The Jig's Up for Barracuda


Mar 11, 2001
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DFG News Release:  For Immediate Release

March 13, 2002

The Jig's Up for Barracuda

Contact: Conservation Education, (916) 653-6420

Barracuda are prowling the coastal waters, and it is high time to go jig slinging. For sporting action, a big school of hungry barracuda is a guaranteed hoot and holler, especially on light tackle. This is great fun and the taste of barracuda is good, providing it has been properly cared for from the very moment it was caught.

Let's see here: great fun and good eating. Where do we sign up?

Barracuda have come back from a state of reduced abundance to near record levels over the past couple of decades, thanks to good fisheries management including minimum size limits and bag limits, commercial gear restrictions, and ongoing monitoring. By continuing our sound fishery management practices, we will enjoy good barracuda fishing for a long time to come.

It is difficult to name just a few choice spots to fish for these gamesters, because the schools move quickly and travel widely. A few common spots include Imperial Beach, La Jolla, Oceanside, Long Beach, Catalina Island, the Channel Islands, Ventura flats, and Santa Barbara. When on the water, look for working birds and skittering baitfish. That frequently means barracuda are chasing baitfish and feeding aggressively. These fish roam the entire Southern California Bight in large schools, sometimes tightly packed and working big baitballs in practiced choreographed fashion. At other times, a school of barracuda will be spread thin over an area several miles wide as each fish feeds opportunistically.

Catching them can be a lot of fun. The most popular technique is to cast and retrieve metal jigs. It is wise to closely match the size and color of the natural baitfish seen skittering across topwater as they flee from the marauding "slime sticks," so nicknamed because of their thick slime coating. Some folks are more comfortable casting spinning outfits, and opt for small jigs which are easy to cast. Folks who prefer conventional reels can use larger and heavier jigs.

A very productive and commonly practiced technique is to cast out as far as possible, then let the jig flutter down the water column for maybe a five-second count (vary the count according to the depth where most strikes are occurring) and then retrieve at medium speed. Barracuda are easily enticed by a jig moving through the water just fast enough to get a swimming action, or "kick" working. A jig which matches the size and shape of natural forage fish and worked near the surface at an enticing swimming speed is pounced upon with wild abandon by every barracuda in the vicinity. These fish have long narrow mouths, so hooks often do not find a purchase as a barracuda slashes at a bait or jig with its razor sharp teeth. It is common to feel two, three, or more strikes before hooking up. That is part of the fun.

Not everyone is skilled at casting or just don't have the knack for slinging a jig. Good crew members or fishing buddies will often make long casts and then hand rods to less skilled passengers to retrieve. Another technique - one recommended for private boaters out with family or friends who are not good casters - is to troll those same lures about 50 feet behind the boat at a speed through water of about four to six knots, or whatever speed gives the particular lure the needed action to entice strikes from the fish. A slower speed is sufficient when trolling against a strong current, while a faster speed is necessary when trolling with a current.

Conservation-minded anglers should use lures with a single hook instead of treble hooks. This reduces the number of times fish are thrown back with their lips ripped off by difficult hook disengagement.

Handling barracuda is an important issue because of safety considerations for both the angler and the fish. These fish have nasty teeth, made for both biting and slicing. Keep fingers well away from a barracuda's mouth. Lift the fish that you intend to keep by inserting a finger inside the gill plate. It is also important to wash the deck after a keeper barracuda has come aboard and flopped on the deck. These fish have such a copious cover of slime that they will make a deck slippery enough to be dangerous. Fish which might be released, perhaps because of size, should be kept off the deck since the abrasive non-skid surface can cause fatal skin injuries in released fish.

Proper care of barracuda is critical, if a fish dinner is planned, rather than carefully releasing them alive, uninjured, and preferably untouched. It is never a good idea to put a barracuda in a gunny sack in the sun. That results in a strong flavor which some people find unpleasant. If the fish is put in a shaded fish box filled with cool water, or maybe on ice, then that fish will have a much more delicate flavor. Since barracuda are long and slender, it is easy to cut them into steaks about 1.5 inches thick at home. These are perfect rounds of meat for grilling, frying, or barbeque.

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