Houndfish, also called Crocodile Needlefish or Mexican Needlefish, are long, cigar-shaped gamefish with distinctive looking beaks and dark blue backs. They’re the largest species in the Belonidae family, growing up to 5 feet in length and 10 pounds in weight.
While they’re quite long and thin, the houndfish actually has a stouter body and shorter head than other needlefish. They’re sought after by many anglers as a gamefish, and can be caught using artificial lights.
They’re common throughout tropical and warm-temperate waters around the globe, and on the East Coast are common from New Jersey down to Brazil. They’re surface feeders, and tend to congregate in shallow coastal waters near shore.
Let’s take a look at this impressive looking gamefish in more detail – so you’ll know how to locate, catch and cook houndfish.
Houndfish are the most widely distributed needlefish species on the planet. They’re found in oceans around the globe, including much of the East Atlantic, the African coastline, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean from Japan down to New South Wales, Australia.
Houndfish have dark blue and green backs, with slivery-white sides and bellies. They’re completely carnivorous and feed on smaller baitfish like anchovies and sardines. Thanks to their jumping abilities, have been known to target flying fish.
They tend to form small schools near the surface, and like other needlefish feature an impressive set of razor-sharp teeth. They’re a fast breeding species, and are plentiful and not endangered anywhere in the world.
The world record for Houndfish length is 4.9 feet long and the largest recorded weight is 14 lbs.
Houndfish prefer shallow water just below the surface. There typically found anywhere between the surface and 50 feet deep, and are attracted to both artificial and natural light. They’re strong swimmers and jumpers, and have a habit of jumping over floating objects on the surface.
They can often be found swimming around reefs and lagoons feeding on smaller fish, either by themselves or in small schools. They lay eggs that attach themselves to objects near the surface with small tendrils.
Are Houndfish Endangered?
Houndfish are an intriguing species due to their large size, narrow head, and snake-like movements. Although they are not counted among the endangered species of the world, conservationists fear for the future of this fish if more isn’t done to reduce environmental degradation in its habitat and beyond.
Although houndfish are not considered an endangered species, it is important to recognize their importance in the local habitats and ecosystems where they live. Houndfish serve as a valuable food source for larger predatory fish, like tuna and billfish, and their healthy presence indicates a functioning ecosystem.
What Are the Predators of Crocodile Needlefish?
The crocodile needlefish possess a number of predators, primarily larger fish such as tuna. These predators are able to prey on juvenile and adult needlefish, meaning that the species has to constantly be on guard for threats in its aquatic environment. When spotted by these predators, the needlefish will try to escape by taking cover amongst coral or taking cover amongst rocks, usually making an effort not to be seen when facing looming danger.
Although its defense mechanisms are quite effective in keeping it safe from some of its biggest threats, the crocodile needlefish remains exposed to predation and may still face serious danger even during times of well-concealment in their natural waters.
Crocodile Needlefish Dangers
Crocodile needlefish – like their name might suggest – can be dangerous to unaware boaters, kayakers, windsurfers, and fishermen. Some have even dubbed the Houndfish “the living javelin”.
The combination of a sword-like beak, razor-sharp teeth, and a habit of leaping through the air makes them a serious danger, especially for small boats at nighttime. Serious injuries and even deaths have been recorded in the past, mostly in the Caribbean where night fishing occurs on small skiffs using artificial light.
Bright artificial lights can encourage them to leap through the air, so avoid using these at nighttime if possible.
How to Catch Houndfish?
Houndfish are often caught by saltwater anglers targeting other nearshore pelagic species. They like live bait, and are not difficult or finnicky when it comes to attracting bites. Cut bait like shrimp or squid can also work well.
They tend to play with lures and bait before actually swallowing, so you’ll want to give them an opportunity to take your bait fully before you commit.
Due to their long beaks and small mouths, actually getting a good hookset can be challenging. Make sure to use smaller hooks that are sharp enough to penetrate the tough jaws.
Once you’ve hooked a houndfish – prepare for a great fight! The have the tendency to leap thought the air to escape, so let it tire itself out by jumping around before reeling it in.
Are Houndfish Good to Eat?
While they’re not well-known for being great table fare, Houndfish are actually quite tasty. They have greenish-grey colored flesh, which doesn’t make for the best-looking fillets to the untrained eye.
Most anglers toss them back after catching, but why not keep a few to fry up later on!
How to Clean Crocodile Needlefish?
They might be rather odd-looking fish, but houndfish aren’t that difficult to fillet. Follow these steps to clean a houndfish properly:
- Use your knife to make an incision along the body right behind the fin/gills area.
- Run your fillet knife down and away from the head towards the tail, cutting through the whole body as you go.
- When you hit the ribcage make short shallow slices to keep as much meat as possible.
- Cut through to the tail end.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
Pan Fried Houndfish Recipe
Houndfish can be prepared in a number of different ways, but perhaps the tastiest is a quick and dirty fry up. The meat comes out white, delicate, and flaky despite its aquamarine color when raw.
- 6 to 8 Houndfish fillets
- Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
- ¾ cup cornmeal
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- Cooking oil
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- Lemon, cut into wedges
- Soak the houndfish fillets in buttermilk for at least 30 mins.
- Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper, and cayenne on a plate.
- Dredge the fillets in breading mixture and place on parchment paper.
- Heat cooking oil in a deep pan over medium heat until bubbling.
- Fry the fillets several at a time without crowding the pan.
- Remove from oil and place on paper towel.
- Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
What’s the Difference Between a Houndfish vs Needlefish?
Although both the houndfish and the needlefish are associated with being flat and long, they have a few notable distinctions. Firstly, while needlefish usually have dark bars and a slender body, the houndfish typically displays a longer body combined with more robust weight of up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) despite only growing up to 5 feet (1.5 m).
In addition, the length of needlefish ranges from 3.0 to 95 cm (1.2 to 37.4 in), whereas the houndfish generally maxes out at around five feet in height. Ultimately, these two distinct species share similar physical attributes, yet significant differences can be identified on closer inspection.
Despite these differences, both species are equipped with sharp teeth and powerful jaws used for catching prey like squid or fish.
What is the Lifespan of a Houndfish?
This ocean dweller is known to have a life expectancy up to 50 years, which makes it one of the longest living fish species around. As apex predators, they have impressive hunting and searching capabilities, which also come with age since they tend to build up an extensive knowledge base during their lifetime.
As such, houndfishes are able to identify familiar individuals and are considered highly intelligent for a fish species. Scientists speculate that the ability for them to live so long might be due to their super regenerative tissues that can help repair injuries quickly and heal them completely over time.
Are Needlefish Attracted to Light?
These marine creatures have the remarkable ability to be strongly attracted to bright light, especially at night. In fact, they may leap out of water towards illuminated areas, driven by the promise of a meal or prey hiding in the shadows. This makes them highly sought-after by anglers during night fishing trips, who will often cast their rigs near lighthouses or other sources of illumination to better their chances of catching needlefish.