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Ling, a.k.a lemonfish, or cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

A pair of ling swimming near an oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Copyright 2008, David E. Shormann


With their large, triangular dorsal fin, together with their tendency to swim near the surface, adult ling look a lot like a shark. Their shark-like shape, together with their curious nature can be rather disconcerting when scuba diving. On more than one dive I have seen a large shark-like fish approaching rapidly, but thankfully it has almost always been a ling. They will get so close sometimes that you can scratch their backs. Females are usually larger than males, and often have one or more suitors in pursuit. Cobia get big, over 100 lbs!

Ling were designed to prefer coastal waters, and they like salinities around 30 ppt, not as salty as average ocean seawater (35 ppt), and not as fresh as the typical estuary. Ling like to hang out around Gulf Coast oil production platforms, and upon approaching a platform, will often be the first fishes to greet your boat. Notice the lower lip extends past the upper, indicating ling were designed to attack their prey from beneath. Note the small sharksucker hitching a ride on this ling’s back.


Ling, with sharksucker attached. Copyright 2008, David E. Shormann


Juvenile ling look very much like these sharksuckers, minus the suction cup on top of their head:

Sharksuckers attached to the hull of my boat. The stripe along the side of their face, along with their general body style, is very similar to a young ling's. Copyright 2005, David E. Shormann.

Ling prefer water temperatures above 68 °F (20 °C), and prefer to spawn in waters between 75 and 84 °F (24 and 29 °C). They have extremely high fecundities, and can lay hundreds of thousands to millions of eggs per year. Eggs are small, a little more than 1 mm diameter, and buyoant. They hatch within 24-36 hours, and grow rapidly. Ling grow very fast, plus they taste great, so it is no surprise that commercial farming of ling is on the rise worldwide. Ling reach a marketable size of 10-13 pounds (4-6 kg) in about 1 year.

Ling have many other common names, including cobia, lemonfish, and crabeater. They don’t eat lemons, but they do eat crabs, and a fresh blue crab is a good bait for them. Many offshore fishermen like to keep a rod ready with about a 1/0 or 2/0 circle hook and 30-50 lb test line. If a ling is spotted, they will quickly attach a crab or other bait, pitch it towards the ling, and hang on. Sometimes ling will eat almost anything, while other times they are extremely finicky and difficult to catch.

Ling have an almost worldwide distribution, and while I don’t know about other places, I do know that in Texas, late April through October are the best times to catch them. Ling are sometimes caught near the shore at piers and jetties, but the best places to catch them are offshore around oil production platforms and floating patches of sargassum. I sure enjoyed catching, and eating, this one:

38 lb. ling I caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Copyright 2005, David E. Shormann

As always, before fishing, check your local regulations for ling size and posession limits.  I mentioned earlier that ling have a high fecundity, and since the one in the above photo was a gravid female, I decided to estimate the number of eggs she was carrying. Like most fishes, ling have two ovaries, and the combined weight of her eggs was about 1 kg (2.2 lbs), about the weight of most of the fish I’m used to catching! To estimate the fecundity, I weighed two separate and smaller clumps of eggs. The clumps weighed 0.10 and 0.09 g, and had 318 and 326 eggs respectively, which averaged to 322 eggs per 0.095 g. Using this ratio as a conversion factor, I calculated this ling held about 3.4 million eggs!

Strong, curious, tasty, big, and extremely productive, ling are an amazing creation enjoyed by millions of people all over the world!

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