Lingcod, rockfish give AK saltwater anglers an

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Life on the bottom

Lingcod, rockfish give saltwater anglers an option to halibut

Practice responsible conservation

By Ken Marsh, Anchorage Daily News Correspondent

May 16, 2002


Fishermen pull a halibut from the water. Other popular bottomfish include lingcod and rockfish. (Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News)

We were out for a short sightseeing trip in Prince William Sound near Whittier when the skipper nosed our boat into a little cove for lunch. I hadn't intended to fish, but when we stopped, I couldn't resist picking up a medium-weight spinning rod off one of the racks. I snapped a pink and silver Pixee spoon onto the swivel, and dropped it over the side.

Within seconds I felt a sharp tug, and then the rod tip started dancing. My spoon hadn't even hit bottom and I was into a fish.

The fish was pleasantly strong, the short battle defined by a deep-running, head-shaking stubbornness. When I brought it to the surface minutes later, I wasn't surprised to discover that I'd caught a 3-pound black rockfish, commonly called a sea bass.

I also wasn't surprised when, over the next 30 minutes, I hauled in all the rockfish I cared to catch. When you get into a school of these aggressive, easily caught fish, the action can be incredibly fast.

Thousands of anglers visit the state's coastal waters each summer, most of them in search of salmon and halibut. But in recent years, many sportfishermen have started to turn to Alaska's other bottom fish. And black rockfish are one of many fine gamefish species included in this group.

One of the most intriguing aspects of saltwater fishing is the incredible variety of fish available. Unless you're an experienced marine angler, it is often difficult to predict just what sort of creature you're likely to pull up. However, once you know what sort of fish are available and learn something about their habits, anglers can learn to narrow the odds and target specific species.

Of the "other bottom fish," the three most popular among Southcentral anglers are black rockfish, yelloweye rockfish (often called "red snapper") and lingcod. All are found in easily reached, rocky, near-shore waters, which makes fishing for them a convenient option for anglers looking for something different. And all provide tasty, flaky white meat sure to make any gourmand's mouth water.

Of the more than 30 rockfish species found in Alaska's coastal waters, black and yelloweye are the ones most frequently caught in Southcentral. Most taken by anglers average from 14 to 20 inches in length and weigh perhaps 2 to 4 pounds. Black rockfish are dark brown to black in color and, at a glance, closely resemble freshwater bass. Yelloweyes range from pink to flare-orange in color and are known for their large yellow eyes.

Lingcod, sought by anglers for their hard-fighting ways, willingness to strike a wide variety of lures and baits and for their succulent fillets are also found along rocky, relatively shallow near-shore areas. Although recorded in waters as deep as 3,000 feet, lingcod more typically inhabit depths of 30 to 300 feet.

Actually a type of greenling rather than a true cod, lingcod live up to 25 years and can reach weights in excess of 80 pounds. Relentless predators, stories of tenacious lings are plentiful among local anglers.

"I've had them follow bass I've caught all the way to the surface," said Mark Kufel, an Anchorage-based chiropractor who enjoys fishing out of Homer, Seward and Whittier. "Usually they grab the bass and won't let go."

Anglers can find rockfish and lingcod in and around Resurrection Bay near Seward, Passage Canal out of Whittier and Kachemak Bay near Homer. Many halibut charter operators offer packages that include rockfish and lingcod, and do-it-yourself trips aren't difficult for anglers with their own boats.

Finding rockfish and lingcod is usually easy. Look for them in rocky bays or along submerged reefs.

"Needlefish and other bait fish, even herring, congregate in these places," Kufel said.

Most anglers use chunks of herring or squid for bait. Hook sizes range from No. 2 to No. 3/0. Anglers attach lead weights to drop their rigs quickly to the bottom; the amount of weight needed varies according to the depth and current. Jigs are also effective.

"I like to use a plastic squid jig, the kind with a lead head," Kufel said.

Favorite jigging spoons include Krocodiles, Diamonds and Vikings. For the best results, simply drop jigs over the side of the boat and work them off the bottom.

Although many anglers do well by anchoring once they locate fish, others prefer to drift through likely areas.

"We drift with the current along cliffs and over little ledges," Kufel said. "Every now and then you'll get a salmon or a halibut, but typically, you won't get halibut in the same places (as rockfish and lingcod)."

Halibut prefer sandy-bottomed areas and, normally, deeper water than rockfish and lingcod.

Fly-fishers have discovered great sport in rockfish and lingcod. Most use full-sink or sink-tip lines to get flies down to the fish. Effective patterns include weighted streamers that imitate bait fish and weighted shrimp patterns in pink or orange colors.

Perhaps the best thing about these "other bottom fish" is that once you find them, you're likely to catch all you need. Even better, when you take a few home and pan-sear them with Cajun seasonings, bake them or simply broil and serve with garlic butter and fresh lemon, you'll have a meal as memorable as your trip.

For more information about rockfish and lingcod, check out the state's Alaska Wildlife Notebook Series online at http://www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH....ok/notehome.htm.

(Free-lance writer Ken Marsh lives in Anchorage. He has fished in Alaska for more than 35 years. This story was published May 19, 2002, in the Anchorage Daily News.)
 


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