How to Catch a Pufferfish

How to Catch a Pufferfish

To successfully catch pufferfish, it is essential to know the following: most pufferfish are poisonous so please use a fish guide; be aware of their defense mechanisms and wear gloves when handling pufferfish; finally, use puffers’ preferred baits including shrimp, clams, fish bites, blood worms, cut mullet, and squid. 

Called by many names, the pufferfish is not a fish that is commonly sought after although it is very delicious. With white, mild-flavored meat, pufferfish are also known as puffers, blowfish, sugar toads, toadies (in Florida) and “chicken of the sea” (in New England).

There are 120 different types of pufferfish in the world and they can measure from a few inches to two feet long. The checkered puffer is the most common in Florida, while in the Mid-Atlantic area near the New England coast, you will find the northern puffer.

Many anglers claim that pufferfish are the best-tasting inshore fish with little or no bones present. An interesting fact about pufferfish is that they were harvested for protein during WWII to substitute for the meat sent overseas.

What Type of Pufferfish Can You Eat?

There is good and bad news about the pufferfish—first, the bad news: almost all pufferfish are poisonous. Now for the good news, the most common pufferfish found in Florida (checkered puffer) has poison only in its organs so all organs must be removed before consumption. New England’s northern puffer is not poisonous at all.

The toxin the pufferfish releases is tetrodotoxin which is 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide. The symptoms of pufferfish poisoning could start as early as 10 minutes after contact with the toxin. The result of this poisoning can be paralysis, loss of consciousness, and even death. There is no known antidote for pufferfish poisoning.

About Pufferfish’ Defense Mechanism

When the pufferfish sees danger, it will blow up its body by gulping in water or air to double or triple its size. This could also happen out of the water and while unhooking the fish.

The puffer’s skin has little spikes that make it feel like sandpaper. That’s why wearing gloves while handling these fish is a good idea. It will help protect your hands and prevent toxins from absorbing into your skin.

Puffed up pufferfish
Puffed up pufferfish

Another defense mechanism the puffers have is a beak-like jaw. This beak is used to crush crustaceans the puffers eat. However, they can use this beak as a weapon if needed.

Getting your finger caught in the beak would be very painful. Use caution when handling the pufferfish, especially around the mouth. 

Where to Find Pufferfish

Pufferfish fishing locations can be found anywhere from Texas up to New York. Specifically, pufferfish swim in shallow grass flats or seagrass beds with sandy bottoms. They can also be found near channels in the estuaries and prefer the moving tide.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, pufferfish enjoy the full moon sheds in the summer season as well as in September, and October.

Like most smaller fish, puffers will congregate around rocks and structures as long as there is other life. 

Because they feed on crustaceans, including mollusks, clams, and shellfish, pufferfish can be found where their food is. They also eat algae and other invertebrates.

How to Catch a Pufferfish

Puffers are easy to catch once they are found. They are often accidentally caught when fishing for flounder, redfish, trout, and snook. Pufferfish are not very powerful fish. A super light fishing rod with a low test fishing line is ideal for catching pufferfish.

A good idea is to chum up the water. You can do this by throwing dead shrimp or lowering some weighted chum pots into the water. The pufferfish will gather around the chum pots. Drop your fishing line right next to the chum pots with a tight line. Pufferfish are excellent bait stealers, so set the hook lightly but quickly to ensure a proper hook-up.

Wear gloves before touching the fish to ensure no toxin is transmitted through your skin. Watch for the teeth as you remove the hook. You can use pliers to help.

Remember not to put puffers on ice; put them in the live well or a bucket of water.

Best Bait and Lures for Pufferfish

Pufferfish can be caught using live bait, frozen bait, hard poppers, and soft plastic lures. The best way to catch pufferfish is to use bait. Puffers are great bait stealers so getting the perfect amount of bait is essential.

Some of the puffers’ preferred baits include shrimp, clams, fish bites, blood worms, cut mullet, and squid. 

Finstrike makes a blowfish rig with a long shank hook, red bead, and a sinker snap. These would be easy to use when using bait or a soft plastic lure. These soft plastic lures need to resemble invertebrates the pufferfish would normally eat. They are known for eating off the tails on the lures thinking they are bait.

How to Clean a Pufferfish

It is important to clean the fish properly to ensure there is no toxin. The toxin is generally green, so as you clean the fish, if you notice this color, get rid of the fish.

To clean the puffer:

  1. Cut the fish just behind the head.
  2. Fold the head back and with a pair of catfish pliers, remove the skin.
  3. Do not eat the head.

The checkered puffer’s organs are toxic, so make sure you carefully remove all organs from the fish.

Once the fish is cleaned correctly, what you are left with should resemble a piece of white meat that looks like a chicken drumstick. Pufferfish is often prepared battered and fried.

The Takeaway

Remember that fishing for pufferfish involves risks, and it is important to research the puffers in your area to know how to handle them. Please use caution when handling puffers not only because of the poison but also because of their defense mechanisms. 

The northern puffer and checkered puffer are the two most common puffers on the east coast. Although these fish can be poisonous, they are a delicious treat worldwide. If properly handled, food poisoning can be avoided.

Continue reading: How to Catch a Sailfish

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