom of the West Coast, and are abundant from Washington to Alaska.
Lingcod are voracious predators, and eat just about anything they can fit into their bucket-sized mouth.
Some of their favorite meals include rockfish, flounder, octopus, sculpin, kelp greenling, herring, crabs, squid, pollock, and they’ll even dine on their own juvenile lingcod.
Spring is a time when many salmon seasons are closed, and lingcod fishing has gained popularity during a brief opening May 1 to June 15 from Sekiu into Puget Sound.
A one-lingcod daily limit, and a minimum size limit of 26 inches and maximum size of 36 inches are some reasons why their head-count have surged in Puget Sound.
“Lingcod populations are relatively stable,” said Bob Pacunski, a state Fish and Wildlife senior groundfish biologist. “Lingcod grow rather quickly to harvestable-size in a span of just three years, and fisheries are structured after spawning season.”
Our first stop was the west side of Possession Bar where eight boats were fishing.
We used seven-foot fishing poles with Shimano Bantam reels filled with 50-pound braided Power Pro line, a slip swivel and a 3- to 6-ounce lead ball attached to a 7/0 barbless circle hook on top trailed by another hook with a live flounder.
Our first drift generated no bites, except for what I thought was a lingcod that peeled off line and eventually got snagged on bottom.
We moved to another location in 50 feet water near some rocky pinnacles that sharply rose up from the bottom — a preferred dwelling spot for lingcod.
It was here on my fifth drop, I felt my line twitch, waited a few seconds, and then stripped out line to allow the ling to inhale the bait before setting the hooks.
Line peeled off the reel, and then I gained control. After a 10-minute fight we got the oversized 45-inch lingcod to the boat for some quick pictures, and released it back into the water.
Two drifts later my partner, Gerald Chew of Mercer Island, was hooked up with a 38-inch lingcod that we eventually released.
A few boats around us managed to catch their limits. All we coaxed were the larger ones, but the opportunity to catch these monster fish was more than enough to satisfy our fishing needs.
Giant halibut caught near Port Townsend
The halibut fishery started off last week with a fair number of flatties nearing or exceeding the century mark.
Don Wood of Kent and Wynn Bushong of Renton were going for halibut out of Port Townsend on May 5 after two days of getting skunked.
Their luck changed when Wood hooked something big around 7:30 a.m. in Admiralty Inlet.
“I started to feed it line, making sure the fish had enough time to chop down the herring, and then I started to get a head shake,” Wood said.
“It made a couple of good runs on top of the water, and then went down a couple times,” said Wood. “Our friends saw the fish surface 10 feet from their boat, and said it was 30 or 40 pounds, but I felt it was a lot bigger.”
After an hour battle, the halibut tired, and Wood got it to the boat.
“We didn’t have a scale, but it measured out to 65 inches, and the estimated weight was about 140 pounds,” Wood said. “It was definitely a once in lifetime halibut to catch around here, and the biggest fish I’ve ever caught.”