Websites and magazines often publish lists of the world's toughest or most dangerous game fish. But this is the first time anyone created a list of the world's meanest and ugliest fish.
You won't find any beauties here. These monsters have looks that shock. Bring one up and everyone on the boat will gasp in horror. These dream haunters can't be forgotten.
We didn't pick them 'cause they're pretty. These bad boys are hard on the eyes and have terrible personalities to boot. Hook one, and chances are good it'll kick your butt — if it doesn't eat you first.
Size wasn't a prerequisite, but aggressiveness was. Every species listed will test the backbone of rod and angler, putting up a fight that will make you scream, "Enough!" or have you begging for more. And all these mean-and-nasties wreak havoc on the stalwart anglers who pursue them. They rip flesh, smash boats and sometimes kill. They're the meanest, ugliest game fish in the world.
Think Polaris missile with teeth. That's a good description of the alligator gar, an armored-covered leviathan of Southern lakes and rivers. Its size impresses — sometimes more than 8 feet and 300 pounds. Looking into one's tooth-studded maw is like staring death in the eye.
John Fox guided for Arkansas gator gars in the 1950s. He tells the story of one client so horrified by the hellish stare of a gar that jumped near the boat, he deep-sixed Fox's rod and reel, with the gar still hooked, and demanded to be taken immediately to shore.
"A guy fishing with us one day let one jump in the boat," Fox said. "It tore the side of the boat out and broke the man's leg!" Nineteenth-century news accounts describe many instances of persons being killed or injured by these fish, including people snatched off houseboats.
If you mess with this bad boy, be sure your life insurance is paid up.
Nothing can prepare you for the white sturgeon's astounding power. Weighing up to a ton, this Goliath fries drags, busts rods and snaps 100-pound line like sewing thread. If you're lucky enough to prevail in a battle with one, you'll be taken aback by this ugly lout with armored skin, a bulbous nose, a Hitler-like mustache of barbels and a vacuum-cleaner mouth big enough to suck up softballs.
White sturgeons grow larger than any fish in North America's inland waters. A 2,000-pound Oregon fish was mounted for exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Sturgeons over 1,000 are rare now, but 200- to 500-pounders are common in Idaho's Snake River and the Columbia of Washington and Oregon.
Hold tight, 'cause this is one bottom sucker that flies. The hook's sting prompts repeated jumps that will leave you breathless.
This widespread catfish is ugly by all accepted standards. Its flattened cranium looks like it was run through a trash compactor. The beady eyes are wide-set. Its thickened under-lip protrudes in a perpetual pout, worm-like barbels dangle from its chin and mouth, and its hide is the color and texture of a garden slug. Looking at this fish, one feels that even others of its kind find it repulsive.
The flathead's unsightliness doesn't stop a devoted fraternity of anglers from pursuing these brutes, however. Hundred-pounders are possible, and a fish half that size can pummel an angler till his arms tremble and his legs turn to Jello. The unprepared may see rods snapped like dry spaghetti or stand in amazement after fishing combos are yanked from their hands.
Examine a bowfin, and you get the definite impression that, given a chance, it would chew your arm off. If it were the size of an alligator, people wouldn't be safe in the water. Nicknames include mudfish, dogfish and grinnel, but more vulgar monikers often are used by frazzled fishermen with broken lines, mauled lures and shattered poles.
Writer Jim Spencer gave a vivid account of one bowfin encounter: "It was possibly the most violent strike I'll ever see in my life, regardless of the species," he said. "No white marlin ever slashed a trolled skipjack any harder than when that grinnel hit my fast-moving spinner. The water around the lure erupted like a miniature volcano ... I set the hook purely out of fright."
Don't land one with a lip-lock. You're likely to come away without any fingers.
Imagine standing beside an interstate highway and casting a hook that snags an 18-wheeler passing at 70 miles per hour. Now try to land it. This is what it's like to hook the piraiba, a South American catfish known to surpass 600 pounds and 12 feet. I've fished for them with big-game
anglers who've landed 1,000-pound marlin and 600-pound tuna, and watched these men weep when piraibas spooled reels the size of buckets. Landing one over 150 pounds is a feat bordering on the incredible.
In Brazil's jungle rivers, people build stockaded enclosures in which to bathe and wash clothes because they fear being eaten by these monstrous predators. The piraiba's savage mien inspires this dread, particularly the cavernous maw, custom-made for swallowing swimmers.
Brazil's giant trahira looks like something that should be chasing Sigourney Weaver around a spaceship. This little-known fish weighs up to 50 pounds and has chompers
that look like they could bite through nails. Think "nuclear walleye" and you'll have a good picture.
When hooked, this evil-looking primitive does a tarpon-on-steroids impersonation, jumping repeatedly. You'll need heavy tackle to drag it out of the snag-filled jungle backwaters it typically inhabits, but chances are, even that won't survive a brutal battle with one of these raging bulls.
Don't hold a trahira near any body part you want to keep. They've been known to rip chunks of flesh from nitwits wading barefoot in shorts.
"They are the most ferocious fish in the world," Theodore Roosevelt wrote of piranhas. "They will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast." Mean doesn't begin to describe them.
Most of the 17 species in South American waters are beautiful fishes, but not so the black piranha. The biggest of its clan, weighing as much as 13 pounds, this purplish flesh-eater looks like the embodiment of pure evil, with blood-red eyes and a jutting jaw lined with razor-edged teeth. A fearsome 5-pound specimen in Brazil exploded on a big prop bait I cast, sending a spray of water high into the air. When I lifted the fish over the gunwale, it bit cleanly through the 3/0 treble hook impaled in its jaw. They've been known to take off fingers and toes with equal ease.
Europe's wels catfish could star in horror movies. This slimy monster has a misshapen head the size of a whiskey keg and a blotched, eel-like body that may stretch 10 feet. The gigantic mouth can engulf prey as big as dogs and swans, something wels cats have been known to do.
Individuals weighing 440 pounds have been verified, and anglers targeting these big fish could put themselves at risk. In July 2000, an Austrian angler died after hooking a wels reported to be 9 feet long. While battling the fish, Anton Schwarz was pulled off balance and dragged into a lake near Vienna. Entangled in his line and unable to swim, he drowned. Need we say more?
Saltwater fish get mean and ugly, too. Consider the lingcod, covered with brownish-red blotches that make it look like it has some kind of skin disorder. Maybe that's what makes it so ornery. A 40-pounder I hooked off Seward, Alaska, slammed me into the gunwale so hard I had bruises for weeks. Pity the person who hooks a really big one, which could top 80 pounds.
You'll find lingcod year-round in West Coast waters from southern California to the Gulf of Alaska. They're aggressive and easy to catch on jigs and cutbaits fished around rock piles and reefs. If you're tough enough to handle one, and it doesn't snap your line, steer clear of the huge, gaping mouth studded with big teeth. The species' scientific name, Ophiodon elongatus, means "long snake tooth," an appropriate appellation.
Folks say fighting a stingray on hook and line is no more fun than reeling in a sheet of plywood. Not so. A 5-foot Virginia stingray gave me a skirmish I'll never forget, taking almost two hours to subdue. That fish challenged my strength and determination to the max, and I'd love to hook up with another one this size. Some species weigh hundreds of pounds.
Folks also say stingrays are beautiful, graceful creatures. Graceful, maybe. Beautiful, not. These flattened relatives of sharks look like flying saucers with mouths. And if you're foolish enough to drag one in the boat with you, you could find out the hard way the dangers of the venomous, serrated spine on the fish's whip-like tail.
A maddened ray can drive this weapon clear through your leg or chest. And as the death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin taught us, this can prove fatal.