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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: puffer

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

by on May.14, 2015, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

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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