Painted Greenling

Greenlings and Lingcods—Family Hexagrammidae  

Painted greenling from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2015

Species: Oxylebius pictus (Gill, 1862); from the Greek words oxys (sharp) and lepys (kettle—fish) and the Latin word pictus (picture).

Alternate Names: Convict fish.

Identification:  Easily identified by 5-7 dark red or brownish red bars and mottling over a grayish-brown body; bars extend onto the fins. Body can be darker colored and sometimes white-spotted depending upon habitat. Three dark bands radiate from the eye with two red cirri (flaps) on head, one above the eye and the second midway from eye to dorsal fin. Dark spots are found on the caudal, pectoral, and pelvic fins. Elongate pointed head and snout.

Painted Greenling from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2010

Size: To 10 inches although most seen from piers are 6-8 inches long.

Range: Bahia San Carlos, central Baja California to Kachemak Bay and Prince William Sound, northern Gulf of Alaska. Rare south of La Jolla and north of Washington.

Habitat: Typically found in shallow-water rocky areas. Recorded from intertidal pools to a depth of 738 feet. In southern California they’re more common from 50-100 feet in depth. Their typical diet includes small crabs, shrimp and amphipods. They tend to sleep at night and shelter in holes during the rough weather, winter months.

Painted greenling from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2013

Piers: Although a common species, painted greenling are uncommonly caught. Why? Probably due to their size and small, forward-pointing mouths. Best bets: Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Santa Cruz Pier, Trinidad Pier and Citizens Dock (Crescent City).

Shoreline: An infrequent catch for rocky shore anglers in southern and central California.

Boats: An inshore species rarely seen on boats.

Painted greenling from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier in 2014

Bait and Tackle: Most are caught accidentally by people using light line and small, size 8-6 hooks. Instead of large bait, pile worms, strips of fresh mussels, and strips of squid work best.

Food Value: Too pretty and too small to keep. Let ‘em go! 

Comments: An exasperating fish that will often hang vertically on the face of steep rocks while checking out the scene—especially if the scene includes food, i.e., bait. Eventually, if they like what they see, they may begin to cautiously peck at the bait and continue to do so over an extended period of time without getting hooked. Perhaps a close second to senorita in bait stealing ability.

Painted greenling from Goleta Pier

This is another of those small fish with seemingly a Napoleonic-complex. They’re fairly aggressive and not only will they attack fish bigger than themselves but males guarding eggs have even been known to attack skindivers. It wasn’t much of a fight though, 8-inch fish versus 70-inch human. These are very interesting fish for the aquarium.

I have caught painted greenling on every trip I have made to the Monterey Coast Guard Pier but that doesn’t mean they are easy to catch. I’ve typically taken them on fairly small hooks using pile worms for bait.

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