Get Reel in the North: The Lowly Ling

Billy hooks into a Lake Manitou ling while fishing during last year’s March Break.

While most people use the standard Gregorian calendar, my method of measuring the seasons is a little bit different than most. I don’t measure time by weeks or months but by fish. What I mean by this is what fish are available for me to target and when is their primetime. For the often misunderstood ling (or burbot), that time is now.

I don’t think there is a species of fish that is so underfished and misunderstood. Their fighting ability is intense and the eating quality is one of the best that swim in our waters. Many like to call it ‘freshwater lobster.’

Ling are a March spawner and are very easy to locate. They are a night predator and fishing for them at night is always the best, but they can be caught during the day just as well. Ling look for a sand or gravel bottom in anywhere from 10 to 60 feet of water to spawn. Start with shorelines that have this bottom structure and transition to deep water nearby.

Manitoulin has an overabundance of water bodies that holds some of the best ling fishing in the north. South Bay, Lake Manitou and Lake Mindemoya are all hotspots. Like always and especially during the dog days of the hard water season, be sure to check the ice conditions; they can change fast.

One of the best parts of ling fishing is that they will hit almost anything you throw down the hole during March. I’ve found the best way to catch these tasty fish is to keep it simple. Your old standby lake trout lures and jigs work well—fish the bottom two feet of the water column. A short jigging action followed by long pauses, giving the fish time to strike, is essential.

If you want something a little different and are just after the incredible fighting experience a ling has to offer, make the switch to sucker bait. Hooking up a good-sized chunk of sucker on a quick-strike rig will allow for a better hookset as well as a better fish release. Position your bait a few inches from the bottom and hold on.

Once you find the ling, the action can be fast and furious. Fish up to 10 pounds are not uncommon. 

If you read last week’s column about whitefish, I did mention that they will follow the spawning ling around. This fact is something that is overlooked or not known by most anglers. Be sure to keep your second rod with a micro jig, Virbrato or Meegs right on the bottom, casually stirring up the sand. You will be pleasantly surprised when one of our most sought after fish makes an appearance through the hole in the ice.

These are the final days of the hard water season; the weather looks fantastic, so get off the couch and do some social distancing on the ice. You won’t regret it.

Tight lines,