Fishing for Ling: Molva molva

The ling (Molva molva), a near relative of the cod, is a deep-water fish. Although it has a broader head than the cod, it resembles that fish considerably. The placing of the barbule below the jaw is identical and the ling has the large eyes of the cod and the same colouring of body. From its dorsal fin to its tail it resembles the conger The tail, however, is fan-shaped in comparison with the tapering of the conger’s.

The ling is nearly always found where there are heavy rock formations or big wrecks, lying at a depth of from fourteen to thirty-five fathoms. Unlike the conger, it does not live inside the wrecks or in a hole in the rocks but lurks amidst the seaweed and ma line growth, where it blends with the colour of the rocks.

Undoubtedly the ling prefers clear water to cloudy conditions. This must be qualified by the fact that the best fish so far landed have come from the deeper waters of Cornwall and Ireland, and from even greater depths off Norway and Iceland.

During the summer months a few small ling, ranging from a few centimetres to 30 cm length, are caught inshore, especially on the south coast. This indicates that the spawning grounds are not very far away, probably in the region of the Channel Islands. From these the young fish are swept up Channel by the strong tides.



The ling is a voracious feeder on all kinds of fish but will rarely, if ever, take a hook offering anything other than fresh whitebait. Pilchard, mackeral, bream, and pollack have all been found inside its stomach. In the northern waters ling certainly eat haddock. One thing is essential — the bait must be freshly caught.


For drift fishing, the 1.95 m (6 ft 6 ins) solid glass or tubular fibre-glass rod, used in conjunction with a multiplying reel, is ideal. For bottom fishing from an anchored boat, a centre-pin reel is as good. Line should be of Terylene or nylon with a breaking strain of from 10 to 13 kg (23 to 27 lb). Bear in mind that bottom tackle must be strong and capable of withstanding constant friction against rocks and wreckage.

Wire traces are far from ideal under these conditions and do not allow the bait to work freely; therefore use a heavy nylon of at least 23 kg (50 1b) breaking strain at the end of your line.

For drift fishing a long, flowing trace is best. This should be broken into two 1.8 m (6 ft) lengths, swivelled in the centre. One end is attached to the swivel on the main line and the other to the hook.

A spiral weight is now added to the section between the main line and the centre swivel, so that you have a heavy section of line above the weight and also between the weight and the hook, affording a certain amount of protection from jagged edges. The amount of weight to be used depends largely on the rate of drift. Ideally it should be enough to allow your bait to work through, or just above, the marine growth over which you are drifting.

With an anchored boat this tackle is virtually useless, as the long trace very soon becomes entangled. This applies equally to booms or paternosters. Instead of a wire paternoster, therefore, take a length of heavy nylon about 1.8 m (6 ft) long and make three short snoods at equal distance along its length, leaving enough at each end to make a loop. One end should now be made fast to a swivel which in turn is tied to the main line. The other end should also be armed with a swivel. To this you fix the weight. Next attach three hooks to the snoods by means of the eye, in much the same way as for mackeral feathers). You now have an excellent paternoster. If the hooks are well baited so that the barb is covered, there should be little risk of their getting caught up below.

The weight should be attached to the bottom swivel by means of a very light line of lower breaking strain than the main line. Then, in the event of its becoming lodged between two rocks or other obstructions, it will break free and save you loss of tackle.

Always check your bottom tackle when bringing it inboard, for the continual friction against rough edges is bound to fray it. As soon as you find any signs of fraying, replace the piece concerned.

Fishing Methods

The ling prefers a strongly flowing run of water to a slack tide for feeding. When you are drift fishing in a strong breeze which draws the tackle through the water at speed, the ling are quite likely to grab the bait.

There is little doubt that a brightly coloured bait attracts this fish best, and a very effective method is to fish a large silver spoon as a lure with a strip of white bait attached. This will usually be taken almost as soon as it reaches the bottom, more often than not as it is spiralling down on the last fathom or so.

Do not hesitate to move the bait up and down in the water when anchored; the ling goes for a moving bait. Raising it a couple of fathoms and then letting it go again often produces a strike.

There is no mistaking the bite of a ling and there is little need to strike when fishing from a moving boat. As the fish takes the bait — usually a few feet from the bottom — it stops dead and holds firmly. Once it feels the drag it will shake its head from side to side like the conger in an effort to get rid of the hook. Once it realizes that it cannot get away, it bores for the bottom and tries to get among the rocks or wreckage. Unlike the conger, it makes no effort to whip its tail around a rock or any handy underwater obstruction.

Ling are hard fighters, especially for the first five fathoms after getting them off the bottom. However, as they approach the surface, particularly when caught on the deeper marks, the fight goes out of them, possibly because of the change in pressure. A fish of 14 kg (30 lb) when light tackle is used, should be boated within five minutes of the strike.

It is always advisable to ‘pump’ a ling to the surface, for you can never be certain when it is going to refuse to budge and start shaking its head again. It is during these spasms that the heaviest strain is imposed upon the tackle.

It is probable that many pollack fishermen hook a ling, but with their light tackle they are unaware that they have a ling on, and they return home with a story about the monster that got away. For it is around pollack and coalfish grounds that ling are most likely to be taken.


The ling is probably far more common in our waters than most fishermen realize.

Most British sea anglers have an aversion to drift fishing, and this probably accounts for the very small number even of immature ling recorded each year. In southern Ireland at such centres as Ballycotton, Kinsale, and Valentia, some magnificent catches have been recorded, and nearly all were taken from a moving boat. The same applies to Iceland and Norway, countries whose anglers believe that better fishing is obtained by drifting than from an anchored boat.

Ling make excellent eating. They taste very much like cod, and, in fact, should be cooked in the same way.

19. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Fish, Ling, Sea Fishing | Tags: , | Comments Off on Fishing for Ling: Molva molva


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: