Strange Fishes From the Deep — Flapnose Catfish and More

Sport Fishing readers try to stump the Fish Facts experts with strange catches.

August 11, 2016

In each issue of Sport Fishing magazine, a panel of five international expert ichthyologists identifies unusual and often amazing fishes in photos submitted by readers. Below you’ll find the I.D. and information for a few interesting catches from far and wide.


Strange Fishes from the Deep - A Flapnose Catfish
QUESTION: Scott Goodwin caught this catfish at the docks of Crocodile Bay Resort in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica, with a leftover strip bait pinned to a lead-head jig. A couple of catfish were swimming around the docks, sucking up scraps from the cleaning tables. Some guys at the dock called this an armored catfish. Was that the proper ID? What’s the species’ range? How big do they get? Are they edible?
Sam Hudson
Orlando, Florida
Sam Hudson / Sport Fishing
Strange Fishes from the Deep - A Flapnose Catfish
Scary smile — Closeup of the fish’s mouth Sam Hudson / Sport Fishing

ANSWER: That whiskered beauty is Sciades dowii, the flapnose sea catfish. While there are a number of catfish species off Costa Rica, the one you caught is brassy-brown with really thick whiskers, both characteristics of this species. The flapnose is a tropical catfish that lives in the shallows of rivers and brackish parts of the sea from at least southern Mexico to northern Peru. The habitat in which you caught it — a quiet bay with muddy bottom — is perfect for these bottom-feeding fish because they spend most of their time either stalking small fish or rooting around in the mud for small invertebrates like crabs and shrimp. As far as eating qualities are concerned, flapnoses are caught all along their range and sold fresh and salted, so I guess they’re at least marginally acceptable as table fare. One note: The largest flapnose on record is about 35 inches long, and this fish looks like it might be larger than that. In any case, since no one has yet entered the species with the IGFA for an all-tackle record, this could have been it. Next one!
Milton Love


Strange Fishes from the Deep - A Hybrid Snapper
QUESTION: While we were catching yellowtail in the Florida Keys, this was pulled aboard. It seems like some kind of hybrid, not exactly a lane snapper nor anything else I can find in the books. What do you think?
Vic Gaspeny
Tavernier, Florida
Vic Gaspeny

ANSWER: It’s often difficult to ascertain whether a fish is a hybrid, especially on the sole basis of photographs, Vic. Still, your catch appears to have characteristics of both lane snapper (Lutjanus synagris) and yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus), and in fact, the production of hybrids by these two parental species is well documented. The lane-yellowtail snapper hybrid, first described by Felipe Poey in 1860, was originally considered a unique species: Mesoprion (Lutjanus) ambiguus. Workers following Poey sometimes referred to this fish as the “Cuban snapper” or “Cuban gray snapper.” However, an analysis of wild-caught snappers by William Loftus, as well as laboratory breeding studies by M. Domeier and M. Clark, all published in 1992, showed conclusively that lane and yellowtail snapper can successfully hybridize. Furthermore, Domeier and Clark suggested that yellowtail snapper and gray snapper (L. griseus) might also interbreed, resulting in the production of yet another hybrid. Dr. Cynthia Toth, Jessica Pinder and I are in the process of analyzing the protein complement and DNA sequences of the lane-yellowtail snapper hybrid, and are comparing these data to those obtained from the parental species in hopes of determining how genetically or biochemically similar the hybrid is to each of its parental stocks.
Ray Waldner



Strange Fishes from the Deep - a rock sea bass
QUESTION: While fishing squid for black sea bass over a live-bottom reef system in about 70 feet of water 20 miles off Cape Lookout, North Carolina, we caught this beautiful little fish. It measured 11 inches. I’ve looked at all the North Carolina marine fisheries websites and cannot ID this fish, so any help or information would be great! James Holloway
New Bern, North Carolina
James Holloway

ANSWER: You caught a very close relative of the black sea bass (Centropristis striata) you were seeking, James: a rock sea bass, C. philadelphica. This species reaches a maximum length of around a foot and ranges from North Carolina to South Florida along the Atlantic Coast; it’s also found in the northern Gulf of Mexico. As its common name suggests, it is often associated with hard-bottom areas, but unlike other members of its genus, it also inhabits areas with sandy or muddy bottoms. Like other sea basses, the rock sea bass is a protogynous hermaphrodite, meaning that females change sex to become males as they mature. The preferred depth range for rock sea bass appears to be 60 to 300 feet. Like its brethren, the rock sea bass is excellent table fare.
Ray Waldner


Strange Fishes from the Deep - A Hogfish
This large wrasse of the Southeast and Caribbean is highly prized but hard to come by, as it only occasionally hits jigs or small bait fish or dead. Hogfish feed mainly on mollusks and crabs. Delicious eating, they’re often a spearfishing target. The IGFA world record is an ounce shy of 22 pounds, taken in 2011 off South Carolina — not surprisingly, on a crab. Jason Arnold /

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Strange Fishes from the Deep
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