It’s big ling time
If you target big ling on balanced tackle, you’ll be surprised at just how well they can fight
Caught using the same tactics and methods as cod, when it comes to the fight there is no question that a ling fights hardest. Where cod will lunge and give deep heavy runs, the ling will run and take line like the best of fish using the length of its body in fury to shake for freedom, which can be detected in the rod tip by the distinct rattling movements.
Being a member of the same order of fish as cod, the ling has a similar colouration and a chin barbule, along with sensory glands on the head and a long lateral line to sniff out or sense anything that could be a potential meal.
Offering the same edible qualities as cod, the only thing that really differs between the two species is their body-shape – the cod being a shorter, plumper, round fish, while the ling is elongated and eel-like.
WHERE AND WHEN
Ling can be found the length and breadth of the British Isles and can be caught both at anchor and while on the drift. Deep water usually produces better fishing, but they can be caught in shallow areas too. I have caught quite a few while targeting inshore cod off Whitby in just 40 feet of water. They love underwater obstructions and will often be caught around wrecks or nearby reefs and rough ground.
The UK’s two most prolific ling fisheries are the English Channel from south coast ports, and the North Sea from east coast ports. In recent years there have been some mammoth ling caught from the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, where they can regularly top 50lb.
Sport is superb during the summer when the fish are abundant, but bigger specimens often get caught after Christmas, during the winter when they feed up ready to spawn.
When ling fishing it’s important to only catch what you need for the table. They are frequently caught at depth, which means that their swim bladder will often blow upon retrieval to the surface.
Ling are one of the UK heavyweight fish and deserve appropriate tackle. Many anglers in the past used a 30lb to 50lb-class rod because this would guarantee fewer lost fish and was of suitable stiffness to jig a pirk. In today’s age of super-strength light-tackle, and with smaller more realistic lures to represent every baitfish, heavy gear is unnecessary.
A 20lb or 30lb-class outfit will be fine to carry up to 1lb of lead weight without ruining your sport. The key to rod choice is governed by
depth, run of tide and the fishing conditions.
When fishing for larger species that hug the bottom close to obstructions like wrecks and reefs, it pays to use a reel that will move them off and away from the bottom at a decent pace.
A 7000-sized multiplier with a high gear ratio is about the smallest suitable reel. Always remember to match your reel to your rod. Braid will offer better bite detection than mono, and give you a few extra seconds to react and drag a big ling away from any potential hazards on the seabed. I prefer to use 30lb braid for most of my UK wreck, reef and rough ground fishing.
BAIT, RIGS AND LURES
Ling feed on mainly small, slow-moving bottom fish such as pouting, poor cod, wrasse and whiting. At certain times of the year, crabs and squid will also feature in their diet.
You can tell they are aggressive hunters from their armoury – they have large eyes for vision at depth, an elongated body with full-length second dorsal, anal fins for fast propulsion across the bottom, and a serious set of teeth that are quite ragged in appearance and covered in an anticoagulant.
Most fish baits will catch ling. However, silversided fish such as mackerel, Bluey and herring have that added sight attractant. It’s hard to beat a fillet of mackerel hooked in the tail to wave enticingly on the drift, or a head and guts bait hooked up through the top of the head.
You can also catch good numbers of ling on squid baits. I like to use two or three squid on a Pennell rig when targeting ling inshore.
A simple running leger rig is all you really need for ling, tied with a size 6/0 hook and 4ft of 100lb mono. You can fish this downtide at anchor, or by dragging the bait along the seabed while the boat drifts.
I attach my lead weight to a small boom via a weak link of, say, 15lb mono. Quite often when you’re fishing over a wreck or reef, it’s the lead weight that will become snagged – not the fish. So, if the sinker can be snapped off easily when you hook into a big ling, you stand far more chance of getting that fish to the boat. One or two brightly-coloured muppets fixed just above the hook really help to get the attention of ling.
For lures, pick ones designed to work close to the bottom, like jigs, leaded shads and other soft plastics. Ling are often a by-catch when fishing wrecks for cod and pollack, but you can specifically target them by adding a small sliver of bait to your lure. Ling are very well adapted to sniffing out the scent of a meal.
One of the most successful ling rigs in years gone by, especially for competition anglers, was a baited pirk bounced on or just off the seabed. This tactic accounted for more ling than any other, especially off the coast of Ireland.
Big ling usually get caught as a by-catch when targeting conger eels
Watch out for those teeth
A ling caught inshore off Whitby on a multiple squid bait meant for cod
An uptide rod is more than adequate for most ling fishing, unless you’re trying for a monster
Mackerel head and guts is a great bait