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Safely Unhooking a Pufferfish: Must-Know Steps

While fishing is generally a safe, low-risk activity, there are some fish species that pose serious threats. One of these species is, you guessed it, the pufferfish. It’s cute-looking on the outside, but it harbors a lethal poison on the inside. 

That’s why you should exercise caution whenever you set out to catch a pufferfish, particularly when unhooking it. 

Even if you catch it only accidentally, you still need to know how to unhook a pufferfish. Luckily, that’s our topic for this post, so make sure to stick around!

Can You Safely Unhook a Pufferfish?

What starts as a good day to fish should quickly turn into a hyper-focused, bomb-defusing operation once your hook catches a pufferfish. 

Why? Because this type of fish is dangerous in more than one way! 

First, it initially looks small but can swallow the surrounding water, or even air, in huge amounts. In a snap, the slim fish biting your hook may turn into a huge balloon.

It isn’t a smooth balloon, either. The surface of many puffer-fish species is covered with spines. Upon inflating, these spines become all the more prominent—all the more dangerous.

Author Note: All of that was just a warm-up compared to that last element that makes puffer fish a legitimate hazard; their bodies are infused with a poison called Tetrodotoxin (TTX). 

This toxin is more poisonous than the infamous cyanide by 1,200 folds, and it doesn’t only exist within their organs, but it also can course through the skin.

In the face of such a precarious situation, you have to follow these steps closely to ensure your safety:

Get to Know the Pufferfish

Striped colored puffer fish

I know this isn’t probably what you expected for a first step, but hear me out. A pufferfish is unmistakable when it goes berserk and inflates like a balloon. Otherwise, it may escape the untrained eye—at least initially.

As you don’t want it to take you by surprise, it’ll help if you took a moment to know it before you go fishing. While there are plenty of species, each with its different characteristics, there are still a couple of common traits among them all.

The first of these traits is the tapered, slender body, with a head that seems like a swelling at the end of it. Regarding the size, let’s just say that not all pufferfish can share the same wardrobe.

There are dwarf puffers, with a body that’s hardly two inches. On the flip side, giant puffers look more like snakes with their two-feet figure. 

Note also that all puffers have four protruding teeth with blurry boundaries, so much so that they look like one piece. Actually, they mimic birds’ beaks. 

After taking the time to know what you’re up against, now it’s time to gear up!

Come Prepared

If you know you may have a run-in with a pufferfish, you better not go empty-handed. First of all, it’s not like this is a piranha, so no, you won’t need a shotgun. Relax, please! 

You just need to grab some handling tools and take a few emergency precautions. Foremost, bring along thick gloves so that when it’s time to put your hands on the spiky body of a pufferfish, you won’t flinch.

Author Note: You should also get some needle-nose pliers, as you’ll need this handy tool to pull the hook away from the fish’s mouth. The final tool that may help with the handling is a towel. 

Let’s move swiftly to the emergency precautions. Simply, bring a first aid kit along for the ride, just in case. Also, remembering to have your phone on you may save the day. 

Know When It’s Time

Some puffer fish gathered

Knowing whether or not a pufferfish is in the cards can keep you from being caught off guard. The truth is, it often doesn’t matter if you want to catch a puffer or otherwise—because you’ll find it hooked to your bait anyways. 

Pufferfish are known for being voracious eaters; so much so that they’re considered serious scavengers in the scientific community.

Put simply, pufferfish are essential for the marine ecosystem, as they rid it of harmful waste. These puffer thingies take their scavenger job so seriously that they often enter into feeding frenzies. In other words, they fight viciously over food. 

So, if you feel an unusually irresistible force pulling your fishing pole to the deep waters, it might be a school of pufferfish preying on your bait. That’s one way to know that a pufferfish is on its way to you.

Beyond that, you should have an idea about the spots at which puffer fish like to dwell. Mostly, they live in tropical ocean water, but that doesn’t keep certain species from populating brackish and freshwater. 

That said, you should get more detailed intel by asking more experienced fishermen. Of course, your own history with puffers should also keep you oriented about their spots. 

Now, are you ready to look the pufferfish squarely in the eye?

Handle Carefully

Here, you should do your best to keep any direct contact with the fish’s skin from happening. You can do so with the aid of the thick gloves you packed earlier, especially if the fish is already puffed up and too spikey to touch.

Alternatively, you can use a wet towel to grab hold of the poisonous fish. Then, with the help of the needle-nose pliers, hold the hook and pull it away from its mouth. At that moment, you must be very careful, especially when your hand starts to inch closer towards the fish’s mouth.

A puffer fish’s bite can be pretty nasty, particularly with the kind of teeth we described above. When trying to separate the pufferfish from the hook, you might run into a little hitch: the fish could be clinging too tight.

That’s when you may need to cut the line. Mostly, you’ll only need to go this extreme if the pufferfish has already swallowed the hook. After finishing this delicate unhooking operation, it’s important to head straight to the nearest sink.

Author Note: You may have come into contact with the pufferfish without noticing. That’s why you should wash your hands carefully with water and soup—and maybe some sanitizer afterward.

This is because pufferfish is also home to a number of harmful bacteria. Namely, they have within them Vibrio and Cyanobacteria

By the way, these bacteria are closely related to the toxin the pufferfish is famous for, TTX.

How to Avoid Catching a Pufferfish?

puffer fish

Instead of going through the trouble of unhooking a pufferfish, you can resort to strategies that can help you avoid catching them, to begin with. Of course, that’s if you’re the type of fisherman that catches pufferfish inadvertently and wants to eliminate this nuance.

Despite having the ability to inflate, pufferfish are inherently small. Therefore, if you want to deter them from biting your bait, simply use a bigger hook. This will make their mission that much harder.

Also, if you’re in an area that has a lot of pufferfish, try to keep a low profile. As established, the appetite of this type of fish is all over the place. That’s why it’s not a good idea to scatter too much bait.

Abundant ground bait like that will attract the unwanted attention of pufferfish.

The next tip also capitalizes on the puffer fish’s appetite—because that’s the very thing that leads them to gravitate towards real food, rather than lures. Such plastic food replicas will surely pass under their radars!

Now, if you’re asking why puffer fish happen to always hang around your favorite fishing spot, this might be no coincidence; it could be your fault, my friend. If you’re in the habit of throwing your bait leftovers in the water after finishing, then that might be it. 

Would you be surprised to see a plant grow if you keep throwing seeds and pouring water in fertile land? Exactly! So, take the extra bait home with you or throw it in the trash.

Finally, this may not be related to avoiding pufferfish, but it’s important to note. If you accidentally caught a pufferfish, throw it back in the water and don’t leave it on the shore, please. 

For one thing, a pufferfish is a living being that has a vital role in the ecosystem. For another, a dog or any other animal may unwittingly try to eat it, leading to fatal poisoning.

Final Words

The sea has no shortage of blessings as well as hazards. Some hazards are conspicuous, screaming for you to take care of, while others can easily be missed, requiring you to beware.

Pufferfish are an example of those quiet hazards. They’re one of the most poisonous fish there is, so you have to handle them carefully when they bite your bait. Just make sure to follow the above-mentioned precautions, and all will be good!

Happy Hunting


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