Your Next Big Catch Should Be the Chinaman Fish

Catching the Symphorus Nematophorus is a badge of honor that many sportfishing enthusiasts take pride in. It’s admittedly one of the most challenging fishes to catch. Deep-sea fishing charters in Gold Coast don’t always encounter these offshore reef-dwelling fishes, but they fight as brutally as any other open sea fish.

Unfortunately, this species has a (slightly) problematic colloquial name—Chinaman fish—given the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic and China’s encroachment of several land areas within territorial waters of other countries. Although no one knows the exact origin of the name, it continues to be widely used today. Sportfishing enthusiasts consider the Chinaman fish a test for beginners, a test they must pass before they can call themselves true master anglers.

Chinaman Fish

Where to Find the Chinaman Fish

A tropical fish at heart, the Chinaman fish prefers the warm waters and coral-rich coast of Western Australia, from Shark Bay in the south, all the way up to the Kimberley Region. Of course, the Great Barrier Reef in the East is also home to these beautiful fighters (and thousands of other fish species). Catching Chinaman fish is a true test of character and patience, and it’s a popular travel activity for tourists in the Gold Coast.

Fishing enthusiasts who have encountered the Chinaman fish can attest to its brutish pulling strength and the epic battles they encounter with it. It’s no surprise that this tough fish loves rugged, underwater habitats like coral reef systems, ship wrecks, and even wharf pylons and buoy chains. But it’s not just a bully on the line; the Chinaman fish also loves being around heavy concentrations of bait fish, where they feed on the weak and the slow.

What They Look Like

The Chinaman fish looks similar to the Red Emperor in that it has a cylindrical-shaped body that’s colored in fantastic and often vibrant shades of red and orange, punctuated by bright blue bioluminescent hues throughout the entire length of the fish. Its concaved tail and sharp teeth are both extremely powerful, and it uses them to their fullest potential when on the line.

On average, the fish weighs around 3 to 6 kg, although some larger kinds can grow up to 100 cm and weigh almost 20 kg. They’re a relatively slow-growing species, with most Chinaman fishes taking up to 30 years to reach their maximum size and weight.

A Word of Caution

The Chinaman fish is huge, tough, fierce, and gives the fight to remember. Though catching it might tempt you to eat it, be warned: the Symphorus Nematophorus is a known carrier of the extremely dangerous Ciguatera toxin. When ingested by humans, this toxin causes nausea, severe abdominal pain, neurological problems, cardiac arrest, and even death.

This is usually true for Chinaman fishes of a particular size and weight. Some fishermen claim that the fish is safe to eat on occasion and only if it’s small. Still, don’t believe everything you read on the internet (remember that ‘Sarah’s Discovery’ diet scam that swept through the hipsters of Australia?). Instead, err on the side of caution and totally avoid eating a Chinaman fish. Just enjoy the fight, savor the catch, and release it back into the wild, open seas where it belongs.



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