The nicest weather of spring so far was perfect conditions for cruising around the Islands and catching some fish & chips.
My roommate’s birthday coincides with opening weekend of the short lingcod season in Washington’s inland waters, and he just happens to have a family condo and boat up at Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands.
Naturally, we celebrate every year by putting the hurt on some of these aggressive bottomfish, and often a few spot shrimp as well.
This year was pretty standard: just barely make the ferry at Anacortes Friday afternoon, drink cheap beer and good whiskey all night, fish and shrimp all day. What wasn’t standard was the 80 degree weather. Or the fishing.
For lingcod, I use a mid-weight salmon rod, preferably with braided line on the reel for greater sensitivity and minimal stretch. Heavier halibut setups are great too, especially when fishing deep, but most of the lings in the Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juans are manageable, and more fun, on lighter gear.
Four feet of 25 to 35 pound test mono-filament leader works great, but some anglers prefer 40 pound test line or heavier with the razor sharp teeth on these fish.
Live sand dabs (small flounder) are the most effective lingcod bait. But if you’re moving a little slow in the morning like we were, frozen herring or leadhead jigs with white, purple, black or root beer colored plastic tails are easier alternatives.
The day started quietly, fishing the morning tide in 50 – 100 feet of water at a favorite spot near the southeast tip of John’s Island, and putting only one keeper fish in the box by noon.
After a quick stop back at port to refill the beer cooler and pick up a few extra crew members, and dogs, our luck changed dramatically. It must have been the dogs.
Fishing the afternoon tide-change at another zone not two miles from Roche, we started hammering fish-after-fish in 40 to 80 feet of water.
Whole horse herring (8″ – 10″ long, thawed and brined in saltwater) on a three-way dropper setup with an 8 oz weight was the hot ticket, but we landed keeper lings on 6 to 8 oz jigs as well.
The fish of the day was a 41.5″ leviathan that could have fit a man’s head in it’s bucket mouth. Too big to keep, but we were stoked just to encounter such a monster so close to civilization. Lingcod that big can be rare on the deep ocean reefs, and we were a 15 minute run from the harbor.
In a few hours, we had seven keepers for the deep fryer, including a nice 33-incher that followed my bait nearly to the surface and put up a serious fight trying to get back to the bottom after it bit. Rockfish retention is closed in the San Juans, but they’re still a fun bycatch and we encountered about a dozen.
Shrimping wasn’t quite so hot, but we caught enough spot prawns to have fried shrimp with our beer battered fish and chips that night.
Along with halibut season, the lingcod opener is the start of summer fishing on the saltwater in the Pacific Northwest. The days are long, the rivers are rising as snow melts in the high county, and the salmon are starting to turn towards home.
This weekend couldn’t have been a better way to kick things off; unbelievable weather, good friends, mostly-cold beer, and enough fillets in my freezer to avoid buying fish at the grocery store for a long time.
For more detailed information on lingcod fishing, check out this great article on How To Catch Lingcod from RipTideFish.com.