Sci: Monacanthidae spp.

Common Names: There are at least 60 types of leatherjacket, "leather" or "jacket" present in Australian waters, 20 or more of which are sometimes taken by anglers. The more frequently captured species include: the rough leatherjacket (Scobinichthys granulatus), six-spined leatherjacket (Meuschenia freycineti), yellow-finned leatherjacket (M. trachylepis), Chinaman leatherjacket (Nelusetta ayraudi), mosaic leatherjacket (Eubalichthys mosaicus), and the estuary-dwelling fan-bellied leatherjacket (Monacanthus chinensis).

Description: This diverse and extensive group of relatively small, scaleless, rough-skinned fish have tiny mouths, beak-like teeth and a stout, serrated dorsal spine behind the head. Colouration varies enormously; from the brightly-hued and attractive six-spined leatherjacket to the drab and well-camouflaged rough and fan-bellied leatherjackets. Identifying the different species can be a difficult task, and is not overly important to the average angler.

Size: Most of the leatherjackets are quite small. For example, the estuarine fan-bellied leatherjackets rarely tops 0.5 kg. At the other end of the scale, the six spined and horseshoe varieties occasionally reach 2 kg, while the giants of the family are the mosaic leatherjacket and the Chinaman; both of which may occasionally exceed 3 kg.

Distribution: Leatherjackets of one type or another are found right around the coastline, although they tend to be replaced by the closely allied trigger fishes (Balistidae) in tropical latitudes.

Fishing Techniques: Leatherjackets can be taken on almost any type of tackle. Most are caught on light handlines or the same rod and reel outfits used to catch bream, flathead, inshore snapper and the like. When present in good numbers, leatherjackets are quite easy to catch, especially if a relatively small hook is used in conjunction with soft baits such as peeled prawn, worms, yabbies, cunjevoi, mussels, abalone gut or strips of fish flesh. Pieces of squid also make an excellent bait. Long-shanked hooks should be used to prevent leatherjackets biting through the line.

Eating Qualities: All of the leatherjacket species mentioned have white, sweet and slightly moist flesh and make very good to excellent food fish. However, there have been occasional reports of mild poisoning after eating leatherjackets, particularly the Chinaman leatherjacket.

By Steve Starling