Fish of the Month: Lingcod- Ophiodon elongates
A pragmatist might ask why I’m adding a ‘fish of the month’ feature to a pottery blog.
Well- I can’t claim to be quite the piscophile that some of my friends are (I’ve got a pal who once kissed a sturgeon’s sucker-mouth on a dare).
However, fish are one of the most variegated, multi-hued and multi-formed expressions of ‘beauty’ in creation. The same process of evolution that yielded the austere grace of a king salmon also gifts us with the Hieronymus Bosch absurdity that is the blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus).
Secondly, fish symbolize wild places in all of their resiliency and terrible fragility. From the Asian silver carp
, tearing a swathe of ecological destruction along the backbone of the Mississippi, to the desert pupfish, hanging on by a thread in a puddle of hot water, fish mirror the health of the ecosystems that support us.
Fish have always been a source of mystery to us. They inhabit a cryptic, hidden world, only marginally opened to us with the advent of aquaria and SCUBA.
Finally, fish bloody fun to draw. I love rendering them on my pots. My basic drawing of an arctic grayling
is a staple of my work… but many of my favorite ceramic vessels from the past year are laced with other denizens of the seven seas.
Anyhow, I’m going to start with one of my favorites.
Back when I was 18, I worked an abortive two-day stint as a deckhand on a Sitka long-liner. I’ve never spent more time retching… it was my only serious bout with motion sickness, and I dearly hope that I never repeat the experience.
For those who’ve never fished the open ocean, the twin arms of a trolling boat drag long cables over the benthos, with nylon leaders clipped to the cables at intervals. When a fish hits a lure, you winch the cable back into the boat. There’s a high level of uncertainty- the leader could be dragging a halibut (back-breaking work with a gaff) a dogfish (break out the Kevlar gloves) or a squirting mess of shredded jellyfish.
However, nothing rears out of the deep with quite the impact of a lingcod. The things are enormous (we caught a six footer during the summer of ’90). They also have a howling, snaggle-hungry stare that makes a person very, very glad not to be a pollock.
They’re not quite the big-ticket item that salmon are, but people do eat them with gusto… to the point where stocks were severely hammered in the mid ‘90s. Things have improved since Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries implemented strict catch limits post-1999.
They’re ferocious gluttons. Interestingly, it’s the males that guard the egg clutches (all 500,000 eggs in some instances). These papas are faithful for up to 10 weeks, and have mauled divers on a couple of occasions.
They’re a wandering fish- females have been known to cover 500+ kilometers in a season. (Males stick closer to home… must be linked to the maternal instinct).
Apart from their googly-eyed, cantankerous personality, however, one of the things that delight me about lings is their coloration. My best compadre and canoeing partner Matt joined me on a British Columbia kayaking trip a few years back. We caught a number of lings, and several (about one out of three) were a vibrant, shimmering turquoise. They seemed to glow as you lifted them out of the water.
This photo (left) from Kawika Chetron’s coldwater images
is a good example.
Honestly, the ones that we caught were too beautiful to eat, and we set them all free. Apparently, though, the color runs beneath the skin. In fact, some people have shied away from eating lings- scared off by the neon green flesh (although- apparently- the flesh turns white once it’s cooked).
I work in a wildlife department at the University of Idaho. None of my fisheries colleagues have been able to steer me to a conclusive reason for the turquoise flesh. Apparently, it’s correlated to a diet laced with crustaceans… but the jade lings often live side by side with red and brown color variants…with no clear reason why.
Anyhow, for those lucky enough to live in the cedar-riven, rain-blest expanses of the Northern Pacific Coast, I hope you have a chance to stare into the vast eyes of one of these frog faces.
I love to draw them, and I love to work them into my pottery… but most importantly, I love to think of them whispering beneath those cruel, azure tidal reaches off the West Coast.