Scorpion Fishes - How to release these and other poisonous or sharptooth fishes




List of BC Adventure
Advertisers

Site Info
Advertise With Us
Awards
About Us
Contact Us


Kayak with Killer Whales
Free Vacation Guides
BC Vacation Guides
Coastal Vacations
Thompson Okanagan
EcoTourism
Fishing Vacations
Guest Ranch Guide
Romantic Getaways
Wilderness Vacations
Winter Vacations
The Rockies Guide

Kayak with Orca Whales
Coastal Spirits Expeditions
Login



Saltwater Fly Fishing Series

"Scorpion Fishes - How to release these and other poisonous or sharptooth fishes"

with Barry M. Thornton


Some years ago while salmon drift fishing in Johnstone Strait, I hooked a small China rockfish, about four pounds, with the Perkins lure I was using. This was not an uncommon experience but, what happened next changed my whole approach to releasing bottomfish.

After bringing the rockfish to the boat I found that only one of the treble hooks was caught in the fish's lip. In haste and frustration, for I wanted to get my lure out in the water again for salmon, I picked up the fish, by holding onto the lure, and gave the lure a vigorous shake to dislodge the hook. It was a serious mistake! It seemed that the fish shook and I shook at the same moment and the next thing I knew the sharp poisonous dorsal spines had sunk into the fleshy palm of my right hand. The pain was excruciating! I dropped on my knees in the bottom of the boat and vomited over the side it was so intense. Then I thrust my now bleeding hand in the cold waters and simply curled over the gunnel as I waited for the pain to recede. It was a long fifteen minutes before I could even speak coherently to my partner who was showing deep concern. Later, while we drifted in a slow backeddy with the stimulant of hot coffee, he told me I had turned chalky white from the obvious shock the pain had inflicted on my system. It was a valuable lesson, I had been careless and impatient, and, I was determined to find a better way to release these poison spined fish.

Rockfish belong to the scientific fish family 'scorpaeidae', the Scorpion fishes, a name which should be a warning in itself. As a species they are distinguished by large broad heads and heavily-spined fins. They have a large mouth and look like freshwater bass, but, don't try the 'bassmasters' lip hold to free your hook. I tried this in my searching experiments and found they have sharp fine teeth and a bony jaw, and, I required a number of band-aides from the slashes on my thumb.

Rockfish have spines - many many sharp poisonous spines! As a species their single dorsal fin has between 11 and 17 long strong spines; the anal fin has three strong spines; each other fin has one long spine; and, the head has over 20 sharp short protruding spines. In all, the rockfish is a formidable yet passive adversary for all predators.

The solution to a controlled release, I soon discovered, uses the natural defensive posture of the fish. While not 'fail-safe', it now allows me to quickly and safely release 9 of 10 rockfish hooked.

When a rockfish is threatened by a predator it erects its defensive spines and assumes a rigid posture. Most predators, upon seeing the erect spines, swim away for they know that it will be very difficult and dangerous to swallow the rockfish as the stiff spines will puncture the throat and stomach. As well, most predators are also allergic to the poisons of the 'scorpion' fishes.

When an angler touches a hooked rockfish it will instinctively assume a rigid posture with erect spines. Once it has taken this rigid stance I hold the rockfish is the one area that it does not have spines, the belly. As the photo shows; using a FIRM grip, hold the rockfish on the belly, fingers under (or, holding down) the pectoral fin. You will be amazed at how easy and safe it is to then release your hook with pliers. I recommend pliers simply because it is quicker.

Bottomfish on the Pacific coast include a vast variety of ocean fishes. The most common on the west coast are the rockfish which number 36 distinct species. Bottomfish include everything from staghorn sculpins (small bullheads) to cabezon (giant bullheads some weighing up to twenty pounds), and, from ling cod and greenling, to the various flatfish like Pacific halibut and soles. All have varying methods of defense whether it be coloration or body armour. Except for the scorpion fishes few have any mechanism (except teeth) that can be called dangerous.

While the dogfish can not be called a bottomfish they too are difficult to unhook and release. Dogfish have rigid dangerous spines in front of their two dorsal fins - hence their name "Spiny Dogfish". In many cases, particularly when drift fishing, dogfish are snagged rather than hooked in the mouth. I have been fortunate (?) to have hooked thousands of dogfish while drift fishing and have even targeted these fish with my flies with much success on a slooowww retrieve. I now use the following simple release technique. I will play the mudshark out, then, grab it by the tail and hold it high so I can use my pliers to take out the hook. While the dogfish may twist when it is held up, it is powerless to use the dorsal spines, or, it's mouth. Another solution I often use is to change my treble hooks to single hooks when I am fishing waters with dogfish. The single hook rarely snags dogfish while drift fishing, and, if it does, I simply cut my leader below my lure or, cut the hook ring with my pliers, leaving the hook on the fish to rust and fall away.

We are most fortunate to have a vast variety of Pacific ocean fishes in our British Columbia waters. They can provide some exciting fishing and need only be handled carefully and firmly to be released.

"The End"

Copyright Barry M. Thornton


Barry M. Thornton

Follow Us On Facebook


Birds
Bald Eagle
Black Brant
Blue Grouse
Osprey
Sea Birds
Trumpeter Swans
Western Bird Watching
Game Fish
BC Fish Quiz
Pacific Herring
Salmon Watching
Salmon and Creeks
Sea-Run Cutthroat
Nature
Bears
Endangered Wildlife
Killer Whale Chronicles
Killer Whale Encounters
Muskwa-Kechika
Odyssey or Migration?
Outdoor Photo Tips
River Fly Tactics
Dual Purpose Equipment
Saltwater Fly Patterns
Black Bomber
Hakai Thorn Coho Fly
Salmon Dry Flies
Silver Thorn Chinook
Tonquin Thorn
Saltwater Fly Tactics
Beach Fishing Pinks
Bucktailing
Equipment Tips
Fly Fishing Tofino
Reading Land & Water
Saltwater Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon
Structure for Salmon Fly Fishing
Tides for Salmon Fly Fishing
Steelheading
April Rivers
Campbell River Steelhead
Fly Fishing Steelhead
Gold River Steelhead
History of Steelheading
New Rivers Part 1
New Rivers Part 2
Playing a Trophy Fish
Steelhead Survival
Steelhead Trout
Steelheading Truisms
Tips for Steelheaders
Vancr Isle Steelhead
Wading the River
Techniques
Drift Fishing Salmon
Fishing with Floats
Follow the Birds
Opportunity to Angle
Releasing Large Fish
Releasing Scorpion Fish

Writers:
Peter Caverhill
Brian Chan
Fred & Ann Curtis
Ian Forbes
Geoff Hobson
Gordon Honey
Steve Kaye
Fred's Custom Tackle
Ron Newman
D. C. Reid
Philip Rowley
Barry Thornton


Scorpion Fishes - How to release these and other poisonous or sharptooth fishes