When Steve Harrison was surf-fishing recently at Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., he caught a strange fish that he couldn’t readily identify.
So the professor at the LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge posted a picture of the ugly beast to the reports section of LouisianaSportsman.com asking users if they recognized the big-mouthed, spiny, sandy-brown fish.
His request generated thousands of page views and several entertaining guesses, including a mother-in-law fish as well as someone’s first ex-wife.
But Capt. Tommy Pellegrin, with Custom Charters in Houma, was the first person to correctly identify the venomous fish, commonly known as a stargazer because its eyes are positioned near the top of its heads.
Jason Adriance, Finfish Program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, confirmed Pellegrin’s ID.
“It’s definitely a stargazer,” Adriance said. “They’re a couple of varieties it could be, but being it was in Florida, it’s tough to tell.”
Their habitat range includes the Gulf of Mexico, inshore out to depths of about 230 feet, Adriance said.
In Harrison’s thread, Louisianasporstman.com user Bill Collector said he’s caught them in the Grand Isle area.
“It prefers sandy, silty, rubble-type bottoms, so I’m guessing it’s not as prevalent in the soft mud we have, but you might find it more so in a coarser grained sediment,” Adriance said. “It will bury itself in the bottom and keep its eye stalks up above and ambush prey, waiting for something to get close enough and then sucking it in whole.”
Aside from venomous spines above its pectoral fins and behind its gill covers, Adriance said the stargazer also has a shocking self-defense system — literally.
“There’s a smooth area on the head where the electric organs are,” he said. “I think they can generate a max of about 50 volts, used mostly for defense.”
In an email, Harrison said he hooked the stargazer with shrimp while surf-fishing for pompano.
“I knew there was a reason not to reach in his mouth for my jig,” he wrote online after learning the identity of the fish.