Ribbon Fishing: Your Guide to Catching Cutlassfish

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Written By gills4reel.com

Your friendly angler and fishing aficionado! 🎣


If you’re looking to add a splash of excitement to your next saltwater fishing adventure, look no further than the dazzling world of ribbon fishing. Ribbonfish, also known as cutlassfish, are striking creatures with elongated, silvery bodies and fang-like teeth. They offer a unique angling experience—and when prepared correctly, a remarkably delicious meal.

This guide will delve into the fascinating world of ribbon fishing. We’ll cover everything from identifying these elusive fish and the best locations to target them, to recommended gear and proven techniques. Whether you’re a seasoned saltwater angler seeking a new challenge or a curious newcomer intrigued by the unusual, ribbon fishing promises an unforgettable combination of sport and flavor.

Ribbonfish might not be the most common target for anglers, but that’s where much of their appeal lies. Beyond the satisfaction of landing these hard-fighting fish, they boast surprisingly delicate, flaky flesh perfect for a range of culinary preparations. If you’re ready to explore a lesser-known corner of saltwater fishing while potentially adding a truly tasty catch to your dinner table, get ready for the thrill of ribbon fishing!

What Are Ribbonfish?

Ribbonfish, also known as cutlassfish or hairtails, are a fascinating species of fish residing in the ocean’s depths. Their unique physical characteristics and intriguing behavior make them captivating both to anglers and marine enthusiasts alike.

Appearance and Habitat

The name “ribbonfish” derives from their most striking feature: an extremely long, laterally compressed body resembling a glistening ribbon. They have large, mesmerizing eyes and a prominent dorsal fin running the entire length of their body. Their silvery, iridescent scales add to their otherworldly appearance. While some species can reach impressive lengths of over six feet, the average ribbonfish caught by anglers tends to be smaller.

Ribbonfish are considered deep-water dwellers, thriving in both temperate and tropical oceans worldwide. They inhabit depths ranging from several hundred to thousands of feet. However, they also undertake vertical migrations, often venturing into shallower waters at night to feed.

Predators and Prey

Ribbonfish serve as both predators and prey within marine food webs. Their prominent, fang-like teeth suggest an aggressive feeding nature. Ribbonfish primarily target smaller fish, squid, and crustaceans. However, they themselves fall prey to larger predators like sharks, tuna, and other opportunistic marine hunters.

Unusual Behavior

Beyond their physique, ribbonfish exhibit several intriguing behaviors. For one, they’re often observed swimming vertically, head up, as a camouflage tactic. When in their “upright” position, they resemble floating pieces of seaweed or debris, blending seamlessly into their surroundings.

Ribbonfish can also be found leaping out of the water or “beaching” themselves on the shoreline; scientists are still studying the reasons behind this mysterious behavior. Some theories suggest it could be related to hunting tactics, a response to predators, or a navigation error during their daily migrations.

A Delectable Delicacy

Although uncommon in traditional fish markets, ribbonfish are prized in many cultures for their delicate, flavorful meat. With careful preparation, the high oil content in their flesh yields surprisingly tasty results.

Ribbon Fishing Techniques

While ribbonfish might present a bit of an unconventional target, there are tried-and-true techniques that increase your chances of success. Let’s explore some of the most productive methods used by anglers to attract and hook these remarkable fish:


Trolling is a highly effective ribbon fishing technique that involves pulling lures or baits behind a moving boat. This tactic lets you cover large swaths of water and locate schools of feeding ribbonfish. When trolling for ribbonfish, moderate speeds with lures offering flash and vibration work particularly well. Popular options include:

* Spoons – Darting through the water, mimicking fleeing baitfish
* Jigs  – Designed with a weighted head and feathers or plastics to  enhance visual appeal
* Strip Baits – Long, narrow strips of natural baitfish like squid or ballyhoo with an enticing flutter


Jigging involves vertically working a lure through the water column in a rhythmic, upward-and-downward motion. This imitates wounded prey, triggering predatory strikes from nearby ribbonfish. Use specialized jigs that create an enticing fluttering action as they fall back down. For even better results, rig the jig with a strip of bait for added scent and flavor. Consider adding glow-in-the-dark accents to attract more attention in the depths.

Bottom Fishing

As bottom-dwelling predators, ribbonfish occasionally forage closer to the seafloor. Traditional bottom fishing rigs consisting of sinkers and multi-hook bait setups can be productive, depending on local conditions. Fresh cut bait, especially strips of squid or sardines, will pique their interest and entice them to bite. When fishing deeper waters, it’s essential to use enough weight to ensure your bait presentation reaches the intended zone.

Additional Tips:

  • Night Fishing: Ribbonfish often migrate into shallower water under the cloak of darkness. Fishing during nightfall or low-light conditions might dramatically increase your catch rate.
  • Light Attractants: Since ribbonfish are drawn to light, incorporate glow-in-the-dark lures or even underwater fishing lights into your strategy for an extra edge.
  • Wire Leaders: Ribbonfish have sharp teeth. Rigging wire leaders is a must to safeguard your line and lures from unfortunate bite-offs.
  • Be Patient: Finding the right location and depth where ribbonfish are active might take patience. Be prepared to experiment and move around until you encounter a productive spot.

Note: It’s important to familiarize yourself with local fishing regulations regarding target species, permitted bait, and any catch limits or size restrictions for ribbonfish.

Handling and Cleaning Ribbonfish

Successful ribbon fishing doesn’t end with the catch! Understanding proper handling and cleaning procedures is key to enjoying these fish as the delicious treat they can be. Here’s what you need to know:

Handling with Care

  • Sharp Teeth: Exercise caution when handling ribbonfish, as their razor-sharp teeth can inflict nasty cuts. The use of gloves and long-handled pliers is highly recommended.
  • Delicate Flesh: Handle live ribbonfish as gently as possible to avoid bruising the meat. A firm but careful grip is essential when landing and removing the hook.
  • On Ice: Cool your catch rapidly to preserve freshness. Keep them stored on ice, preferably in a dedicated cooler or fish bag, until further processing.

Cleaning Tips

Proper cleaning of ribbonfish involves several steps:

  • Tools: Grab a sharp fillet knife, scaling tool (if desired), and a pair of kitchen shears or sturdy scissors.
  • Scaling (Optional): Due to their small scales, you can skip this step, although some prefer to remove the scales before filleting. If doing so, run a scaler against the grain, from tail to head.
  • Gutting: Make a lengthwise incision along the belly of the fish. Carefully remove the entrails and rinse the cavity thoroughly.
  • Removing the Head and Fins: Cut off the head just behind the gills. Trim the dorsal fin using shears or a knife.
  • Filleting: With the skin side down, run your knife along the central line of the fish and the rib cage to separate two long fillets.
  • Removing the Bloodline: Notice the reddish bloodline running along the center of each fillet. Gently cut it out to improve flavor.
  • Skinning (Optional): Ribbonfish fillets can be cooked with or without the skin. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference. To remove the skin, make a small incision near the tail and peel it off along the length of the fillet.

Important Note: Ribbonfish possess thin, pin-like bones throughout their flesh. While this can be texturally off-putting to some, careful frying or baking renders these bones unobtrusive. Alternatively, they can be painstakingly removed with tweezers once the fillets are cooked.

Cooking & Recipes

Ribbonfish might be an unusual catch, but with a little creativity, you can unlock their surprising potential on the plate. Their delicately sweet, white flesh shines through a variety of simple and satisfying recipes:

  • Pan-Frying: A classic and reliable method. Season fillets with salt, pepper, and herbs or spices of your choice. Dredge in a light dusting of flour, then pan-fry in butter or oil until golden brown and flaky throughout. A squeeze of lemon adds brightness.
  • Deep-Frying: Ribbonfish excel when battered and deep-fried. The high heat helps render the texture less noticeable. Serve with tartar sauce and fries for a seafood feast.
  • Baking: Season and bake whole or filleted ribbonfish, wrapped in parchment or foil with a splash of white wine, vegetables, and fresh herbs. The baked fillet easily flakes into savory perfection.
  • Asian Preparations Ribbonfish is popular in various Asian cuisines. Simmer in a delicate fish broth with soy sauce and ginger, or try Korean-style pan-fried preparations. Marinate briefly in a sweet-savory glaze before flash-frying for a satisfyingly crispy exterior.

Important Tip: The oil content in ribbonfish flesh means careful temperature control during cooking is essential to avoid overcooking and becoming greasy.

The simplicity of ribbonfish preparation encourages experimentation! For recipe inspiration, search online – you’ll be surprised by the tasty options, many inspired by diverse cuisines and flavors.


Ribbon fishing invites anglers to step outside their comfort zones and discover the unique thrills and satisfying flavors of these extraordinary fish. While targeting ribbonfish might have you navigating less-familiar waters, hopefully, this guide has served as your chart on this angling adventure.

From understanding their intriguing appearance and habits to uncovering the productive techniques needed to hook them, the pursuit of ribbonfish is marked by excitement and discovery. Proper handling and cleaning maximize the delicious rewards of your catch, opening a world of culinary possibilities. Don’t let their unconventional appearance fool you; the culinary experience is worth the effort! And as the saying goes, the more unusual the catch, the greater the story!

Perhaps the most alluring aspect of ribbon fishing is that it embodies the spirit of exploration inherent in the vast expanse of saltwater fishing. Embracing less common targets brings newfound joy, knowledge, and an appreciation for the sheer abundance our oceans hold. A successful ribbon fishing outing leaves you not only with a satisfying meal but also adds a captivating chapter to your personal angling experience.

Whether you’re an experienced saltwater veteran in search of your next challenge or simply a curious foodie who is also an angler, the silver flashes and culinary surprises of ribbon fishing await. With this guide in hand, your next angling foray has the potential to be truly unforgettable – and undeniably tasty!

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