Lingcod Fishing in Puget Sound
Puget Sound’s underwater rockpiles, reefs, ledges and breakwaters become a big interest point for local anglers like myself around early May each year, I’d say right about the time that fishing for Lingcod opens up. The Lingcod is a large bottom-dwelling fish that are found throughout Puget Sound and thrive in areas where the currents are large and the structure is rocky and complex. The Puget Sound Lingcod fishery is popular, since it is our first true fishing season of the spring, and for the fish’s large size, aggressiveness towards lures and bait, and a strong battle on the end of the line. If you aren’t sold yet on spending a day out looking for a Lingcod, what if I also told you, that if you caught one in the slot-limit and kept it, that you would have in your possession, some of the best tasting white fillets on the planet. Interested?
Lingcod can grow to impressive size and with Puget Sound’s conservative regulations it is possible to catch a true monster! You have to release anything over three feet long. The big ones get to swim away but put up an amazing battle.
They live around rocky structure. Places such as marina break waters, reefs, rock piles and rocky ledges give Lingcod a place to hide and ambush their prey. They eat crab, shrimp, octopus, squid and practically any small fish swimming in the vicinity.
I wrote this post to share some of my experiences and knowledge on Lingcod fishing in Puget Sound. If there is any advice that you want to share, please comment below.
Puget Sound Lingcod Fishing Seasons and Regulations 2021
Puget Sound Lingcod season is May 1 to June 15, 2021. In all areas that fishing is open, there is a depth restriction where you cannot fish for bottom fish deeper than 120′. It is also required to have a rockfish decending device that is ready to use. The daily limit is one Lingcod per person and the slot limit is 26″ to 36″. Any Lingcod longer or shorter than the slot limit have to be released.
Fishing is open in Marine areas 5 (Sekiu), 6 (Eastern Straits), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8 (Saratoga Passage, Skagit Bay, Everett), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 10 (Seattle and Bainbridge Island), 11 (Tacoma and Vashon Island), 13 (South Puget Sound). Lingcod fishing is closed in area 12 (Hood Canal).
Best Lingcod Fishing Spots in Puget Sound
Puget Sound has an endless number of places to catch Lingcod. If you already fish for Lingcod you may be saying, Come on Andrew, there really are only a few places in each area that you can catch Lingcod with any kind of consistency! I would argue that if there is a rock out somewhere in 20′ to 120′ that you find, you have an opportunity to discover a new Lingcod spot. My preferred zone for Lingcod fishing is 30′ to 80′ deep.
Lingcod are concentrated in areas with a hard and rocky bottom. Artificial reefs, rock piles, and marina breakwaters are located throughout Puget Sound. Even the smallest boulder will often hold a Lingcod or two.
There are big areas that have been favorite Lingcod spots for generations, like Possession Bar and Double Bluff of Whidbey Island, Foulweather Bluff off Kitsap, the Narrows in Tacoma, Deception Pass near Anacortes and any of the San Juan Islands. These areas will produce Lingcod every year. But they can get picked over pretty good after the first couple weeks of the season.
But if you were to really break down any of these popular areas or your favorite secret spot, you would find that there is that one little area that is the really good spot. Sometimes it is an area the size of a tennis court. Sometimes it is just one small boulder patch. My point is, the excitement of Lingcod fishing in the Puget Sound is spoiled for some because they refuse to go exploring. And if you find a good looking spot, promise me that you will mark it on your chart so you can find it again!
Lingcod Fishing Spots in San Juan Islands (Area 7)
The San Juan Islands are a Lingcod fisherman’s dream come true. There are endless expanses of rocky shoreline, reefs, rocky outcroppings and more islands than you can count! A list of well known Lingcod fishing spots would take up this entire post. But I will say that if you want to go fishing for Lingcod in the San Juan Islands you can’t go wrong with anywhere around Cypress Island, Spieden Island, Cactus Island or Center Reef near Roche Harbor. Up north check out the north side of Patos, West Bank off Sucia or Danger Reef on it’s north side. Davidson reef off the south side of Lopez will produce Lingcod as well.
Photo courtesy of Captain Kent Alger
Lingcod Fishing Spots in North Puget Sound (Areas 8 and 9)
Lingcod is one of the most popular fisheries in this area. It consists of all the water from the entrance to Puget Sound at Port Townsend down to Edmonds and encircles most of Whidbey Island. Good Lingcod fishing can be found at Double Bluff and Possession Bar near Whidbey Island, at Deception Pass and Lawson Reef due west of it (actually in area 6). Foulweather Bluff near the entrance to Hood Canal is a productive Lingcod fishing area. Edmonds Marina breakwater and public fishing pier produce some nice catches. All around Hat Island near Everett. This area is popular enough that exploring and seeking out some new hidden structure can pay off big time!
Lingcod Fishing Spots in Central Puget Sound (Areas 10 and 11)
Lingcod fishing can be good close to Seattle, Washington. Pier 86 is a great Lingcod fishing spot near the Space Needle. Blakely Rock off the eastern shore of Bainbridge, Elliott Bay Marina and Shilshole Marina breakwaters, Alki reef off West Seattle are all popular Lingcod fishing areas. Tacoma Narrows is the main Lingcod fishing spot in the south Puget Sound and you must fish it on a tide change or a very very soft tide.
Lingcod Fishing Spots in South Puget Sound (Area 13)
This is uncharter waters for me. I have not spent much time south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I do know that Toliva Shoals near Fox Island is popular. Most locals keep their spots to themselves but there has to be a rock or two down there that would hold Lingcod.
How to Catch Lingcod in Puget Sound
Lingcod are a very aggressive fish and they can be caught with a number of techniques and lures. I prefer to catch live bait and fish that way, but you can also use artificial lures.
Keep in mind that Lingcod prefer rocky areas and they rest on the bottom. So fishing your gear within a few feet of the bottom is key. Because they love rocky areas, that means that you will probably lose a little gear, but it is all worth the while!
Metal jig fishing for Lingcod
Metal jigs such as Point Wilson Darts, Buzz Bombs and P-Line Lazer Minnows are great lures for Lingcod fishing. Let your lure sink to the rocky bottom, reel up a couple cranks and give your lure a lift-and-fall jigging motion.
Jigheads and plastics for Lingcod
Using a soft plastic curly tail grub, swim bait or twin tail grub rigged on a lead headed jig hook is extremely popular. Like with metal jigs, it is important to select the right weight. If you use too heavy a jig head, you will snag bottom more often and lose more gear than necessary. If you don’t have enough weight you will never get down to the fish. Usually I fish 2 ounce to 8 ounce jig heads depending on the depth and current that I am fishing.
Catching Puget Sound Lingcod with Live Bait
Fishing with live bait is my favorite way to catch Lingcod. Remember, Lingcod are territorial and aggressive, they will attack anything nearby that looks like food or looks like a threat. I mainly fish in central Puget Sound and we always spend a good hour catching Sand Dabs before we head out to fish for Lingcod. A functioning live well is best, but there are a few really great portable aerators that will turn a simple 5-gallon bucket into a live well.
Drifting live bait for Lingcod
Once you find an area that looks good, you will be drifting over the structure. We keep our baits hovering a couple feet above the bottom. When I drop my gear right on the bottom and drag, I lose more than my share of gear. Once a Lingcod latches on you will know! Never set the hook. Just wait for the rod to really load up and then a steady retrieve to the surface. Many of the fish you hook won’t be hooked at all, they lock their jaw into the bait and hang on for a ride to the surface. Lingcod don’t have swim bladders so I don’t think they really sense that they are moving up the water column. Many of your fish will let go.
Thank you for the second chance!
If one comes off quickly drop your bait back to the bottom. I have had quite a few second chances that produced a nice Lingcod to the net! You have to get that net under the Lingcod ASAP when fishing with live bait!
San Juan Islands Lingcod Live Bait
Fishing with live Greenling is the popular thing to do in the San Juan Islands. The rocky kelp-ringed islands are full of Greenling. Use a small curly-tail plastic or chunk of squid and you shouldn’t have a problem filling your live well.
Central Puget Sound Lingcod Live Bait
In central Puget Sound we use pile perch or sand dabs. Flounder and sand dabs live on every shallow shelf next to the beach. If you can catch ones that are about the size of your hand you are in good shape.
South Puget Sound Lingcod Live Bait
In the south Puget Sound, live herring is the bait of choice. They are easy to jig up or purchase from local marinas. South Sound Lingcod munch these up!
I think each area has its favorites based on what is the most available and easy to catch and what the Lingcod most commonly feed on.
Live bait set up
I like to use my 10’6″ downrigger rods for live bait fishing. They have a great bend so when a Lingcod grabs on they don’t feel the resistance of the rod. They have enough power to lift a hefty Lingcod to the surface. I use 50 pound braided line, a heavy mono slider, 3 oz. to 8 oz. lead weights off a dropper, and an octopus/circle hook leader tied on 40 pound test. I learned about the heavy mono sliders on a fishing trip with All Rivers & Saltwater Charters.