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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: puffers

Thoughts Regarding Table Value of Smoothback Pufferfish

by on May.27, 2016, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST

Smoothback Puffer Lagocephalus inermis, Family:Tetrodontidae

                               Smoothback Puffer Lagocephalus inermis, Family:Tetrodontidae

Since the spring of 2015, there’s been an “outbreak” of smoothback puffers along Florida’s Gulf Coast, from Tampa Bay to Pensacola.  Likely a deepwater species, I’d never seen one until I caught 4 off Steinhatchee on Florida’s Big Bend last year.  These are NOT the small porcupine blowfish that usually cut chunks from soft plastic baits and steal live shrimp.  So far, many specimens over 20-inches have been caught.  And they’re not coming from offshore waters.   Catches have been reported in less than 3 feet of water, over close to shore rock piles and oyster beds.  I’d never seen one in my 60-plus years of fishing in Florida, and many anglers and marine scientists are also baffled.

Many of my readers have asked about the edibility of these fish, having heard about some pufferfish that are poisonous, but still popular as food in Asia.  These puffers are not the same as fugu, often listed as one of the most dangerous foods, there is some concern that anglers might contaminate the flesh during the cleaning process.

At a recent meeting of marine scientists, I had the opportunity to ask one who is probably one of the leading experts on seafood safety about smoothback pufferfish.  His thought, “I wouldn’t eat one!”.

That’s good enough for me.  I’ll stick to catching them (they really fight well!) and practicing catch and release!

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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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