A ling's jaws have "state of the art" dentures. Needle shaped teeth designed for grabbing and not letting go, helped along by a wide powerful mouth. Their eyes are large, for good vision at depth and they are powerful swimmers. They grow big too, easily over 40lbs. The British record makes 59lbs, and commercially caught ling can break the 80lb barrier. As predators go, that's a pretty impressive CV.
Some of the biggest ling are taken from the wrecks found far out in the English Channel, but there are other good areas too. Ling well over 30lbs are regularly taken from wrecks off Wicklow on the Irish East Coast, also from famous wrecks like the Lousitania off Cork in southern Ireland. Northern Ireland has hundreds of wrecks left littered across the seabed by the U-boat wolf packs of the last great wars, all holding large numbers of ling. There are also big ling resident over the wrecks in the North Sea.
Ling though, are not just wreck dwellers, they also live over deep-water reefs and rock. Their average size may be smaller on this type of ground than the wreck fish, but they are generally available in good numbers and there are still some big fish caught over rock though the fishing here can be more seasonal.
Ling, for the most part, are a solitary species, but on wrecks they can be found in dense small shoals holding fish of roughly the same size.
FISHING THE WRECKS The best wrecks for holding ling are the ones that have been blown apart or ripped apart as they sank through the water leaving major debris scattered over a wide area. This allows the ling plenty of hunting room and they will scout around the wreckage trying to surprise small shoal fish like pout, whiting, codling and even smaller ling.
Wrecks that are for the most part whole will have resident ling, but they never seem to produce the overall numbers that broken wrecks do.
On the broken wrecks, ling tend to work around the scattered outer debris during slack water periods. As the tide picks up they swing back in towards the major wreckage and use it to deflect the run of tide over them to make swimming easier. This will see them located on the downtide side of the wreck in fast running tides.
On wrecks that are pretty much intact, the slack water sees the ling working around the outside of the wreck and in amongst any superstructure that remains, trying to flush prey. Once again though, as soon as the tide begins to increase they will go deep to the seabed and get tucked in behind the metal to break the tidal run, or in the easier water directly in front of the wreck where the tide is deflected over it.
Most fishing over wrecks is done on the drift and this suits the hunting method of the ling. Baits being worked through a clutter of debris tight to the seabed will eventually find ling if they are present. Ling can also be caught at anchor, but it pays to make the bait work and move by lifting and lowering the rod tip to attract them.
Ling, though adapted to feed and swim in a fast tide flow, are not stupid and realise that working hard for food minimises it's caloric value. As a general rule, they feed best during smaller neap tides through and either side of the slack water periods of low and high water. Occasionally they will feed during a running tide, but the feeding spell is often very short and probably induced by passing food being available to trigger feeding in the first place.
WRECK METHODS A higher proportion of really big ling fall to a combination of artificial bar pirks and bait than they do to natural baits fished on their own. The pirks can be between 12ozs and 2lbs in weight with a large treble or single hook at the base. The hook is then baited with a whole flapper mackerel, or at least a fillet of mackerel, to combine both movement and smell for the ling to home in on.
Many good skippers feel that anglers use too small a bait for ling. Wrecks, because of the number of predators on them, don't tend to carry so many small fish under a couple of pounds at seabed level. Those hunting ling will be naturally feeding on larger fish between 2lbs and 3lbs in weight as they can easily eat 10% of their own weight in one go. Study this and you begin to realise that a 10oz mackerel is really only a snack. When you combine the pirk and the fresh bait, then you have a bulky offering more akin to the size of bait the ling are taking on the fin, so to speak.
You work the pirk by lifting the rod upward to full height then letting the pirk fall to the seabed by lowering the rod tip. Ling tend to hit the bait just as it's rising upwards on the lift, though some will hit as the bait is falling.
Another good method is to use a flowing trace about 3-ft to 4-ft 92 to 122cms) long in front of a strong boom and drag a whole large flapper bait across the seabed and into the wreckage (yes, you'll lose lots of tackle) to find the fish. The ling smell the bait, sense the movement and give chase until they catch up.
If you want lots of ling, plus bonus cod, pollack and coalfish, then invest in a few sets of the large Mustad Hokeye lures. These have large luminous yellow/green plastic bodies that store light and remain luminous on the seabed. You can bait these with half fillets of fish and you'll often get three fish at a time. Although the rigs are built well and tied on 80lb line and size 6/0 hooks, trying to haul up three decent fish at once is literally overkill done too often. Nevertheless, it is very effective for numbers. You work the Hokeye's the same as you would the pirks.
Ling will surprise you how they fight. Initially, they will turn and in a burst of speed and head for the nearest bit of wreckage or wreck. The danger now is that they pull a poor hook-hold out or break the line on jagged metal. Once you've turned them, they will shake their heads which "thumps" the rod tip repeatedly. You need to start pumping them upwards now, but beware, for they are capable of running against heavy rod pressure in the case of big fish over 25lbs. Let them take a little line, then pump to regain it as they slow.
Unfortunately, once a ling gets some distance up off the seabed, then the swim bladder will blow as it fills with air due to the water pressure change. This finishes any fight left in them. Nevertheless, that initial fight can be pretty impressive.
TACKLE AND BAIT For pirk fishing, experienced anglers prefer a 7-ft rod. Some make up their own 8-ft rods, but they need to be stiff in action. The reason for this extra length is that the longer the length of rod, within reason, the higher the rod tip can be moved maximising the lift and fall of the pirk far below. This increase in pirk movement adds extra fish to the catch.
There's another reason too. The trend now is to use braided line for pirk fishing. This is very fine for a given breaking strain when compared with normal everyday mono line. Braid also requires less weight to get to the bottom and gives a finer degree of feel coming back through the rod. The lightest of bites can be felt.
The braid does not stretch, whereas monofilament lines will stretch several metres when you have 100-metres of line below the rod tip. This stretching with monofilament means that most of the energy you put in to the rod on the lift is lost to line stretch and the pirk moves very little. With the near non-stretch braid, the pirk moves nearly as much as the distance travelled by the rod tip.
The longer 8-ft rods also have a better action than shorter versions and will "give" a little when playing fish with braid, plus they move more at the rod tip for the same arm movement than shorter rods and again, increase pirk movement.
There is a disadvantage with braid though. Braid, being non-stretch, puts almost full rod pressure applied by the angler to the hook point and can proportionately increase the number of fish lost through hook holds tearing free when the ling turns and bolts for cover. The longer rods help cushion the hook hold a little more as they bend more than short rods before "locking-up", but that in itself is not enough.
It's essential when fishing braid, to add about 30-ft of monofilament to the end of the braid. The stretch in this short length of mono is enough to cushion that hook hold and reduce direct hook point pressure and helps to avoid the hook being ripped out as fish turn and bolt.
For general wreck fishing with conventional baits and Hokeye lures, then a standard 7-ft rod is ideal. A 30lb class is adequate in most areas, but some skippers do prefer to see anglers with a 50lb option when big fish are on the cards in very deep water over wrecks. The best reels are tough Penn Senators in size 4/0 or Shimano TLD's. For braid, the Penn Super Mariner 49L is popular.
The best baits are whole mackerel cut as a flapper with the fillets attached to the head but the backbone removed, whole whiting, codling, pout or even squid. Fillets of fish also work but wash out quickly and the more smell the bait has the more likely it is to be found and eaten.
Whole flapper fish baits are best fished on the following boom rig.
Use a quality boom like one of the long Ziplock booms. These particular booms are good because you can slide them higher up the mono leader and lock them off to give yourself a longer hook trace during peak slack water to maximise movement.
Slide the boom on to the leader line (when using braid) or main line followed by an 8mm bead. To the end of the main line tie on a size 2/0 quality swivel. Now you have a choice. You can use 3-ft (1-metre) of 100lb mono tied direct to a size 8/0 or 10/0 Mustad O'Shaughnessy hook or similar pattern. Problem is, a big ling can shred the mono during a long fight and break the trace.
I prefer to use 2-ft of 100lb mono, then tie in another swivel and crimp on 18-inches of 60lb wire to the hook. The added length of wire cannot be bitten through by the ling and gives added insurance against this segment touching metal as the ling tries to find sanctuary.
It always pays to carry a small file and really sharpen up those hook points. Ling have tough mouths and a sharp point filed to a knife-edge cuts and holds deeply giving more security.
LING TIPS A couple of things I've found that can help get an extra fish or two are worth passing on.
When fishing pirks, Hokeye's and even the standard trace, it's worth adding a double rattling booby bead to the rig. These have a ball-bearing inside and give off vibrations that the ling home in on. Place the bead just above the pirk, at the base of the Hokeye's, and about 12-inches away from the hook on the boom rig for the best results.
Also adding a small chemical Starlite by pushing it into rubber tubing placed on to the rigs and above the pirk attracts any distant ling within range of the bait.
Even when baiting a treble or single hook on a pirk, it's worth adding a luminous muppet to add further movement at hook level. Again the ling will home in on this from distance.