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Rooster Fish Fishing Guide — How to Catch Nematistius pectoralis

A prized sport fish, the rooster fish should be on your list of fish to catch this season.

If you have a chance to visit Baja California or Costa Rica, this game fish will surely give you a fight worth remembering either from shore or from the boat.

how to catch rooster fish
Theron with a solid rooster. Source: Theron LaBounty

In this guide, we’ll show you the two common methods for bringing in a big one.

Let’s fish!

Recommended Roosterfish Gear:

  • Surf Fishing Rod: Penn Carnage II
  • Reel: Diawa Saltist
  • Lures: GT Ice Cream Lures

Overview

Also known as gallo or roosterfish. The roosterfish is the only species of fish in the Nematistius genus and the Nematistiidae family. It used to be considered part of the jack family. But, unlike that species, this is the only species that has a swim bladder that penetrates its brain through the foramina and connects with its inner air. The swim bladder is used to amplify sounds.

The fish has a ‘rooster comb’ or seven long spines that make a large dorsal fin which it uses to reach incredible speeds and maneuver its body. The comb rises in a vertical position when the fish is excited or strikes a surface lure or fly.

Adults can weigh as much as 75 or 80 pounds making it a great game fish. The average fish hooked is about 20 pounds. The fish can be found in the warm waters of the East Pacific coast from Baja California to Peru. It’s a great fish to catch via fly fishing.

Roosterfish Facts

Scientific NameNematistius pectoralis
Common Name(s)Roosterfish, Rooster fish, papagallo, gallo, pez de gallo, reje pluma
FamilyNematistiidae
Identifying CharacteristicsThe game fish has a ‘rooster comb’ of seven long spines that make a large dorsal fin. It looks a bit like a mohawk. When threatened it’s up, but usually remains down for stealth. It has a swim bladder that’s used to amplify sounds.
Depth Range15 m to 60 m
HabitatThey are commonly found in warm Eastern Pacific waters and they like shallow inshore areas especially sandy beach shores. They can also be found around rocky zones. Juveniles can be found in tide pools.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest RecordedThe world record roosterfish was 114 pounds and taken in Baja. The average fish hooked is about 20 lb.

Roosterfish Habitat

Roosterfish can be found in the warm waters of the East Pacific coast – ¼ of a mile offshore along sandy beaches, outcropping, rocky areas, and near estuaries. They can also be caught a mile off the beach if you have the proper live bait.

The game fish prefer waters that are about 80°F or warmer and are active in the shallows when they are feeding. Rocky areas that have sandy beaches on either side are also great spots to find roosters.

How to Catch Roosterfish

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Roosterfish will take live bait which should be about 3 to 4 pounds in weight total. Large ones have huge mouths so use large bait such as blue runner, mullet fish, and bonito.

If you want to use dead bait, use rainbow runners or mullet fish but you will have better chances of catching one with live ones. The game fish is notorious for playing with the bait before biting so you may have to be patient for a while or it won’t get hooked.

They are known to be competitive in schools and it’s not uncommon for them to chase bait or lure considerable distances.

Roosterfish Tackle

You can take roosterfish either surf-casting or trolling.

Rod

The ideal fishing gear for catching this heavy-duty fish is a graphite composite medium to medium-heavy rod that is about 10 to 13 feet long. Make sure that your fly rod is sturdy enough.

Reel

Outfitted it with a high-capacity spinning reel. Make sure it is spooled with at least 300 yards of braided line so you don’t spend too much time trying to fight it. You can get away with a 15 to 20-pound line for smaller roosters, but it’s a good idea to go higher if you’re targeting bigger ones.

Rooster Fish Lures

Surface lures are a popular option, especially surf fishing. Try two or three-ounce pencil poppers and surface spoons. After you cast them out far, reel them in quickly.

Trolling

While you can spot more roosters in clear water, you can still hook one in muddy water with the right gear. Rig live bait with a circle hook or a dead one with chin weight and a circle hook and troll it down into clear water. Use a surface popper to attract the game fish to the trolled bait.

Offshore islands with vertical walls usually have a lot of roosters near them but they are usually 50 to 100 feet deep underwater.

Fly Fishing for Roosterfish

If you are fly fishing for roosterfish, bring some mullet patterns, crease flies, and minnows that you can throw on top.

Rooster Fish Fishing Tactics

  • Roosters generally feed close to the shore in shallow water near rocky areas but will chase live baitfish to the surface at depths of less than 200 ft.
  • One of the best lures to catch roosterfish is the Canal Magic Swimmer. Cast it out and reel back in at medium to quick speeds. If you are using a Bomb Popper, cast and retrieve at medium speed only while you are pumping the rod. This will throw a lot of white water in the air which will excite the fish and make it bite.

Roosterfish Fishing Tips

  1. Roosterfish can grow to about 30 to 40 pounds in weight and will put up a strong fight when hooked for 40 to 45 minutes. Make sure you build your endurance before targeting this fish or you will have a frustrating day out on the water.
  2. Use the fish finder rig to hold large pieces of bait for the roosterfish. This comprises of a leader that has a hook and barrel swivel that is tied to the mainline right behind a fish finder weight slide.
  3. If you cannot afford a charter service, you can still catch roosterfish from the shore which is going to be more economical. The fish can be found close to shore.

Rooster Fish Seasons

Roosterfish Costa Rica fishing is world-class. The best time to catch it is between January and April and the slowest months are September and October. Fish for roosters during the high tide when they’re feeding and are active.

Roosterfish Cabo San Lucas fishing is also top-notch and can be done nearly all year round, but it’s better during the warmer months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you eat roosterfish?

Roosterfish are not usually caught for meat because it has a tough and strong flavor. They’re not considered as a good eating fish.

How does a roosterfish act when it is hooked?

A hooked roosterfish raises its large dorsal fin like a flag out of the water and starts leaping repeatedly trying to unhook itself. That is one of the main reasons why it is considered a prized sport fish.

How big do roosterfish get?

Adult roosters can grow to about 50 to 100 pounds in weight

Insider Advice

Rooster fishing can be enjoyable if you have the experience, stamina, and patience to take on this behemoth. With its large and gorgeous dorsal fin and muscular body, it is a catch that is worth a trip to Costa Rica where the fish is abundant.

Even though it is not a great table fish, you can still enjoy bragging rights when you catch one. Make sure that you have strong gloves, remove fishing gear, and have some friends nearby to help you.

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 » Rooster Fish Fishing Guide — How to Catch Nematistius pectoralis