Strange Fishes From the Deep — Barred Filefish and More

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

January 19, 2018

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. Find out what they are and learn fascinating facts about them.

Color Swap


My buddy Dan and I were fishing off the lava rocks in Kona, Hawaii, this summer and caught all kinds of different reef fish that we were able to identify after looking at pictures online and local fish-identification charts available on the island. But this one we couldn’t find anywhere. It looks like some type of triggerfish or unicorn fish, but none of them were this color nor had the spike pointing straight up. I saw one that looked like this washed up on the Pacific shore in Cabo San Lucas many years ago. Can you tell us what it is?


Frank Gouveia
Pleasanton, California

A barred filefish in Hawaii
Unusual color-reversed specimen of barred filefish which are normally grey on the sides. Frank Gouveia


It’s no surprise you found this one hard to identify, Frank, because it appears you were lucky enough to catch an unusually pale, color-reversed specimen of barred filefish, Cantherhines dumerilii. Also known as the yelloweye filefish, the more colorful adult males of this species are usually a dark-gray color in the body, with several lighter vertical bars along the flanks that contrast with their translucent yellow dorsal and anal fins and the striking yellow/orange tail. On the other hand, juveniles of this species can be almost black but are covered in many small white dots. Barred filefish grow only to around 15 inches long. They occur widely throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and across the Pacific from Hawaii to Japan, and as far east as the west coasts of Colombia and Panama. They’re bottom grazers usually encountered in pairs (one male, one female) at depths of 12 to 100 feet around tropical islands. The species feeds mainly on the tips of branching corals when available, but lucky anglers have a chance of encountering them when they switch to other invertebrate prey such as mollusks (as well as sponges and bryozoans).


Ben Diggles

Deepwater Delicacy


While deep-dropping in about 1,000 feet of water off Exuma, Bahamas, we caught pomfret on two successive drops. Both times they came off the bottom easily, but about midway up, there was violent action on the rod as if hit by a shark. It was the pomfret making its last run — strong! They came up dead. We thought this might be a sickle pomfret. Can you identify the species?


Tim Thompson

A deepwater pomfret from the Bahamas
The tropical pomfret is one of nine species of pomfret to occur in the western central Atlantic. Tim Thompson


Based on color, body shape and the relative sizes of the fish’s fins, your catch is a tropical pomfret, Eumegistus brevorti, one of nine pomfret species known to occur in the western central Atlantic. You asked if it might be a sickle pomfret (Taractichthys steindachneri), but that species inhabits the Indo-Pacific and eastern tropical Pacific regions and has never been reported from the Atlantic. The anal fin of the sickle pomfret is considerably longer than that of comparatively sized tropical pomfret, but both species share a white posterior margin on their caudal fins. The tropical pomfret is found throughout the western central Atlantic from Florida through Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. It has been reported to grow to a length of 2 feet, suggesting you caught a couple of particularly large individuals. This pomfret inhabits depths between approximately 1,250 and 4,350 feet, so your catches were shallow for the species. Tropical pomfret are occasionally found in fish markets, where they command a high price. Intel from reliable sources suggests that a high price is justified for this very fine-eating fish.


Ray Waldner

A Very Long Snout Without a Doubt


I caught this fish off the bottom in 400 feet of water off Jupiter, Florida. It had lots of sharp spines. My fishing partner, who called it an orange roughy, said he has caught several over the years. A Web search told me it’s not an orange roughy, but I couldn’t find anything close to it. Any ideas?

Stuart Montgomery
Jupiter, Florida

A longsnout scorpionfish
Most scorpionfishes are fine eating, but mighty painful if an angler gets poked by a spine. Stuart Montgomery


Stuart, you appear to have caught a longsnout scorpionfish, Pontinus castor. This species is known to reach a length of about 1 foot, so your catch is quite large. The longsnout can be found on rocky bottoms from Bermuda through southeastern Florida, the Bahamas and islands in the greater Antilles chain, at depths between 150 and 1,350 feet. It’s likely that the species’ range is greater than reported. The longsnout scorpionfish sometimes puts in an appearance at fish markets. Although I haven’t seen a report on the longsnout scorpionfish’s edibility, many scorpionfishes are highly regarded as table fare, and I’m sure this one is no different. Like other scorpionfishes, the longsnout has venom-producing tissue associated with spines in its dorsal, pelvic and anal fins, and can deliver a painful sting if an angler is jabbed.

Ray Waldner

Blinded by the Light


My son and his girlfriend were fishing near Matagorda, Texas, when she caught this flounder with its normally white underside partially colored brown like the fish’s two-eyed upper side. I have never seen or heard of this and was wondering how rare a catch it was.

Buddy Toepfer
Corpus Christi, Texas

Flounder with white on its pigmented side
Bi-colored flounder like this aren’t unheard of, but they occur rarely. Buddy Toepfer


Pigment in flounder is determined very early in development. When flounders metamorphose as larvae, the pigment cells undergo a transition as well, normally migrating to the eyed side (the “up” side of a flounder — the side with both eyes). On rare occasion, some cells mysteriously migrate to the blind side (the “down,” normally white, side with no eyes). I’ve seen a few flounder partially pigmented this way, but it’s certainly a rare occurrence.

Bob Shipp

Elegant Solution


While fishing with a friend over the weekend, we caught this 10-inch fish in about 600 feet of water on cut bait, right on the bottom. I have never seen it before. What is it, and could we have eaten it?

Len Nakano
Kona, Hawaii

Elegant anthias are a basslet belong to the grouper family
The elegant anthias is one of many colorful basslets belonging to the family of groupers, Serranidae. Len Nakano


What you have there is an elegant anthias, Caprodon unicolor. This species is one of the largest members of the subfamily Anthiinae (basslets), within the family Serranidae (groupers). This anthias occurs in the central Pacific, around the Hawaiian Islands and north to Midway Atoll, living near coral and rocky reefs on sandy or hard bottom, usually at depths between 150 and 700 feet. They grow to around 15 inches long and are considered to be quite a good food fish. While males of this species can exhibit a more colorful pink hue with vertical red bars and numerous mottled yellow blotches on the flanks, the uniform red-orange color of this one suggests it’s a female. Scientists once considered the elegant anthias synonymous with the sunrise perch (Caprodon schlegelii) that occurs around the reefs south of Japan, but they have recently been separated based on genetic data as well as the fact that female C. schlegelii have an uninterrupted white color to the entire rear margin of the tail fin while for C. unicolor, the white areas occur only on the tips of the tail. Members of the genus Caprodon feed mainly on zooplankton but have been known occasionally to take small baits. (Thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson, from the Queensland Museum, for helping to confirm the identity of this fish.)

Ben Diggles

From the Fish Facts Archives

YELLOW JACK (Caranx bartholomaei)

Tough, aggressive, beautiful and tasty — what more could an angler want in a light-tackle game fish? Yellow jacks are common or occasional predators over nearshore reefs of the tropical western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and are found along eastern Atlantic coasts as well. They sport bright-yellow colors along their sides and can be a vivid blue along the dorsal surface (sometimes leading to confusion with the smaller bar jack). Yellow jacks generally run from 2 or 3 pounds to 15 or more. The all-tackle IGFA record: 23 pounds, 12 ounces, from Duck Key, Florida, in 2013.

An underwater view of a yellow jack
Yellow jacks: an underappreciated light-tackle game fish. Waterframe / Alamy Stock Photo

Sport Fishing‘s Prestigious International Panel of Experts

Mike Fahay, Sandy Hook Marine Lab, New Jersey

Ray Waldner, Ph.D., Palm Beach Atlantic ­University, Florida

Gulf of Mexico
Bob Shipp, Ph.D., ­University of South ­Alabama

West Coast
Milton Love, Ph.D., UCSB, California

Far Pacific
Ben Diggles, Ph.D., Queensland, Australia

Bluewater Pelagics
John Graves, Ph.D., Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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Fishing line Berkley SpiderWire
E-mail your questions with strange or surprising photos to [email protected]. Courtesy Berkley

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An unusual Darwin's slimehead
See MORE strange fishes from the deep — and learn about this Darwin’s slimehead, caught off Key Largo, Florida. Grant Heyer

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