Beware the Leatherjacket

14 August 2017

An adult Tampa Bay Leatherjacket

You don’t tug on superman’s cape! You don’t spit into the wind! You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with a Leatherjacket fish.

Sometimes called a Skipjack, Oligoplites Saurus may be small but they pack a venomous sting that can end a fishing day early. Looking something like a cross between a mackerel and a jack, they grow to around 10 inches in Tampa Bay, though even the spines on a tiny example can cause a nasty sting that causes intense burning pain and swelling. The effects can last for an hour or more.

An aggressive species, they will eat about anything they can get in their mouths. They also are commonly caught in cast nets when bait fishing. Getting them out of the net without getting stung can be a challenge, as is getting one safely off the hook without long pliers or a dehooking device.

Spines on a Leatherjacket fish

Many who’ve been stung report that the pain far exceeds a sting from a catfish or even a stingray. That says a lot about the punch these little devils pack.

Word is that Leatherjackets are edible, and taste something like Spanish mackerel or bluefish. They’re so small that filleting anything but the very largest of them doesn’t seem to make much sense, and given the risk of handling them… Well, you get the idea- maybe best just to get them back in the water as quickly and carefully as possible.