Gray Triggerfish — Fishing Guide & Spearfishing Tips

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Gray triggerfish balistes capriscus hold a special place in my heart. On a trip to Baja, I was fortunate to catch them using a rod and reel, as well as spearfishing.

They have quite the bite, as on almost took a chunk of my finger when I mistakenly tried to hold it by the mouth…

how to catch gray triggerfish in the gulf of mexico
I caught these two on a piece of bonito and a Gulp! Grub

Don’t do that!

They also have a crazy spike on their dorsal spine that can hurt you if you’re not careful. The locals in the Gulf of Mexico love to make gray triggerfish ceviche too.

I hope this guide helps you catch more of this awesome fish!

Recommended Fishing Gear:

  • Rod: Ugly Stik Tiger Elite
  • Reel: Penn Battle III
  • Bait: Berkley Gulp! Grub + Cut bait


There are over 40 types of triggerfish in the world, and almost all of them are brightly colored members of the Balistidae family. The fish inhabits tropical and subtropical oceans across the globe. Most of them can be found in the Indo-Pacific in shallow, coastal habitats such as coral reefs. The gray triggerfish is popular as an aquarium fish, but it is also quite ill-tempered.

grey triggerfish fishing tips
A close-up of a gray triggerfish.

Gray triggerfish have an oval, and compressed body with a large head that ends in a strong jaw, and they have 3 spines on the anterior dorsal fin. Each jaw has a row of four triggerfish teeth on each side, and the upper jaw contains 6 pharyngeal teeth.

Juvenile triggerfish are yellowish and have tiny violet dots. Adults are targeted by amberjacks, grouper, and sharks. Juveniles are targeted by dolphinfish, marlin, sailfish, sharks, and tuna.

Gray Triggerfish Facts

Scientific NameBalistes capriscus
Common Name(s)Gray Triggerfish, cochito
Identifying CharacteristicsThey have 3 spines on the anterior dorsal fin.
Depth RangeSurface to 55m
HabitatThe Gulf of Mexico and Florida
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded13 pounds

Where to Catch

Triggerfish like hard bottoms, ledges, and reefs. They can be found near and offshore locations. It can be found in seaward reefs, bays, and lagoons about 55m below the surface. Adults swim along the bottom alone or in small schools, while young ones swim near the surface with sargassum, aka microalgae.

If you want to catch gray triggerfish then you need to visit the Gulf of Mexico, especially the Bay of LA. You’ll see massive schools of gray triggerfish. While spearfishing, I’ve had entire schools follow me. According to NOAA fisheries, the fish stock is rebounding.

Gray triggerfish are found in Florida and parts of the South Atlantic and Western Atlantic Oceans. The population in the South Atlantic is unknown, and efforts to understand the population are underway. The minimum size out there is a 15-inch fork length.

In Baja, the minimum size isn’t well established, but when fishing, it’s good to remember what’s set in a state like Florida for reference.

How to Catch

These triggerfish are feisty.

Don’t let their small mouths fool you. They can snag your baits and rip them off without you being the wiser. To prevent this, use small and sharp circle hooks. The fish will not be able to split these as easily as regular hooks.

Triggers go for almost any bait that is thrown but try squid. It sticks to hooks firmly compared to other bait but uses a chunk that is an inch wide, so it doesn’t slip off. Plus, since this fish remains near the bottom, use a sinker that is at least 6 to 8 ounces heavy.

Fishing Tactics

  • Drop your baited hook all the way to the bottom and then start reeling immediately after it hits. This will maintain line tension and ensure you can feel the gentlest of bites as soon as you feel a bite. Start reeling as fast as possible while keeping the rod stable.
  • If your strip bait isn’t working alone, try adding a Gulp! Grub neon color to it.

Fishing Tips

  1. Unlike a snapper, a triggerfish will nip at the bait before taking it in. Appeal to its greed for food by dropping the bait near some species of snapper (like the Cubera snapper) or grouper and reeling in quickly. When the triggers see the other fish heading for the bait, they will charge up from the bottom to try and steal it.
  2. A good tackle for triggerfish includes a spinning rod that is about 9 to 10 feet long. Mount a spinning reel that comes with a 20 lb braid and an 8-foot leader made of 20 lb test monofilament.


In Florida, the season for gray triggerfish is in flux. Check state regulations before heading out, or you may have to pay a hefty fine.

Spearfishing Tips

These fish aren’t a challenge to find or shoot in the water. They tend to be in monster schools along the coast of Baja. The challenge is finding the big ones. Often their behavior will lead to their end. They will follow you in the water, especially near the coast, while you’re looking for other species.

The challenge is after you shoot them. You’ll need to hold them by the body, not by the gills or mouth.

Read also: Can You Eat Shark Meat?

How to Clean

Triggerfish are a bit unique in terms of how you should fillet them. It’s better understood if you watch someone do it through video.

YouTube video


Triggerfish Ceviche

While in Baja, you’ll be eating plenty of snapper and grouper, so why not make some ceviche to complement it?

  • 2 lbs of fresh triggerfish
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Chili
  • 20 limes
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumbers
  • Salt and Peper


  • Place the triggerfish fillets in a glass bowl and cover them with ten limes worth of juice.
  • Let it sit covered with plastic wrap in the fridge to cure for at least four hours.
  • Mix the rest of the lime juice and veggies in a bowl to marinate.
  • Once the fish has been cured, mix the ingredients together and season to taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What do gray triggerfish teeth look like?

A: Triggerfish teeth are strong enough to crush shells. Each jaw has a row of four triggerfish teeth on each side, and the upper jaw contains 6 pharyngeal teeth.

Q: Do gray triggerfish attack people?

A: The fish is docile and inquisitive when it is approached, but it can be quite aggressive and territorial during the breeding season and can attack. Giant ones, such as the titan gray triggerfish, have been known to attack divers.

Q: Are gray triggerfish poisonous?

A: Some species of triggerfish cause ciguatera poisoning when consumed.

Insider Advice

Venture to the Gulf of Mexico, where they are abundant, to increase your chances of hooking up. And make sure to gear up well with the right rod and reel that works for you, just like how the Ugly Stik rod and Penn fishing reels do me good.

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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