Sport Fishing's Mysterious Fish from the Deep in June Fish Facts

Once again, Sport Fishing readers try to stump the experts with strange catches.

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Plankton-Fueled Torpedo (first of two photos)

Q: While trolling off northern Costa Rica with my dad, who lives there, we hooked this fish in 30 feet of water near a rock reef on a 3-inch red-and-white Rapala. After its strong, speedy runs, we were able to bring it to the gaff. The fish had been snagged in the head, next to its mouth. (We had slowed the boat to deal with a snag and then, as we got going again, the pole went bendo.) It lacked teeth, like a carp. I have no idea what species this 26½-pound fish is, but the white-meat fillets were great to eat. Do you have any idea what this mullet lookalike is? Ari Jamon
Venice, California
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Plankton-Fueled Torpedo (second of two photos)

A: What you have there, Ari, is a very nice specimen of milkfish, Chanos chanos, one of the world's most challenging and explosive light-tackle sport fish. This species is the only member of the family Chanidae. Their forebears can be traced back in the fossil record more than 100 million years to the Cretaceous period. Milkfish are attractive fish with a torpedo-shaped body colored blue-green above, silvery on the sides, and white below. The large eyes of these toothless plankton feeders are covered with a thick layer of gelatinous tissue, like mullet. They’ve also been described as resembling primitive, toothless herring with a deeply forked tail. Originally described by science in 1775 from a specimen collected in the Red Sea, milkfish can be encountered throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans, including Hawaii, and the eastern Pacific from Southern California to the Galapagos. The all-tackle world record of 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds) came from South Africa, but records show they grow to at least 6 feet. While milkfish fry and juveniles are usually encountered in freshwater rivers, swamps and wetlands, adults occur in coastal areas or around offshore islands, where large schools can sometimes be seen swimming with their heads out of the water, filtering plankton as they swim. Milkfish mature at around five years of age, but spawn (near coral reefs) only in fully saline waters. Taking a milkfish on a trolled lure is a very rare event. Being plankton feeders, milkfish can be hard to catch on hook and line. Most anglers who successfully hook milkfish do so after attracting them with liberal bread chum, then bait up with bread or present bread-imitating flies. Once hooked, these plankton-fueled torpedoes display powerful runs and aerial displays worthy of the world’s top-shelf sport fish. Think of a turbocharged mullet that grows to 6 feet long, and you will get some idea. And as you found out, they're also good eating; milkfish have been farmed for at least four to six centuries in many countries in Southeast Asia. The importance of milkfish to the livelihood and nutrition of people in the Asia-Pacific region is evidenced by the enormous amounts of land (millions of acres), water, and human resources involved in milkfish culture, which now exceeds 600,000 tons per year. — Ben Diggles
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Scallop Squatters (first of two photos)

Q: While cleaning some ocean scallops this past winter, I found these inside one of the closed scallops (harvested from about 180 feet of water off Montauk). What are these? Maybe some sort of hake? Dave Schleifer
Montauk, New York
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Scallop Squatters (second of two photos)

A: There are four species of hake (genus Urophycis) in the western Atlantic off the northeastern United States. All have different early-life histories (meaning egg, larval and juvenile-stage behaviors). Those in your photos are red hake (U. chuss). After passing through egg and larval stages while floating around in the plankton, these young fish then pass through a special pelagic juvenile stage — a rather short-lived "adolescent" stage — followed by a descent to the bottom during fall. Their initial bottom-dwelling stage may involve an inquiline relationship (one animal living in another) with sea scallops, during which they actually inhabit scallops, using them as shelter, after entering through the scallops' excurrent siphons. The little hake can live within these valves until reaching a length of more than 4 inches. This association is not necessarily an obligate one (where hake and scallop would rely on each other for survival). These early settlers may simply find shelter under the valves of scallops, without entering the internal parts. Or they may find shelter under inanimate objects (rocks, beer cans, etc.). An unrelated species, Liparis inquilinus, the inquiline snailfish, family Liparidae, also uses scallops as shelter during the fishes' juvenile stage. At least 32 snailfish have been found within the mantle cavity of a single scallop. Watch for them also. They are easy to identify because their pelvic fins are modified into sucking disks. — Mike Fahay
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Teeth from the Deep (first of two photos)

Q: I caught this strange fish 40 miles south of South Pass, out of Venice, Louisiana. It hit a knife jig right at the surface. Its eyes seemed to glow blue. It looks like a deepwater fish. There was a deepwater-pipeline submersible vessel working near by. I wonder if the fish followed one of the submersibles up from the depths. Aaron Hammer
Houston, Texas
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Teeth from the Deep (second of two photos)

A: Aaron, that toothy creature is a** longnose lancetfish**, Alepisaurus ferox__. These guys are rarely seen by anglers because they spend most of their time in depths to 6,000 feet, although they do occasionally approach the surface during daily vertical migrations. Found in all temperate and tropical seas, lancetfish occasionally wander into even cooler haunts. There are a few real peculiarities about these fish. Their teeth are flattened and hollow, the flesh is soft and flabby, and the body lacks scales. Although they are occasionally eaten, I haven't seen anyone claim them as a favorite. Lancetfish reach upwards of 6 feet. They prey on squid and smaller finfish, and are in turn preyed upon by sharks, tunas and even seals. Recently scientists have recognized a second species, A. brevirostris, the shortnose lancetfish, but little is known of its range or habits. — Bob Shipp
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Follow the Paper Trail

Q: These were among the stomach contents of a dolphin (mahi) caught off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, by Molly Stark on the Tooth Ferry. No one seems to have any idea what they are. J.P. Doley
Williamsburg, Virginia A: The critters that you discovered in the dolphin's stomach are (Argonauta sp.), commonly called paper nautiluses. Although it shares the common name of nautilus, the paper nautilus belongs to a different order than the more familiar chambered nautilus, shells of which are often available in curio stores. Paper nautiluses are actually pelagic octopuses, and what appears to be a shell is an egg case secreted by females. Seven living species of argonauts are generally recognized, although the taxonomic status of some is questionable. Argonauts usually live at relatively shallow depths in the open ocean; they occur worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas. I've caught quite a few dolphinfish that have contained intact argonaut egg cases, but few have included intact argonauts like those in your photograph. — Ray Waldner
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Unsolved Mystery

Q: This rockfish was caught in July at Resurrection Bay, out of Seward, Alaska, in 200 to 300 feet of water on a piece of cut herring. There are many types of red rockfish in this area, several of which have dark blotches. I'm struggling to make a positive ID, since it could be a Pacific ocean perch, a dark-blotched rockfish or even a yellowmouth rockfish. Can you help me? Dominick Porcelli
Cincinnati, Ohio A:The mystery rockfish will have to remain a mystery. I checked with Alaska and Canadian rockfish biologists and no one could give a definitive answer. Here are the best possibilities: 1) Chilipepper (Sebastes goodei). The thinking was that the body shape was right and some small ones (and this is a relatively small fish) do have kind of a dark back. But some exceptions: The fish has green stripes in the tail and chilis don't; that is a very dark back for a chili; chilis do not have dark markings on the head; and chilis appear to be very rare off Alaska (in fact not reported from the mainland as far northward as Seward). 2) Stripetail rockfish. (S. saxicola) does have green stripes on the tail, and the body shape is more or less right, but the markings on the spiny dorsal are wrong, the dark markings on the head are wrong, and the overall bright-red-and-dark coloring is wrong. 3) Pacific ocean perch (S. alutus). The body shape is right, but the coloration and various markings are wrong. As I say, none of these species were suggested with much enthusiasm. That leaves three choices: a) It's a known species but a rare color variant. This happens fairly frequently. b) It's a hybrid. This appears to be rare in most rockfishes, but it likely does happen. c) It's a new species. While possible, the sheer number of biologists working off Alaska means that there being an undescribed species up there is kind of remote. Or d) It is a western Pacific species. However, I have looked at images of most of the Japanese-Korean-Russian species, and none looks like this. — Milton Love
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