Triggerfish are strikingly colored reef-loving fish found in the warm-temperate and tropical oceans.
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Where and When?

Members of the Balistidae family are distributed in most of the warm-water, usually coastal, areas of all the world’s oceans. One of the most important recreational fishing species, the grey triggerfish (Balistes capriscus), is found along much of the western shores of the Americas from Nova Scotia south to Argentina. The titan triggerfish is distributed in the Indo-Pacific area but, strangely, not around Hawaii. Many other species are found in areas with coral reefs such as around northern Australia, the Caribbean Sea and the east African coast. They generally favour shallow water and tend to remain around structure, except when involved in nest construction and defence. The grey triggerfish roams from the shallows down to about 55 m. (180 ft.) and, like many species, is often most common in lagoons or bays around rocks or reefs. In more temperate areas, summer is the best season for fishing for triggerfish, while in tropical regions they may be caught all year round. Most triggerfish “sleep” during the night lying on structure, but may be caught, while feeding, throughout the day.

About Triggerfish

The term “triggerfish” is applied to over 40 species of fish from the family “Balistidae” but, although diverse in colour, all have characteristic aspects in common. All species have oval-shaped, highly vertically compressed bodies with large heads, small eyes and a small mouth right at the front, which is often armed with strong, sharp teeth. Some of the many brightly coloured species have “Picasso-type” designs on their bodies. All, however, have three dorsal spines in place of the anterior dorsal fin and the front, largest, spine is “locked in place” by the second spine and to unlock it requires the second to be laid flat, “triggering” the collapse of the first. The stone triggerfish (Pseudobalistes naufragium) is largest and can attain 100 cm. (39 in.) but most other species fall in the length range 20-50 cm. (8-20 in.). All are mostly benthic (bottom) feeders and prey on invertebrates such as urchins, starfish and even barnacles, but some also eat small fish. Sexes are usually similar and males dig nests that they will defend vigorously against all comers. Many will even “attack” divers and the Titan triggerfish (Balistes viridescens) is apparently more feared than sharks in some regions.

How to Catch?

While there are areas where large species, such as the stone triggerfish which are actively targeted, most triggerfish are caught as bycatch. With their small mouths and ground feeding habits, it is not easy to catch them on fly or spinning except when the males are protecting their nests. When this happens, excellent sport can be had by casting flies or lures carefully into good-looking nesting areas or sight-fishing if a nest is seen or known. Medium tackle is best, but the terminal tackle needs to be strong enough not to be easily cut by the sharp teeth. Anglers wanting to catch interesting, beautiful and quirky fish spend time targeting various species of triggerfish for “trophy” photos while larger local species, such as the grey triggerfish, provide good sport along much of the western seaboard of the USA. Boat or kayak fishing is best, using light to medium tackle, and fishing vertically over structure with the bait or lure relatively close to the bottom. Small plastics work well, and thin strips of squid are among the best baits, being tough and favoured by triggerfish. The “trick” with triggerfish is to give time for the biting fish to fully swallow the bait, as triggerfish are well known bait stealers. Catching a beautiful triggerfish can be an interesting “aside” when fishing for other species, or a pleasant and satisfying achievement.