The big angler grinned his delight, slotted his rod butt into the belly pad, reeled hard to take up any slack line and lifted the rod to set the hook. The heavy thirty pound class rod heaved over into a carbon cracking hoop reaching its power thirty fathoms deep to pry the stubborn fish from its rust streaked sanctuary.
With a patience born of long experience, the short lift and reel, lift and reel pumping action soon had the fish to mid water, when the angler tightened the reels clutch slightly and lengthened the stroke of the rod to quickly get the fish to the side of the boat.
This is a scenario enacted many times over a season aboard charter and privately owned boats fishing deep water wrecks all round the coast of the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. Where you find one Ling you will often find dozens and a hectic days heave and haul fishing is almost guaranteed. It is not unusual to see the fish finder screen showing the hard echo of the wreck blanketed by fish both up and downtide of the wreck. On a wreck that has not been commercially hammered, these fish will usually be Ling mixed with some cod and lots of feed fish, mostly pouting, which is why the ling and cod are there in the first place!
The ling are voracious feeding fish and will attack and instantly shred a bait with their viciously sharp teeth. It is essential that you tighten and lift the rod into the strike as soon as the bump-bump-pull of the fish is felt, else the hook will be deep inside the fish and difficult to retrieve. Ling are not fast running reel strippers like the Coalfish or Pollack, but what they might lack in speed they will make up for with a dour, stubborn, head banging resistance.
Tackle needs to be quite substantial, a 30lb class outfit is ideal, although a 20lb class set up will be just fine if you are fishing aboard your own boat with just a few anglers sharing the deck space, without the urgency to "get'em up!"
The stumpy 6 ft stand-up rods are ideal for this sort of fishing. These short stand-up rods have a lot of power in the butt section, so that a powerful pumping action is much easier to maintain. It will also pay to use a butt pad, so that the full force of the rod can be exerted without fear of the rod butt slipping and doing damage to a delicate part of the anatomy!
A decent reel such as a Penn Senator 4/0 or a Shimano TLD 20 capable of holding enough line and tough enough to withstand the continuous grunt and groan effort of this sort of fishing is a necessary investment.
This is just the sort of fishing where the benefits of superbraid line can be appreciated. Fishing a big bait, in a reasonable tide over a deep water wreck, will often need a pound and a half of lead, or more, if you use monofilament line. With Superbraid, the sinker weight will often be less than a pound, which is a lot more comfortable to fish with, yet will easily hold the bait in the fishes feeding zone. Another tangible benefit is that the sensation of the bite is felt more distinctly and your strike is so much more positive because of the lack of stretch in the line. If you do choose to load your reel with braid, tie on a 30 foot shockleader of monofilament so that the wear and tear is inflicted on the "sacrificial" length of 30lb shockleader. Typically if using 30lb superbraid, make the shockleader from 30 pound breaking strain monofilament. Join the monofilament to the braid with back to back uni or grinner knots. I have found that the addition of a small drop of superglue just before the knot is pulled tight makes a join which is as strong as you can get.
Periodically check for any signs of abrasion on the shockleader and cut away any line that shows signs of wear or abrasion. A spool of 30lb monofilament and a tube of superglue is ever present in my tacklebox to renew this shockleader should it become necessary. The Superbraid line does not absorb water and the new monofilament for the leader is dry anyway, so a new shockleader is easily joined to the mainline with a superglued knot when necessary.
Use a spring balance to set the reels clutch with the line outside the rods tip ring, so that it slips at a little under 10lbs with a 30lb class outfit. This amount of clutch pressure is actually quite a lot and it will take a strong man(or woman) to constantly maintain this amount of pressure on a fish. But when the rod tip kicks over to the waterline, it is comforting to know that the clutch is going to give line before it reaches anywhere near the lines(knots) breaking strain. And any fish that can pull line off against ten pounds of drag is a fish that you ought to give line to anyway!!
End tackle is straightforward just so long as you remember that you are dealing with fish that could exceed 50lbs and comes equipped with a nasty set of dentures. I make my leaders out of 100lb monofilament because this breaking strain is tough enough to withstand the rough and tumble of this sort of fishing, yet is still thin enough to tie reliable uni knots. I much prefer to make up a halfdozen traces and crimp them using double barrelled crimps, this way you have still got a good chance if a big Conger eel takes a fancy to your bait. Make up the traces between 2 and 3 feet long with a quality barrel swivel at one end and a size 7/0 or 8/0 forged hook such as the Cox and Rawle Meathook or a Mustad O'Shaughnessy at the other. Avoid coiling the leaders too tightly, else they will resemble a clockspring when you come to use them.
Rig a simple running leger onto the shock leader using a heavy duty plastic line slider such as the Knotless Heavy or the red Zip slider. Pass the shockleader end through the slider and fasten it to the leader swivel using a five turn Uni knot, snugging the knot down slowly so that the coils do not hump over one another. This rig is a good bottom searching rig for big ling, cod or whatever else happens along.
Some anglers like to use Killer gear, consisting of a chromed tube pirk and a couple of droppers fitted up with muppets, usually baited with a whole Calamari squid or side of mackerel. Problem with killer gear is that sometimes it will catch too well and it is possible to end up with three big ling totally overwhelming your tackle. This causes total mayhem because there is no way to stop this outfit tangling with other anglers gear and if, as it often does, it breaks off, you have left three fish to a lingering death, which is just not acceptable.
Big baits are best for Ling and without doubt the best baits are squid, cuttlefish and mackerel. If mackerel are plentiful then a good mackerel "flapper" impaled on a size 8/0 hook is as good as any. But often a cocktail of mackerel strips combined with squid or cuttle will prove to be the "dish of the day" as far as big ling are concerned. Whatever you do avoid being skimpy with Ling baits, but ensure that your bait does not obscure the hook point.
It is easy to get carried away with catching Ling, especially should you be fortunate enough to be taken to a recently discovered wreck. They are not a fish which can be returned to the sea because in bringing them up from deep water the swim bladder will fill with air making it impossible for them to return to the depths.
As a member of the Cod family they are a tasty fish to eat if filleted and skinned. This is best done at sea so that the fillets can be washed in fresh sea water and bagged to take home. Avoid catching more than you need, most charter boats are no longer registered so they cannot legally land fish and indeed risk prosecution if they do. So leaving fish for the Skippers perks is no longer an option, enough is all you need.