Milkfish: How to Catch Chanos chanos

If you have a chance to venture out to Asia, especially the Philippines, then you should definitely go after some milkfish.

These fish fight just like a mullet or bonefish. You can take them on the fly or with bait. You’ll be able to catch them in ponds using simple food like bread.

boy with a milkfish in india
Check out this awesome milkfish caught in India. Source: WorldFish

A good eating food fish that has plenty of delicious recipes coming out of the Philippines and Indonesia.

Recommended Fishing Gear:

Overview: Milkfish Description and Characteristics

It’s awa in Hawaii, ava in Tahiti, and bangus in the Philippines, where it is also commonly known as the national fish.

You can find this fish in the Indian and the Pacific Ocean ranging from South Africa to Hawaii and the Marquesas as well as all the way to the south of Australia.

The fish has an elongated body that is compressed and streamlined and which is olive green in color with silvery flanks and dark bordered fins. The caudal fin is forked and it has one dorsal fin. It usually feeds on algae, small invertebrates, and autotrophs and tends to school around coasts, islands and coral reefs.

Milkfish Facts

Scientific NameChanos chanos
Common Name(s)Milkfish
GenusChanos; Lacépède, 1803
SpeciesC. chanos
Identifying CharacteristicsIt’s a compressed and streamlined fish. The caudal fin is forked and it has one dorsal fin
Depth Range1 to 30 m
HabitatIt can be found in the Indian and the Pacific Ocean ranging from South Africa to Hawaii and the Marquesas as well as all the way to the south of Australia.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded45 lbs

Where to Find Milkfish

Milkfish chanos chanos are endothermic fish and are cultured in brackish, fresh, and marine waters but only in the tropical and subtropical Pacific and Indian oceans. The fish usually lives in tropical offshore marine waters around islands and continental shelves but have also been known to enter rivers and estuaries. In open water, the fish is easy to spot.

They are commonly farmed in their native range. In fact, they are one of the most important farmed fish species in the world. The fry is raised in sea cages, concrete tanks, or saline ponds.

You can also find them in small pods in waist-deep water right over algae patches with their tails out of the water as they feed on the bottom.

How to Catch Milkfish 

Chanos Chanos - Milkfish on the Fly

The awa awa fish or milkfish is popular for being a fierce fighter that does not tire at all. That’s because remarkably it does not build up lactic acid in its muscles so be prepared for a struggle that can stretch for hours.

The best way to catch them is via fly fishing that should involve a 9 or 12 weight rod that can give you sufficient pulling power and quick presentation. Accompany it with a matching saltwater reel that has smooth reliable drag, sufficient backing, a floating tropical line and a 20 lbs tapered leader.

Since milkfish are not predatory, the fly you use will not represent anything that would make them give chase. The determination of your choice of fly is not by the area but by the behavior of the bangus while they feed.

Fishing Tactics

  • The best bait to use for the non-predatory milkfish is bait and fish roe. Make sure that the fishing hook is tied to a short leader that is not more than 6” and a small float.
  • Make sure that you get the fly to the exact feeding spot or the milkfish will ignore it. If this fails, cast again till you get it right.

Fishing Tips

  1. The fly you use should be able to float and drift in different levels of the water to attract milkfish that swim subsurface.
  2. Practice casting before your milkfish fishing trip because you will need to be accurate when you are out on the water. Otherwise, you will spend more time casting and less time fishing.


Bangus or milkfish chanos chanos are present year-round because it spawns more than once a year. It breeds near clean, clear, warm and shallow waters over sand and coral reefs. They’re usually found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Spawning is seasonal and dependent on the lunar cycle.

How to Clean

multiple milkfish bangus
Bangus ready to be cleaned. Source: Roy Sanchez
  1. Remove the shiny silvery scales from the milkfish using a descaler or by scraping the scales against the grain with a chef’s knife.
  2. Snip the skin under the head of the fish with kitchen scissors to expose the gills and pull it out.
  3. Separate the guts from the stomach of the fish using your forefinger and middle finger and pull it out.
  4. Rinse out the cavity with water and then hold the fish from both ends and pull to loosen up the body.
  5. Break the tail bone partially and pound the body with a wrapped rolling pin to loosen the meat inside.
  6. Snip off the bone below the shoulders to stabilize the head and use the flat side of a butter knife to remove the meat from the skin. Start from the middle and go side to side on both sides. Leave the rib bone to ensure the cavity doesn’t tear.
  7. Grab the main bone with paper towels and pull out the meat. Scrape out leftover meat with a spoon.

How to Cook Milkfish

Milkfish Recipe

  • Preheat your oven to about 300°.
  • Take a baking dish, place a piece of foil in it, dab it with some butter and place the milkfish in it.
  • Use a brush to apply ¼ cup of lemon juice on the fish and season with salt and pepper before dabbing with some butter.
  • Sprinkle grated cheese on the fish generously and pop the dish in the preheated oven.
  • Bake for 5 to 10 minutes till the fish is cooked through.
  • Serve with some paprika sprinkled on top.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is milkfish good to eat?

A: Yes. It’s a common dish to eat in the Philippines. It’s often used for making fish cakes, and fish balls.

Q: What is milkfish in the Philippines?

A: Milkfish is called bangus or sometimes bangos. It’s the main aquaculture by product in the area. It’s the second most popular seafood dish for Filipinos.

Q: How long do bangus take to mature into adults?

A: 7 to 12 years.

Q: Is milkfish saltwater or freshwater?

A: This fish is primarily saltwater but can also be found in freshwater. However, they can only breed in saltwater.

Insider Advice

Milkfish chanos chanos can be a bit difficult to fillet but it more than makes up for that for its taste and the excellent sport fishing it offers.

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

Johanes Godoy

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