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Unusual Fish Caught in Ocean City, MD

Unusual Fish Caught in Ocean City, MD

Somebody sent me a picture of a strange looking fish they caught in the bay last week. It was a houndfish, or also called a needlefish. It got me to thinking about all the weird fish we can catch here that we don’t think of as “normal” Ocean City fare.

The last couple of years, we’ve seen quite a few of those houndfish. They are long, skinny and silver like a Garfish with a snout full of sharp teeth. When we are fishing in the Florida Keys, we see these fish jumping out of the water in huge schools. I still have a little scar on my right hand from one that I caught off the Duck Key Bridge in Florida. It fell off the hook, and I unwisely grabbed the fish by the tail (with a rag) to throw it back overboard. It whipped around and latched on to my hand with those nasty rows of teeth and blood was spurting everywhere! It wasn’t that big of a fish but I should have given it more respect and grabbed it securely behind the head - a lesson learned the hard way!

Houndfish are more prevalent in southern waters, but in the summer we see them as far north as New Jersey. The formal name of this fish is Tylosurus Crocodilus and they are sometimes called crocodile needlefish. One of fifty different species of needlefish, houndfish are among the largest. They can get as long as five feet and weigh up to 10 pounds. Wow, that’s a big houndfish! They feed on smaller baitfish and usually hang in schools. They are actually edible. Their meat has a slight blueish green tint, similar to a ballyhoo, which is also edible. I have never tried one, but I’m sure it’s fine! They tend to grab any kind of cut bait you throw at them and generally like a moving target. In many parts along the coast, they are considered a gamefish and even a tablefish, so if you happen to hook one of these feisty jumping fish, have fun, but be careful!

It’s been the year of the pufferfish and we certainly saw a good number of northern puffers this past spring and we’ll continue to see them throughout the summer.

Mixed in with the northern puffers was an interesting pufferfish called a burrfish. If you go to the Maryland Department of Resources website they have a whole page dedicated to the striped burrfish, which is common in the Chesapeake and coastal bays. Generally they are small, not getting much over 10-inches, but one was captured in a seine survey in the coastal bays that measured 12-inches.

The striped burrfish (Chilomycterus Schoepfii) is a pufferfish with yellow to brown markings on top and white, yellow and even black colorings on their bellies. They have several black or brownish stripes and spines that cover their whole head giving them the look of a porcupine. Their eyes are bright blue/green. They are usually found in grass beds but are believed to spawn offshore. Maybe that’s why we saw them in the surf this year! We are advised not to eat them. They are found from Brazil to New England. It’s weird we saw so many of them this year. I don’t remember ever seeing one around here when I grew up. Of course, I don’t ever remember seeing a houndfish either!

We had a lot of cold water in the surf early this summer and anglers were catching a fish we often call a ling, or more correctly a red hake. They are easily identified by their long pelvic fins, which look like long, white streamers. They have a small barbel on their chin and are reddish, muddy or olive brown in color. Their bottom can be white, gray or yellowish. Their color is designed to pick up the color of the bottom. They are soft to the feel (sometimes we actually call them slimy!) and they eat little crabs, shrimp, clams and worms. In the surf, more of them are actually caught at night. They feed at night because their pelvic fins and chin barbels actually sense the presence of prey so they do not need light to feed. Anglers generally catch them while they are fishing for kingfish, croaker and spot with kingfish rigs, small hooks and worms and/or cut bait. After dark, cut bait generally works the best. Good old-fashioned box squid will also catch them if they are there! Red hake can weigh up to six pounds when you are fishing for them on a party boat, but in the surf they generally run small, about the size of a whiting or less. There’s no size limit for red hake, so it’s just an “eye ball” decision of whether you want to bother filleting one or not. They have pure white meat and fillet best if they have been chilled on ice for a while. If you’re not interested in eating them, let them go so Captain Monty on the head boat, “Morning Star” can catch them offshore when they grow up!!!

There’s so many different fish that anglers catch “once in a while” in Ocean City. We get out the Fish ID book and try to figure out what they are. We get different kinds of jacks, commonly caught in Florida. There are lizardfish, sea robins, oyster toads and pompano. We are always identifying the prehistoric looking Northern Stargazer. This fish has eyes on top of its large head and a large upward facing mouth. (Everything they have is gazing at the stars!) They are blackish brown in color with white spots. They have two spines that can give you an electric shock, so this is a fish you do not want to touch! At Oyster Bay Tackle, we have taken pictures of Stargazers that have weighed up to 6 pounds. Usually people catch them in the surf, but sometimes we get one caught in the bay. They say they are edible but I’d let them go!

You never know what you might catch in Ocean City. If you’re not sure what it is, snap a picture and send it to your favorite tackle store or to the Coastal Fisherman for an ID!
Good fishing….

Sue Foster is an outdoor writer and co-owner of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, MD and Fenwick Tackle in Fenwick, DE.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 10:35