My brother Justin got out recently for a foraging adventure on the California North coast. As Langdon Cook put it in his excellent book Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, lingcod in Washington state are not particularly abundant and so the season there is relatively short to keep the harvest sustainable. Here in California, we do not share that problem, lingcod are abundant largely due to great management on behalf of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game). We see these beautiful Jurassic-looking fish on nearly every outing. Their curiously dragon-like appearance in the shadowy depths of a cave on the sea floor is truly something to behold...and lucky for us they are also incredibly tasty! Though the population of lingcod is very healthy in our California waters, finding a fish of such epic proportions is a truly once-in-a-lifetime event...if you are really lucky. Perhaps it is due to the countless hours Justin has spent in the water since childhood, or maybe it is because he is half seal, but the following is the story of his foraging adventure and the ling of a lifetime... in his words.- Kevin Smith
We only had six feet of visibility and it took me 40 minutes of diving to find the 25 foot tall rock that I affectionately call triangle rock. I popped my head up through the canopy of bull kelp and looked around to get my bearings. My kayak was still on anchor, bobbing up and down a 100 yards away from us, where I thought this rock lay. I loaded the old worn out band on my 70 cm Rob Allen spear gun, took a few breaths, flipped the switch on my flashlight, and started kicking down to the rock. The top of the rock was 10 feet below the surface and I followed it to where it dropped off and met the sea floor. Here there was a series of small ledges that hold big 5-6 pound rockfish, but today they were safe from me. I was heading for a nearby cave I had found 10 months ago. I swam 15 feet along the base of the ledges to the entrance of the cave. My dive light illuminated the cave and inside I saw a huge lingcod head. I took my time and lined up a good shot. The spear struck true, and after a short struggle I was dragging the 29 pound lingcod out of the cave. I checked my watch as I hit the surface and I had only been down for 55 seconds, but it felt like much longer. That night I filleted the fish. I used the bones to make a dashi stock to which I added white meso. I put dried winter chanterelles into the broth, mussels I gathered from the rocks, along with snap peas and chard from our garden.
On top of the noodles I put a fillet of lingcod. It was a very nice meal. The next day my friend used the head and remaining parts of the carcass to bait his crab traps. -Justin Smith