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

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