Also known as a Red Hake or Squirrel Hake, the Ling is a member of the Cod family. They are native to the Atlantic Ocean. Their color can vary from reddish-brown or greenish-brown on their sides, while their bellies are white. This color discrepancy depends upon their environment. They have tan spots that dot the darker colored areas. Ling’s first dorsal fin is triangular with a thin thread running outward. Their second dorsal fin and anal fin are elongated and run to the tail fin, but they are not connected. They have a small head, but a large mouth with numerous teeth.
The NOAA (North Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has proposed an annual catch limit for Ling in 2016-2017. This was recommended by the New England Fishery Management Council. There was a decrease in the southern Red Hake (Ling) stock, while there was an increase in the northern stock.
Ling have a rapid growth rate at the beginning of their life, but it slows as they mature. Their maximum length is around two feet and they can weigh 4.5 pounds. Females tend to be larger than the males, ranging closer to the maximum length, while males are generally around 20 inches long. Their lifespan is eight years, but have been recorded at 14 years of age.
Ling are nocturnal hunters, and move along the water column to feed. As larvae, they feast on micro-crustaceans. Juveniles will abandon their shelter at night to eat small shrimp and crabs. Once Ling are adults, they will eat primarily crustaceans like decapods and rock crabs, but also hunt for fish, including but not limited to, Haddock, Silver Hake, Mackerel and squid.
Ling are most active at nighttime. A seven-foot rod with medium action works well when fishing for Ling. Circle hooks have proven to be successful, with a 1/0 or 2/0 size. Anywhere from a 8 to 16 sinker will help keep bait near the bottom, where Ling prefer to hunt. The bait should be small. Clams, squid, or Mackerel work well. It is important to ice a Ling immediately after catching, because their quality diminishes quickly.
From April to November, Ling will swim to shallow waters to spawn. The prefered temperatures range from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The eggs are buoyant, floating near the surface and taking 3 to 7 days to hatch.
Ling are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. Their habitat spans from Newfoundland to North Carolina, and are densely populated in the Georges Bank and New Jersey waters. During the day, they reside near the ocean floor, preferring pebbly, muddy or sandy areas. Older and larger Ling will swim to deeper waters. They are most commonly found in temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.