Saltwater Fish Identification
Click a species name to jump to a description:
Scientific Name: Morone saxatilis
Common Names: striper, rockfish, rock, linesider
The striped bass is currently the most sought-after coastal sportfish species in Connecticut. This highly migratory fish moves north from the mid-Atlantic area during the spring and back southward during the fall, spending roughly the months of May through October feeding on whatever food it can find including river herring, crabs, lobsters, menhaden, and silversides. The Chesapeake Bay and Hudson River estuaries contain the major spawning and nursery areas for East Coast striped bass. Spawning typically takes place during April and May in the freshwater tributaries of these estuaries. Almost all females are mature by the time they reach 36 inches in length and 5 to 9 years in age. The striped bass has a large mouth and sharp, stiff spines located on the gill covers, anterior dorsal fin and anal fin. A full-bodied fish, the striped bass is bluish to dark olive dorsally, with a silvery belly and sides. Several dark, lateral stripes, reaching from the gills to the base of the tail, are the most prominent features distinguishing the striped bass from other coastal species. Stripers caught in Connecticut range from 10 to more than 50 inches in length, and can weigh in excess of 50 pounds. The world record striped bass was caught in Connecticut waters and weighed 81.88 lbs. Striped Bass fishing over the years has started to decline again so the amfc along with the state’s themselves are in the process of implementing new regulations on them.
Catching Striped Bass: Striped bass can be taken from shore and from a boat while casting, trolling and drifting. Fly fishing for stripers has become increasingly popular in recent years. Popular striped bass fishing spots include shorelines, bridges or docks with nearby drop offs, holes, or strong currents. Striped bass fishing is especially good during an evening or early morning tide, as stripers are nocturnal feeders. Live or natural baits are effective, especially live eels, pogies (menhaden), and chunks of mackerel, squid or herring. An 8- to 10-foot surf rod and reel spooled with 30- pound test or a medium to heavy spinning rod with 12- to 20-pound test line is preferable, depending on fishing location. Effective lures include the spoons, poppers, lead-head jigs and swimming plugs. Effective flies include streamers that look like bait fish. A particularly good one is Lefty’s Deceiver. <return to top of page>
Common Names: snappers, harbors, tailors, choppers, gators
The bluefish is a favorite quarry of recreational anglers along the Atlantic coast because of its great fighting ability and its schooling behavior. Since bluefish run in schools, when you catch one, you will often catch several more soon afterwards. The bluefish is most abundant from Cape Cod south to Argentina. During the spring however, large schools of adults migrate up into the coast. The best time to catch bluefish in Connecticut waters is from the end of May to the end of October. The bluefish has a stout body, a forked tail and a large mouth with numerous large sharp teeth. It has two dorsal fins: the first one is composed of seven to eight short spines; it is followed by a second dorsal fin that is twice as high, made of soft rays, and is similar in appearance to the anal fin. Coloration is a sea-green on the back, fading down the sides to a silvery color on the belly. Bluefish spawn in the offshore areas of the continental shelf in two major locations: southern Florida to North Carolina in the spring, and the mid-Atlantic to southern New England in the summer. After a few months, the young bluefish migrate shoreward into the coastal estuaries. In two years, bluefish will grow to about 18 inches and be sexually mature.
Catching Bluefish: Most bluefish caught in Connecticut range between 18 and 36 inches, although occasionally anglers may encounter a school of “snapper blues” (young fish less than 12 inches long). Bluefish are caught by anglers fishing the entire shoreline. Anglers can catch them from a boat or from shore on rocky outcroppings, jetties, bridges and piers. Equipment will vary depending on the type of fishing preferred. Fly fishing, spinning or trolling with bait are all good methods for catching bluefish. When spin fishing, a medium- to heavy-duty rod with 10- to 40-pound test line is recommended. Regardless of the equipment or the technique, wire leaders are a must: bluefish have sharp teeth that can easily cut through most monofilament lines. Swimming lures and drifted bait are effective for catching bluefish. Chunks of pogies (menhaden), mackerel, herring and live eels are good baits. Effective artificial lures for casting or trolling include poppers, spoons and plugs. Effective flies include Clouser minnows and foam-bodied poppers.
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Scientific Name: Pleuronectes americanus
Common Names: blackback, Georges Bank flounder, lemon sole, sole, flatfish, mud dab
Of the 3 or so different types of flounders occurring in Connecticut waters, the winter flounder (or blackback) is by far the flounder species most commonly caught by recreational anglers. The blackback is a rightsided flounder, which means the dark-colored side where the eyes are located occurs on the right side of the fish. It is distinguished from other right-sided flounder by its very small mouth, relatively flat lateral line and the presence of scales between the eyes. The color is highly variable and can change to mimic the bottom habitat. Winter flounder populations occur in most bays and estuaries, from Newfoundland down to Chesapeake Bay. In Connecticut, winter flounder begin moving into the bays and estuaries from offshore areas during late winter in preparation for spawning, which occurs in April or May in Connecticut. After spawning, blackbacks in Connecticut remain offshore in cooler waters. When the water starts to cool in the fall blackbacks migrate to the bays, harbors and near shore areas. All females are sexually mature at a size of 14 inches (generally 2 or 3 years old). Tagging studies have shown that winter flounder generally return to the same estuaries to spawn year after year..
Catching Flounder: Fishing for flounder in Connecticut begins in May and generally continues through December. Anglers can fish for flounder from jetties, piers and bridges, but those fishing from boats near the mouths of estuaries and harbors are more successful. Light to medium tackle rods are used, equipped with 1- or 2-ounce weights and long-shank flounder hooks attached to “spreaders.” In most instances, lures are ineffective in catching flounder; bait is best. Favorite baits for flounder include clam worms, blood worms and clams. Chumming is a common tactic for attracting flounder to the location you are fishing.
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Common Names: sea herring, sardine
Atlantic herring (sea herring) travel in large schools, feed on plankton and migrate into Connecticut waters during the spring. Unlike the river herring, which travels into freshwater for annual spawning, the Atlantic herring spends its entire life at sea. The body is elongate and laterally compressed, and its head is relatively small and pointed. Dorsal coloration is greenish-blue to blue and blends into a silvery belly. Adult sea herring are sexually mature at 12 inches and rarely exceed 19 inches in length. <return to top of page>
Common Name: blackfish, tautog, white chin
The tautog is a stout fish with a blunt nose and thick lips. Large conical teeth at the front of the mouth recede to flat crushing teeth used for eating hard-shelled prey. Coloration is dark green to black dorsally, mottling to a lighter background color on the sides. Adults average 1 to 3 pounds, maximum size of 25 lbs and are sexually mature at 10 inches in length. Most tautog fishing occurs in the spring and fall. These are commonly the best times to fish for them. Summer fishing for tautog is virtually non existent, and the winter months finds the tautog going dormant. Until spring when they start their spawning. <return to top of page>
Common Names: perch, ocean perch, blue perch, bergall, chogset
The cunner is a year-round resident of coastal Connecticut and can generally be found in shallow waters around rocks and eelgrass. Marked by a small mouth and several rows of jaw teeth, this buck-toothed fish feeds on various invertebrates. Three quarters of the dorsal fin is supported by spines. Closely related to the tautog, the cunner differs by a slimmer body, more pointed snout and thinner lips. Its color will vary with the background of its habitat. Average length is 6 to 10 inches. It is sexually mature by 4 inches in length. Cunners and tautog are the only wrasse species in Connecticut waters. <return to top of page>
Common Names: American shad, Atlantic shad
The American shad is an anadromous fish that enters the tributaries to spawn in early spring. The shad is the largest member of the herring family to frequent Connecticut coastal waters. It has a laterally compressed body with a sharp saw-edged belly and a deeply forked tail. Anglers can distinguish shad from river herring by the presence of four to six dusky spots running along the body behind the gills. Females are sexually mature at 19 inches in length. Shad may be taken by anglers using artificial lures and spinning rods or with fly fishing gear. They are a great fighting fish on light tackle. <return to top of page>
Common Name: frost fish
The tomcod is a winter and early spring species often caught by accident while fishing for winter flounder. Most weigh less than 1 pound, measure less than 12 inches, and primarily occur in estuaries and tidal rivers. Juvenile tomcod are attracted to the shallow eelgrass which are prime nursery grounds for this species. The tomcod is distinguishable from cod by its elongate pelvic rays, rounded tail and dark mottling on its back and sides. <return to top of page>
Common Names:False Albacore, Little Tuna
The little tunny is both the most common and the smallest of tuna in the Atlantic Ocean. It is highly sought after as a sport fish due to its line rips and hard fighting ability when hooked. It is less than desirable on the table with the flesh being coarse in texture and strong in “fishy” flavor. <return to top of page>
Common Name: sea perch
The white perch is a small schooling fish caught in Connecticut. It spends most of the year in estuarine waters, migrating to brackish or fresh water to reproduce in late March and early April. Adults can reach 8 to 10 inches in length and weigh up to 1 pound. White perch have spines on the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. A member of the bass family, it is distinguishable from striped bass by the lack of prominent lateral stripes and its generally smaller size. Most anglers targeting them will fish with brine shrimp, grass shrimp, and sandworms. For lure fishermen they will throw swedish pimples, and kastmasters. <return to top of page>
The three skate species that occur in connecticut coastal waters are the longnose, clearnose, and common. They are, however, easily distinguished from other saltwater species by their flattened bodies and large wing-like pectoral fins. Skates are caught year-round both from shore and from boats fishing in offshore areas, though most landings occur in spring and fall. They will eat any bait thrown for other species. <return to top of page>
Common Names: piked dogfish, grayfish, spiny dogfish
The dogfish is frequently encountered by anglers and people fishing from party or charter boats. Traveling in schools, dogfish are year round residents of long island sound. Commonly caught while fishing for other species, anglers consider them to be a nuisance. They will readily take any bait offered and are caught more in the spring and early fall. This small shark species is easily identified by its slender body, flattened head and rough slate gray skin. Adult dogfish generally weigh 7 to 10 pounds and all females are sexually mature by the time they are 36 inches long. <return to top of page>
Common Names: angler, goosefish
The monkfish is a unique-looking species difficult to confuse with other coastal Connecticut fishes. Its enormous mouth and head make up nearly half of the body; the posterior half is flat and dark brown/gray dorsally. Sharp curved teeth and a lure-like elongate ray above the eyes make the monkfish an effective predator on other species – even sea birds. Females become sexually mature by 18 inches in length. The monkfish is often caught incidentally by anglers using live bait in search of other groundfish. If you catch one, you’re in for a treat; they make a great-tasting meal. <return to top of page>
Common Name: fluke
The summer flounder is a left-sided flounder that is distinguished by the presence of 10 to 14 eye-like spots on its body and a large mouth that extends beyond the eyes which contain rows of very sharp teeth. Average adults may weigh from 2 to 5 pounds, and all females are sexually mature at 17 inches in length. After migrating to offshore waters to spawn during the fall and winter, summer flounder travel into Connecticut’s bays, estuaries and near shore areas during the summer. They are excellent table fare. Most anglers fishing for these toothy flounder will use minnows, mummichugs, squid, mackerel, and menhaden. A light to medium action rod is perfect with 10-15 lb test line. <return to top of page>
Common Names: sand flounder, sand dab, spotted flounder
The windowpane flounder, named for its thin, almost translucent rounded body, is a year-round resident of Connecticut’s shallow and sandy coastal waters. As a left-sided flatfish, it can be distinguished from the summer flounder by the fringed appearance of the first several rays of the dorsal fin. Coloration may be pale brown or olive-green with a scattering of irregularly shaped small brown spots. Adults rarely exceed 1 pound and all females are sexually mature at 12 inches in length. They are commonly caught while jigging for summer flounder using squid, minnows, and mummichugs. <return to top of page>
A large, slender, marine fish, it is found along the east coast of North America. The head and back of this fish are dark brown in color with a greenish tinge. The sides have a faint silvery hue with dusky specks, and the belly is white. The origin of its name is based on the weakness of the mouth muscles, which often cause a hook to tear free, allowing the fish to escape. The weakfish grows to about 36 inches in length and 20 lbs in weight. Although catches of that size have dwindled in the past 15 years. It is found along the entire Connecticut coastline. They will readily take minnows and sandworms when they are presented. Weakfish are also known by the American Indian name “Squeteague”. Weakfish spawn in the spring in Connecticut’s coastal estuaries and back bays. <return to top of page>
Common Names:Common names: Black sea bass, black bass, humpback (larger males), rock bass, sea bass, pinbass
Size: Up to 25 inches long, commonly 11-12 inches long
Color: Typically blue-black dorsally, fading to a slightly paler color on the belly. Each scale has a light blue-white center, creating stripes along the back and sides. The dorsal fin – and sometimes the anal and pectoral fins – has white lines or splotches. Juveniles go through four color phases: (1) light gray with small dark spots; (2) dark with pale white spots; (3) striped with a horizontal dark stripe; and (4) barred having 6 vertical stripes. Mature males have vivid blue-green around and above the eyes and on top of the head. One distinguishing feature is the elongated tail-filament. Black Sea Bass are phenomenal table fare and are readily targeted by anglers. They can be caught with mummichugs, minnows, sandworms, squid and clams. <return to top of page>
Common Names:Atlantic Blue Crab, Chesapeake Blue Crab
The blue crab is a species of crab native to the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and introduced internationally. <return to top of page>
The scup, commonly called porgy, is a fish which occurs primarily in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to South Carolina. Scup grow as large as 18″ and weigh 3 to 4 lb, but they average 1/2 – 1 lb. In the Middle Atlantic Bight, scup spawn along the inner continental shelf. Their larvae end up in inshore waters, along the coast and in estuarine areas. At 2 to 3 years of age, they mature. Scup winter along the mid and outer continental shelf. When the temperature warms in the spring they migrate inshore. They are fished for by commercial and recreational fishermen. <return to top of page>
Common Names:Hickory Shad
Hickory shad is an member of the herring family, ranging along the East Coast of the United States from Florida to the Gulf of Maine. It is an anadromous fish species, meaning that it spawns in freshwater portions of rivers but spends most of its life at sea. <return to top of page>
Common Names:Menhaden, Mossbunker, Bunker and Pogy
Menhaden is a silvery, highly compressed fish in the herring family. The Atlantic menhaden is popular for use as live or dead bait. <return to top of page>
Common Names:Eel, Unagi
Found nearly everywhere in New England, the American Eel lives in fresh water but spawns in salt water, in the Sargasso Sea of the Atlantic Ocean. Eels are very tolerant of adverse water conditions and can live out of water for an extended period of time. During the winter they are generally inactive, buried in the mud. Eels have a delicious flavor and may be taken easily when descending rivers to spawn in the spring, in tide-water using worms or during the open water season by bottom fishing at night with almost any kind of bait.<return to top of page>
Sea robins are elongated fish with armoured, bony heads and two dorsal fins. Along the American Atlantic, the common sea robin is noted for its sound production. <return to top of page>
Common Names:Norfolk Spot, Flat Croaker, Golden Croaker, Silver Gudgeon, Goody, Chub, Roach, Jimmy, Spot Croaker
Spot is one of the most common bottom fishes in coastal and estuarine waters of the Atlantic, and has both commercial and recreational importance. A small deep-bodied, compressed fish with an elevated (high) back. Body color is typically bluish-gray dorsally, fading to golden yellow or yellow-tan ventrally. A set of 12–15 dark streaks run obliquely from the dorsal surface down the sides to about mid-body. These tend to fade with age. Fins are typically pale yellow in color. The head is short, with a small, inferior mouth (bottom feeder).
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Atlantic croaker is a silvery-pink fish that makes a loud “croaking” sound. Another very common bottom fish in coastal waters of the Atlantic which has both commercial and recreational importance. Atlantic croaker has an inferior mouth (bottom feeder) with 3 to 5 pairs of small barbels on the chin.
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The northern kingfish is popular with many saltwater anglers, and it’s no wonder. These fish are known to put up a good fight, and their tasty, white meat is well worth the effort. Northern kingfish are part of the drum family, which also includes weakfish, spot, Atlantic croaker, red drum and black drum. Since they lack an air bladder, northern kingfish do not make typical “drumming” sounds like other members of the drum family, but they can vocalize somewhat by grinding their pharyngeal (throat) teeth. Notable characteristics are the long spine on the first dorsal fin and a barbel on the chin. Dark, irregular bars are present along the body of the fish.
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