Forget the gaudy colours of its Indian Ocean brethren, the Ocean triggerfish is the Anna Wintour of the entire goofy, bucktoothed clan. In issue 26, Gerald Penkler gave us the low-down on these toothy scrappers.

WHAT: Dynamite comes in small packages. Up to a 70 cm and 6 kg parcel in the case of the Ocean Triggerfish (Canthidermis sufflamen). Up front, the crab-crushing, finger-shredding and urchin-chewing jaws are explosive. But the short fuse of these feisty bulldogs sets them apart and you would do well to keep your fingers and toes tucked away. Even large predatory fish are wary of these bombers. The infamous trigger spines they use for self-defence and to lock themselves in coral holes further strengthens their street fighter credentials. However, the back end of the ocean triggerfish is about as threatening as a fluffy rabbit. Here their large Dumbo-esque anal and posterior dorsal fins lazily undulate from side to side for propulsion.

WHERE: The ocean triggerfish enjoys warm water and has an extensive range across the tropical and subtropical areas of the Western Atlantic. This spans from Canada to Massachusetts, Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and South America. They also inhabit parts of the Southern and Eastern Atlantic including the islands of Ascension, Cape Verde, El Hierro, St Paul’s Rocks and St Helena.

Gerald Penkler with an ocean triggerfish caught in Mexico

Gerald Penkler with an ocean triggerfish caught in Mexico

HOW: Unlike most triggerfish, the ocean triggerfish is pelagic and they usually hang about floating objects or Sargassum beds at depths of 5 to 70m. However, along some coasts they can be targeted in the shallows. One such place is the Yucatán where they move onto the coral flats to graze and socialise with the local bonefish and permit. Their Dumbo-fins flopping on the surface when tailing and the large dark bodies make them easy to find. Once you have placed a crab or shrimp pattern in front of them you will know immediately if they are interested as they bustle over. Appreciate every obliging fish as on some days these temperamental bulldogs ignore everything. The take often starts with a series of nips, but keep the fly moving on a slow retrieve until you feel a solid eat. Avoid flies with long trailing legs and tails to help with the hook eat. Once eaten, strip-strike hard to set the hook amongst or around those mega teeth and brace yourself for a powerful dash to the nearest hole. Maximum pressure helps avoid the holes and also prevents your hook from falling out if it is in a toothy set. Fluorocarbon tippet in the 12-15lb range provides a good balance of stealth and pull power. When handled for unhooking or photos these triggers have a visible stress reaction. Handle them carefully and quickly if you want a photo as chromatophores turn their dark skin white within 30 seconds.

WHO: These triggerfish are perfect for sight-fishing and flats aficionados as well as anglers that are easily distracted. With every passing minute that a permit or bonefish is not spotted on the flats, it becomes harder and harder to ignore these easy to see scrappers finning on the flats. I succumbed all too easily every time.


Get stuck into the rest of issue 26 below. As always, it’s free.