Sci: Leionura atun

Common Names: The barracouta is frequently referred to as 'couta. It also has several other colloquial titles, including "pick-handle", ","axe-handle" and "hammer-handle", all of which refer to its shape. In some areas its South African name of "snoek" or "snook" is also used.

Description: This slim, needle-toothed fish is usually dark, steely-blue or green along the top of the back and bright, metallic silver on the flanks and belly. There is a distinct black patch near the leading edge of the long, relatively high first dorsal fin. The forked tail is dark, often black. Barracouta are sometimes confused with the tropical barracuda. However, beyond vague similarities in body shape and teeth, the two have little in common and are unrelated.

Size: Although often caught at lengths between 50 and 140 cm, barracouta are very lightly built. Even exceptional specimens in excess of 150 cm rarely weigh more than 4 or 5 kg. A more typical barracouta measures under a metre in length and weighs between 0.8 and 1.5 kg.

Distribution: A cold-water fish, the barracouta is most numerous in the seas around Tasmania, Victoria, parts of South Australia and southern Western Australia . It is reasonably common in New Zealand and South Africa.

Fishing Techniques: Barracouta are specifically fished for in southern states, but are generally regarded as a pest in New South Wales. They respond to a range of techniques, but are best caught by casting or trolling with lures such as a flashy, chromed spoons and silver or white jigs. The addition of a diving paravane to the rig ahead of the lure can often improve trolling results. Strips of fish flesh or whole pilchards and garfish on ganged hook rigs make excellent baits. Live baits attract plenty of interest, but many strikes are missed. A wire trace or ganged hooks are practically essential when fishing for barracouta.

Eating Qualities: Although generally despised in New South Wales, barracouta actually have tasty, pinkish-coloured flesh which is firm and white when cooked, and is also ideally suited to smoking. After cooking, the many long, flexible bones are easily removed. The flesh of barracouta can occasionally be infested with parasitic worms. Cooking destroys these worms and they appear to have no effect on the eating quality of the fish. However, barracouta should never be eaten raw.

By Steve Starling