Giant Kelpfish

Kelpfishes and Fringeheads—Family Clinidae

Giant kelpfish from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon i 2011

Species: Heterostichus rostratus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words heter  (different) and ost (extra bone), and the Latin word rostratus  (beaked or hooked).

Alternate Names: Kelpfish, eel, iodine fish, butterfish, and kelp blenny. Called sargacero gigante in Mexico.

Identification: The body is long and compressed. The dorsal fin is very long and continuous with many more spines than soft rays. The caudal fin is deeply forked (rounded in spotted kelpfish and striped kelpfish). Their coloring varies from light brown to green to yellow to purple depending on the habitat; typically those in kelp are usually kelp-colored, those in eelgrass bright green with brilliant silvery stripes.  Apparently these fish can change colors rapidly, at least juvenile fish, with browns and greens seeming to be the preferred colors. Adult females also have the ability to change from red to brown to green, however, it takes them a little longer than the kids. Alas, the adult males seem to have forgotten how to perform this party-pleasing trick.

Giant kelpfish from the Cabtillo Mole on Catalina in 2010

Size: To 24 inches long; most caught off piers are 10 to 14 inches.

Range: Cabo San Lucas, southern Baja California to British Columbia.

Habitat: Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp.

Giant kelpfish from the Cabrillo Mole in 2009

Piers: Found at piers that have a heavy growth of kelp or seaweed. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Cabrillo Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole—by far the best  (Avalon), Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, and Gaviota Pier.

Shoreline: An occasional catch by rocky shore anglers in southern California.

Boats: An inshore species occasionally taken by boaters and kayakers fishing kelp beds.

Giant kelpfish from the Cabrillo Mole in 2013

Bait and Tackle: Light to medium tackle and small, size 8 to 6 hooks. The best bet is to tie the hooks directly onto the line. Preferred baits appear to be small crabs, pieces of shrimp, live bloodworms or pile worms, and fresh mussels (although I have caught some on small pieces of abalone).

Food Value:  Reported to be fair eating although with an unusual flavor. I’ve never tried them myself but would expect them to be good fried. The flesh assumes the external color of the fish.

Comments: Although generally considered uncommon north of Point Conception, I have caught a number of these pretty fish while fishing inshore at the Berkeley Pier. The fish were caught right in among the shoreline rocks and the usual bait was small pieces of pile worm. Two related species, striped kelpfish and crevice kelpfish are also common at Bay Area piers; both though have rounded tails and their coloring is different from giant kelpfish.

 Giant kelpfish caught at the Cabrillo Mole by Mahigeer (Hashem Nahid) in 2012

Giant kelpfish taken from the Capitola Wharf in 2013 (Photo courtesy of Capitola Boats and Bait)

Martin from Denmark and his first Catalina fish, a giant kelpfish in 2003

KJ and a giant kelpfish at the Cabrillo Mole in 2010, a day when the fishing was good but the weather offered high, high, red-flag winds and what seemed to be the coldest day in Catalina in 25 years

A giant kelpfish from the Capitiola Wharf in 2013

Giant kelpfish at the Cabrillo Mole with Mahigeer in 2010

A giant kelpfish from the Cabrillo Mole in 2003

A nice-sized giant kelpfish taken at the Goleta Pier in 2004

A giant kelpfish from the Paradise Cove Pier in 2004






Giant kelpfish taken at the Cabrillo Mole in 2003











Big giant kelpfish taken in 2013 by bad1sh

Posted in Daily musings... · Tagged , , , , , , , , , · Leave a comment

Soupfin Shark

Cartilaginous Fishes—Class Chondrichthyes — (A skeleton of cartilage that is not true bone)

Subclass Elasmobranchi—Sharks and Rays

Order Carcharhiniformes — Hound Sharks—Family Triakididae

Picture courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Species: Galeorhinus zyopterus (Linnaeus, 1758); from the Greek words galeos  (a kind of shark), rhinos (nose or snout), zuon, (animal) and pteron  (fin-large pectoral fin).

Alternate Names: Tope, oil shark, vitamin shark, snapper shark. Called tiburón aceitoso in Mexico.

Identification: They have a slender body with two dorsal fins, the second much smaller than the first and located nearly over the anal fin (which is about the same size). . They have a large subterminal lobe on the caudal fin (tail) that creates the appearance of a “doubled” tail. They have a long, pointed snout and elongate eyes. Their coloring is dark, bluish or bronze gray above and white below with black on the forward edges of the dorsal and pectoral fins; the caudal fin is usually black tipped with a white spot.. Youngsters, like you sometimes see on piers ,have a white edge on the pectoral fins.

A soupfin shark caught at the Berkeley Pier by Redfish (Robert Gardner)

Size: To 6.5 feet and about 100 pounds but most caught from piers are under four feet.

Range: From San Juanico Bay, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California, to northern British Columbia.

Habitat: Found in both bays and oceanfront water; normally found in deeper parts of bays but frequently in shallower water, especially at night. Tends to feed on fish, squid and octopus.

A 55-pound soupfin caught by barracuda76 at the San Clemente Pier in 2007

Piers: An infrequent catch at some San Francisco Bay piers. Best bets: San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Angel Island Pier, and the Fort Baker Pier.

Shoreline: Occasionally taken by shore anglers in San Francisco Bay.

Boats: A frequent catch by boaters in San Francisco Bay.

A soupfin caught at the Manhattan Beach Pier in 2011

Bait and Tackle: Medium tackle, line at least 20-pound test line, and hooks 2/0 or larger. The best bait is a live midshipman, mudsucker or staghorn sculpin fished near the bottom. Live shrimp, grass shrimp or ghost shrimp, and frozen squid or anchovies will also tempt a few soupfin.

Food Value:  A mild flavored flesh suited to several methods of cooking. The best method is probably grilled. It does need to be cleaned properly and kept cool before cooking.

Comments: Never as common as smoothhounds or leopard sharks. Females give birth in the spring to 15-50 young and soon after many of the small pups will be caught by anglers (and hopefully will be returned to the water to grow).

 A soupfin shark and one happy angler at the Cayucos Pier

A nice soupfin caught in the surf in north San Diego Count by lowprofile in 2012

A 5’10″ soupfin caught by “Mr. Happy” at the Venice Pier in 2006

Soupfin shark taken at the Gaviota Pier in 2005 by eddog who said he is 5’10″ tall

Posted in Daily musings... · Tagged , , , , , , , · Leave a comment

Sevengill Shark

Subclass Elasmobranchi—Sharks and Rays

 Order Hexanchiformes —  Cow Sharks—Family Hexanchidae

A sevengill taken from the Oyster Point Pier by Matt Shockley in 2003

Species: Notorynchus cepedianus (Perón, 1807); from the Greek roots noto (back) and r(h)ynchos (snout); and the Latin cepidianus (spotted).

Alternate Names: Broadnose sevengill shark, cow shark, spotted cow shark, mud shark, bluntnose shark, broad-snout, sevengill, k’wet’thenéchte (Salish, British Columbia), and my personal favorite (from Australia) Tasmanian tiger shark. This is another shark with an almost worldwide distribution and as a result it has many foreign names including cação-bruxa (Portuguese), cañabota gata (Spanish), gatita (Spanish), gevlekte zevenkieuwshaai (Dutch), brednæset syvgællet haj (Danish), kammzähner (German), koeihaai (Afrikaans), platneus-sewekiefhaai (Afrikaans), minami-ebisuzame (Japanese), ebisuzame (Japanese), platnez (French), requin malais (French), siebenkiemiger Pazifischer kammzähner (German), siedmioszpar plamisty (Polish), tiburón de 7 gallas (Spanish), tiburón pinto (Spanish), tollo fume (Spanish), and tuatini (Maori).

A sevengill from the Dumbarton Pier in 2004

Identification: The only California shark with 7 gill slits. The body is somewhat heavy and flabby, tapered with a broad head, blunt snout, and small eyes. They have a single dorsal fin far back on the body; upper lobe of tail is very long. Five rows of small, sharp, pointed teeth in the upper jaw—except for one middle tooth (effective for holding prey); lower teeth saw-like (effective for tearing and cutting prey). Color seems to vary depending upon location and they may be able to slightly alter their color. Fish from San Francisco Bay are typically olive brown to a muddy gray color, those from Humboldt Bay are usually a pale silvery gray to reddish brown: all have black spots on body and fins. An unusual albino seven-gill was caught in the San Mateo Shark Derby back in 1952 and later displayed at the Steinhart Aquarium.

Size: Length to over 9 feet and nearly 300 pounds in size. Most sevengills caught from piers are young fish 2-4 feet in length and under 50 pounds in weight. However, most years seem to see at least a few large 6-foot plus fish taken.

A good-sized sevengill taken from the Goleta Pier in 2009

The largest sevengill reported to PFIC was a sevengill taken from the Cayucos Pier in December of 1998. Pictures show a large 7 ½-foot-long fish but the reported weight of 180-pounds seems fat too high. Two large 7-gills were reported from the Ocean Beach Pier. In May of 2006, a nearly 8-foot-long, 112-pound 7-gill shark was landed, while May of 2008 saw the capture of a 7-gill estimated to be 10-10 ½ feet long. The only problem is that 7-gills are only supposed to reach about 9 feet in length. (Perhaps it was a 6-gill (they’ve been reported to 15 feet in length?) In October 2009 the Goleta Pier saw the capture of both a six-foot and eight-foot 7-gill. Just a month later saw another 7-gill, this one a seven-foot, nine-inch fish. The California record fish weighed 276 lb 0 oz and was taken in Humboldt Bay in 1996.

The large sevengill taken from the Cayucos Pier by Wayne in 1998. Although the weight is disputed by many, it was still a LARGE sevengill for a pier.

Range: Found in temperate waters of the Pacific, Indian and South Atlantic Oceans (and very common off South Africa and Namibia). Found in North America from the Gulf of California to northern British Columbia off Butedale and Bonilla Island. Common in central California.

Habitat: A bottom oriented shark common to inshore areas (especially rocky areas near kelp) and in bays, especially San Francisco Bay, Tomales Bay and Humboldt Bay. Most common from the spring to the fall; may migrate to deeper water during the winter. In San Francisco Bay, springtime sees mama sevengill dropping her pups (up to 82 young ‘uns) and that’s when small, immature fish make a regular appearance at several piers.

Most sevengills caught from piers are smaller fish such as this one taken from the Berkeley Pier in 2004

Piers: Mainly caught at piers that sit close to fairly deep water, or deep-water channels in a bay. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Goleta Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Cayucos Pier, Oyster Point Pier, Dumbarton Pier, Berkeley Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Angel Island Pier, and the Del Norte Street Pier (Eureka).

Shoreline: Sometimes caught from shoreline areas in San Francisco Bay, most commonly early spring or late fall when the fish appear to move into shallower areas to spawn.

Showing that large sevengills are occasionally seen on piers and in shoreline areas is this large sevengill that was caught from the shoreline at Pismo Beach in 2010

Boats: A common goal for anglers fishing from boats in San Francisco and Humboldt Bay.

Bait and Tackle: An opportunistic predator that feeds on many other fish including salmon, sturgeon, smaller fish, rays and fellow shark. It’s reported that 7-gills sometimes hunt in packs and use teamwork to capture larger food such as seals and dolphins. However, the use of seal meat and dolphin meat for bait by humans tends not to be PC (it’s also illegal). Instead, typical baits include whole fish such as mackerel and sardines, whole squid, small sharks, and salmon bellies.  Typically anglers seeking out sevengills use heavier tackle—50+ pound line and steel leaders baited with a whole fish (and I heard of one angler using a live small brown smoothhound shark as bait). For the most part, anglers fishing for bat rays or other species of sharks catch these fish. (One angler suggested that at the Elephant Rock Pier, due to the rocky location, an angler might want to use a wire 90# plastic coated hi/lo with large circle hooks. Fish an incoming tide with at least a six-ounce weight and some landing apparatus.

A sevengill taken at the Dumbarton Pier in 2004

Food Value: Considered one of the best eating sharks.

Comments:  One of the most primitive of sharks as well as one of the largest and more dangerous sharks handled by California pier fishermen. Watch out for the teeth! David A. Ebert, in Sharks Rays, and Chimaeras of California, writes that “Other than the Great White Shark they appear to be the dominant elasmobranch in the nearshore marine environment.”

Another sevengill from the Dumbarton Bridge Pier, this one taken in 2006.

In addition, “Sevengills have been implicated in about a dozen attacks on dogs in and around San Francisco Bay. A bather in at least one attack was playing with his dog in shallow water when a 1.5- to 1.8-m-long ‘spotted’ shark attacked. Although the shark was unidentified, the attack occurred inside San Francisco Bay in an area in which sevengills are fairly abundant.” It’s also reported that 7-gills have bitten aquarium divers.

Shark teeth at the Berkeley Pier in 2008

Sevengill caught at the Robert Wooley Pier (Burlingame) in 2007

A sevengill taken by Rock Hopper at the Berkeley Pier in 2004

The capture of a large sevengill by Matty and Dom in 2012; picture by capt.raysharking



Posted in Daily musings... · Tagged , , , , , , , , , · Leave a comment

Common Thresher Shark

 Order Lamniformes — Thresher Sharks—Family Alopiidae

Small thresher shark from the Pacifica Pier in 2006

Species: Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre, 1788); from the Greek word alopos and Latin word vulpes, (both meaning fox).

Alternate Names: Thresher, blue thresher, longtail shark, swiveltail, fox shark, sea fox, fish shark, sea ope, pesca pavone. A worldwide range with a worldwide list of foreign names—pez zorro (Spanish), cação-pena (Portuguese), faux (French), fuchshai (German), aleposkylos (Greek), big-eye thresher (English), budenb (Maltese), cacao-raposa (Portuguese), chichi espada (Spanish), coleto (Spanish), coludo (Spanish), coludo pinto (Spanish), drescherhai (German), grayfish (English), grillo (Spanish), guadaña (Spanish), guilla (Catalan), jarjur (Arabic), kalb (Arabic), karage (Swahili), kettuhai (Finnish), Kosogon (Polish), K’wet’thenéchte (Salish), Langschweif (German), Loup de mer (French), mango-ripi (Maori), ma’o aero (Tahitian), mao-naga (Japanese), papa kinengo (Swahili), pas lisica (Serbian), pating (Tagalog), pèis rato (French), peixe-rato (Portuguese), peje sable (Spanish), peje zorra (Spanish), pejerrabo (Spanish), pesce volpe (Italian), peshkdhelpën (Albanian), pez espada (Spanish), pez palo (Spanish), pichirata (Spanish), pixxivolpi (Maltese), poisson-épée (French), psina lisica (Serbian), qatwa al bahar (Arabic), rabilongo (Portuguese), rabo de zorra (Spanish), rævehaj (Danish), raposa (Spanish), raposa marina (Spanish), raposo (Portuguese), rävhaj (Swedish), rechin-vulpe (Rumanian), renard (French), renard de mers (Creole), renard marin (French), requin renard (French), revaháur (Faroese), revehai (Norwegian), romano (Portuguese), romão (Portuguese), sapan (Turkish), sapan baligi (Turkish), seefuchs (German), singe de mer (French), skylópsaro (Greek), squalo volpe (Italian), tærsker (Danish), te bakoa (Kiribati), te kimoa (Kiribati), thon blanc (French), tiburón zorro (Spanish), tubarão raposo (Portuguese), volpe de mar (Italian), voshaai (Dutch), watwa albahar (Arabic), whip-tailed shark (English), zoro cauda longa (Portuguese), zorro (Spanish), and zorro blanco (Spanish).

Thresher taken from the Half Moon Bay Jetty in 2009

Identification: Easily identified by the long tail (caudal fin) that is as long as the rest of the body. The only other similar shark in California water is the rare, deep-water, big-eye thresher. Their coloring is brown to bluish gray to black to purplish on the back shading to white below. Their overall shape is spindle-shaped with two dorsal fins, a tiny anal fin, and curved pectoral fins. They have a short snout with a mouth full of small but sharp teeth.

Size:  To 18 feet and possibly 25 feet. Most caught from piers are youngsters (practically babies) under 6 feet in length. The California record fish was a 575 lb 0 oz fish caught off Carlsbad Canyon in 2007.   

Range: Circumglobal in warm waters. In the eastern Pacific from Chile to southeastern Alaska, and Goose Bay, British Columbia. Most threshers caught in California are taken south of Point Conception.

A thresher taken by red805 at the Goleta Pier in 2015

Habitat: Most common in deeper offshore water but young threshers venture into shallower water. A number are caught by southern and central California pier rats  every year.

Piers: Most common on oceanfront piers south of Point Conception although some are taken every year from Central Coast piers. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Venice Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Malibu Pier, Ventura Pier, Gaviota Pier, and Pismo Beach Pier. The Gaviota Pier may be the best pier in the state for threshers (and some feel the nearby waters are a “pupping” area) but the pier is currently closed and no one seems to know when or if the state will reopen it?

A thresher taken by Wayne at the Cayucos Pier in 1997

Shoreline:Rarely caught from shore unless near deepwater areas.

Boats: A major species for both boaters and kayakers in southern and central California. Live bait is preferred but they aren’t easy to land from a kayak.

Bait and Tackle: Bony fish make up 97% of the thresher’s diet. Mostly these are small, schooling species such as mackerel, jack mackerel and sardines. As a result, the recommended bait is a live whole fish with mackerel and sardines leading the list. A whole squid also makes excellent bait. Anglers specifically fishing for them land the great majority of threshers. Tackle should be heavy and include a net to bring the fish onto the pier. Line should be at least 40-pound test, a wire leader is preferred and hooks can be 4/0 or larger.

Thresher taken at the Ventura Pier in 2010

Food: An excellent, mild flavored flesh! Threshers can be prepared many ways but one of the best is to simply cut the meat into steaks and broil them on a grill. The meat does need to be cleaned properly and kept cool before cooking.

Comments: The high demand for thresher steaks, accompanying high prices, over-fishing, and low number of pups birthed each year by females (two to four), have led to a dramatic drop in the thresher population in the last twenty years. Many people feel there should be either a ban or severe limits imposed on the take of threshers. 

Thresher — Seacliff State Beach Pier in 2009

Posted in Daily musings... · Tagged , , , , , , , , · Leave a comment

Horn Shark

 Order Heterodontiformes — Bullhead Sharks—Family Heterodontidae

Horn shark from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2015

Species: Heterodontus francisci (Girard, 1855); from the Greek hetero (different) and odont (tooth) and the Latin francisci (referring to San Francisco). (They have a small pointed tooth at the front of their jaw and a blunt tooth at the rear.)

Alternate Names: Bullhead Shark, Port Jackson shark, horned shark, hornback shark. Called tiburón cabeza de toro, tiburón cornudo or tiburón puerco in Mexico.

Identification: Horn sharks are spotted sharks with a somewhat pig-like snout. They have a strong spine at the front of each dorsal fin (which accounts for their name) and an anal fin. Their coloring is tan to dark brown or grayish with black spots above, pale yellowish below.

Horn shark from the Cabrillo Mole on Catalina Island in 2015

Size: Reported to 48 inches, but the largest verified was just over 38 inches long and 22 pounds. Most hornies caught from piers are under 30 inches in length.

Range:  Found from the Gulf of California to San Francisco.

Habitat: Prefers rocky areas although also found near sandy areas that contain kelp. They are nocturnal, bottom-feeding foragers who prefer to spend their daylight hours resting on the bottom or in caves and crevices. At night they head out in their search for food—primarily squids, urchins, crustaceans, anemones and mollusks—but rarely are they found more than six feet from the bottom.

A horn shark taken at the Long Beach Finger Piers in 2011 by MrWoodstream

Piers: Most are caught at southern California piers but a few are caught as far north as the pier at Cayucos. Generally found near piers that are close to reefs or kelp. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, San Clemente Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Cabrillo Mole (Avalon), Santa Monica Pier, Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier and Goleta Pier.

Shoreline: Occasionally caught by anglers fishing rocky areas near kelp.

Another Catalina horn shark, this one caught by Kyle Pease in 2015

Boats: Sometimes taken by boaters and kayakers fishing the southern California kelp beds.

Bait and Tackle: Crabs, shrimp, squid and small fish are prime baits but hornies appear to take almost any natural bait. Most horn sharks taken by pier anglers are fairly small fish so light-to-medium tackle equipped with size 2 to 2/0 hooks will suffice.

Food Value:  Reported to be quite tasty, similar to most other sharks.

A horn shark taken at the Morro Bay North T-Pier in 2004

Comments: An interesting little shark. Small horn sharks are frequently sold in aquarium shops where they command top prices. They are generally harmless but anglers should be careful of the dorsal spines and be aware that agitated fish may try to bite careless handlers.

Horn sharks are in the Class Chondrichthyes and Subclass Elasmobranchii (as are all sharks and rays) but in the Superorder Galea, which only includes some of the sharks found at California piers. Many of the sharks found at piers are in the Superorder Squalea, which includes sharks as well as guitarfish and rays. Thus some of the sharks are more closely related to rays than to other sharks.

A horn shark taken at the Belmont Veterans Pier in Long Beach in 2009


A small horn shark taken from the Goleta Pier in 2008

Horn shark caught at the Redondo Beach Pier in 2003

Posted in Daily musings... · Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , · Leave a comment