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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Walker

Pull the Triggerfish!

I am finally back with a new blog post and am ready for a stellar 2021 fishing season for everyone! It was easy for me to pull the “trigger” on my next fish for the post because Balistes capiscus season opened for 2021 on March 1st. Gray Triggerfish, also known as leatherjacket or pig-faced, is a commercially and recreationally important fish and is considered by some to be one of the tastiest. They can grow up to 28” to the fork, topping the scales at 13 pounds, and can live up to 16 years. The Florida state record is 13.25 pounds caught from our local waters of Pensacola in 2012 and the IGFA world record is 13 pounds 9 ounces caught off the coast of South Carolina in 1989.

Easily identifiable, adult Gray Triggerfish are primarily olive-gray, have blue or purplish lines and spots on their upper body and dorsal fins, with white dots and lines on the lower body and fins. The upper rims of their eyes are blue and there is a pale narrow band on their chin. They are able to change color to blend in to their surroundings. The bodies of the triggerfish are deep and “laterally compressed” or short and stout, like many of us after the months of home and couch life from the pandemic. Their second dorsal fin is located directly opposite the anal fin and is almost identical in appearance and sometimes appear marbled in color. The triggerfish has elongated outer caudal or tail fin rays. The triggerfish’s tough leathery skin feels like sandpaper and they have 8 powerful incisor-like teeth.

The triggerfish can use their dorsal spines to defend themselves against predators as well as for anchoring in tight spaces. If they are feeling threatened they can move in to a tight spot or crevice and anchor in place with their first large erect spine. They get their name from these dorsal spines. The first spine is large and remains in a raised or upright position until the second spine “reflexes” or triggers the first larger spine to collapse. The first spine cannot be pushed down without the second spine triggering, as seen in this Youtube video:

A diurnal (daytime) predator, the triggerfish primarily eat invertebrates that are benthic (live on the floor of the ocean or Gulf) such as crabs, shrimp, sand dollars, sea urchins, lobsters, and mollusks. They use their dorsal and anal fins to ascend and descend vertically and to hover over the bottom to hunt for their prey. Triggerfish use the incisor-like teeth to drill or chisel holes in their shelled prey to access their meals. They have an interesting ability to send a stream of water over the sandy bottom to uncover sand dollars. They will move along the bottom until they find one and then will pick the sand dollar up and drop them, trying to flip it over to expose the soft underside for easier opening.

During spawning season the male triggerfish can defend up to 3 nests . They build the nests, tempt or lure the females to their nest to spawn, where they circle tightly together while changing colors. Eventually the female deposits or lays her eggs in the nest, which on average is about 772,000 eggs. She guards her nest and will aerate the eggs by fanning her fins and blowing on them. The eggs hatch in 24 to 48 hours and the larvae move tho the surface to live in sargassum for 4 tot 7 months. The juveniles are sexually mature in about 2 years.

Found in hard bottom areas such as wrecks, reefs, and rocks in 80 to 300 feet deep waters similar to other reef fish such as red snapper and grouper, triggerfish are known as the “bait stealer”. They irritate anglers by nibbling at the bait until it is gone. This is like me this past year standing in front of the pantry just grabbing a handful of this treat and one or two of that snack leaving only crumbs in the bag for the next unsuspecting snacker. Triggerfish use this pecking technique and do not hit and run with the bait like other reef fish. A sharp small circle hook with a tough bait, that is difficult to nibble away, is best when targeting triggerfish. Some say it is the strongest fish in the “sea” pound per pound and puts up a nice fight when hooked.

Florida waters are known to be a consistently productive triggerfish fishery. Considered by many to be the best tasting fish, they offer a tasty, soft, and quality meat that is great for dinner. Pull the trigger and book a charter with us today to go catch your next delicious meal!

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