Any newcomer to saltwater fishing is likely to struggle with saltwater fish identification for a while. It can all be a bit of a mystery at first, particularly with those fishes that look similar but are in fact different species. Is it a flounder or a plaice for example?
And our novice saltwater angler will also want to know if it's a dangerous fish in any way. Is it a poisonous fish to touch, and am I risking ciguatera poisoning if I eat it?
So yes, correct saltwater fish identification is pretty important for these reasons alone, so these are the sort of issues that we'll be taking a look at here.
There are thousands of different species of saltwater fish, the vast majority of which are either too small or live too deep to be of interest to sport fishermen.
But if you're looking for a saltwater fish identification resource that does describe in detail most known species, you should go to www.fishbase.org, where you'll find everything you need to know about more than 32,000 different species of fish!
Let's get back to the fish that fall within the scope of this website, starting with...
This group of saltwater fish include sharks, skates and rays and are differ from true fishes in that:~
Excluding the plankton-eating Basking Shark, there are five types of sharks likely to be targeted by sport fishermen around the shores of the UK and Western Europe.
As shown here, they're the Mako Shark, Porbeagle Shark, Blue Shark, Hammerhead Shark and Thresher Shark.Read more about the various types of sharks...
Artwork courtesy of Osprey Publishing Ltd
So what's the difference between skates and rays?
A 'Mermaid's Purse'
One defining difference is that rays give birth to live young and skate give birth to their young in egg-cases - the 'mermaids purses' or 'devil's purses' - that are often found washed up on our shores.
Certain types of shark, the lesser-spotted dogfish for one, also use this approach to protect their young from hungry predators.
Another is that the ray's tail is relatively slender, even whip-like in some cases like the stingray shown here, and usually comes equipped with a saw-edged stinging spine midway along its length.
A skate's tail is more stocky than that of a ray and doesn't have a stinging spine.Read more about skates and rays...
Artwork courtesy of Gyldendal Norsk Forlag
The other main group of saltwater fishes are classed as bony fishes, which are built around a traditional skeleton which supports the other parts of a fish.
Skeleton of a Bony Fish
For example, all round fish (that aren't sharks, rays or skates) and flatfish are classed as bony fish, as are other bottom feeding demersal fish like cod, haddock whiting and ling, along with the highly-prized saltwater gamefish and the baitfish we use to catch them with.
Other round fish not mentioned in the previous paragraph include the sea bass, mackerel, bream, mullet, wrasse, coalfish and pollock. Pollock and coalfish are pictured here. They're clearly very similar, each sporting three dorsal fins and two anal fins.
Many anglers find it difficult to tell the difference between pollack and coalfish, but the clue to their correct identification is in the lateral line.
The pollock's lateral line is dark and has a pronounced curve over the pectoral fin.
That of the coalfish is much lighter, almost white, and runs in a straighter line from head to tail.
When flatfish larvae first emerge from their eggs and take a first glimpse of a hostile marine world, they're symmetrical and swim upright with their eyes conventionally located on each side of their head.
It is only during the course of their development that they show a marked preference for skulking around on the seabed.
To make this horizontal lifestyle a success, the eye which would otherwise find itself staring constantly at the seabed moves around to the upperside where it can be of more use, and the swimbladder is absorbed to enable the flatfish to stay put on the seabed. The underside of flatfishes is usually a pale white/grey - almost opaque - and the topside darkly pigmented.
In both the flounder and the plaice shown here (two of the UK's most common flatfish, but often another instance where saltwater fish identification can be confusing for some anglers) and along with the halibut, dab and sole, the eyes are on the right hand side.
But on other flatfish species such as the turbot, brill, megrim and topknot the eyes are on the left hand side.
Artwork courtesy of Gyldendal Norsk Forlag
Downrigger ~ The cranelike device incorporating a line-counter reel often seen on the sterns of sport-fishing boats, which lowers a trolling weight on a wire line to a pre-determined depth. The trolling line is attached just above the weight, which gets the lure down to depths that would otherwise be unachievable.