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I remember many years ago watching a group of adventurers paddling up a jungle river in a remake of an old Tarzan movie. At one point, and without warning, a fellow at the bow of one of the boats quickly shouldered his rifle and fired a shot off into the water at the side of the riverbank. As the resulting eruption of water and mud rained down on everyone aboard, someone asked the rifleman, "What was it?" To which he proudly responded, "I don't know, but I think I got it!"

That scene comes to mind every time I hear about someone who decided to bring home a fish that they caught, but have no idea what kind it is. When you think about it, you've got to conclude that it's really kind of backwards -- kill first, figure-out what's lying dead in your cooler when you get back to the dock.

Years ago, when I used to work at a marina, I would see this a lot. Seemed that every few days someone would stroll into the tackle shop with a cooler, bucket or just a fish on a stringer and ask if I could identify this "strange looking fish." If I knew they had been fishing in the bay, I could usually answer their question without even looking at the fish. "It's a stargazer," I'd say, with a confidence acquired from years of witnessing fishermen that have never seen or heard of this local but fairly uncommon species that resembles a slicked-up oyster toad on steroids sporting eyes and mouth on the top of its head (hence the name stargazer).

Without looking I'd usually be right, because stargazers were the most commonly hooked "whattheheckisitfish" caught in the bay. Next on the list was the lizard fish. Hotdog-shaped, brown back, white belly, triangular head, lots of teeth, voracious appetite -- that's a lizard fish. Particularly in the late summer and fall, flounder fishermen would bring them in and always comment that they "ate a bait as long as the fish itself!"

Other inshore species often came from minnow traps or cast nets and included, filefish, butterfly fish, pinfish and the mini barracuda-looking sennet fish.

Inexperienced offshore anglers would also bring home their share of "UFC's" (unidentified fish catches). Topping the list would have to be the "ocean sunfish" which is related in name only to the freshwater bluegill variety. Ocean sunfish (or mola mola) are perhaps one of the oddest creatures in the sea as they look like a fish that's been literally cut in half and left to swim with its large dorsal and anal fins. With small, almost human-sized and shaped mouths, these jellyfish-eating critters will grow to over a thousand pounds and are often seen flopping about on the surface of the ocean, or until some yahoos who think they've found a disabled sea monster happens upon it and decides to bring the beast back to shore.

Other catches that often baffle deep-sea anglers include different varieties of jacks, mackerel, cutlass fish, eels, tripletails, monkfish, angel sharks, cobia, barracuda and needlefish. I even remember when a local charter captain had no idea (until he brought it back to the dock) that the big silvery fish he caught off Ocean City that day was a tarpon. Come on bud, waddya think it was, some kind of giant shiner or something?

I don't fault anyone for not knowing the proper name for every fish they catch. Heck, it's a big ocean, and there are no fences or signs to keep uncommon species from crossing into turf they aren't expected to be, or to take a bait or lure that's not intended for them. But I do have a problem with the "shoot first and ask questions later" mentality that has some fishermen flipping fish into their coolers when they have no idea if they're legal, endangered, poisonous, edible or have laser beam eyes that could burn an unsuspecting angler's head clean-off. Hey, ya never know!

On the flip side, I've always had a lot of respect for fishermen who would catch something strange and, maybe after a couple photos, make the effort to carefully release it, and then come back to the dock and try and figure out what they had. It sure makes a lot more sense than having some guy in the tackle shop tell you that what you have soaking up ice-water in the bottom of your cooler is one from the last remaining breeding pair of the almost extinct watchamacallit fish!

As we move into the second half of this summer season, warming temperatures will bring new and strange varieties of marine life to our waters. Hopefully more fishermen will release first and ask questions later.


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Sam what a post! :dontknow: Pictures and a released " What is it " are better than an Identity Death, Thank you for your insight and savvy mindfull thinking.

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