Sport Fishing's Mysterious Fish from the Deep

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


This Stumper's a Bumper (first of two photos)

(From the July/Aug issue of Sport Fishing_ magazine.)_ Q: I caught this fish in the harbor of Golfito, Costa Rica, in water about 40 feet deep while fishing a sabiki rig for live bait. It looks somewhat like a butterfish or, in any case, a jack of some sort. What is it? How large do these get? Are they good to eat? Adrian Gray Fort Lauderdale, Florida

This Stumper's a Bumper (secnnd of two photos)

A: Yes, indeed, this is a jack, although a rather diminutive one. The round body, scythe-like pectoral fin and, particularly, the black spot on the rear of the head and another just in front of the tail fin mean this is the Pacific bumper, Chloroscombrus orqueta. This is a schooling fish that reaches only about 12 inches long. You can find them as far north as Southern California and also all the way down to Peru, but they're most abundant in tropical waters. They favor shallow coastal waters and estuaries, but they have been taken down to depths of about 175 feet. This is a plankton feeder, so a sabiki hook probably looks like a particularly large and plump copepod. Despite their small size, Pacific bumpers are a reasonably important commercial species: I have seen fair numbers in the fresh-fish markets of Pacific Mexico. They are rather tasty when fried, reminiscent of small pompano, although kind of bony. — Milton Love

A Tale of Two Tails

Q: I caught this yellowfin tuna on a long-range trip with the Royal Polaris out of San Diego. It appears that a second tail grew out of the first! Very strange. Any idea how something like this might happen? Jim Ross Bridgeview, Illinois A: This is a rather rare deviation in fishes, but it does happen occasionally. I suspect it's due to either an injury early in life or a genetic abnormality. Either way, it certainly looks odd. I would think the second tail could hinder such a fish's top-end speed, but then it may have benefited its maneuverability. In any case, I note that this juvenile yellowfin doesn't seem to be suffering from malnutrition — it's a nice, plump fish. — Eric Princetuna with two tails

Seeing Double

Q: My friend's father caught this fish while trolling near Galvez Banks, one of the many seamounts off the coast of Guam. I think it's a slender tuna, but my research into the species limits its range to the southern oceans, with its northernmost record being caught in Palau. Is this a slender tuna or, if not, can you tell me what species it is? John Jocson Guam A: What you have there, John, is a not a slender tuna, but a nice double-lined mackerel, Grammatorcynus bilineatus. Also called scad mackerel or big-eyed scad, this species is encountered near coral-reef areas throughout the tropical waters of the Indo Pacific region, from the Red Sea east to Fiji and as far north as the Ryuku Islands south of Japan. Because of the presence of a double lateral line (which gives them their name), they closely resemble the shark mackerel (G. bicarinatus), their closest relative in the mackerel family (Scombridae). However, unlike the shark mackerel (found only around Australia), double-lined mackerel have small conical teeth and lack the typical triangular cutting teeth possessed by the shark mackerel. Also, they have more gill rakers and a larger eye but seldom exceed around 30 inches, compared with the shark mackerel, which can exceed 4 feet and 25 pounds. Double-lined mackerel are usually encountered in schools on steep outer-reef slopes, where they hunt for pelagic crustaceans and small fishes. They can be effectively targeted using small lures, jigs and flies, and are apparently good eating, except for an ammonia taste that can be avoided by removing the kidney tissue prior to cooking. This species is also one of the all-time favorite trolling baits for marlin fishermen off Australia's east coast. — Ben Digglesdouble-lined mackerel

Two Shades of Gray

Q: This weird fish was caught off Salisbury, Massachusetts, on October 11, 2012 by Ralph Laughlin, who's holding it. I've been fishing these waters for 45 years, and I've never seen anything like it. Please identify.
John Solomon
Methuen, Massachusetts A: There are two triggerfishes (family Balistidae) that can reach southern New England waters: the gray triggerfish and the oceanic triggerfish. This specimen is the former (Balistes capriscus). Young stages are highly pelagic, and many drift from subtropical waters via the Gulf Stream into your area. The adults are usually, if not always, associated with rock or coral reefs in depths ranging from near the surface to as deep as 300 feet. That high dorsal spine has a locking device that prevents it from being lowered, as you might have discovered. They are certainly edible but occur so rarely that they have no real recreational or commercial importance. With that small terminal mouth, they eat pretty much whatever they can nibble (algae, invertebrates, etc.). Large adults get up to about 16 inches, so yours is a pretty small specimen. — Mike Fahay

Trout Trouble

Q: I caught an 18-inch fish in 35 feet of water off Fort Pierce, Florida. It looked like a sand seatrout, which I've caught before in the Indian River Lagoon. When I caught my first sand seatrout, I learned that a 14-inch fish was large for the species. So when I caught this 18-incher, of course I looked up the IGFA all-tackle record. I found mixed information, including one reference to that record as 2 pounds, 3 ounces, caught in Texas. Other sources said that sand seatrout are caught up to 5 pounds. I noted that there's also a silver seatrout, though I don't think that's what this fish is, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's website mentions a sand seatrout/weakfish hybrid. Can you clear things up a bit — what is this species and what's the world record? Tim Simos Fort Pierce, Florida A: Based on your fish's size and appearance, you may have caught a large sand seatrout, Cynoscion arenarius, Tim. The largest sand seatrout recognized by the IGFA weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces, so your fish, while large, is a bit short of the record for this species. However, because the sand seatrout is found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, the location of your catch makes me question this tentative identification. The sand seatrout is one of a number of seatrout species (members of the genus Cynoscion) found in south and central Florida. The others include the silver seatrout, C. nothus, a smaller fish resembling the sand seatrout but with fewer anal-fin rays (eight to 10 versus zero to 12) and more dorsal rays (27 to 30 versus 25 to 27); the spotted seatrout, C. nebulosus, which can be recognized by its numerous bold, dark spots; and the weakfish, C. regalis, a larger, common northern species that also invades south Florida and has many small spots — less bold than those on spotted seatrout — on its back, dorsal and caudal fins. However, the identification of these fishes is complicated by the fact that they sometimes hybridize with each other. All are good table fare, but larger individuals may have tapeworms embedded in their muscles that, while apparently not harmful to humans, can be less than appetizing. — Ray Waldner
about the experts for web use.png

ABOUT FISH FACTS (and how YOU can discover secrets while winning miles of line!)