6 Reasons To Love And Fear The Barracuda

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Every angler who catches a barracuda can’t wait to catch another, but if you aren’t a little afraid of these fish, you’re about to get bit.

I was fishing in the Bahamas with G&G videographer Charlie Murphy and I caught a nice ‘cuda about four feet long. Murphy is a dyed-in-the-wool musky fisherman and no stranger to toothy fish. When I got the fish to the boat he reached down with a handheld GoPro to get a closeup. Our guide caught him by the elbow.

“Don’t get your hand close to that thing,” he told Murphy.

“I’m not afraid of that fish,” Murphy answered.

“You should be,” I added. It wasn’t long before he realized that we were not dealing with a musky.

DSC_5401Barracuda are an awesome sport fish. Although they can be tough to catch on a fly, they are not a fish you pursue for the challenge of feeding. You cast to barracuda purely for the adrenaline rush. The barracuda in the Bahamas are the most fly friendly anywhere and I always carry a rod rigged with wire leader and a big fly so I can take a shot when a big boy shows up. I’m not a purist who thinks I’m above catching one of the most exciting fish on the flats.

I’ve written about ‘cuda fishing before, but that day on the boat with Murphy made me think. If I’m going to extol the virtues of the Barracuda as a sport fish, I should write a word of caution. As an advisory, I know of no more serious fish to land and handle. They can be more dangerous than sharks and if you’re going to put a hook in one, you’d better be prepared for what comes next.

I recommend ‘cuda fishing as a team sport. Having a friend—or better yet a guide—to help you land a big one is a real plus. Handling gloves are a great idea as well. You do not want this fish slipping out of your grasp. I very rarely cast to large cuda when wading. When they find they can’t run, they will often attack. If you do tie into a big one while on foot, it’s best to head for high ground.

Here are 6 reasons to love and fear the barracuda.

Unchecked aggression

edit-8425-2The ‘cuda has zero fucks to give. I have never seen a fish commit to an attack like a barracuda. When they take the fly your jaw will drop. I have seen them come out of the water and sail ten feet in the air to come down on the fly from above. It’s absolutely the most exciting eat in fishing. That unchecked aggression is also what makes them dangerous. They will, on occasion, come out of the water and on to the boat. Don’t believe me? Read this.

Their singular focus and complete lack of fear also make them dangerous when they are not hooked. If you garner a ‘cuda’s attention while wading, or worst of all handling a fish, you are in a world of trouble. Their jaws are powerful enough to crush the bones of your leg, without those vicious teeth. I’ve been charged by sharks and defended myself. It was damned frightening but I’ll take that over a ‘cuda attack any day. Once this fish locks on a target, it only ends one way.

Speed

Remember what it looked like when the Millennium Falcon jumped to light speed? That’s about what you get from a barracuda. It’s startling and it’s what makes them the ultimate ambush predator. It also means blistering, drag-screaming runs. Unfortunately, it also means that if one makes that move in your direction, there’s no time to make a plan or run or bat an eye for that matter. They can turn around and bite their tail in a flash, so don’t think you can tail one like a steelhead.

Strength

These fish are all muscle. They pull like a Porsche and don’t give up easily. That means a fight you’ll never forget but also line burns and busted knuckles. It also makes them a challenge to handle and you don’t want one getting loose on the boat.

Teeth

DSC_5837Everybody likes the hero shot with those menacing teeth, but it’s not the teeth you see that you need to be afraid of. Those fangs, which conveniently close into pockets in the ‘cuda’s jaw are made for holding large prey. It’s his second set of teeth, hidden below a retractable gum, that do the real damage. They are a set of powerful shears that slice anything they touch. What goes in a ‘cuda’s mouth does not come back. Your hand belongs to him now.

Attitude

The barracuda never surrenders. It makes for a great fight, but keep in mind that while you’re posing for that photo, he still thinks he can win this. They will wrench around and snap at you the whole time. You’re going to want some gloves with good grip.

The Taste

In the Bahamas, barracuda is a delicacy. I wouldn’t know because I don’t eat it, for good reason. The barracuda can be more dangerous on the plate than in the water. Barracuda eat reef fish and can carry toxins which cause a dangerous condition called Ciguatera. You’re taking your chances if you eat one.

 

By all means, go out and catch some ‘cuda. Just be smart and prepared. They are a ton of fun and no trip to the Bahamas is complete without one.

Want to come catch barracuda, bonefish and maybe even a permit or tarpon in the Bahamas? Join me at Abaco Lodge March 7-11 2017. It may be the best fishing trip you ever take. You can read about Abaco HERE, get more info about our hosted trips HERE, or email me at hookups@ginkandgasoline.com to reserve your spot.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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6 thoughts on “6 Reasons To Love And Fear The Barracuda

  1. The one and only cuda hook-up I’ve ever had sticks out in my mind more than any fish I’ve encountered in 30 years of fly fishing .
    Torrie Bevans was poling Louis and I along the mangroves on a flooded Dodum flat with 25mph+ winds. Hadn’t seen a bonefish in hours. 80 feet out at 11 o’clock, sitting motionless against the mangroves, clear as day over the white sand was the nearly 4 footer. All I had was a red and white shark fly on my loaner 9wt. Adrenaline cranked to 11, I landed the fly right on his nose, tucked the rod under my arm and stripped two-handed like a madman. The fly hadn’t moved more than a yard when he bolted after it. I can still see it in slow motion, him inhaling the fly and stopping dead for a moment. Then like a rocket he was a hundred feet off starboard, then headed straight away from us.
    “Holy shit, I got him!!” I hollered, to which Torrie chided me, “No Mon, he’s got you!”.
    Three seconds later he leaped 6 feet out of the water and came undone…
    That’s seared into my brain forever.
    Precious memories of Andros 😉

  2. Have you really been attacked by a cuda? Really? I want to hear or read that story. IMO, a shark is a lot more dangerous and difficult to deal with, both at the boat and free swimming in the water. I’m talking about sharks roughly5 ft long or longer, not little pups. I’ve caught well over a thousand cudas and almost as many sharks, almost all on light tackle or fly. I used to work on charter boats in the keys and I’ve fished in Mexico and Belize a few times, that’s my experience. We even booked light tackle cuda trips on the reefs out west of Key West. Wed do at least a couple of trips each week and usually land more than 20 fish each day. Almost all of the cudas were 15-30 lbs, some larger, a few smaller. I’ve only had one close call with a cuda at boatside. I t was maybe a 10lber. It jumped at boatside as I attempted to grab it by the gill plates with a gloved hand and narrowly missed hitting me in the face. We practiced catch and release and always grabbed the cudas by the gill plates. I’ve done this with cudas up to 30+ lbs. I don’t think about trying that with a shark. Just cut the leader on most occasions. It’s not worth the risk to grab a decent sized shark, IMO. Way too many things can go wrong. Just my two cents worth.

  3. Jon –
    I do know, personally and first hand, two people who were attacked by barracudas. One was a young girl when we lived in American Samoa. A bunch of people were having a picnic out near the airport and we kids were wading and horsing around on the shallow sand flat. The cuda struck her and nearly took her kneecap off. The other was a guy in the Seychelles, stepping from a zodiac to the mother ship, and a big cuda came out from under the boat and hit his heel / ankle. Fortunately there were a couple doctors on the trip with surgical kits and antibiotics, and plenty of whiskey for anesthesia. I have scars on my left hand from a small cuda I caught as a kid in Panama. They can indeed be very dangerous.

    But perhaps a misperception can happen here. While a cuda is fast, strong, cunning, and equipped with dangerous teeth, they are also relatively fragile. Keeping one out of the water trying to retrieve a hook will easily kill a cuda. Squeezing one by the gills or around the main body organs can kill one as well. They are easily as fragile as a bonefish or tarpon. So like the article says, before you toss a fly or lure at a barracuda, understand what you’re about to get yourself into, and be prepared for the end game of landing and releasing one quickly and safely for both the angler and the fish.

  4. Those attacks that you described are the vast majority of the ones we read and hear about. The cudas go after the movement and splash not after something as big as a human, just like alligators (gators tend to not try to feed on things they can’t fit in their mouths and eat fresh, as opposed to crocs, which will kill something large and stash it underwater on let it soften up). Big sharks, on the other hand will eat fish as large or larger than a human, which makes them far more dangerous than a cuda, IMO. Sharks can also twist around in ways one might think to be impossible, especially with a hook on their mouths.
    BTW your article is a good one, as are all of the ones I read on this site.

    • I agree with you, Jon. Cuda attacks are typically the result of the cuda thinking there are small baitfish hovering around this larger person. Shiny, fluttering, bright colored objects hanging off divers and fishermen are probably one of the most common. Followed closely by fingers and toes splashing around. My scars are from trying to retrieve my red-headed mirrorlure from a small cuda.

      Thanks for the kind comment about an article (I assume that was meant for me). I haven’t written anything in quite a while (since Fly Fishing in Salt Water went under) so you have a good memory.

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