Spadefish — How to Catch Chaetodipterus faber

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The spadefish is a fun sport fish to target due to its powerful fighting abilities. They’re hard to miss with their beautiful black vertical bars on the side.

They are especially good on the grill or smoker.

How to catch Spadefish
A fun fish to catch! Source: Chesapeake Bay Program

Recommended Fishing Gear:

  • Rod: Ugly Stik GX2
  • Reel: Daiwa BG
  • Tackle: Mustad Circle Hooks

Listen to more fishing tips on the Cast & Spear Podcast


Also known as angel fish, butterfly fish, moonfish, and white angel. The Atlantic spadefish chaetodipterus faber refers to over 17 species of marine fish that are tropical and can also be found in temperate regions.

Each has a silver disc-shaped body with black vertical bars and a black forward on the dorsal and anal fins. These fins start midway on the body, creating a rough triangular structure. So, if you lay one on its side, it will look like the spade from a deck of cards.

The spade fish is known for forming schools that are almost 500 strong and for its vicious fighting spirit when it gets caught. The Atlantic spadefish is more popular with anglers because of this and because of its impressive size. Many can grow to an impressive 36 inches in length and weigh 20 pounds.

It can be found in the waters of the Western Atlantic, in Bermuda, and on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Spadefish Facts

Scientific NameChaetodipterus faber
Common Name(s)Spadefish, Spade fish
Identifying Characteristics The dorsal fin starts midway on the body creating a rough triangular structure. If you lay one on its side, it will look like the spade from a deck of cards.
Depth Range0 to 30 m
HabitatIt can be found in the Western Atlantic, in Bermuda, and on the eastern coast of Brazil.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded9 pounds 13 ounces

Where to Catch

This schooling fish is abundant in shallow marine and brackish waters in and around harbors, shipwrecks, beaches, and mangroves. Juveniles can be found in very shallow water swimming at an angle to disguise themselves as dead leaves or mangrove pods.

How to Catch Spadefish 

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The Atlantic spadefish chaetodipterus faber are known for being strong fighters. You will need a sturdy outfit to handle them. A 15 to 20-pound test line with a 30-pound leader should do the trick but use a small circle hook. If you are using bait, use small strips of jellyfish, clams, and shrimp to attract a school.

If you can’t find the fish on the surface of the water, just make a spadefish rig. Just take a rigging needle, pull your fishing line through some jelly balls, and secure it to a heavy 12-ounce sinker. Lower it slowly to the bottom and retrieve it at the same pace to attract a whole school to the surface.

Fishing Tactics

  • Young spadefish can be found around piers. To catch one, all you need to do is lower a hook next to a piling and fish at different depths until you locate it.
Spade fish love to school
Spadefish love to school. Source: Kevin Bryant

Fishing Tips

  1. The best time to find and catch spadefish is during low currents and calm seas when the fish can often be seen close to the surface with its fins out of the water.
  2. Chumming the water is the best way to attract schools of baitfish to the surface and exciting docile ones. Use ground clam and cut-up squid for the best chum.


Spadefish spawn between May and September as well as other times of the year, so the fish is available year-round. You can find huge spawning schools around wrecks and wrecks from May till summer 35 to 55 under the surface.

How to Clean

  1. Cut near the spine near the head and follow the bone all the way down to the tail.
  2. Make multiple passes through near the bone, just like you would do when you are filleting a flounder till you get to the rib cage.
  3. Then cut down towards the skull till you get to the ribs.
  4. Once you get down to the rib, follow the bones with your knife till the fillet comes off.
  5. Flip the fish and repeat on that side to get your second fillet.

How to Cook

  • Mix half a cup of milk, 2 beaten eggs, and 2 tablespoons of Tabasco sauce in a bowl.
  • Place 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of garlic salt, 1 teaspoon of ground red pepper, and 2 teaspoons of onion powder in a paper bag and shake it to mix well.
  • Heat peanut oil in a frying pan.
  • Dip each fillet in the egg wash, dredge it in the dry mixture, and drop it carefully in the hot oil.
  • Turn over the fish when it turns brown on one side and cook till it is done.
  • Drain on paper towels and serve with lemon wedges.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are spadefish edible?

Yes, the fish has firm and flaky meat that makes it a great table fish.

What do spadefish eat?

Spadefish feed on small benthic invertebrates, which include mollusks, crustaceans, annelids, and cnidarians. The fish also feeds on plankton.

How big do spadefish get?

They can get up to 10 pounds.

How many spadefish can be found in a single school?

A single school can contain over 500 adult spadefish. Juveniles can be found in shallow water swimming sideways to mimic leaves and fool predators.

Insider Advice

Throw chum in the water when you see some swimming near the surface, and watch more scramble to the surface! Just make sure that your hook is hidden with bait so as not to put off the fish from biting.

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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