Lingcod are unique to the North American west coast and most abundant off the coast of British Columbia. Baja California, Mexico is the southern limit of their range and they continue all the way north to the Shumagin Islands in the Gulf of Alaska. Lingcod are found on the bottom, occupying steep, rocky areas that are washed by currents, usually at depths between 10 and 300 feet. These fish are not migratory, except when spawning, and often spend their entire lives in the same region.
Lingcod tend to have coloration ranging from dark gray to a brown or greenish color on top, with varying degrees of spotting present along the upper back. Their long body begins with a large mouth and large head, narrowing on top and continuing towards the tail. Round, dark eyes sit closely together. Large, wide pectoral fins are strong enough to push and pull. The mouth is almost all jaws which resemble thick lips and hide a nasty set of sharp, inward-curving teeth. Average size when caught is between 25 and 40 pounds. The world record for Lingcod was caught in the Gulf of Alaska, weighing 76 pounds and nine ounces.
Lingcod begin migrating to near shore spawning grounds in October, and spawning occurs between December and March. Females leave immediately afterwards, while males remain until the eggs hatch, between early March and late April. Juveniles will settle and remain in shallower depths for several years. After two years of age females typically grow faster than males, who stop growing at about eight years. Lingcod are most comfortable in places where the depths drop off rapidly, like edges, rock piles, and offshore pinnacles; specifically, where a moderate current brings prey by the Lingcod’s hole. It waits for movement – rarely venturing out, except during slack currents – and then seizes anything within reach. In this fish fear fades with youth, and it spends adulthood hunkered inside its den, eating a lot – practically any fish it can: rockfish, Pollock, greenling, herring, even other Lingcod, and many more. The only successful predators of this fish are marine mammals such as harbor seals and sea lions.
Not many fish are uglier than the Lingcod – “all eyeballs, teeth and jaws – and attitude”; few also put up such a terrible battle. “Long snake tooth” is how this fish’s scientific name translates back into Greek. Once hooked, it will not wait to break the surface before thrashing and rearing back. For a time-out during the fight, this fish will even withdraw back into its hole, spread out so it can’t be taken, and gather energy for further mêlée. Somehow the Lingcod also manages to taste extremely good, and it remains an important commercial species in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska.