Catching Lingcod Bait
Written By: Steve ‘Hippo’ Lau, March 21, 2013
Back in the 1970's, when I was first introduced to rock fishing from party boats, drifting bait for lingcod was the most popular way to fish for these toothy critters.
Sure, there were those that preferred to catch lings with big 16 oz. diamond jigs, but for the rest of us, bait was the way to go. Even back then, the lure tossers felt a sense of superiority when they caught their fish with their chrome bars (and make no mistake about it ... diamond jigs were much more effective at catching lings than hex bars), but more often than not, the jackpot was won by the guy who drifted bait.
The fact that drifting bait caught bigger fish is a matter of logic. In using the lures, the lure is cast ahead of the drift, line is paid out until the lure hit the bottom, then the lure is bounced back to the boat.
When the lure is under the boat, it is retrieved to the boat and then casted and retrieved again. Remember, back then you could fish as deeply as you wished or were daring to do.
I recall a trip when I was catching lings at some 375' deep! It happened to be on a quarter moon day when the current and drift were almost nil. This doesn't happen very often as there is a lot of "dead time" where you have to wait and wait as you feed line to the sinking lure. But then again, nowadays, with the 180' depth limit, you don't have to wait as long for the jig to reach bottom.
The lost time when the lure is going down and coming back up is what gives bait drifters the advantage when targeting big lings. Once a baited rig is dropped to the bottom, it stays there until ol' snaggletooth grabs the bait of the drift ends.
The question remains:what is the best bait to drag for jackpot winners? For many, a live bluey (small blue rockfish) is the ticket. For many others, a rigged sanddab is like feeding candy to a kid. Whole squid, live sardines, whole herring, and trimmed salmon bellies all have their fans, but for me, it is really hard to top a rigged jack smelt.
Face it, most of the time, lingcod are opportunistic feeders. It isn't often that a ling will up and hunt down something to eat. Just one look at the coloring of a lingcod and you can pretty much figure that it is an ambush predator.
Visit the California reef exhibit at the Steinhart Aquarium and you will see their lingcod hunkered down on the reef, laying still, almost as if they were dead. They will lay there, perfectly still, until they decide to move or eat something.
I think that is one reason that jacksmelt have proven to be such a good lingcod bait. Because lings have to see the prey before they decide to feed, increased visibility is a good thing to have; and of the baits I have listed, the jack smelt by far has the shiniest body, and therefore, the most visible.
The problem with using jacksmelt for lingcod is that when the bottom fish season comes around, jack smelt are not easy to come by. The jacksmelt, for the most part, is a winter fish in the bay.
The largest ones are most available in the January - March window of time. This is the time when they are most common in the bay in spots from Fort Point to Coyote Point, their exact location changing from day to day.
Next time: Tips and trick for catching more jacksmelt.