Fly Fishing Rockfish/Lings

Hey guys, so I'm new here but have been stalking the site for a while. So currently I've been fly fishing here in southeastern Idaho on the Henry's Fork, South Fork of the Snake, and a few other small rivers around here. I picked it up about a year ago, I figured since I'm in school I might as well take advantage of being by so many awsome rivers. It's been a blast, and it's really an addiction now.

Now, I'm planning a trip with my wife, dad, and a few other people to go up to the San Juan Islands this September. I've been there several times with my dad, and have gone fishing for rockfish and lingcod, but just with normal spinning rods. Well, since my addiction to fly fishing,. I've been looking into fly fishing rockfish and lings. I've found a few flies to use and a few different suggestions for setups, but nothing really complete. I'm completely new to fly fishing salt water. The biggest flies I've tied and used are scuplins on a size 2 for trout at Henry's Lake in Island Park..

So I guess what I'm asking here is some advice on what gear to use for lings and rockfish (and possibly areas to check out around the San Juan Islands). We will be on a boat as well. I have a 5 wt and an 8 wt.. I know the 8 wt should be able to handle it, but is the 5 wt too light? I also have a reel with plenty of backing and sinking tip, will that get the fly down far enough to the rocks? Maybe adding some weight to the leader? And what kind of line do you guys use for your leaders?

So, in summary, pole, line, leader, flies? (Pictures or links to flies would be great, I'm not familiar with saltwater flies!). I'm just trying to get everything ahead of time, little by little. That way I don't get in trouble by my wife for a big expense all at once! Thanks a ton in advance guys!

Edit: By the way it will all be catch and release. I know ling season is in the spring. And I just saw that in marine area 7 (the San Juans) it says in the regs that it's unlawful to "fish for, retain, or possess rockfish in areas 6-13". So this means no catch and release for rockfish in the San Juans? Just that by accident we may get rockfish when fishing for lings?
I fish for Ling Cod with an 11 wt. rod and a full sinking line tipped with T-14 to get the fly deep. That may seem overkill but that's the nature of the beast. I've heard guys will use monofilament with 20 feet of T-20 but I haven't tried that. Those would be boat anglers, most probably. The flies are big, as well, near 10 inches, imitating as closely as I can, a Kelp Greenling, the Ling's favorite food.


Joe from PA
So this means no catch and release for rockfish in the San Juans? Just that by accident we may get rockfish when fishing for lings?
Both lingcod and rockfish are closed in Sept in area 7. It is illegal to target either (rockfish closed all year), and it would be pretty obvious that you were targeting these fish (especially lings based on fly size/rod size) as the locations that hold these fish out there are well known. But there was basically an entire thread recently about fishing for chums on some rivers where it is illegal to do so, so maybe this is becoming more acceptable.

BTW, I typically fish for lings in the spring in area 7 several times a year, and don't catch many rockfish incidentally. I've actually hooked more rockfish recently in puget sound during ling season. When I target rockfish out at area 4 in the summer, I use a 6 wt.
Thanks for the heads up guys. I assumed it was ok to catch and release because we did a charter almost 2 years go (August 2012) and they took us out for rockfish, ling, and kelp greenling. I actually ended up reeling in a rockfish and ling.. rockfish on the line, and the ling eating the rockfish. But once they got to the surface the ling booked it back down. That was up by Sucia Island, maybe regs have changed since then? But I know ling season hasn't, that's always in the spring. Oh well, if we want lings we will just head over to Canada for a day and get a canadian license. I think ling's are year round over there. And I read somewhere that a 6' leader of 15 lb mono then 12" bite leader of 30-40 lb mono would work for lings? I'm trying not to dump too much money into my setup, it would only get used once to twice a year since I don't get up to WA too much because of school.

Ok, I would also love to catch cohos or socks on the fly. We trolled for pinks last sept and had some luck. I know pink big flies for salmon, anything else? But where to go for them? And on the fly? Are there any spots within area 7?


Joe from PA
I don't believe the regs were different back in 2012. If the captain had you targeting lings you were likely fishing illegally, but perhaps in his mind you were 'targeting' cabezon or whatever else was is open up there that time of the year from a bottom fish perspective. I had the same thing happen to me once. One of the largest lings I ever caught up there attempted to eat a rockfish I incidentally hooked. The ling didn't release the rockfish until I had them both in the net. If fishing in CAN, then you're on the right path regarding the bite leader for lings. Clousers for Coho. Look for them around the rips, although I have never done well fishing for salmon on the fly up there, particularly around Sucia. I don't know if it's that the currents are just too extreme when I've fished there or something else, but I've yet to figure out it.
That must've been his thought process.. I think the kelp greenling were legal and cabezon. So how big of clousers do you throw for them? 1/0? 2? tied in white/pink, chartreuse? I'm real new to saltwater, sorry for all the questions! We won't just be around Sucia, we will probably be staying close to Roche Harbor but we'll be running all around the island, and we will probably run over to Victoria for a day. So we will probably try for some ling then.
I was thinking of tying up some 6-10" clousers on 2/0, in white/purple/chartreuse and some in orange for the lings. And all hooks must be barbless correct?

So we would still be legal to target cabezon and greenling, just checked the regs... anybody have any luck with on the fly? Or too risky since we'd be chancing at hooking up with rockfish and lingcod?

You guys are awsome, keep the tips comin!


Joe from PA
I'd go smaller on the coho clousers. Lot's of info on this forum. Pink/green/olive/blue/purple/orange over white is what I use in the 2-1/2 to 4" range. My lingcod clousers are mostly in the 8-9" range variously weighted. Some guys prefer very garish flies for lings, but I prefer more natural colors (you may still want to have some bright ones though).

Although I suppose there are those that do specifically fly-fish for cabezon and greenling, don't know any. Furthermore, in the 15 years that I have fly-fished in WA saltwater, I don't believe I have ever hooked either species (and I fish a good deal), so I personally would have an ethical issue fly fishing in the traditional bottom fish spots in Sept under the guise of targeting cabezon or greenling. That noted, I could probably talk myself into the idea that I was legitimately targeting king salmon on the fly in certain light/tide conditions in areas where I'd be more likely to incidentally hook a lingcod or rockfish, but I wouldn't necessarily feel good about it.
Sweet thanks Joepa. We will probably stick to coho or chum then around the San Juan Islands and try a day over in Victoria for lingcod just to avoid any issues. I'll have to browse around the forums more lookin for some salmon fly patterns.


Active Member
Never have caught cabezon on flies but greenling can be had with smallish flies - I have taken them on flies about 1 1/2 inches long with lots flash or leech type patterns of roughly the same size.

Last year's Ling season, I think, was from May 1st to June 15th: something like that. I don't have the regs in front of me but there is a specific season in Puget Sound and a size slot which escapes me right now. Check it out.


The wanted posters say Tim Hartman
You're correct about the time of the season Steve (at least last year) in marine areas 5 through 11. There's a daily limit of one fish with a minimum size of 26 inches and a max of 36 inches. We'll have to wait for the new regs to come out to see if this holds true for the upcoming season.

Pat Lat

Mad Flyentist
The size slot has to do with the larger fish usually being female. the season coincides with the time of year in which the egg rearing duties of the fish is coming to an end, yet the fish have not returned to depths that would be harmful for a non keeper to be pulled out of. At least this is what i have heard, and it seems logical.


The wanted posters say Tim Hartman
The size slot has to do with the larger fish usually being female. the season coincides with the time of year in which the egg rearing duties of the fish is coming to an end, yet the fish have not returned to depths that would be harmful for a non keeper to be pulled out of. At least this is what i have heard, and it seems logical.
I agree with the egg rearing issue you listed. AFAIK, the females lay eggs during the late winter/early spring and the smaller males then guard the nest. Because lings are actually a type of greenling they don't have swim bladders as rockfish do. I would expect a high survivability for a released fish pulled out of deeper waters.


Active Member
Dipnet is exactly right; lings have a swim bladder much like that of salmon and easily move vertically in the water column without stress.

Some additional info about ling cod. The males grow slower than the females. Here in Puget Sound it takes approximately 4 years for male to reach the minimum size limit and they reach a maximum size of 35 inches or so. The females will reach legal size in 3 years and growth through the legal slot limit in 5 or 6 years. Lings are a relatively fast growing fish that rarely lives beyond their teen years. The slot limit is extremely important in Puget Sound to provided needed brood stock. A 10# female might have 50,000 to 60,000 eggs while a 30# fish would have as many as 600,000 eggs. The males can spawn and protect egg masses as young as age 2 (about 18 inches). While the lings spawn annually the survival of the egg masses and the resulting fry is highly variable. In Central sound I see a strong year class of lings 3 or 4 times in a decade.

The 6 week season is designed to limit the harvest of lings in the sound; as well as providing fishing opportunity when there is little other opportunity. With the growing interest in ling fishing I suspect it will not be long before an evaluation of effectiveness the current regulation will be needed.