Oregon’s Year-Round Lings

Donald Koskela brings the 20-foot Alumaweld to a stop at the top of the reef. We are in 100-foot water. I lower the 8-ounce pipe jig, watching the line counter on the Shimano Tekota. At 98 feet a violent strike slams the rod tip down. A couple of head shakes and the “ztztzt-ztztzt-ztztzt” of heavy line peeling off the reel.

“Fish on,” Koskela yells with glee. “That’s a big ling.”

Author with two limits of lingcod with fish weighing from 8- to 15 pounds.
Author with two limits of lingcod with fish weighing from 8- to 15 pounds.

Koskela moves over to place his rod in a holder. His rod goes down hard. “Fish on. A double. Two big lings.”

Fishing With Longtime Friend
I’m fishing with Koskela, of Pastime Fishing Adventures, out of Silverton, Ore. This is not a guided trip, but a trip of friends. We are after his favorite bottom fish, lingcod.

We launch at first light out of Depoe Bay, Ore., along the Central Oregon Coast.

We draw blanks on the first two reefs. We fish a reef, grudgingly named Tackle Buster, but no takers. A series of jagged peaks lives up to its reputation. We grow tired of losing gear and move on.

So, here we are on our third reef and our first hookups, and they are good ones!

Things Get a Little Crazy
We are both doing battle with heavy fish. Bad knees and a 2-foot wind chop, keep me from standing up, and I’m sitting between Koskela and the net.

Holding my rod with one hand, I slide the net to him. My fish comes to the boat first. Fighting his fish with one hand — dancing around the deck with the wave chop — he nets my 10-pounder and heaves it into the boat.

Lead head jigs with assorted plastics.
Lead head jigs with assorted plastics.

We Get Lucky
When my fish hits the deck, it bounces out of the net, leaving the net free for his fish. He reaches out and slides the net under his fish. He pulls the net closed and pulls the fish to the boat.

“Oh, +^#+@+, the net broke!” he yells. The net handle, rod and reel come sliding across the deck. All I can see is Koskela’s rear, as he precariously drapes over the rail, grabs the rim of the net–with both hands–and heaves a 15-pounder on board!

When the laughter finally subsides, high fives are in order. We have two beauties flopping around on the deck, and a net to put back together.

Time to get back to fishing

No more than two or three bounces off the bottom, and we have another double. The net stays together, and we have two 8-pounders in the box!

Hard to believe. We fished two reefs, for almost two hours, without a fish.

Then, four nice lings in 30 minutes.

Find The Right Place to Fish
The first key to a successful trip ling is to find reefs, or high spots. Good charts are available at any marine store. Use these coordinates to locate reefs. If you have new enough electronics, you can bring up the map and enter these figures as way points.

Pipe jigs have been catching lingcod for many years.
Pipe jigs have been catching lingcod for many years.

“I determine which direction the waves will push me on the drift,” Koskela explains. “I will make a short drift to make sure which way the boat will go.”

If the current pushes the boat over one knot, Koskela uses the kicker motor in reverse to slow down.

“If you’re not on the bottom, you’re not catching lings,” Koskela adds. “Lingcod hug the bottom. They lay in crevices and behind rocks waiting for prey.”

Your goal should be to keep your line as straight down as possible. When the line is vertical, it’s much easier to bounce bottom. When the line trails behind the boat, you have to let out more line to contact bottom, this leads to more snags, lost gear, and down time.

Lingcod are one of the most aggressive predators of the deep. They are not line shy. Sound, color and flash are all factors. Colors change and diminish rapidly at 100 feet, but not so with sound. Research has proven that fish hear/feel sound long before they see the object.

“You have to be banging the bottom,” Koskela urges. “I have seen a lot of big lings caught on nothing but a shiny chunk of lead bounced off the bottom.”

“If you’re not losing gear, you’re not ling fishing,” Koskela adds.

Landing a Ling
“The most important thing to remember is; don’t lift a ling’s head out of the water until the fish is netted,” Koskela, almost pleads. “We frequently bring them to the surface and they are not hooked. They just hang on.”

Jigs by Donald Koskela.
Jigs by Donald Koskela.

Fish lings for very long and you will hook a small fish, and all of a sudden it becomes a big fish.

The small fish becomes a meal for a big ling. Once they sink those fangs into prey, they become the Pit Bull of the deep. They are not going to turn loose!

On another trip with Koskela: Three of us have sea bass hooked, “A ling just grabbed my bass,” Koskela yells. “Grab the net.”

He slowly brings the 14-pounder close. We can see the ling doesn’t have the hook, but he has teeth sunk into the bass. A friend slides the net under the ling. When he lifts up, the ling goes ballistic and turns loose.

This was not an isolated incident. It happens frequently.

The Best Way to Fish a Reef
For best success, try to begin fishing on top of the reef and let the current push you across and down the side. This way, you will not snag up as often.

“If possible, you want to start at the shallow spot on the reef and fish toward deeper water,” Koskela adds. “It will be easier. You will lose less gear. The boat operator should constantly monitor the depth and inform the others. ‘Coming up. Coming down.’”

If you fish deeper water and come into shallow water, you will have to be constantly reeling in line.

Weather and water conditions are the major conditions limiting lingcod catches. Powerful Pacific storms may prevent smaller recreational boats from venturing out. Big female lings move onto reefs in February and March, but you may only have a handful of days to be on the ocean.

When you hook fish, mark a way point. When you finish the drift, come back and run that line again. Save that point for the next trip.

Wilson's Year-Round Lings 7-15 Ling Jan 2012, 2a
Koskela (left) and author with a 14-pound ling.

“I will continue running a line as long as I catch fish,” Koskela explains. “I have caught several fish in a spot, then nothing. I hit another place or so, come back to that spot and catch more fish. I have been fishing some of these same spots for years.”

Savvy ling anglers will have multiple reefs marked. There will be days when a favorite spot doesn’t produce. Or, it may be crowded. Always have several reefs on your electronics.

Gearing Up
Here’s the tackle we use for ling fishing.

Rod – 8-foot, 6-inch to 9 feet, 4 inches. Heavy-action to bounce 8- to 10 ounce jigs in 100 feet of water

            Reel – Baitcasting, 200-yard-plus capacity, with 40-pound-test line.

            Line – 40-pound braided

            Jigs – assorted 8- to 10 ounces (see above photos)

As of this writing in June, 2015, there’s a two fish limit – minimum length 22 inches. As always, check for current regulations.

Making The Trip
For more information, contact:

Donald Koskela, 503-767-2792, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pastime-Fishing-Adventures/789976931034940

Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Marine Zone, Newport, Oregon, 541-867-4741


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