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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: blowfish

Gulf Coast Smooth Back Pufferfish–An Invasion? Your Experiences Wanted!


smoothback pufferfish

smoothback pufferfish

I’ve been fishing Florida’s Gulf coast for about 60 years, and I’ve never seen one of these puffers.  What we usually see, especially inshore, are the cute little “porcupine blowfish” that are less than a foot long, and are known to cut perfect notches out of soft baits.  However, this year, there seems to be an outbreak of these bigger, heretofore rare in inshore waters, smoothback pufferfish.  They’ve been found in the past month from Tampa Bay to Panacea and are ready and willing to eat jigs, soft baits, live bait, hard plugs, topwater lures and even popping corks.  Structure doesn’t seem to matter either.  They’re over rock piles, oyster bars, mud bottom and grass flats.

I’ve contacted the FWC’s research department (FWRI) and have had no solid response from them about these fish and about the possibility of an “invasion”.  One response from an FWRI Communications Officer was, “I heard back from our biologist and he said that it’s hard to say why there’s a sudden surge in population.  He said that pufferfish can have strong recruitment some years.  As for them being an exotic, they are not  exotic, so no worries there.”  My response was to forward several emails I’d received from my Florida Sportsman Big Bend Fishing4Cast readers, but I’ve still had no response.  Does “strong recruitment some years” mean thousands of fish every 50 years?  Personally, I’d like to know more about the outbreak and what these voracious feeders eat.

Please feel free to send your reports of smoothback pufferfish adventures to me at capttfommy@me.com or as a comment on this post.

Below are some email comments I’ve received so far:

  • Just read this weeks forecast. Both my wife and I caught some of these new puffers on our recent trip. We landed about 4 and had bait demolished by several others. All fish were in the 16″ range. They are very aggressive. We were south of Rocky creek most of the time.


  • Read your 05/07 fishing forecast re: Smooth Puffers, have started catching these puffers between Rocky Creek and Pepperfish from about 4’ up to the grass line biggest so far was about 16” caught 3 in one trip before moving on.  Never seen them before this year. Joked with my wife about not being a fugu chef.


  • I read your forecast and thought I’d let you know I caught a 18 ish inch smooth back puffer  2 weeks ago in a small creek (Stony Bayou) in the St Marks Wildlife Refuge. I was really surprised, because I’ve never caught one inshore. I didn’t think much about it until I read your reports of the invasion.


  • Went out of Steinhatchee today a mile south of the channel in 3 to 5 feet of water and caught 3 of the large puffers. They were even chasing the small trout as I reeled them in. Lost a lot of Gulps to them. They are ferocious.


  • I have been fishing the big bend area from Keaton to Mexico Beach for over 30 years and have never caught one of these smooth puffers. On a trip to Keaton, weekend of May 1st, we caught 5 of them. Hope they’re not invasive.


  • Recently saw your comments on Florida Sportsman/Puffers and…put the yak in early today (sunrise) at Hagens Cove hoping for trout topwater action. Liked the water/weather conditions (glassy/no wind). Went out about 1 mile 4′ depth.  Between the Puffers and the floating grass (where is all that grass coming from?) couldn’t/didn’t hook up with ANY trout. Them darned Puffers hit just about anything: topwaters, suspending hardbaits, various riggings under popping corks…


  • I also have been encountering the Smooth Puffers in and around Ozello. Did not know what they where called, never caught one before. They are as you stated in your article ferocious little buggers. Was catching them on a MirrOdine



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A Plague of Puffers, May 2015


Most times, especially in these spring months, anglers fishing close to shore along the Big Bend are plagued with swarms of flies and/or no-see-ums, gnawing at any bit of exposed flesh they can find. They’re there this year too, but have been joined by yet another pest, the smooth pufferfish. We’ve never seen these big voracious puffers in our inshore waters, and many of us are wondering just what sins we’ve committed to bring this “plague of puffers” upon us! I had never seen one of these fish before, so here’s a description so you’ll know just what chewed your bait in half:

Blowfish, Smoothback Puffer Lagocephalus inermis, Family:Tetrodontidae (Puffers) Commonly known as smooth-backed blowfish. Covered in tiny, sandpaper spines. Olive green to dark grey above with silvery yellow sides, belly white. Smooth sides, rough belly. Eyes are large and high on the head. Young fish have 3-4 brown patches and/or spots on the back. Grows up to 3 ft in length. Puff up to 2 times normal size when on the defensive. Two front teeth are fused to cut and crush. Feeds on foods like bits of worm, small shrimp, crabs, clams, etc. Found in shallow bay areas during summer, wintering in deeper waters in the south.

During the past week, my clients and I landed over a dozen of these fish, most in the 16-20-inch size range. They’re ferocious, attacking jigs, subsurface plugs and even topwater lures. And there was no particular structure involved. We caught them from one to six feet of water, over rocks and grass and even mud bottom.

I’m curious if my readers have experienced any catches of these pests. They’re not the usual “porcupine blowfish” that take chunks out of soft baits and I’m concerned that people will try to eat them. There’s a danger of saxitoxin poisoning from them, so don’t take a chance. In fact, it’s illegal to keep puffers in some SE Florida counties. Freezing or cooking will not kill this toxin, and it may kill you!


Please give me a holler if you’ve been catching any of these fish in your area. Email me at:  capttommy@me.com

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