How to Catch a Leatherjacket

How to Catch a Leatherjacket

The leatherjacket fish is a species of the jacket fish in the Carangidae family. It can also refer to the other members of this family like the pilot fish. The largest leatherjacket fish is about 12 inches long and weighs about 1.7 pounds. This fish eats shrimp and other smaller fish. You will often find it in the company of larger predatory species. Usually the leatherjacket is not eaten as food but lately you can find it in fish markets due to the large-scale farming of it. 

This strange looking fish is often a by-catch when you are fishing for other species like the whiting. There are several species of the leatherjacket fish, which include the six-spined, horseshoe, fanbellied, Chinaman, ad toothbrush. There are two fish that are commonly referred to as a leatherjacket; a variety of fish in the Monacanthidae family and the Olgoplites saurus.

The color of this fish is split horizontally with the bottom being silver and the top half has a bluish tone. The fins are yellow. One of the most notable characteristics of this fish is its dorsal fin. It is very long and breaks apart. This characteristic gives the fish several small fins that cover its spine. It looks like the brushes on a comb but the spines are very sharp.

Where to Find a Leatherjacket

There are over a hundred species in this family and most of them live in Australia. They are often caught in shore but they also can be found inhabiting deeper reefs. The Olgoplites saurus can be found in parts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The fish in the Monacanthidae family are found near the waters of New Zealand. These are two of the leatherjacket fish species. You can fish for them around harbors and estuaries but there are some species that can be found much farther out.

Learn more about the Leatherjacket on Florida Museum’s website.

How to Catch a Leatherjacket

This fish is often difficult to hook. They are also great at biting through light gauge hooks and fishing line. Although most do not specifically for this fish, if you decide to, use small cut bait pieces and ultra light tackle because they are small fish. 

One thing to remember is that when you remove it from your hook, due to the sharp spines you should use a dehooking tool so you do not have to touch it. If you are cast-netting, sometimes the leatherjacket fish will get into the bait school that you cast-netting. When you slide your hand up the net to remove the bait, you could get a wound from the leatherjacket fish if it got caught in the net.

Best Bait, Lures, & Tackle for Leatherjacket

You can catch this fish on almost any type of tackle and are caught on light hand-lines. You can also use the same type of rod and reel outfits that you can use to catch snappers. Use a small hook with soft bait balls using peeled prawns, worms, mussels, or strips of fish flesh. You can also use pieces of squid. Some like to use long-shanked hooks.

How to Cook Leatherjacket

Although it is not often used as a fish that you eat, it has a taste that is similar to the Spanish Mackerel, which is an oily, mild taste. One way to cook this fish is to use the grill to cook the leatherjacket fish dish. You will need a couple of fillets for each person. Make a couple of slashes in the sides of the fish and lightly spray both sides with oil. Sprinkle the spice of choice over both sides.

Wrap two or three filets together in aluminum foil and place the packets over hot coals in the grill. Cook them for five minutes and turn the packets over, cooking them for another five minutes. When you check the fish, it should separate or flake when you test it with a fork. If they are not done, check them every couple of minutes until the fish is done.

You can also pan fry them. Heat two tablespoons of unsalted butter in the skillet until it is foaming. Depending on how thick they are, it should take about four to five minutes to cook on each side. Make sure that you do not have the heat too high and burn the butter. When you serve it, you can place it on some rice and then spoon the butter sauce over it.

Leatherjacket Reproduction

They spawn from early spring to midsummer in shallow inshore water.

Predators of the Leatherjacket

The potential predators of the leatherjacket fish are larger fish, including sharks.

Fun Facts about a Leatherjacket

  • The leatherjacket does not have scales but instead has a fine skin, from which it gets its name.
  • They live in mid-range depth from 65 to 650 feet.
  • In the Australian waters, there are at least 60 species of this fish.
  • It can swim forward or backward using its anal and dorsal fin.
  • The leatherjacket fish has sharp spines on its anal and dorsal fins that can administer a painful puncture wound. The area where you were stuck by the spines will feel like it was hit with a hammer. It is not poisonous to a human.


The leatherjacket fish is not one that most people fish for but generally they are caught at a by-catch. They are a small fish so it would take quite a few to make a meal. If you are fishing for other fish, you could use this one as bait. If you accidentally get a puncture wound from the leatherjacket fish, it will take some time for the pain to set in and about 24 hour for the pain to go away. Just make sure that if you do get a puncture wound that you clean it well and keep it covered to prevent anything from getting in it and causing an infection. The leatherjacket fish is not a fish that a child should fish for because of the possible injury due to the sharp spines.

You may also want to learn, How to Catch an Arctic Grayling.

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