Kelp Greenling

Greenlings and Lingcods—Family Hexagrammidae

A kelp greenling caught at the small pier in Brookings Harbor, Oregon

Species: Hexagrammos decagrammus (Pallas, 1810); from two combinations of Greek words; hex (six) and gramma  (line), deca  (ten) and gramma (line, referring to the number of lateral lines on the side of the fish).

Alternate Names: Commonly called seatrout; also called greenling seatrout, rock trout, kelp trout, spotted rock trout, kelp cod, and boregat. The 19th century Portuguese fishermen of Monterey called these fish bodieron. They were also apparently prized by the Aleut Indians who called them idyajuk.

A kelp greenling from the Trinidad Pier

Identification: An elongated body with a conical head. Distinguished by the five lateral lines on each side of the fish and two pairs of cirri—one pair above each eye, the other on top of the head. The coloring is so different for males and females that initially they were described as two distinct species. The males are dark gray to brownish olive with bright blue spots on head and sides. Females are gray-brown, bright golden to reddish-brown spots on body and head, and yellowish-orange fins. The inside of the mouth in both sexes is yellow.

Size: To 21 inches although most caught from piers are less than 15 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 3 lb 4 oz and was taken near Carmel in 2014 (see below).

A kelp greenling caught by James Thomasson from the Point Arena Pier in 1987

Range: From La Jolla to Attu Island in the Amchitka Islands in the Aleutian chain, Alaska; rare south of Point Conception.

Habitat: Considered a nearshore, shallow-water species in much of its range but found in deeper, cooler water in southern California. Usually in rocky environment waters less than 150 feet deep and often in kelp beds. Adults are territorial and not known to migrate. Both juveniles and adults consume a wide variety of bethnic species, essentially whatever they can find to much upon. Favorites include crabs, shrimp, snails, chiton, abalones, octopi, fish eggs, algae, and fish.

A kelp greenling cught by Debbie at the Point Arena Pier in 1987

Piers: Although kelp greenling are common to rocky and kelp areas from central California north, few are taken on piers south of Santa Cruz (although I have taken specimens from the Avila Pier, South Morro Bay T-Pier, and Monterey Wharf #2). Best bets: San Francisco Municipal Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Point Arena Pier, Trinidad Pier, and Citizens Dock  (Crescent City).

A male kelp greenling caught at Citizens Dock in Crescent City in 2013

Shoreline: One of the main catches for rocky shore anglers in northern California. The south jetty at Eureka is considered the number one greenling hole in the state.

A small kelp greenling from the Avila Pier

Boats: Primarily an inshore fish although quite a few are taken by boaters fishing for shallow water rockfish in waters from Half Moon Bay north.

A kelp greenling taken by dsrtegl (Derek) at the Trinidad Pier in 2009

Bait and Tackle: A high/low leader using size 6 hooks, and a small piece of shrimp, fresh mussel, pile worm, or tube worm, is the ideal setup for these fish. Fish around rocks in the water, or under and around the pilings. Kelp greenling will usually tap the bait first then come back and take the bait with a second bite; be patient and be prepared to reel in the fish on the second hit.

A male kelp greenling caught at the Capitola Wharf in 2012 (Picture courtesy of Capitola Bait and Boat)

Food Value: Greenling are a mild-flavored fish suitable for most forms of cooking but they are especially suitable for pan frying. Most pier caught fish are fairly small so the fillets may not offer much meat.

A kelp greenling caught at the Trinidad Pier in 2008 

Comments: Roughly half of all kelp greenling are mature by age five when they are about 9.5 inches long; they live to about 12 years of age. The top pier spots in the state to catch kelp greenling are the Point Arena Pier, Trinidad Pier and Citizen’s Dock in Crescent City. At Point Arena, cast out to the reefs that run parallel to the pier and be prepared to lose a lot of tackle; at Trinidad, fish around the various rocks that abound in the inshore portion of the pier; at the Citizen’s Dock, fish the inshore rocks by the shoreline.

dsrtegl (Derek) with a small greenling at the Trinidad Pier in 2014

Male kelp greenling from the Trinidad Pier in 2015

A lingcod and a kelp greenling  that I caught one day from a boat off Fort Bragg. Both belong to the same family, Hexagrammidae, and small kelp greenling are a favorite food of lingcod.  

A brightly colored greenling caught off Alaska by calaznfisher in 2014


CDFW Marine Management News 

Snapshot: New State Angling Record — October 29, 2014

A new state angling record was set on September 17, 2014 when Matthew Franco (left) reeled in a 3 lb. 4 oz. kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus) while fishing near Carmel in central California. This fish beats the previous state angling record by 1 oz. Congratulations Matthew!

In the state angling record category, current open species include Humboldt squid (min. weight 40 lb.), rainbow surfperch (min. weight 1 lb.), and walleye surfperch (min. weight 1 lb.). For more information about state recreational fishing and diving records, see the CDFW Record Ocean Sport Fish webpage.

The CDFW saltwater angling and diving records program recognizes exceptional saltwater finfish and shellfish taken in California by sport anglers and divers. The program has given CDFW biologists the opportunity to examine record-sized catches for decades.

Post by Mary Patyten, CDFW Research Writer ♦ CDFW file photo

2 thoughts on “Snapshot: New State Angling Record”

Luis Perez — August 20, 2015 at 7:13 pm
What was the length? Thanks.

marinenews — August 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm
The record holder provided a total length measurement of 17¾ inches. Total length is the straight-line distance from the tip of the head to the end of the longest lobe of the tail fin.

From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife —

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