Ling cod (Ophiodon elongatus) are one of the primary targets in Northern California for line anglers and spear fishermen alike. They are one of the biggest fish in Northern California and have great eating qualities. They are described as being dragon like with large predatory teeth. They are easily accessible from the shore making them a fantastic fish to hunt for beginners and experienced spearos alike. Any hole or crevice along any rocky point, or reef could hold a Ling cod.
The state record for Ling cod is 37lbs taken in Mendocino by Dan Siviera in 2012. However the angling record is 56lbs taken by a lure in Del Norte in 1992.
Ling cod Behaviour
Ling Cod can be found on top of reef structure but generally they are well hidden in rock crevices and caves. Ling Cod prefer smaller tighter caves where they can be snug and avoid predators like seals. This also affords them protection for their eggs. It is always worth looking around these schools for crevices and caves. Some spearo’s say you can see bite marks on the blue rock fish which gives you a good indication that that Ling Cod are in the vicinity.
“If you find a school of blue rock fish hanging out like that, it’s really worth spending some time looking around the cracks and the holes underneath that school because often that’s where they’ll be (LING COD). They’ll want to find a nice crack where they can hide but also have access to a food source so if you find that school of blues don’t just shoot a few blues and move on but spend your time there once you find that school of their food source.”
Jim Russell – Noob Spearo Podcast episode 62
How to spearfish for Ling Cod
As mentioned in behaviour the Ling Cod’s preferred habitat is in rock crevasses and caves and therefore that’s where you need to focus your efforts. This method of spearfishing is called “hole hunting” and is used by Californian Spear fisherman all along the coast.
Hole hunting is literally a matter of poking your head and torch in the hole to see if there are any Ling Cod in the hole. Though Ling Cod can be found in crevasses that face in any direction it is the ones that face away from the prominent swell direction that are more productive. These are generally shore facing. According to Jim Russell a good hole will continue to produce fish year after year and in some instances he has even found fish that have moved in on the same day so it is always worth another look.
“When coming back up from checking out a hole, don’t forget to scan the top of the boulder or pinnacle Lings and Cabs will often perch right on top and hide there in plain sight waiting for a meal”
Once spotted Ling Cod can be a rather forgiving species and generally won’t become frantic and make a break for it straight away. It’s therefore important to line your shot up well and make a good clean headshot, particularly if you will be pulling the fish from a tight hole. It is important to remember that overpowering your gun can lead to bent spear shafts and lost spears.
Once shot the Ling Cod like most other fish can be difficult to remove from the hole or crack. Jim Russell urges people to be patient. If the fish won’t budge from it’s hole its better to run your reel line out or swim up your float line, breath up and go back down. This will save you from tearing the fish off the spear or bending your spear shaft.
Ling Cod like many other fish can be inquisitive and as curiosity killed the cat, it too can kill the Ling. Ling Cod can sometimes be seen following a diver from a distance. Once a diver turns on them they will often stop and rely on their camouflage for protection making for an easy target. Other spearos will make noise by jingling their stringer or bang their gun on a rock to help entice a Ling cod out of hiding. Backtracking can also yield results when curious Ling are following a diver.
Ling can be found in very shallow water right through to deep water.
Locating productive reef for Ling Cod
Sometimes the most difficult part of spearfishing is identifying and locating productive ground. On the East Coast renown Striped Sea Bass spear fisherman David Hochman runs a spearfishing charter targeting the schools of striped Sea Bass around Block Island (Read more)(Listen here). He can’t afford not to find the schools of fish for his clients and as such has accrued a GPS waypoint library of over 400 marks in his area. David also records what marks held fish and the time of year.
Jim Russell on the West Coast in Northern California uses a similar approach but he does so without the use of a boat. Before setting out Jim studies the coastline using topographic maps that have been compiled over several decades by the California Coastal Records Project (link here). Every square inch of the coast has been photographed and is great resource for finding new ground.
Then there’s the Navionics app available for download. This handy app shows all of the bottom contours and is a great way of finding pinnacles and drop offs. The app also allows users to mark their spots essentially turning your phone into a marine GPS. Albeit one very sensitive to water.
Thirdly Jim uses satellite images on google maps to find areas where he can easily access the ocean. He looks for tracks that access the water when planning trips along the coast.
When Jim is in the water and finds a productive hole he will surface and mark it with either a hand held GPS or has his phone in a dry bag and uses the Navionics app. On returning to a spot Jim uses a drop weight to mark the spot, then paddles away and clips off to some kelp before swimming back to the spot and diving on it. A drop weight can be a dive weight, float line and float. Using his catalogue of spots Jim can move from one spot to the next and cover more ground productively.
Nor Cal Diving Conditions
Northern California has some unique conditions. Northern California is known for it’s thick kelp stands that, during the summer months grows rapidly. The kelp can become thick making it difficult to dive through and can block out the sunlight making the bottom quite dark. The kelp later rots and the rotting matter becomes suspended in the water column turning the water a tinge of green and reducing the visibility to a mere couple of feet. On the up side summer has calmer ocean conditions.
Thick kelp during summer can make diving difficult.
During September through to December the winter storms create larger swell. The increased swell dislodges the kelp and flushes the dirty water with cleaner offshore water. This increases the visibility which can increase to 40 feet making the diving better. In winter it is a matter of watching the weather and picking your dive days between the storms.
As with every part of the world the fish being hunted and the conditions they’re hunted in dictate the spearfishing gear that’s used. Northern California and Ling Cod have a couple of specifics that influence gear choice. The first is the close quarters that hole hunting requires. Therefore the guns are short in length generally 65cm -75cm. The often poor visibility also requires a short manoeuvrable gun.
Water temperatures in Northern California are cold and good quality 7mm wetsuit is required.
Rules and regulations
California has one of the most highly regulated fisheries in the world so it’s important to know the rules and regulations. Due to the rules and regulations changing frequently and the complexity of the fishery I won’t leave the rules in this blog but leave links to the relevant governing bodies. By all means do your due diligence and study the current rules and keep updated.
I hope this helps you with spearfishing Ling Cod in Northern California. I would like to say a big thanks to Jim Russell for coming on the show and giving his insights on spearfishing Ling Cod in Northern California. You can listen to Jim’s full episode here
Here’s a quick run down on spearfishing Green Jobfish. These are a few of the Tips that Tim McDonald shared with us recently in episode 70 of the Noob Spearo Podcast. When speaking with Tim it’s clear how much time and effort he has put into deciphering these fish.
Tim targets Green Jobfish in Southeast Queensland, probably the southern most extent of the species range on the East Coast of Australia. He says they exhibit some different and peculiar traits to their Northern counterparts.
“I’ve never seen Jobfish eat burley here, which is weird because if you go to the Coral Sea and drop a bit of burley over the side you’ve got fifteen Jobfish eating it”
Due to this difference in behaviour Tim says the hunting is very different. In the North he says chumming is very effective for attracting Jobfish to the area. In South East QLD however Tim says it’s a different story.
“For ours it’s all about hiding and lying on the bottom”
Further South into New South Wales and Tim says it gets even more challenging to hunt Green Jobfish.
“It’s all about lying on the bottom in the right spot and you need to be there for a long time. It’s hiding, it’s making sure when that Jobfish comes in it’s not lifting your gun up, it’s not lifting your head up and looking like you want to shoot it in the face.”
“That’s the biggest challenge with Jobfish, Wanting a fish so bad, but making sure your body language doesn’t portray that you do. That’s most guys’ biggest challenge. They want to shoot it so bad and they can’t hide that. They start waving their gun around, they don’t get their gun in the right position early enough, they don’t keep their eyes down for those brief moments.”
We asked Tim what techniques he uses to attract the Jobfish’s curiosity once he’s on the bottom.
“Scratching a bit of coral, throwing up a bit of sand all those things work. But again I probably put too much thought into it. I wear gloves that I think make the right noise”
Through trial and error, and a little desperation Tim even swapped out gloves of different material to see what worked better and he believes there is a marked difference. It’s almost like a fisho swapping out a lure for a different action when it’s not working. It’s probably not something most of us would think of doing but that’s the level of thought Tim puts into his hunting.
“But also sometimes just hugging your body to the bottom, which is not easy to do when you’re busting to breath”
Tim believes that the Green Jobfish is very susceptible to noise both positively and negatively. He says the right noise will attract them and the wrong noise like bumping your gun on the bottom will spook them.
When we asked if he ever makes noises with his throat and mouth he replied.
“If you ever want to shoot a Green Jobfish, that’s the best way to spook them away”
I think the big takeaway here is Tim’s willingness to observe and make small changes until he finds something that works. He hasn’t become as effective as he is by doing the same thing every time he goes out diving.
If you’d like to hear more of our conversation with Tim go here. We chat about his approach to hunting and how he applies it to three big species, Barramundi, Pearl Perch and Green Jobfish.
Pearl Perch are a fisho’s delight. They’re easy to catch and they taste great. For most spearo’s they’re a little out of reach and generally considered a deep water fish. Tim McDonald and co have made Spearfishing Pearl Perch their own. During our interview with Tim he told us how the rest of us can improve our chances of shooting one of these fish.
1. Find the school first
Like a good fisherman Tim will look for a school of Pearl Perch with the Sounder first before getting in. Tim stresses that finding the fish first is the best way to go.
“we find them on the sounder before we even jump in the water”
2. Small Ground
Tim says that big structure isn’t needed to hold a school of Pearl Perch but rather small bommies or rubble patches. Something he calls small country.
“ honestly if you want to find big ones you need find somewhere not a lot of people are fishing”
To find big Pearlies Tim recommends finding out of the way spots that may not be on everyone’s radar and keeping those spots quiet. With Tim’s spots that hold Pearlies he only takes a couple every now and then so as not to deplete his schools. He refers to this method as farming and it ensures he can continue to harvest a feed of these great tasting fish.
“Pearl Perch would be the easiest fish in the ocean to approach”
4. The forgiving fish
Behaviourally Tim says that Pearlies are a little too dumb for their own good and if you aren’t hammering the school they won’t become overly flighty and scatter. A trait that may be responsible for them only being encountered at depths.
“They’re easy to catch on a line they just eat everything”
5. Get away from the crowds
Tim says that most of the Pearlies he shoots are in deeper water. He says the further into QLD you go the deeper the Pearlies are. If you are looking to shoot Pearlies in shallow water he recommends going into NSW and finding an isolated area. Tim says his best fish came from Coffs Harbour in an out of the way spot in relatively shallow water.
I can’t see myself shooting a Pearl Perch anytime soon but maybe Tim’s advice can help you to find your first Pearlie. The video above is a Perlie being shot. It’s no surprise there isn’t a lot of footage of these fish being targeted. If you’d like to listen to more from Tim Including Job Fish and Barramundi use the media player below.
“if you’re a QLD diver and you want to shoot a Barramundi, head north in winter and that’s your best chance to shoot a barra in water that’s clean enough to dive”
Spearfishing Barramundi can be a challenging prospect. These fish inhabit tropical and subtropical estuaries. The problem with that is inshore waters in the northern parts of Australia typically have poor visibility and also house saltwater crocodiles. Typically the visibility of inshore water along the QLD coast improves during winter giving spearos a window of opportunity to spear a prized Barramundi.
“a metre long Barramundi will die from a 5 degree temperature shift in a couple of hours”
According to Tim McDonald big Barramundi can’t survive temperature changes. During winter the temperature in the top of creeks where they normally inhabit can drop overnight which can be deadly for Barramundi. The Barramundi therefore make their way to the mouth of rivers or inshore reefs where the temperature is more stable. Fortunately for the spearo the water clarity can be much improved.
During the record 2011 floods in Qld many of the Barramundi stocked impoundments on the east coast became full to capacity and spilled over their spillways. Along with the water went thousands of fat impoundment barramundi. These fish made their way into estuaries along the coast where they became fair game for spearos. Many dams hadn’t spilled over for a decade and were plentiful with lazy freshwater Barramundi normally inaccessible to spearos.
During this period Tim shot one of these impoundment Barramundi 118cm long, just 2cm under the legal maximum length. The fish weighed 21.5kg . He says a true saltwater Barramundi would have only weighed between 18-20kg.
“2011 to 2013 was probably the best hunting for big barra in our lifetime. It will probably never happen again in our lifetime. Those dams will never spill like that again after ten years of drought”
When we asked Tim how to approach Barramundi on an inshore headland he said that Barra will be very flighty and difficult to approach due the fact that they have likely seen plenty of spearos during the winter. In isolated areas Tim says they are often much calmer to the point where they can be shot from the surface.
“In those areas where they’ve been chased around and probably seen a hundred spears fly at them over the course of the winter, definitely approach them from the bottom”
It takes trial and error to find where around a headland or inshore reef the Barramundi are going to be. Tim says guys then need to learn where they’re going to be. He recommends starting with places where the Barra can hide as they love to hide.
Once you’ve worked out where the Barra may be holding up Tim recommends approaching from the bottom as quietly and stealthily as possible. Swimming up to a spot on the surface will mostly always spook the fish and you won’t see them again.
“If you have four or five metres of visibility hunting Barramundi you’ve done really well. Predominately our Barramundi hunting is in 1-2m of vis”
“Having the mental strength to hunt really dirty water is something that is key to making a really good spearfisherman. Most guys get distracted. You could be swimming around for two hours and not see a Barra and then bang he’s right in your face when you haven’t got your finger on the trigger and you’re not ready and you just blew your moment.
Tim uses custom gear when hunting Barra. The combination of large fish, in dirty water requires a short powerful gun. The Barramundi is also renowned for its large thick scales that can be very difficult to penetrate.
Tim uses a custom 70cm Roller, 18mm bands and heavy 8mm shaft that is extremely sharp to penetrate tough Barra. This little Daniel Mann creation above is a prime example. More on Daniel Mann and his guns here
It’s clear that Tim uses predictable life cycle and weather patterns to give himself the greatest possible chance at shooting a Barramundi. It’s clearly not a year round endeavour but a seasonal challenge that takes a little planning around the weather and ocean conditions. The dirty water and poor visibility are another challenge for the spearo’s nerve and patience.
A big thanks to Tim McDonald for chatting with us and sharing his knowledge. Also a big thanks to whoever took the pics in this story. I pulled them from Tim’s facebook account and I’d love to credit you. I know a few have to be Daniel Mann’s , Thanks Mann it must have been an awseome couple of winters for you guys!
David Hochman is a veteran Striped Sea Bass hunter and hold’s both the Striped Sea Bass world record at 68.5lb and the pole spear world record at 54lb. He’s been spearfishing the area for 40 years and now takes great joy in running his spearfishing charter business Spear-it Charters (learn more) where he hunts the grounds around Block Island. He is considered the Oracle of hunting striped sea bass and after reading this you’ll understand why. He shares with us some of his most important advice for hunting these incredible fish.
Striped Sea Bass Terrain
David is located in mainland Rhode Island but hunts the waters around Block Island, particularly the Southern sea exposed side of the island. The Island is about 13miles from mainland Rhode Island and according to David has ideal conditions for Striped Sea Bass.
“it’s all heavy rock structure I mean some of our boulders are twenty five feet by twenty five feet they’re enormous”
David says the high current and heavy reef structure are what makes Block Island so perfect for holding large schools of quality Striped Sea Bass.
After years of spearfishing the waters around Block Island David has accrued around 450 GPS waypoints that he has encountered Striped Sea Bass at. All of which he insists has good structure.
“I have about four hundred and fifty waypoints and it’s interesting on every waypoint it’s a rock mass somewhere. I’ll run from waypoint to waypoint to waypoint. In between those waypoints there’s nothing there’s a lot of water and when you get on top of the right one (waypoint) boom there they are and they always go back to the same places”
When David recalls his 68.5lb world record sea bass he refers to the “perfect set up”. An area where he can put a rock or boulder in his off shoulder, look past down current of another boulder into a flat area where the striped sea bass will congregate. The behaviour is a little different to the pelagic fish like mackerel and wahoo of tropical reefs that prefer to patrol the front edge of the reef (current edge) looking for bait.
Hunting Striped Sea bass
“Yeah it’s a fascinating bottom and you know the more structure you have the better”
David emphasises the importance of finding the schools of Striped Sea Bass that can form extremely large schools. We asked David what advice he gives the guys on his charters when hunting Stripped sea bass.
“You know dive down take their time with slow easy kicks. Stop kicking when you’re fifteen to twenty feet from the bottom and just coast into it (the school). Let the fish scatter, lay down, get that rock on your off arm, get your chin down against the ground, get your fins tucked in tight and then just look over your gun. Don’t move around, one of the things with our striped sea bass is that when you move at all when you’re in the school one fish bounces then the whole school bounces and then it takes another twenty seconds for the school to resettle so you really don’t want to do that you really just want to look straight over your gun and wait for a good fish to cross the gun and pull the trigger it’s as simple as that.”
David’s advice emphasises the need to remain calm and patient but says the school will return if you remain still and patient.
David says the fish are for the most part found in thirty eight to forty five feet of water likely due to presence of bait at those depths. He says however it’s not unusual to find them in the shallows particularly in July.
“In July we’ll get them up in the shallows and it’s really something, I mean they slide right up into twelve to eighteen feet of water. And you’ve got these big schools of beautiful fish it’s pretty neat”
“Alot of guys want to face up current and you’re better off usually facing down current so you can move your gun a little better.”
There are times when I’ve dropped on a school of fish and even to this day after the thousands of times I’ve done it I still get so excited and times I lose track of my heart rate. What I’ll do is I’ll look down at the sand and I’ll take my eyes off the fish entirely and look down at the sand for about ten seconds, drop my heart rate down bring my head back up and start hunting again and they never leave.
The striped Sea Bass Season
David says the season for Striped Sea Bass generally runs from June 15th until late October when they will run up the Hudson River and winter.
“Probably the best time for our really big bass, most of my sixty’s and fifty’s (lbs) have come from June twenty fifth until July tenth right in that window you know. But he says there’s still a great chance of landing a big Striped Sea Bass outside of this time frame.
According to David the fishery is improving due to catch limits being reduced to one fish per day from 2 fish per day. David believes this could be why he is having his most successful year on Spear It charters.
“One of the most difficult things I’ve always had with these fish is that if you connect your mono to the back of your shaft it tears off within five or six fish and you break the shaft off. What I ended up doing was taking a short piece of Dyneema, like a 1.9mm. Putting it through the back of the shaft and then just tying an over hand not in that and then attaching my mono to that loop. I can now with that run the entire season of taking big fish.”
“I do not like stiff fins, a proper kick is more important”
David exclusively uses reel guns over rig lines due to the high current and the frequency of drifts that they do in a day’s diving.
Because of the high current because you’re getting in and out of the boat I prefer reels if they’re set up properly as long as you make sure every dive you don’t have any tangles in the real
David teaches all new divers to palm the real and maintain pressure on the fish as it runs. This is to prevent backlash and he also believes helps to stop the spear from coming out as it maintains pressure on the flopper.
I hope you were able to learn something from David’s advice. He is a wealth of knowledge on Striped Sea Bass and definitely knows how to put his patrons on the fish.