Fish Facts VII

Another look at some unusual and bizarre fish caught by Sport Fishing magazine readers

September 18, 2012

Long, Lean Lady

This fish that looks just like a ladyfish is actually a giant herring (Elops hawaiensis) that was caught in New Caledonia by David Boué-Mandil. Giant herrings belong to a primitive group of fishes called Elopomorpha, which includes eels, tarpon and bonefish. These voracious predators feed on a wide range of prey, sometimes striking at anything that moves. They are explosive light-tackle sport fish — pound for pound, few fish can match a large giant herring for acceleration and aerial ability in the first minute or two after hookup. Unfortunately, they’re poor eating. David Boué-Mandil

Monster Mouth From Alaska

This remarkable mass of fins, frills and mouth from the Gulf of Alaska is the aptly named bigmouth sculpin (Hemitripterus bolini). This fish, held by Capt. Kevin Knight, grabbed a herring on a circle hook that an angler fished in 300 feet of water over a muddy/rocky bottom. The species is one of the largest sculpins, which reach about two-and-a-half feet long and a fairly hefty 28 pounds. Bigmouths are found from Russian and Siberian waters east to Alaska, south to northern California. You usually find them over soft seafloors at depths of just under 100 to more than 3,000 feet, and occasionally in waters as chilly as 29°F (remember that seawater freezes at below 34°F). Capt. Steve Zernia / ProFish-N-Sea Charters (

Playing With Fire

While wading around Peanut Island, near Florida’s Lake Worth Inlet, Kyle Wallace stepped on this two-inch-long polychaete worm — a bristle-bearing, segmented marine worm of the family Amphinomidae. They are commonly called fireworms due to painful venom associated with their hairlike setae. “Touching it left me with the same irritating feeling from handling fiberglass,” Wallace says. Most fireworms reach lengths of six to 12 inches when stretched out. Kyle Wallace

Twelve Feet and Six Gills

The wide-ranging, primitive bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) grows to around 16 feet in length and can weigh upwards of a ton. It is found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas. Advanced sharks have five pairs of gill slits; more primitive forms, such as this, have more gill slits. Another primitive characteristic of bluntnose sixgill sharks is the presence of a single dorsal fin that originates just in front of the origin of the fish’s anal fin. Ken Neill III

Sea Monster

Ken Neill III’s bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) had some serious, serrated teeth! Ken Neill III

A Tale of Two Surgeons

While these two fish look very different, the distinctive patterns on the fins, as well as size and other features, confirm that they are two color morphs of the yellowfin surgeonfish (Acanthurus xanthopterus). Angler Steve Wozniak caught them in the Pacific off Costa Rica (right) and Kona Hawaii (right). Many fishes like this can change color quickly depending on their mood or to blend into the background of the substrates they are inhabiting at the time. Color differences are possibly due to one fish being taken from reef (hence, the darker coloration) and the other from rubble/sandy bottom (so a lighter color). In addition to algae, A. xanthopterus also feed on zooplankton and are considered the only species of surgeonfish that will readily take a bait. Steve Wozniak

Thorny Musician

The spiky trumpeter (Terapon jarbua) is named after the sharp spines on its operculum, which can inflict nasty puncture wounds on unwary anglers. Angler Rob Sherman pulled this little guy (about the size of his hand) on a sabiki hook in the South China Sea. This species belongs to the family Terapontidea, or grunters, a group of fishes only found in the western Indo-Pacific region. They aren’t closely related to drums and croakers but, nevertheless, share the ability to “trumpet” noises when alarmed, using special muscles that vibrate their swim bladder. They are also known to partake in a specialized feeding technique known as lepidophagy, eating the scales of other fishes. Rob Sherman

Islamorada Anomaly

Vic Gaspeny caught this 17 ½-pound bigscale pomfret (Taractichthys longipinnis) on a bonito strip in 1,500 feet off Islamorada, Florida, while fishing with Captains Nick and Richard Stanczyk of Bud ‘n Mary’s Fishing Resort. As the largest pomfret in southern Florida waters, bigscales reach a maximum length of just over three feet and are reported to be excellent eating. They aren’t rare, but anglers don’t frequently catch them because they’re believed to spend most of their time in oceanic waters at depths to 600 feet. Captains Nick and Richard Stanczyk

The Groucho Marx Fish

These rocky-bottom dwellers called cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus) often hide in holes or hunker down in algae, and most of these large sculpins live from northern British Columbia to somewhere along the central Baja California cost. Anglers Sean and Keegan Rooney caught this specimen while bottomfishing off Oceanside, California, noting its “weird eyebrow things” — a key character called flapdoodles. Although it probably wouldn’t occur to you to eat cabezon eggs, don’t: They contain a toxin that will make you explode from both ends and can damage your liver. Sean and Keegan Rooney

Soap Opera

Soapfishes like this whitespotted soapfish (Rypticus maculates) are so-named because they produce large amounts of mucus, which render them quite slippery, as angler Capt. Tim Simos’ girlfriend experienced here. This particular catch hit a piece of cut bait set out for snapper in about 15 feet of water, and it is particularly interesting because of the parasitic isopods attached to the fish’s pectoral and anal fins. It’s believed that soapfishes’ toxic mucus prevents parasitic infestations of this sort, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Capt. Tim Simos /

Ambushed Off Africa

Flowery cod (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus) are superb ambush predators, sitting motionless on the bottom camouflaged until prey get close enough for them to strike with a fast lunge. That’s exactly what happened off Kenya, when Mustad’s “Dr. Fish” Jeff Pierce caught this 13-pound specimen with a popper as a school waited in ambush in the coral crevasses where the big surf crashed along the reef. Flowery cod are known to be ciguatoxic in certain parts of their range, particularly around New Caledonia.

Flag From the Depths

This mystery fish caught by Joe Morales Sr. aboard Angler out of Virginia Beach took the bait in about 500 feet of water. It belongs to the family Aulopidae, members of which have been called flagfins. This specimen is most likely Aulopus nanae, but it doesn’t have a common name. Most accounts show this species’ range as the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, so the capture of this fish off Virginia Beach qualifies as what scientists call a range extension. According to Mike Fahay of the Sandy Hook Marine Lab in New Jersey, if any reader capturing such a rare fish could put it whole into a freezer, he would be doing ichthyology a service by getting it to a museum with a fish collection, such as the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In addition to the specimen itself, the museum would need the date, depth of capture, location of capture and method of collection (hook and line). Joe Morales Sr.

A Popeye With Pizzazz

In San Carlos, Mexico, anglers like Capt. Fernando Almada call these brightly colored fish sol because of the depth and beauty of their eye color. “It’s as if their eyes are infinitely deep,” he says, of the small fish they take on jigs. Also known as popeye catalufa (Pristigenys serrula), they are found from central Oregon to Chile, but mostly in tropical waters at depths of 120 to 200 feet. The species name, serrula, is Latin for “little saw” and refers to this species’ large, rough scales. Capt. Fernando Almada

Perplexing Panama Flattie

This close relative of the more familiar, more northern-dwelling California halibut is called a dappled flounder (Paralichthys woolmani) and is found from southern Baja California to Peru, from the surf zone out to depths of about 300 feet. Interestingly, the largest dappled flounder on record was about 32 inches long; the fish in this photo — caught by a guest of Tropic Star Lodge in Piñas Bay, Panama — just might be larger than that. Hope the potential-word-record fish was tasty! Albert Battoo

Long-Rayed Lookdown

These silvery fish are a species of jack that look as if a steamroller had pancaked them. Fine fun on ultra-light spinning or fly gear, lookdowns don’t grow large: The IGFA all-tackle world record is 4 pounds, 12 ounces, caught by Becky Wright near Flamingo, Florida. Juvenile lookdowns (Selene vomer) like this one scooped out of a canal in Fort Pierce, Florida, by Capt. Tim Simos, make fascinating but delicate additions to large marine aquariums. Related video: See a brief clip of underwater footage showing a school of lookdowns at Capt. Tim Simos /

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