Greenlings and Lingcods—Family Hexagrammidae

A small lingcod I caught one day from Citizens Dock in Crescent City

Species: Ophidon elongatus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words ophis (snake) and odons (tooth), and the Latin word elongatus  (elongate shaped).

Lingcod from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2010 by MBay

Alternate Names:  Pacific cultus, cultus cod, leopard cod, blue cod, gator, ling, greenlinger, green cod and my favorites—slinky linky and lingasaur. Early-day names included buffalo cod, bocalao, card and testoni. Called molva in Mexico.

Identification: Elongate shaped with a long dorsal fin, large pectoral fins, and a large mouth full of canine-like teeth. Their coloring is gray to brown to blue, darker above (although some fish are a bright green and some older fish are a fairly bright yellow). The young are usually blotched.

Size: To 105 pounds in British Columbia. Most lingcod caught off piers are small, generally less than five pounds in weight. The California record fish weighed 56 lb 0 oz. It was caught at Crescent City in 1992.  

Lingcod taken from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2009 by MBay

Range: From Point San Carlos, northern Baja California to the Shumagin Islands, southwestern Gulf of Alaska.

Lingcod taken from the Goleta Pier by Pierhead (Boyd Grant) in 2003

Habitat: South of Point Conception lingcod are typically a deep-water fish; north of Point Conception lingcod will be found from inter-tidal areas out to deep water. The bigger the ling the deeper they tend to live and they’ve been found all the way down to 1,400 feet. Small juvenile lingcod settle into sandy areas at about three inches in length and stay there until they are about 14-inches long. The fish then move out into rocky areas, progressively moving into deeper areas as they age. Many, but not all, migrate into shallower water to spawn during the late fall and winter months. Lings are bottom-dwellers classified as ambush predators whose cryptic (i.e. camouflage) coloration allows them to blend into the background. When prey comes close, they will dart out using the power of their pectoral fins and grab the unsuspecting victim with their large mouth and long, pointed teeth.  They are able to surprise and capture fairly mobile prey.

Lingcod taken by Rock Hopper at the Doran Jetty 

Piers: Most lingcod taken from piers are of one of two types: small juvenile fish just a few inches long or larger adults around keeper-size. In central and northern California, primarily from Avila to Morro Bay, Humboldt Bay and Crescent City Harbor, small juvenile lingcod will often move in around the piers (and sandy areas) during the summer and fall. In Central California, their appearance often will coincide with the arrival of schools of juvenile bocaccio. In Eureka and Crescent City, the young lingcod are often present the same time that juvenile rockfish, mainly small black rockfish, are using the piers as a nursery area. Sometimes the schools are mixed; at other times, it seems the lingcod swim just under the schools of rockfish. Most of these lingcod are small—under a foot—and they are illegal. At piers north of San Francisco, especially those located near rocks or reefs, anglers will see larger lingcod as one of the normal pier species. Most of these lingcod will be around two feet in length but larger fish are caught every year, especially in the fall and early winter. The best pier to catch lingcod is SoCal is probably the Goleta Pier. The best CenCal piers would include the Monterey Coast Guard Pier and the Santa Cruz Wharf. The top piers in NorCal are the Point Arena Pier, Trinidad Pier, and Citizens Dock in Crescent City.

A lingcod from the rocks

Shoreline: One of the main prizes for rocky shore anglers in central and northern California.

Lingcod caught from CenCal rocks by frozendog in 2014

Boats:  A prize for boaters from central California north; a few are taken in deeper waters in southern California. Traditionally, the greatest catch was made out of Monterey and Santa Cruz although substantial numbers were landed on boats from every port north of Morro Bay. In southern California some are taken from deeper waters of the Channel Islands and the Los Coronados Islands. All areas saw a decrease in the ‘90s but the species has been making a tremendous comeback in numbers during the past decade.

Lings caught from boats are generally larger than shore caught lings. This ling was caught by bigunindaboat in 2014.

Lingcod taken on a boat out of Monterey by Jackjack in 2014

Bait and Tackle: Anglers specifically fishing for lingcod need to remember to bring tackle heavy enough for the fish since lings over ten pounds in size are always a possibility. Almost any bait will work although a lively small fish makes the best bait. If live bait is unavailable, try a whole anchovy or a cut sardine or herring. Lings can also be taken on squid, octopus, shrimp, and even fresh mussels but moving bait is almost always better. Lingcod will also hit artificials, especially in the fall and winter months. Lures such as swimbaits and spoons seem to work best.

Lingcod taken from the Pacifica Pier in 1997

Food Value: Excellent, mild-flavored, flaky, and low-fat content meat. Lingcod meat can be prepared in almost any manner but I prefer to fillet it and fry it. Many people like to steak it and broil it, or cook it on a bar-b-cue, but the low fat content means it can dry out somewhat. Remember, low fat content means to add oil as in frying. High fat content means to remove the oil by methods such as broiling.  Sometimes the flesh will be green-blue after filleting; don’t worry, it will turn white after cooking.

Lingcod taken from the rocks by Salty Nick in 2014

Comments: Lingcod are truculent, pugnacious fighters, one of the meanest fish a pier angler will encounter. Remember to watch out for those large, large teeth.  Lings live to at least 20 years of age.


Lingcod taken from the Point Arena Pier by Dan and Renee in 2006

Lingcod taken by MBay from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2010

Lingcod taken from the Cayucos Pier in 2003

Lingcod taken from the Trinidad Pier in 2003

Lingcod taken by frozendog from CenCal rocks in 2014

A lingcod that I netted for a guy in Santa Cruz back in the ’70s. He had been seasick all day, got up to fish for ten minutes, hooked this lingcod, brought it up, and I netted it (since the deckhand was busy with another fish). He then proceeded to throw up and quit fishing once again.

A lingcod and a kelp greenling that I caught one day fishing off of Fort Bragg

Another lingcod I caught off Fort Bragg

A tasty double — a lingcod and a sole caught by csmeril at the Cayucos Pier in 2013.

Small, immature “baby” lingcod taken from the Santa Cruz Wharf in 2007

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