One of my favorite fish -- for a bunch of reasons -- is the often-maligned great barracuda (sphyraena barracuda). Sure, they get a bad name for following divers down the reef with their teeth bared, but they're mostly harmless and just being their inquisitive, intelligent selves.
The fact is, they're a super-important component of several marine ecosystems, from the blue, pelagic waters of the open ocean to coral reefs to seagrass meadows.
They're also a lot of fun to catch. If you're fishing the flats or shallow reefs in Biscayne Bay, Everglades National Park or the Florida Keys, make sure you bring along a couple of 'cuda tubes. Fly fishermen get in on the action using flies shaped like needlefish, and a short trace of wire leader. They strike aggressively and make vaulting runs in shallow water.
Offshore anglers often get annoyed when a 'cuda mauls a carefully rigged trolling bite or a hard-won live bait. But hold on before you throw that fish back. They're also delicious and perfectly safe to eat if you consume only the small ones.
Recently, while fishing out of Jupiter with Dr. Albrey Arrington, we caught two 'cudas about 25 inches long and they went straight in the box.
"Amazing that it's still such a well-kept secret that small 'cudas are so good-eating," he said.
'Cudas are easy to clean, and yield firm, white flaky meat with few bones. I'm on my fourth 'cuda sandwhich in two days, and looking forward to the last piece of filet here in a few minutes.
So why don't more people eat barracuda? Well, the slime has a very strong odor, and the larger animals can be poisonous. Eating 'cudas more than about 3.5 feet long isn't advised because they can accumulate a naturally occurring toxin called "ciguatera."
Basically, 'cudas and other large predators eat smaller fish that graze algae off the reefs. In certain places, though rarely in Florida, these larger predators can make people that consume them terribly ill. However, barracuda migrate long distances, and can carry the poison from other places.
Bujt I've eaten thousands of them -- all small-- and never had a problem.