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October 26, 2001

Bonus Billfish

Find out what seperates a spearfish from other billfish.

Q: On a fishing trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I caught a large sailfish, a striped marlin and this billfish all in the same day. Until I saw a guide to identifying spearfish in the July 1997 Marlin magazine, I thought this fish was a small sailfish. Now I've come to the conclusion that my catch very much resembles a shortbill spearfish. Please help me identify my fish so I can be accurate when I tell my "fish tales." - James E. Gallahan, Alex, Virginia

A: You're right. Now you can brag about catching the rare shortbill spearfish, Tetrapturus angustirostris, as part of your grand slam. Occurring worldwide in warm surface waters, spearfish are usually oceanic and rarely found in coastal waters. In the eastern Pacific, shortbill spearfish range from Chile to Central California and are seldom caught north of Mexico.
Spearfish can usually be identified by their dorsal fins, which after the first few high spines stay about the same medium height all the way back past the anal fin. The sailfish's fin would be higher in the middle, while the marlin's fin would taper lower in the back. The shortbill spearfish's lower jaw measures about two-thirds the length of the upper jaw, while the longbill spearfish and other billfish have upper jaws about twice as long as the lower ones. Spearfish grow to 8 feet and 114 pounds.