Sci: Sphyraena barracuda

Common Names: Best known as barracuda or 'cuda, this fish is occasionally called the great barracuda, giant sea pike, dingo fish or "pick-handle".

Description: A long, almost cylindrical fish with a large mouth full of fearsome, canine teeth. Barracuda have steely grey or dark green backs and their silvery flanks carry between 18 and 24 faint, vertical stripes or bars when alive or freshly killed. There are often irregular dark blotches on the fish's sides, mainly towards the tail. The scalloped tail fin is sometimes tinged with yellow or edged in black. Although barracuda are sometimes confused with the southern barracouta, the two are totally unrelated and have little in common beyond their superficial physical similarities.

Size: In parts of the Atlantic and Caribbean, barracuda are reputed to occasionally exceed 220 cm in length and weigh as much as 65 kg. In Australian waters, barracuda over 170 cm and 25 or 30 kg are exceptional, although rare specimens occasionally exceed these dimensions. The majority of barracuda encountered by anglers will be a metre or less in length and weigh from 2 to 8 kg.

Distribution: This tropical and sub-tropical fish is found in all the warm oceans of the world. However, while stray specimens have been caught as far south as Sydney and Perth, barracuda are mainly confined to the waters north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Their habitat ranges from the blue ocean currents of the open sea to the upper tidal reaches of mangrove-lined estuaries.

Fishing Techniques: Barracuda are rarely fished for deliberately. Smaller specimens tend to be taken by estuary anglers targeting barramundi, mangrove jack and the like, while offshore anglers chasing mackerel, trevally, cobia and even marlin and sailfish take most of the biggest barracuda caught on rod and reel. Barracuda respond well to trolled baits of garfish, mullet or scad, and will also take minnow lures, trolling heads with skirts and various metal spoons. Live and dead bait is also effective. A wire trace is helpful in landing barracuda, but some big ones have been taken on heavy nylon leaders.

Eating Qualities: Barracuda flesh is not held in particularly high regard in Australia, since it is somewhat grey, coarse and rather strong smelling. The species is also a possible ciguatera poisoning risk, and larger specimens should not be eaten in known ciguatera locations.

By Steve Starling