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#69 - Finescale Triggerfish


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Ronan's report

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Back from a great trip to Baja and the Sea of Cortez, where we landed more than 15 species of fish casting and trolling flies off the inshore rocks, beaches, and flats. I'm always excited to see such diversity and land a new fish species because it gives me a good excuse to learn more about each one. I personally had an amazing trip in terms of news species. Because it was my first time flyfishing the subtropical Pacific nearly every species I landed was new to me, and I added 13 new species to my fly fishing life list, putting me over 70 and a lot closer to my goal of 100 before I hang up the rods and take up golf. I figured it would be fun to feature a few of the more interesting ones here on the FP.

The finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis) is one weird looking critter. According to, the finescale triggerfish “is characterized by its easily-recognized shape, with no distinctive markings, and a set of human-like, closely packed front teeth. It is drab in color, varying from gray to blue gray, to brownish gray. Mature specimens have bright neon blue markings on the head and edges of the fins when feeding or fighting aggressively and 'lit up.' " More scientifically speaking, according to "Body compressed and deep; skin thick, with large, rectilinear, plate-like scales that are easily visible to the naked eye; mouth small; teeth strong and protruding, 8 in each jaw; dorsal fin with 3 spines and 26 to 28 rays; scales behind the gill openings larger than the neighboring scales; snout surrounded by scales."

These guys are known to inhabit rocky reef habitats, boulder covered slopes, and adjacent sandy areas in water 100 feet deep or less. That is exactly where we found them, with fish taking our flies aggressively as we retrieved them from boulder gardens out onto sand flats.

They are know to feed on sea urchins, small mollusks, and crustaceans, and must also feed some on baitfish as we caught them on both Clouser Minnow and Sea Habit type fly patterns fished down deep on sinking lines. goes on to say that the finescale triggerfish “reaches a length of approximately 20 inches and up to 7 pounds, and on light tackle might be the toughest fish pound-for-pound in the sea." I'd have a hard time totally agreeing with that statement, but only because I've had the chance to tangle with jack crevalle and Pacific amberjack, which get my vote as the toughest fighters I've met so far. The fight of the finescale triggerfish is definitely tough though: mostly bulldogging, and they use their oddly shaped body to stay down deep, but they can take some line and run too.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about triggerfish is how they get their name. The name comes from the crazy set of two dorsal spines that the fish uses to lock itself into crevices in the rocks when fleeing predators. The spines not only look like triggers, but the first, taller spine, once erect, cannot be physically pushed down flat unless the rear, smaller spine, or trigger, is pulled down and back first. When you "pull the trigger" then the front, taller spine can then be easily pushed down.

Keep casting. You never know what you might catch!

Take Care and Fish On,

Pic Of Day

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