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Exploring the Top 10 Toughest Fish to Catch: Hardest Fighters in the Sea

If you’re as big of fishing nerds as we are, then you’ve probably asked this question: what is the hardest fighting fish? Since how hard a fish fights is dependent on a lot of different factors, we’ve heard many different answers to this question.

Some fishermen think that large saltwater species like tarpon and marlin are the hardest fighting fish. But other fishermen think that the hardest fighting fish are the small fish that still fight hard – like freshwater bass or bonefish. 

So what’s the hardest fighting fish? We decided to poll the avid fishermen in our network and came up with a list of our top 10 hardest fighting fish.

Author Note: These fish were recognized by almost all the fishermen we polled as being the hardest fish to try and catch. We’ll start with number 10, and work our way down the overall hardest fighting fish. Let’s begin!

10. King Salmon

chinook salmon jumping

Clocking in at 10 on our list is the king salmon or chinook salmon. King salmon are the cream of the crop when it comes to sports fish in the northwestern united states, and they put up quite the fight.

King salmon migrate every fall from the ocean to freshwater streams en masse which makes them a blast to catch. If you’re looking for one of the hardest fighting fish in the northwest, then we recommend trolling for king salmon with downriggers out in the ocean.

You can also troll for king salmon without downriggers if you don’t have them.

The best months to troll for salmon are in August and September. It’s during these months that the fish will be their largest, but have yet to migrate in-shore and are still actively feeding.

These saltwater beasts will tear 30 lb test line off your reel like no other, so be prepared with the right equipment. We recommend getting the proper bottom fishing or traditional reel paired with a medium action saltwater rod. 

  • Weight: 5/10
  • Speed: 6/10
  • Endurance: 6/10
  • Overall Rating: 17/30

9. Largemouth Bass

largemouth bass fighting

A favorite of almost all freshwater fishermen, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include the crowd favorite largemouth bass. Largemouth bass may not grow that large, but they are known for their intense strikes and aggressive fighting spirit.

They can be caught on almost all lure types, but we like to focus on weedless bass lures such as the Texas rig and the wacky worm rig

Largemouth bass are the largest freshwater bass species and are one of the most common. They can be caught throughout the entire united states, but are most common in the southern states.

Definitely a top 10 hardest fighting fish.

  • Weight: 4/10
  • Speed: 8/10
  • Endurance: 6/10
  • Overall Rating: 18/30

8. Sturgeon

Siberian sturgeon

Sturgeon is another super common fish on the list of hardest fighting fish. We’ve personally never caught one, but the fishermen in our community who have almost unanimously ranked it in the top 10.

Sturgeon aren’t known for their speed, but they do grow to massive lengths. This makes trying to reel them in a real challenge. Sometimes fishermen spend hours battling a fish only to have it take cover under a log and become virtually impossible to reel in.

Besides being one of the hardest fighting fish, sturgeon are also well known for caviar: their eggs are an extremely valuable delicacy that can cost $1,000s of dollars. Because of this, sturgeon are a protected species and are catch and release only in almost all waters.

If you hook into one, prepare for the fight of your life. But you’ll also have to let it go once you finally bring it in. 

  • Weight: 9/10
  • Speed: 3/10
  • Endurance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 20/30

7. Giant Trevally

caught giant trevally

Giant trevally came in at number 7 for the hardest fighting fish. They are some of the feistiest tropical water fish and are known for screaming line off reels so fast when hooked that your rod might end up in the water.

They make several big runs that if you aren’t ready for it will often snap your line. Giant trevally are a great test of your saltwater gear and are a blast to catch on large saltwater spinning reels. We love fishing for them with topwater lures or live bait if the region you’re in allows it.

GT can be caught off the shores of Florida and many other southern states. They’re also common in Mexico and the Bahamas. Giant trevally are a schooling fish, so if you catch one you have a high chance of catching more. 

  • Weight: 5/10
  • Speed: 9/10
  • Endurance: 7/10
  • Overall Rating: 21/30

6. Bonefish

bonefish swimming

Almost as common as largemouth bass on this list, coming in at number 6 are bonefish. Bonefish are commonly known as the hardest fighting fish for their size. But why is this? Bonefish are bottom feeders and don’t even have teeth!

The reason why bonefish fight so hard is that their only defense against predators is their speed. So when you hook a bonefish, it takes off like its life depends on it! This means that a bonefish that weighs only 4 or 5 pounds will fish like a fish that weighs over twice as much.

Author Note: We love fishing for bonefish both on the fly as well as with ultralight spinning gear. We recommend using a saltwater spinning reel paired with a small jig and a piece of raw shrimp.

This proves irresistible to most bonefish. Check out our article on the best spinning setup for bonefish for more info. 

  • Weight: 4/10
  • Speed: 10/10
  • Endurance: 7/10
  • Overall Rating: 21/30

5. Hammerhead Shark

Hammerhead Shark

Our choice for number five may be controversial: we chose the hammerhead shark. This is primarily because of the number of stories we’ve heard from our surf fishing friends. Hammerhead sharks are often the longest fights surf fishermen ever face, hauling in hammerheads that reach over 12 feet long sometimes!

These beasts roam the shallow shorelines in Mexico and Florida hunting for blacktip sharks, mako sharks, and mullet in the fall. 

If you’re fishing for hammerhead sharks, we recommend using the heaviest surf fishing reel and surf fishing rod you can find. Pair this with large live or dead bait and a shark rig, and you’re good to go! You can even catch them from piers in some locations. Just know what you’re getting yourself into.

Many of the stories we’ve heard of catching hammerheads involving fighting the fish for 2 to 3 hours, then wading out into the waves to unhook the fish safely. Be sure to also have a good pair of fishing pliers to unhook the fish safely. 

  • Weight: 10/10
  • Speed: 4/10
  • Endurance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 22/30

4. Sailfish

sailfish fighting

Sailfish come in at number 4 on our list of hardest fighting fish. They are just as hard fighting as marlin, except they can swim even faster and are known for their aerial acrobatics more than marlin.

Did you know that sailfish can swim up to 70 mph? They’re considered the fastest fish in the ocean.

Sailfish can be caught both by trolling and by kite fishing with live bait. We’re more partial to kite fishing, as you have a higher chance of catching other species of fish too. It’s also much more active than trolling! 

We recommend releasing any sailfish you catch as their meat does not taste as good as other gamefish.

  • Weight: 8/10
  • Speed: 10/10
  • Endurance: 6/10
  • Overall Rating: 24/30

3. Tarpon

Atlantic tarpon

We’re getting close… clocking in at number 3 for the hardest fighting fish is the tarpon. You know it would be on the list, but did you expect there to be two more fish ahead of it? We didn’t. It’s not uncommon for tarpon to be at number 1.

Tarpon are world-renowned for the fighting prowess – they come close to shore every summer and fall in Florida and feast on the migrating mullet.

Author Note: Tarpon grow to an excess of 200 lbs and are voracious predators. We like to fish for them with heavy spinning gear and live bait like mullet. If you’re wondering how to hook a mullet, check out the article we wrote on them.

And if you want to go fishing in the Florida Keys for Tarpon, check out Bahia Honda Tarpon Charters!

  • Weight: 9/10
  • Speed: 8/10
  • Endurance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 25/30

2. Bonito

caught bonito

Now this one might come as a surprise to you. Our number 2 hardest fighting fish are bonito! That’s right, the small cousin of the tuna that you’re almost always annoyed to catch is our second hardest fighting fish in the world. How can this be?

Time and time again we are impressed with how hard bonito fight. You’ll often be fishing for much larger species (snook, redfish, tuna) and end up getting fooled by a 15 lb bonito. You’ll be reeling in ready to catch a trophy fish only to be disappointed it’s a relatively small fish.

These fish are miniature bullets that will bite at almost anything you throw at them. Have you ever tried eating one?

Check out our article on what bonito tastes like if you are curious. 

  • Weight: 6/10
  • Speed: 10/10
  • Endurance: 9/10
  • Overall Rating: 25/30

1. Yellowfin Tuna

yellowfin tuna fighting

Finally, our number 1 hardest fighting fish is the yellowfin tuna. If you’ve ever caught a yellowfin tuna (also called Ahi tuna in Hawaii), this probably doesn’t surprise you. They’re freakin’ gnarly!

Yellowfin tuna can grow to over 200 lbs and swim at up to speeds of 50 mph. They also tend to make super long runs when caught, and can only be successfully brought in with the heaviest setups. 

If you want to see something crazy, check out the below video of someone catching one from shore. It’s insane! If you want to catch the hardest fighting fish in the world, you’ll first need to go where they live. This is usually tropical waters several miles offshore.

We recommend trolling yellowfin tuna lures and preparing for the fight of a lifetime.

  • Weight: 10/10
  • Speed: 9/10
  • Endurance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 27/30


caught massive yellowfin tuna

You may have noticed that pretty early on there weren’t many freshwater fish on our list. And you’re right, most of the fish are saltwater only! We’ve found that saltwater fish almost always fight harder and usually grow bigger. This makes them the harder fighting type of fish.

Author Note: Some honorable mentions that almost made the list: musky, big eye tuna, giant herring, permit, jack crevalle, and coho salmon.

There are so many different types of fish in the world that only listing 10 for the hardest fighting fish was really hard. We hope you enjoyed learning about the hardest fighting fish, and good luck trying to catch them.

Happy Hunting!


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