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Picking up hitchhiking lingcod

It’s a rare opportunity to get a photo of a lingcod hitchhiking on its favorite meal - a kelp greenling, also known as a sea trout.

If you want to make a gazillion dollars in the fishing industry, all you have to do is one thing — make a swimbait that looks just like a female kelp greenling. In all the years I’ve been fishing, I have yet to see a swimbait that looks like a female kelp greenling — maybe you’ll be the one to do it!

Today’s photo shows what a female lingcod looks like inside of a lingcod’s mouth. It has a light olive-gray body with brightly-colored yellow or orange fins. Yellow — or orange —tinged round spots are evenly spaced throughout its body.

The males on the other hand have a light-to-dark brown body with unevenly-shaped blue spots that resemble worm-like vermiculations. These unique markings are irregularly interspersed throughout their body. Make no mistake — the males will still catch their fair share of lingcod, but it’s the females that garner the most strikes.

Lingcod, like people, have their own eating preferences. They will swim over 100 perfect-looking live herring just to get one whiff of an old dilapidated greenling. This kind of ling behavior has led many anglers to fish either near the kelp beds or around rock piles that are known to harbor starfish, shellfish and mollusks. In these places, kelp greenling abound.

It’s a common practice for anglers to catch a kelp greenling and immediately take it to deeper water to use as live bait for lingcod. Since greenling have small mouths, it helps to use small hooks in size 4 and 6, especially if you’re using bait like small pieces of shrimp, although I’ve caught plenty of greenling while jigging 2-ounce jig heads-and-plastic tails or by jigging leadfish.

There are many ways of rigging up a greenling for live bait, but most anglers use lead jigs ranging between 4 and 10 ounces.

To rig up, push the jig hook from the center of the bottom of its jaw up through its upper jaw and right through the front of its head — the hardest part of the greenling’s body. But be careful not to pierce the hook near its eyes or you will also hit its brain and render the fish lifeless. It will still be useful, but it’s always better to have a feisty greenling to attract a lingosaur’s attention. Send the greenling to the bottom, reel it up about five cranks, put your rod in a rod holder and wait for a take-down.

Most of the lings that are caught this way are called hitchhikers because they are not actually hooked by the jig’s hook, but are holding onto the greenling by their teeth. The trick is to reel the ling in at an agonizingly-slow pace. In doing so, the ling will actually think that it is following the fish up to the surface.

In fact, a lingcod cannot let go of the fish even if it wanted to, due to the fact that it possesses long and sharp, inwardly-curved teeth. As long as an angler maintains a tight line, the continuing pressure of reeling in the greenling keeps the lingcod hooked onto its prey.

Be ready with a gaff or a net when the ling comes to the surface because any sudden thrashing can allow the line to suddenly become slack, at which time the ling will then be able to open its mouth, let go of the greenling and then head straight back to the bottom.

If this happens however — no worries! The same ling can often be caught again. So here’s a trick that a lot of fishin’ folk don’t know about. If a lingcod should suddenly let go of your sea trout, immediately kick your reel into free-spool and lower the fish back to the bottom. But perform this maneuver slowly to give the fish the appearance that it is lazily swimming back to the bottom as well. Nine times out of 10, the same lingcod will be waiting and ready to pounce on the same sea trout, and they will usually be within 10 feet from the surface.

The weather report as of Thursday was looking very favorable for fishing in the ocean this weekend or into the first part of the week. So if you’ve never caught a lingcod (minimum size 22 inches) on a live greenling (minimum size 10 inches), consider treating yourself to a thrill that cannot be topped. Just remember that if you catch a greenling, it is considered part of your seven-fish daily groundfish limit.

Tight lines! 

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