Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Life of Lings

Two weeks ago, I caught a 12-pound, hatchery, white chinook 500 yards west of Trial Island on the ebb at 115 feet in 130 feet of water (perhaps a three-year old Harrison, or Nooksack/Samish fish, as we don’t mark many). This is just west of the rock close to Trial. Surprisingly, it took a Purple Haze hootchy with a gold Mylar skirt. Typically, here, if we use a skirt at all, it would be silver; however, gold is the Nootka Sound standard and the hootchy I picked was so rigged.

Also surprising: I was towing anchovy on a wire-rigged, glow-pearl, 602 bait head behind a glow green Farr-better flasher which is my standard winter rig and the one I expected to take the salmon. It received a chomp or two, but that’s all. It was the hootchy caught the salmon, and three ling cod and one black bass. It occurred to me the ‘bait’ on my depthsounder was a bass school, something I have not witnessed for many years in these waters.

Lingcod have an interesting life cycle. Females lay eggs from December to May in shallow water, even intertidal, in a mass up to 30 pounds – beyond 36” all lings are female, and should be released. The male guards the eggs and fans them. After they hatch and nurse for a few months, they migrate out of shallow water by July. In a year, ling are 10.5 inches; by two about 18.5. Males become sexually active in another year, but females require several more, producing 100,000 eggs, and as they grow up to 500,000. Note the ling limit is 65 cm (25.5”) – when they are open for retention. Check regs before fishing.

The three ling I took the first day were 14 inches, just shy of two years. The next week, using the same gear, I had difficulty getting around Trial as although the tide was ebbing, the current was still flooding. When I finally got west of Trial, the back eddy was not yet set up properly. But in that spot, and back on the Flats, every bump yielded a ling, five in all (14- to 16-inches), and also two rock fish. The latter were sad, swim bladders protruding from their mouths and simply bait for seagull or eagle. But that was 8 two-year ling, indicating they migrate to deeper water after this period.

About 10 years ago, I and others from the Sport Fish Advisory Board sat down and drew up the Rockfish Conservation Areas from Sooke to Saanich Inlet. I laid out Trial Island as I have often fly fished for them just off the kelp in the rocks, and caught and released many. Coming forward to today, I’d say these protected areas must be working, given all the unintentionally intercepted ling and rock cod.

A friend, Lance Foreman, told me he was in a school of fish leaving the surface, off the Ogden Point Breakwater, and wondered what they were. I am guessing they were not herring going up the Gorge, as he would have identified them. The alternative, and I have seen schools of several hundred while walking the breakwater, is black bass. Another clue that, although these are mid-water fish, they are often found near kelp and rocks, so the RCAs must be working. I’d like to hear from other anglers whether they have noticed the same increased numbers of such species in the greater Victoria Area.

One final note: Lance is a Clover Point angler, the guys who have car-toppers in the shed there. He took a 35 pound halibut off the Quarantine Buoy in more than 300 feet of water last week. There were some superb tide days for halibut. After catching nothing near Trial, he putted on out, putting down a spreader bar (short arm takes the weight) with herring and some salmon for a tougher bait.

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