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Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus)
Written by: Dr. Larry G. Allen
As I mentioned in my last article, in April and May, I had the opportunity to visit San Miguel Island, otherwise known as "rock cod heaven" in southern California waters. As an onboard instructor for Ronnie Kovach's Eagle Claw Fishing School, I was able to experience some of the finest shallow water rock cod fishing I have ever seen. In the two trips, the students and instructors caught full limits including a lot of big boccacio (salmon groupers), yellow-eye rockfish, reds (properly known as vermillion rockfish) and ling cod. Technically, ling cod are not "cod". Heck, they are not even rockfish. They are actually the largest member of the greenling family. But, it is inevitable that these wonderful, toothy predators will always be linked to rock cod in the minds and hearts of us anglers. Here is what we know about this neat species.
SCIENTIFIC NAME - Ophiodon elongatus , family Hexagrammidae (greenlings)
COMMON NAMES - Ling cod, lings, bacalao (Mexico)
DISTRIBUTION - Shumigan Islands, Alaska to northern Baja California with a center of abundance off British Columbia. Occur at depths from the intertidal zone (juveniles) to over 1,600 feet, but rarely occur deeper than 1,000 feet.
SIZE & AGE - To 5 ft and about 70 pounds. The oldest known ling cod was 20 years old. Female lings grow faster and grow larger than males. Lings grow to about 1 foot in 1 year and are 3 feet long at 7 to 10 years of age.
DIET - Ling cod are voracious predators and will eat almost any kind of small fish, particulary small rockfish. No self-respecting ling cod would pass up an opportunity to eat an octopus or squid either.
REPRODUCTION - In California, spawning begins in November and continues into March. Spawning peaks in December and January. Male ling cod migrate into nearshore habitats and establish spawning territories. Females choose which nesting site and male they will mate with and lay anywhere from 50,000 to 170,000 eggs (depending on the size of the female) in a gelatinous egg mass ranging from 3 to 68 quarts in volume. The male fertilize the eggs and then guards the egg tenaciously until they hatch (5-11 weeks). Lingcod larvae appear in the nearshore plankton in January and February and eventually transform into the pelagic juvenile stage (1 to 4 inches). By June, most of the pelagic juveniles have settled to the bottom, usually in shallow water. Male lingcod mature at about 20 inches (3-4 years) and females at 24 inches (4-6 years).
FISHERY - The ling cod is a very popular recreational and commercial fisheries species. In areas of highest abundance north of Pt. Conception, lingcod begin to form more than 1% of the recreational catch. In northern California and Oregon they comprise 3 - 7% of the sport catch. Lingcod populations continue to be strong and commercial catches remain at similar levels to those from early in this century. However, there is cause for some concern. A five-fold increase in recreational landings has occurred in the last two decades causing a 20% decline in the average weight of sport-caught lings.