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Top 10 Tips for Catching Ladyfish

This open-water predator is often called a “poor man's tarpon”, and for good reason. The ladyfish, or Elops saurus, is not often targeted, but their jumping ability and big fighting strength make them a great introduction to fishing for the young, or young at heart.

You can catch them just about anywhere in and around Tampa Bay and Indian Lagoon on the east coast. That is not to say you cannot catch them all over Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, but they're known to spawn in low salinity estuaries in those two places.

Ladyfish by estuary. This image is courtesy Mike Wilson.

1. Keep them in the water. They are slimy and they will secrete a toxic substance able to reach across a 21' bay boat. Keep them in the water – they will survive the experience and you will smell much better.

2. Try catching them with spoons.

They're easy to throw and the fish love them because ladyfish are built to chase and swallow fast fish swimming in front of them, and you can bend down the barbs without a lot of hassle. You should always bend the barbs down on all lure hooks. You will not lose many fish as a result but the post-release mortality (how many appear to swim away but are dying when they do) will dramatically improve.

3. Watch for birds.

Ladyfish are often in shallow water, but you'll see the same kind of surface action you would if you were in 30 feet of water where the big ones are often caught. The ladyfish chase small baits (and pretty big sardines, too) to the surface and as they do, it attracts birds from what appears to be miles away.

4. Fish the backwaters for constant action.

If you want constant action, fish the backwaters of the estuaries. These low salinity areas, often lined with mangrove trees or salt marsh plants, are full of juvenile ladyfish year round, as they spend the majority of their first year or two here. This gives you a good place to always go to bend a rod. Not only that, but the larger adults often travel into the backwaters as well when the food is abundant.

5. Go light!

Catching Ladyfish is all about fun - why not go as light as you can go? You don't have to use a two-pound test ultralight setup, but a good 4-to-6 pound test reel, matched with a light 6-foot rod will make even the small juveniles a ton of fun to catch. Or try a fly-rod, letting the wind carry the fly to the schools. It’s an outstanding practice fish to work your fly-rod skills on.

6. Use a high gear ratio reel.

Ladyfish love fast-moving lures, so you want to use a reel with a high gear ratio. In short, the higher the ratio, the faster you can retrieve line, so this will allow you to reel lures in fast without too much fatigue in your wrist.

7. Bring fish grips or at least a pair of pliers!

You might not be able to tell without looking closely, but ladyfish have a nice set of small razor-sharp teeth lining that mouth of theirs. In addition to fish grips or pliers, bring a de-hooking device to avoid getting cut.

8. Use a strong fluorocarbon leader.

As mentioned above, ladyfish do have a nice set of razor-sharp teeth, so you have to be careful with not getting your line cut. Use a 10-to-15-pound test fluorocarbon leader to resist most of that damage from their teeth, and to significantly increase your catch rate over using a wire leader.

9. Keep one for the freezer!

You may have noticed elsewhere on the site that ladyfish are often recommended baits for big estuarine fish like snook and tarpon. As cut bait, they are great for catching big redfish and sharks. On top of that, they also make great crab bait if you like to set a few crab pots out for the day while you fish. Using chunks of ladyfish is one of the ways to try “deadsticking,” which is putting something dead on the end of your stick and making fish eat. Many fish will eat a big chunk of these oily and stinky fish.

10. Try fishing one of them live near a dock or bridge piling.

There are times on hot summer nights when we have taken a ladyfish we just caught, put it onto a 3/0 hook (three times the size of what we generally use for snook), and let him swim underneath the docks we caught him from. The snook – or merman with an attitude – that grabs them will scare you. Some of the big snook – the fifties we have caught were on 18” ladyfish with a hook behind their pectorals, behind their dorsal, or on the lower side of their tails. Try it if you are brave. Use heavier spinning or casting tackle, though. It is going be a lot more than that ladyfish on the other end of the line if you play them right. Inshore fishing for ladyfish. The Slime Machine Called Ladyfish Ladyfish are fun to catch, bite all day, and are abundant where you have a good mix of fresh and salt water (i.e. estuary). Use a light tackle setup, a few small shiny lures, and get out there and have some fun. Using these tips should help you to first of all, catch ladyfish, and secondly, use them as bait to catch bigger gamefish. Be sure to visit our saltwater and freshwater Portals prior to going after a species that you are not familiar with. Edit Edit this article.

The Slime Machine Called Ladyfish

Ladyfish are fun to catch, bite all day, and are abundant where you have a good mix of fresh and salt water (i.e. estuary). Use a light tackle setup, a few small shiny lures, and get out there and have some fun. Using these tips should help you to first of all, catch ladyfish, and secondly, use them as bait to catch bigger gamefish. Be sure to visit our saltwater and freshwater Portals prior to going after a species that you are not familiar with.

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