The needlefish is considered a piscivorous fish, which is a carnivorous animal that primarily eats fish. They closely resembled the North American freshwater Gars fish family, as the needlefish has the same long, narrow jaws that are filled with sharp teeth and the elongated body. Some of the species of the needlefish are referred to as garfish even though needlefish are related distantly to that particular fish.
This slender fish ranges in length from 1.2 to 37.4 inches. They have one dorsal fin that is set back on their body. It is almost opposite to the anal fin. Of course, their most distinctive feature is their long narrow beak in which you will find many sharp teeth. In the adult, the upper jaw is full length but in the juveniles, they only have a half-beak appearance. The juveniles have a smaller upper jaw with an elongated lower jaw. As a juvenile, they eat only plankton. When their beak fully develops, they will switch to eating fish.
They feed primarily on smaller fish. Some species will eat swimming crustaceans, small cephalopods, which is a type of mollusks like octopus or squid, or krill. The needlefish is blue to dark green along the back and silver on the side. They can live up to eight years and when hunting, it depends primarily on its sense of vision.
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Where to Find a Needlefish
You will find this fish on the surface of the open sea or in very shallow marine habitats. Some of this species may also be found in brackish, freshwater, or marine environments. Others may be confined to freshwater streams and rivers. They are most generally found in the subtropics but during the winter they may inhabit temperate waters.
You can find this fish in the Western Atlantic from New Jersey to Brazil. You can also find them in the East Atlantic near South Africa, Japan, and Australia. The ones that are called garfish needlefish can be found around the Canary Islands and France. Their depth range is up to three meters. Where you will find them depends on the species. Fishing Booker also provides more information on the shallow waters or ocean surfaces that needlefish inhabit.
How to Catch a Needlefish
Needlefish like to swim near the surface and often you will find small schools of needlefish. If they are feeding, they will generally be defended by males. When fishing for needlefish, fish for the giant ones, which can be found in fresh, brackish, and saltwater swimming near the top of the water. They are considered a good sport fish using a light tackle. When they are hooked, they will jump out of the water like a marlin does, and will also put up a vicious fight to get away. To fish for needlefish, you can do it from a boat or wading in the cursory waters.
Best Bait for Needlefish
A needlefish is not picky about the bait you use and will generally bite on almost anything. In addition to bait, you can also use lures. The needlefish will take its time mouthing the bait before it swallows it. Many times, it can tear the bait apart without even getting hooked. This is why you should use lures with tail hooks in order to firmly snag them. It is sometimes easier to use a lure to catch a needlefish than regular bait.
Best Lures & Tackle for Needlefish
To lure the needlefish in, you can also use jerk baits and shiny spoons. Jerk bait is small hard bait and is designed to move like a struggling minnow. They are usually long, narrow, between three to six inches with three hooks that dangle from the tail and underside. The shinny spoon attracts the needlefish by moving randomly and reflecting light. It is a concave, oblong metal piece with a single hook on the end.
For the tackle, use a lightweight saltwater spinning setup. When you catch the needlefish, do not let it get near the rocks but let it jump around until it tires itself out so you can bring it onboard. You should use some type of medium-heavy sport fishing pole or surf rod to catch a needlefish. When you are fishing directly from the shore into the ocean, the best rod to use is the surf rod. You can also use a slim wooden bobber for casting weight with an 18-inch leader. There are also special lures that are made just for catching needlefish.
Tips and Tactics
- When fishing for the long skinny needlefish, use small pieces of fish or squid for bait along with a treble hook. This hook is small enough to fit in their mouth.
- For catching giant needlefish without a hook, troll for them using synthetic microfiber material. The needlefish will get tangled up in the material and cannot easily escape so you can haul it onboard easily.
- When you use a hook to catch a needlefish, give the line a swift jerk to set it. You also need to make sure that the hook is sharp enough to penetrate through its hard jaws.
- When you use lures to catch needlefish, cast your line across the current and then reel as fast as you can. Since the fish likes to cruise near the surface, it will bite on the lure.
- Give the needlefish a few seconds to gulp the bait before you pull the rod back. If the needlefish feels a strain on the line, they will let go of the bait without swallowing it.
- Needlefish like active, live bait instead of drifting dead bait so make sure that you keep the bait moving.
When needlefish reproduce, they mate and then the female lays eggs. The female will eject the eggs in the shallow water where there are a lot of algae for the eggs to adhere too. When they are ejected, the eggs are about three millimeters in diameter. There is a substance on the eggs that helps them attach to the algae until they hatch. The male will mate with the female by riding her on the waves. The mating season for needlefish is between April and May. During this time, you will find the larger needlefish in shallow water. The young are not born with a beak but it develops as they grow.
The female can lay as many as 100 eggs, which will hatch in 10-15 days. When they hatch, the young are about a half-inch in length.
Predators of the Needlefish
In addition to humans, their biggest predators are mammals like dolphins and sharks along with larger fish. Some birds like hawks, ospreys, pelicans, gulls, and eagles also hunt the needlefish.
Are Needlefish Dangerous to Humans?
These fish are capable of making short jumps out of the water up to 37 mph. Since they swim near the surface of the water, they may leap over the decks of shallow boats instead of going around or under the boat. If they do this, they could land on a fisherman and attack them. This is especially dangerous if a school of them jumps on the boat. Their sharp beaks can cause deep puncture wounds.
Fun Facts about a Needlefish
- The name ‘garfish’ was the name originally used for the needlefish
- Some will attack prey by leaping at a shallow angle to ambush small schools of fish.
- In many of the Pacific Island, they primarily fish from low boats on the reefs, making the risk of getting hurt by a needlefish a greater risk than being hurt by a shark.
- Serious injuries and an occasional death have been attributed to the needlefish.
- There are over 32 species of needlefish
- In most species of needlefish, the upper jaw is smaller than their lower jaw but in some species, this is reversed.
- When they are feeding, they will generally catch prey with a sharp upward swipe of the head. Once they have their prey, they will chomp down on it with sharp teeth.
- When they are commercially fished, the fishermen use nets to trap them.
- They are considered a delicious delicacy and have great nutritional content but a drawback is a large number of bones.
- During the winter, they migrate to deeper waters away from the coast. When this happens, ships have to make sure they avoid them or they can cause the ship to run aground.
- The color of the meat of the needlefish is green, which can be unattractive to some people.
- They have no stomach so their digestive system secretes an enzyme that breaks down their food.
When you are fishing for needlefish, make sure that you are well protected because of their razor-sharp teeth and the ability to jump into low boats. This is not a good fish for children to fish for as they can be dangerous. If you catch them, handle them with care so you do not get attacked by their sharp teeth. When a needlefish is agitated and trying to escape, they can start to fight and their long, pointy jaw can easily pierce through organs and skin.
While this is a good fish to eat, some of them are wormy so you have to remove the worms before you cook the fish. Many times, a fisherman will catch and release them after taking a picture of them with the needlefish just to say they caught one. You need to remember that when considering fishing for needlefish, they are a difficult fish to land so many fishermen consider them a fun sport fish.
Want to learn more? Check out: How to Catch a Sweetlip Emperor.