It’s big ling time

If you tar­get big ling on bal­anced tackle, you’ll be sur­prised at just how well they can fight

Sea Angler (UK) - - BOAT ANGLER - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by DAVE BARHAM

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.


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.


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

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