While most anglers living in Oregon turn their attention to the state’s world class steelhead rivers during the winter, those living near the coast constantly keep an eye on the marine forecast. If the ocean lays down in January, February and March, they seize the opportunity to head offshore to get a quick limit of tasty lingcod.
Unlike most Pacific Coast states, lingcod fishing is open year round in Oregon. And the winter months – as long as the weather cooperates – produce some of the best fishing of the year.
Lingcod move into shallow water during the winter months to spawn. Females find rocky crevices in 20 to 60 feet of water to lay their eggs. Smaller male lingcod guard the nests, aggressively attacking anything that comes near them. These smaller males, ranging from 22 to 30 inches, are the main target of winter lingcod anglers.
Each nest typically has half a dozen or more smaller lings guarding it. There are plenty of fish to fuel the fishery, and enough to continue to guard each next if a few are caught.
Perhaps the most effective bait for lingcod is a larger jig – usually a 4- to 8-ounce leadhead with an oversized plastic grub or twin tail – tipped with the rib bones and meat from a rockfish. Most anglers discard the rib meat when they fillet rockfish because of the large, sharp rib bones. I save them, marinating them in Pautzke’s Nectar, and tip my lingcod jigs with them. Lingcod can’t resist a rockfish belly-tipped jig dangled in front of them.The Pautzke Nectar adds a potent scent lingcod won’t pass up, while also giving the baits a brighter color that lingcod seem to perfer. Red and green are both hot colors.
Lingcod will be in shallow water during the winter. Look for rocky bottoms, with lots of vertical structure. Most of my favorite waypoints are areas with drastic depth changes, where the bottom goes from 100 feet to 80 feet to 50 feet in short distance and then suddenly drops off again.
The best part of winter fishing is the lings are in close – you can often find them within a short run from the jetties.
Lingcod season is open year round. The limit is two per day, with a 22-inch minimum length.