Updated: Mar 3, 2020
Sablefish, commonly referred to as black cod, is a deep water fish found in the muddy sea beds of the North Pacific ocean. Black cod are caught in depths ranging from 700 - 3000 feet of water. Because of such extreme depths, black cod were once only available to the commercial fishery by means of long lining and pots. With the use of electric reels, we have now made it possible to catch black cod sport fishing in Sitka, Alaska!
Alaska Deep Sea Sport Fishing for Black Cod
-Binomial name: Anoplopoma fimbria
-Common names: sable, sablefish, black cod, butterfish
-Size: Average 5-15 pounds, up to 35 pounds
-Alaska sport fishing record: 35.3 pounds (Cross Sound, 2013)
-Season: All summer
-Depths: 600 - 5,000 feet
-Long lived species: maximum age of 94 years reported in Alaska
-Diet: opportunistic, feeding on both fish and invertebrates
-Predators: sperm whales
-Deep water spawning: average sized sablefish will lay ~ 400,000 eggs
-Groundfish; juveniles tend to be pelagic or semi-pelagic
-Despite the name, sablefish are actually not part of the Cod family
Sitka's Outer Coast Location
Sitka's location on the outer coast of the Alaska Panhandle makes it possible for us to get out to the depths needed to target black cod. From the dock, we are about a 60 - 90 minute boat ride (depending on the ocean conditions) out to 700 feet of water.
Wind & Ocean Conditions
Ocean conditions determine if we are able to go out and fish for black cod past 700 feet of water. We need relatively calm seas and light winds to go on the drift and search for these deep water fish.
Anchoring at 600-700 Feet
Just a few years ago, catching a bonus black cod while doing some deep sea halibut fishing was the only way we had a chance to catch these deep sea fish. Anchoring out in depths of 600-700 feet for halibut, we would occasionally get lucky and get a handful every once in a while. Sometimes the black cod came to those depths of 600-700 feet due to their natural migratory cycle. Other times the deep underwater current was in our favor and carrying our bait scent out to the depths of the continental shelf. For every 2-3 halibut that we caught and 2-3 spiny dog sharks we released, we would usually get 1 black cod.
This fishing style (anchoring in 600-700 ft) can be quite productive, especially if the black cod are in the area and we have a strong scent of bait going out to the depths. However, one can only manually crank up a fighting fish from 600-700 feet so many times. The first fish you reel up isn't so bad. The second fish is when you start feeling the pain. Can you imagine doing this a third and a fourth time?
Electric Reels are a Game Changer
Black cod is a deep water fish. Typically the deeper you go, the more you will catch. And the deeper you go, the bigger black cod you will find.
Adding electric reels to each of our boats this off season was a game changer. We now have the ability to go out and find them, with depth not being a factor.
Using the same gear and tackle as we would halibut fishing, we head out deeper on the slope of the continental shelf.
Deep Sea Drifting
When we go out and fish past 800 feet of water, we are typically always drifting. We typically keep one of the outboards on and back down on the drift as needed to keep our lines from scoping too far behind the boat. Also, we use heavier lead weights (3 or 4 lbs) to help get our baits down quicker and to decrease the scope in the line.
Another fishing style we utilize while fishing out deep is using a sea anchor. Utilizing the sea anchor helps slow down the boat's drift and keeps our lines relatively straight up and down.
1400 - 1800 Feet of Water
We have had our best luck catching black cod fishing in depths of 1400-1800 feet of water. At depths of 900-1300 we are typically catching other fish such as the shortraker rockfish (another excellent tasting fish).
Best Tasting Fish in the World
There would be no point to target black cod if it didn't taste awesome. Black cod, aka the butterfish, is highly prized for an incredibly rich, melt-in-your-mouth buttery taste and delicate texture. It's what you would be serving at a gourmet restaurant.
The fillet of a black cod is a pure snow white color with large, delicate flakes. The fillets have a high oil content and can be prepared many ways - including grilling, smoking, frying, or served as sushi.
Black cod store a lot of fat (omega-3's) because of their long lives in the deep, frigid, waters of Alaska. The highest fat content of any white meat fish in the Pacific Ocean (in the form of omega-3's) makes black cod very healthy.
Black cod tips, the strip of meat found along the collar of the black cod, are prized for the high oil content and delicate flavor. Black cod tips are considered the prime cut, almost similar to the filet mignon of a tenderloin.