Pike have a reputation for being hard. For being ambush predators that like to kill. As far as British freshwater predators go the pike is a thing to fear. But sadly, in the global scheme of things, pike are pussies.
A barracuda would laugh in a pike’s face. Before turning him upside down, emptying his pockets, and then shredding him into fresh pike sushi.
A barracuda is truly the hard man of the water. He’s so hard he doesn’t even have to act hard. If you ever get a chance to go scuba diving over a Caribbean reef, you quite often come across barracuda hanging in the water. They’re weird. They don’t act like any other fish. They don’t seem to travel. Just loiter. Mid water. Hardly moving a fin. Never so much as showing a ripple of muscle. They represent pure menace, without even trying.
The barracuda has two main weapons of war working in his favour. Teeth and speed. The front end of a barracuda is unlike any other fish I’ve ever caught. It has so many teeth. So clustered together in a huge mouth. Yet still, there’s not enough room for all that dentistry. A barracuda’s mouth looks like a sick dentist’s black nightmare. Ivory spears mounted in crazy jagged angles, sprouting out of a mouth that is long, pointed and capable of the most shocking damage.
Most fish are limited to the size of prey fish they can eat. Limited to the size of their mouth. If a fish is too big, most predators don’t bother to try and attack. They move off to find a smaller, more bite-sized snack. Not the barracuda. The barracuda is equipped with such a slashing and ripping set of chompers that they will regularly feed on fish much bigger than their mouth, because they’re able to chop the fish in half with their awesome overbite.
The other barracuda killer weapon is speed. They can’t compete with a big game fish like a marlin for top speed. But when it comes to acceleration, they are totally unbeatable. In the 0-60 range, a barracuda could leave a Ferrari flagging. They can move on prey so fast, the victim never even sees the attacker coming.
In fact the barracuda can move so fast, he has evolved a specially enlarged portion in his brain to process all the information coming at him as he accelerates at warp speed towards his prey.
Barracuda can be caught on bait, fly, spinner, plug and occasionally dead bait. I’ve caught small ones on pieces of shrimp in the Florida Keys and in the Bahamas. I’ve even caught big ones in the Caribbean on hand lines, by accident.
Sometimes when fishing a handline from a boat over a reef, as I’ve hauled in one or two pound yellow tails, I’ve felt the thump of a bigger fish hit the yellow tail on the way up.
Most boats in the Caribbean carry a looking glass. It’s like the bottom of a small barrel chopped off with a sheet of Perspex inserted like a window. This is used to locate good reef marks or even conch shells on the sea bed. It makes a great viewing box to watch your fish coming up from the depths. Occasionally while watching, there’s a blinding flash of silver and a heavy tug on the line. Usually followed by limp line and hard-edged expletives.
Unless you’re using wire or mono filament of 80-pound plus, there’s little chance of actually getting a big barracuda to the boat. They shred line and wire like dental floss.
I had a great time fishing for barracuda off the island of Andros in the Bahamas. The weather had blown a gale for several days and the water was too milky to fish for bonefish. So, out of desperation I took a small skiff out and trolled around the estuaries and smaller reefs for barracuda.
The best lure to use is a ‘snake’ lure. It’s about eight inches long and made of fluorescent rubber with a heavy treble hook mounted half way along and another at the tail. Green worked best for me. The first thing I realised while trolling for them was that they like the lure moving exceptionally fast.
Most trolling for fish is done at slow speeds, the barracuda won’t touch it unless it’s moving fast. Even if you’re just casting a lure or a plug, it helps to reel in almost as fast as you can. Make the lure skip and jump out of the water, splashing on the surface like a needle fish. It’s the high octane activity that bakes a barracuda’s cake.
The bigger barracuda get, the cleverer they get too. And they’re not stupid fish to start with. I was once bottom fishing off a mark near a bridge on the Upper Keys in Florida, for bait we were catching little silver fish on tiny lumps of shrimp and fresh cut bait. These four inch fish were then free lined behind the boat in the swirling currents under the bridge to catch snook and big jack crevalle.
I watched a big barracuda follow my bait back to the boat but it didn’t attack. The barracuda then sat under the side of the boat perfectly still in the water. Just watching. Waiting. I hooked a fresh live fish onto a hook and a wire trace and lowered it down to the three foot long tooth-heavy predator. I wafted it right past his heavily armed nose. He looked at it hard, but never touched it.
Out of frustration I reeled in took off the bait and flung it still swimming into the water beside the barracuda. Immediately he lunged and ate it. He wouldn’t have it when it had a hook attached to it. But without the hook, it was instantly lunch.
Just to prove a point, I repeated the experiment. Tried for ten minutes with a bait on my line. Then chucked a free offering in with no hook. Every time he ignored the bait and nailed the free offering. So, I tried altering the bait, by using a smaller hook, thinner line, more inventive ways of presenting it. But he never fell for it. He was too clever about the ways of anglers.
After five free meals he just slowly swam off. A huge barracuda. Cute and clever. The world record barracuda weighed over 90 pounds, with a head full of teeth that would make a chainsaw look gummy.
If you ever do manage to catch one, they can make spectacular eating. Even just simply fried in garlic. Personally, I’d have to put barracuda among my ten top favourite fish to eat.
There is a risk in some areas, barracuda in the Pacific and parts of Florida frequently carry a toxin which causes a violent gastric disorder called ciguatera. It’s not a toxin in the fish itself but one that’s caused by the blue-green algae present in some reefs, which the fish take up from the food chain.
So, it makes sense to ask the locals if you’re fishing in barracuda waters if they eat their catch. Otherwise, you risk catching a big old toothy predator which can not only give you a very nasty bite, some painful rod bending action, but also a hefty kick in the guts.