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07/24/2023 01:37 AM

Time To Learn More About Puffer Fish

Good day on the water as this father and son duo of Madison, Chris Marinan (right) and John (left) fished together to catch, land and release these chopper bluefish and hefty striped bass using menhaden while fishing Long Island Sound. Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan
Knowing the difference between a northern pufferfish (top) and a southern one (bottom) can keep one out of harm’s way. Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan
Tasting somewhat like chicken and known either as sugar toads in the mid-Atlantic region or as northern pufferfish in New England, they are considered a delicacy. Photo courtesy of Captain Morgan

Until recently, pufferfish commonly caught in Long Island Sound waters were of the northern variety, which were generally considered non-poisonous. However, a warning came out from the Rhode Island Department of Natural Resources regarding an increase of catches of southern pufferfish, which contain a toxin harmful to humans if not properly prepared and with the utmost care.

Fugu, as smooth pufferfish are known in Japan, are considered a delicacy but pose a serious threat to one’s health if poorly handled and not cleaned with the utmost care. The neurotoxins in puffers that affect the central nervous system are tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin, for which there are no known antidotes. These toxins cannot be frozen or cooked out and can be found in all organs of the smooth puffer, including intestines and even in the skin. In Japan, they can only be served in restaurants where qualified fugu handlers work.

Smooth pufferfish are gray to olive-gray with a darker dorsal than below and have somewhat silvery sides. Except for their prickly belly and undersides of the head, the body is unscaled. Similar to northern puffers, they can be caught inshore and near-shore areas of sand and mud bottoms. They eat invertebrates and algae, with larger ones consuming clams, mussels, seaworms — even shellfish they crack with their hard beaks. It is believed that poisonous puffers synthesize their deadly toxin from the bacteria in animals they eat. These fish have a wide range in the western Atlantic Ocean and should not be used for bait or chum and carefully be released when caught.

On the other hand, the flesh of northern pufferfish is not poisonous. Because there might be a low level of toxins in the skin and organs, fishers are advised to thoroughly clean them of all skin and innards. The northern puffer displays black/dark green spots and saddles and a yellow-to-white belly. It has tiny jet-black pepper spots scattered over most of the pigmented surface. Its lower sides have a row of black, elongated, bar-like markings. This clumsy swimming species is club-shaped and puffs up into a ball to evade predators by filling their elastic stomachs with water (sometimes air), blowing themselves up to several times their normal size.

Mostly, northern pufferfish (sometimes called blowfish) are incidental catches by fishers looking for other bottom feeders. As kids, we used to tickle their bellies to get them to blow up and then watch them awkwardly swim away. As an aside, I cannot recall ever experiencing, firsthand or otherwise, a negative experience catching, handling, or even eating a northern pufferfish. However, it is recommended to take the time to learn the difference between a northern and southern pufferfish and act accordingly.

On The Water

A Great Lakes cold front advanced east and moved through the region, followed by a weak high pressure that returned the following day. A wave of low pressure then tracked south before a slow-moving frontal system moved in, after which a Canadian high-pressure system built up into the region. During this period, high waters and debris continued along with a lessening of showers, thunderstorms, and windy conditions. Daily air temperatures fluctuated from the low to high 80s, accompanied by early fog and partly sunny skies. Throughout, Long Island Sound water temperatures pushed the mercury to the high 70s, and seas moderated, giving anglers more fishing time on the water.

Foul weather, debris-filled waters, fog, and threats of thunderstorms only deterred the skittish fishers but only egged on those nautically smart and experienced ones. And so, that is the way it has been these past few weeks as Mother Nature drew from the bottom of the deck. No matter how disruptive weather conditions tended to be, it was not bad enough to drive fish out. Instead, both baitfish and predators moved around the Sound, continuing their game of tag, causing fishers to change tactics, locations, and depths.

Over-the-slot striped bass and chopper bluefish continued their foraging, packing on those extra pounds — often confusing real from imitation. The end result generally relied on the fisher and, to some extent, the fish’s appetite. Places like The Race, Six Mile Reef, Faulkner Island, and The Beacon, where moving water cleared things up one minute and refilled the void a short time later, produced bragging-rights fish on live eels, menhaden, other baits, bucktails, and diamond jigs. Weakfish continued to hang in there, taking baits and rigs trolled or drifted at the lower end of the water column, with squid tipped on rigs or bucktails being top choices.

Interestingly enough, there were a few good blackfish (tautog) catches made from shore in clear water between piles of debris. Simple rigs, soft natural baits, and crab meat were the key when summer togs were found below the debris line. Porgy catches remained good where keeper-size to slabs were hooked from shore and from reefs, humps, and rock piles that were fishable. Clams, squid, and seaworms are still the go-to baits, along with scented strips. Black sea bass catches also remained solid, but generally more smaller fish were caught compared to the sought-after knotheads usually caught in deep water. Drifting for fluke in clear, slow-moving water improved when a drift could be sent up, avoiding debris and coffee-stained water using squid, bucktails, and a variety of select fluke rigs such as hi-lo’s, spinners, and sliders.

Sizable dogfish are repeatedly surprising fishers who are unfamiliar with their fight and stamina. At first, many feel as though a large striper or bluefish was on the other end of the line, but soon realize it was neither. In addition, clear nose skate, sea robins, kingfish, and other bottom feeders like sand tiger and sandbar sharks are definitely feeding on chunk baits. In the estuaries, blue crabs have gotten most of the attention as crabbers hit the wetlands to trap, scoop and hand-line these aggressive feeders with an attitude. Look for clean, clear water.

Casting a fly or other trout lure has been productive despite this flippant recurring weather pattern providing fishing in moderate water levels and flows. Rain has elevated those conditions, so waters adversely affected have definitely increased an angler’s effort and reduced catches. Lakes and ponds remain active, but many are choked with vegetation that, if carefully fished, produce fish when using both natural, scented baits and/or artificial hard or soft lures. Bass, crappie, pickerel, perch, sunfish, etc., have been the typical catches.

Fly Fishing Clinic: Now accepting reservations for July. An outstanding opportunity for the experienced or intermediate fly fisher! Booking inland and marine fly fishing lessons for 2023 with world fisher, certified master fly fishing casting instructor, and fishing lodge director, accompanied by an accomplished guide, instructor, and local striped bass enthusiast and specialist. From trout, salmon, steelhead, and sea-run browns to striped bass, bonefish, permit, and tarpon, etc., techniques learned and honed will improve your fishing.

Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and International fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.

For all things fishy, including the latest gear, flies/fly fishing, rods/reels, clam/crabbing supplies, fishing trips, licenses/permits, and much more, swing by the shop (203-245-8665), open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time, from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter and Authorized Penn Premium Dealer, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.

Tight Lines,

Captain Morgan

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