Species spotlight: Ladyfish

Ladyfish (Elops saurus) are long, cylindrical shaped fish that live primarily in tropical and subtropical waters. In the U.S., they are found along inshore waters along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. They are very tolerant of low salinity levels and sometimes travel up freshwater rivers.

These fish are usually silver in color, but may appear white or gray depending on the waters they inhabit. They have deeply forked tails and small scales that run the entire length of their bodies.

Ladyfish are related to tarpon and bonefish, and are often misidentified as either of those species, but most commonly as tarpon.

Their mouths are shaped much differently than both other species, however, and the lack of a long, filamentous dorsal ray sets them apart from tarpon. The scales of a ladyfish are also much smaller than those of a tarpon and tarpon get much bigger than ladyfish.

When young, ladyfish are translucent and can look like clear eels. They lose these features shortly after birth. They eat small fish and shrimp, with shrimp making up the majority of their diet when available. They have very fine, sharp teeth. 

Not all “ladies”

Like tarpon, ladyfish spawn offshore, hatching huge numbers of eggs which float with the currents, usually ending up in inshore waters before hatching.

Anglers catch ladyfish on a variety of baits, most often live or cut pieces of shrimp. They are acrobatic fish, and are known for leaping far above the surface when hooked.They are usually released or used as bait for sharks or tarpon. The food quality of ladyfish is quite poor, and very few anglers eat them.

Ladyfish are known in some areas as tenpounders. Other nicknames include poor man’s tarpon, lady tarpon, little tarpon, she-tarpon and she-fish. Contrary to their name, all ladyfish are not females. Adult ladyfish average 2 to 3 pounds, or about 18 to 24 inches in length. 

The Mississippi state record ladyfish weighed 5 pounds, 6.06 ounces and was caught by Doug Borries in May 2020.

The world record ladyfish weighed 8 pounds and was caught out of Sepitiba Bay, Brazil in February, 2006.

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