“Does anyone know what this fish is,” was a common post on a favorite bay-related Facebook page of mine this summer. Accompanying were photos of a vertically-flat fish with a big head tapered down to a small mouth with sharp plate-like teeth. They were grey in color and sported two spines on their dorsal fin.
As a defense mechanism, the fish makes the spines stand straight up. When the second spine is depressed it triggers the first drop down also; hence their name, the grey triggerfish!
Triggerfish arrive in schools with the warm waters of summer to congregate around hard bottom where they eat crabs, mussels, shrimp, and mollusks. They are a curious, friendly, and sometimes territorial fish. While diving, I’ve had them attack me (in a cute kind of way), and while fishing I’ve had them swim right up to my kayak. It is exciting to see the sun light up the iridescent blue colors of their face and fins when they are near the surface.
Lore among anglers is that triggerfish were very rare here 20 years ago, and that they have recently become more common. This could be due to an increasing population, the warming of our waters from climate change, or to the greater amounts of ocean waters entering the Bays through the deepening Indian River Inlet. Whatever the cause, this particular change in fish distributions is a blessing because these are undeniably the best eating fish around. Their tough skin makes for a challenging filet, but the right knife and technique pays off.
I like to prepare mine on the grill. Their filets hold together well so flipping them right over the flames is no problem. Before I put them on, I blend up a mixture of toasted garlic gloves, sea salt, jalapenos, and olive oil to rub on the filets. A couple minutes a side on a super hot grill, then drop it in a grilled corn tortilla with a squeeze of lime and you are in heaven.
I hope next summer you can get out yourself to get triggered, it’s an experience you won’t forget!