Species: Sphyraena argentea (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sphyraena (an ancient name meaning hammer fish) and the Latin word argenteum (silvery).
Alternate Names: Pacific barracuda, barry, gar, fire hose, stove pipe, skinny, scooter, scoot, snake, slime, slimestick, pencil (small fish), barelycuda (small or short fish), or log (big fish). In Mexico called barracuda plateada.
Identification: Barracuda are long and slender with a sharp-pointed head and a mouth full of very sharp fang-like teeth. They have two widely separated dorsal fins. They have a distinct look from most other fish, although the young look a little like lizardfish.
Size: Reported to 5 feet but recorded to 4 feet and 18 pounds; most caught from piers are under 30 inches. Almost all large barracuda are females. The California record fish weighed 15 lb 15 oz and was caught near San Onofre in 1957.
Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California to Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska. Uncommon north of Morro Bay.
Habitat: Pelagic, but young are often found inshore and in bays.
Piers: Only common at piers north to Point Conception although fish will sometimes be caught as far north as Pismo Beach and Avila in the late summer and fall months. Best Bets: Shelter Island Pier, Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Venice Pier, and (by far the best) the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon on Catalina Island.
Shoreline: Young barracuda are a frequent catch in southern California bays, especially from jetty areas.
Boats: One of the main southern California boat species.
Bait and Tackle: Live anchovies, when available, are by far the best bait. If using live anchovies, try a size 4 hook and a sliding leader or use a float/bobber to keep the leader at mid-depth. Small smelt can also be used for live bait although they are not as good as anchovies. Gold spoons—Krocodiles and Kastmasters—as well as Rebel Fast Tracks, have proven to be reliable artificials for the scooters.
Food Value: Keeper fish are good to excellent eating. Barracuda will tend to soften quickly if left in the hot sun so clean soon after capture and then keep the fillets in a cooler.
Comments: Although barracuda today are considered somewhat of a bonus fish by most pier fisherman, there was a time, in the not too distant past, when they were common to piers; however, the numbers that frequent piers seem to decrease each year. When I first moved from Newport Beach to San Diego, I was surprised at the number of barracuda caught from piers inside San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. Since then I have come to learn that bays are often the best areas for the young barracuda—small fish up to around two feet in length. In those days it was sometimes common to catch a fish on nearly every cast using a live anchovy or a small lure, especially gold or silver spoons. Today these small fish are illegal and it is best to simply not fish for them; hooks, in particular the treble hooks common to spoons, will tear up the mouths of the under-sized fish. Strange but true, the only time I ever caught a fish with my line OUT of the water was when I was fishing for barracuda one day near the Dana Marina in Mission Bay. A friend and I had rented a rowboat early one morning, and then proceeded to tie gold spoons onto our lines before heading out to the small bait barge in the cove. I left my pole at the back of the boat with the spoon dangling at least 8-10 inches away from the water. Imagine my surprise when a small barracuda jumped out of the water and grabbed the lure as we were rowing out to our spot. And yes, I did land the fish. It happened in August of 1964 on a trip where I caught 21 barracuda, 16 queenfish and 2 halibut. The “out of water” fish was the highlight.