Late Season Ling

Ruben Villarreal
Late Season Ling
A good all-around lure selection for ling on lighter tackle.
We are now getting into the latter half of what is usually the best time of year for anglers with smaller boats to get their shot at offshore fishing. Everybody by now has undoubtedly heard a few fantastic stories of ling being caught and, unfortunately, some heartbreakers of excellent fish hooked and lost boatside. Let's review some general tactics to stack the odds in your favor for your next trip. As always, the key elements to becoming more successful are location, tackle, baits and lures.

When specifically targeting ling, as opposed to accidental catches when fishing for other species, the location you choose can make or break your trip. Buoys and other surface structure attract ling. Any buoy that you run past leaving the Galveston, Freeport, Matagorda, POC and Port Aransas jetties are excellent choices for the small boat angler.

Buoys normally have abundant bait around them which naturally brings in predators such as ling. Safety fairway buoys make great pit stops to catch live bait and also to find occasional ling. Single pipe stands also make great stops, once again for both a shot at a ling and another opportunity to catch live bait. Single pipes offer opportunity commonly ignored by larger boats headed further offshore. Weed lines are legendary for attracting ling and a great place to specifically target them. Ling are very fond of hanging in the shadow of anchored shrimp boats.

One of the most important things you need to consider when targeting ling is being prepared to make a cast on short notice. If you don't have a rod ready you are really behind the game, sometimes ling only give a few seconds of opportunity when they surface.

Ling have a reputation for being curious but they often have a very short attention span. The angler floundering about to rig a rod normally loses. So, when launching your boat and waiting for your buddies to park the truck, grab a rod designed for ling fishing and get it ready. Remember that fluorocarbon leaders for all offerings will improve your hookup ratio.

In the tackle department, anglers targeting ling should always consider line capacity and strength of line, and also the drag capability of your reel. Rod action and rod length are also very important as much of your targeted fishing will include accurate casting. Rods with fast tips in medium to medium-heavy action and length of 6-1/2 to 7 foot length are most popular. Line ratings should be at least 12-20#. Rods with recommended line strength in the 15-30# and 20-40# class are also very good for ling fishing.

I must confess, early in my career I did not favor the use of spinning reels as selection was rather limited. However, much has changed and manufacturers have vastly upgraded their offerings. Through fishing for yellow fin tuna with topwaters and landing fish in the 80-100 pound class on spin tackle, I have revised my opinion. Whether your prefer baitcast or spin reels, a good drag system that functions without spikes and stutters is an absolute must. Line capacity will depend on whether you choose braid or monofilament and there are excellent lines available in both categories. Braided lines are slimmer and offer greater line capacity. Braid also offers an edge with superior abrasion resistance.

Let's talk about bait and lures. In the live category I like piggy perch, mullet and croakers. All of these can be caught with a cast net; piggy perch and croakers can be caught by rod and reel using fresh, peeled shrimp on sabiki rigs. My favorite dead baits are whole white squid, Spanish sardines and ribbonfish. Lures can be very effective on ling. Bucktail jigs tipped with squid or sardine work very well. When choosing a bucktail, go with something in the two to three ounce range for more hang time in the upper part of the water column. Another lure that is very effective on ling is the curly tail grub. Erratic retrieves around single pipe stands will take ling that have not surfaced yet. One of my most effective methods for bringing ling to the surface is reeling a sabiki slowly to the surface after it is full of bait with a buddy on standby to cast when the ling shows.

Last but not least is how to land your ling when you bring him boatside. The best place to stick a gaff is in the back. Head shots are also good but the head is a smaller target. Gut shots can be unreliable as they tear out easily and you can end up with a broken line.