Cabezon Fish (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus)

Is the spiny cabezon giving you a hard time as an angler? Before you can successfully catch this ‘thorny’ fish, you need to know it inside and out.

cabezon fish fishing tips
Ratha caught this amazing shot of this beautiful cabezon!

The cabezon is the only member of its genus. It’s a large species of the sculpin which is native to the Pacific coast of North America. Also known as the tongue-in-cheek ‘mother-in-law fish’ because of its loud mouth and constant croaking.

This scaleless fish’s name literally translates to ‘scorpion fish.’

Cabezon Facts

Like other sculpins, the cabezon has a wide body that tapers to a slender and compressed tail. It has broad bony support under the eye, which connects the bone with the front part of the gill cover.

A pair of longer flaps is located right behind the eyes, and larger species have 11 spines on the dorsal fin. The mouth of this fish is quite broad and is filled with several small teeth. Unfortunately, the Cachorrito cabezon is endangered due to overfishing down in Mexico.

Scientific Name:Scorpaenichthys marmoratus
Common Name(s):Cabezon, Scorpion-fish, mother-in-law fish, Cabazon fish (misspelled), Sculpin
CharacteristicsA wide body that tapers to a slender and compressed tail. Can be either scaleless fish or have plate-like scales, depending on species, with broad bony support extending from the eye across the cheek just under the skin. It also has small teeth and a large, branched cirrus above each eye.
Depth Range0 to 200 meters
LocationsNative to the Pacific coast of North America
Catch & Size LimitsCheck your local regulations

Found mainly on the Pacific coast of North America, cabezon usually frequents shallow and rocky areas in the water, such as intertidal pools, around jetties, rocky reefs, kelp beds, and kelp forests along with an area that has a lot of algae growth. Most tend to just sit rather than swim in the water right on top of submerged rock ledges.

How to Catch Cabezon (And What Gears to Use)

Most of the ones you catch from pier fishing will be fairly small in size, but you can also get lucky enough to catch large 12-pound ones.

how to catch cabezon on structure
Eva caught this cabezon resting on some man-made structure. Source

Cabezon Tackle

To be prepared for either, use a medium-sized cabezon tackle with line testing that can withstand about 15 pounds.

Best Cabezon Bait

The best cabezon bait you can use include:

  • small crabs
  • mussels
  • shrimp

This fish will try and take a bite from anything that looks like food (including fish eggs).

Sculpin Bait and Diet

Their normal diet includes:

The good news is that even though they prefer to hide in the shallows and rarely swim out of cover, if you can find one, you can find more. Plus, the fish is anything but hook shy.

If you are using shore crab as bait, insert the book at the rear by pushing it up through it. The fish will go for the bait and take it whole in its mouth, which will effectively hook it.

Fishing Tactics

  1. Use a poke pole when you are fishing for cabezon around jetties like you are cane pole fishing. This can be a long bamboo pole about 10 to 12 feet long which is baited with a large shore crab. Poke the crab into a crevice where you think the fish is, and when it takes it, set the hook by yanking hard to pull it out quickly.
  2. Even though cabezon is a sedentary fish, it attacks bait aggressively, so don’t hesitate to use lead-head jigs and hard baits when you are fishing at the bottom.

When to Catch Cabezon

cabezon fish camouflage
They blend in well, making them hard to find spearfishing. Source

This bottom-dweller fish is slow to grow even though it can be caught year-round. It usually spawns during the winter and fall months, but most fisheries discourage fishing during those times so that the fish can be allowed to grow large enough to be a hefty catch.

Plus, anglers who fish from boats have far greater chances of catching more cabezon than ones that fish from piers or from the shore.

The opposite can be the case when the fish migrates to shallow water to spawn. Whatever condition or time of year you fish for this sculpin, you can use a conventional tackle, or if you prefer the rocky shore, use the aforementioned poke pole.

Spearfishing for Cabezon

Since cabezon is a bottom-dwelling fish that prefers to hide between rocks and in sandy pits, you should use a pole spear to snare them. These are perfect for use in shallow water and if you don’t want to dive too deep for the fish. Make sure that you stalk the fish calmly with gentle movements so that it doesn’t get spooked and swim off to another hiding hole.

You basically have to pull yourself over rocks and stones using your free hand. Use freediving fins for steering purposes only and stop occasionally when you find appropriate cover. If it notices you, the fish may head towards the open sea, so make sure your polespear is positioned accordingly.

How to Cook Cabezon

Sculpins are delicious fish. They can be a little weird at first to clean and can be dangerous if you’re not careful with their spines.

YouTube video

How to Clean Cabezon

  1. Lay the cabezon on its side and use a sharp fillet knife to make a 45-degree cut from behind the head where the meat is and right down past the fins to the belly. Make sure you are outside the rib section.
  2. Remove the guts and gills.
  3. Cut behind the pectoral fin and slide the knife along the collar to the skull.
  4. Once the head is free, pull down and twist so you’re left with just the two meat pieces.
  5. Trim off any excess rib bones.
  6. Use the cut as a grip for your fingers as you move the fillet knife to cut the skin away.

How to Cook Cabezon (Cabezon Recipe)

  1. Preheat the oven to about 425°
  2. Cut the cabezon into 4-inch pieces.
  3. Set up 3 bowls – one for cornstarch, one for whipped egg, and one for panko bread crumbs.
  4. Dip each piece of the fish in the cornstarch first, shake off the excess, and then dip it in the egg and then in the panko.
  5. Arrange the pieces of coated fish on a baking sheet and make sure there is a little space between them.
  6. Pop the dish into the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
  7. Once the fish starts to turn a golden brown in color it is ready.
  8. Sprinkle the cooked fish with some salt and pepper and serve with your favorite sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cabezon venomous?

While cabezon meat can be consumed safely, its eggs are highly poisonous and can prove fatal if eaten. You don’t have to worry about their spines as much as rockfish.

Why is cabezon meat blue in color?

This is due to a rare bile pigment in the meat of this fish called biliverdin, which turns the blood serum of the cabezon a rare turquoise blue. This is why it is often referred to as the ‘fish with blue meat.’

Insider Advice

Cabezon may not win any beauty contests in the fish world, but its taste is considered to be one of the best among seafood aficionados.

The best part is that even though luring it out can take some patience, you don’t necessarily have to invest in heavy equipment to increase your chances of catching it. As mentioned before, a simple tackle, pole spear, or a poke pole should be sufficient.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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Articles » Saltwater Fishing » Cabezon Fish (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus)