What is a Ladyfish?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A ladyfish is a fish in the genus Elops. Other common names for these fish include skipjacks, tenpounders, and Jack-Rashes. They are found primarily in the subtropical and tropical regions of the western Atlantic Ocean, although specimens have been recorded in other regions of the world. These fish are especially common in the Gulf of Mexico.


Ladyfish have elongated silvery-blue to greenish bodies. Their rear or caudal fins are deeply forked, and they have protruding jaws with deep mouths that stretch behind their oversized eyes. These lean fish are very muscular and they tend to travel in large schools that will congregate around prey species.

During spawning season, which falls mainly in the fall, ladyfish spawn offshore. When they initially hatch, the larvae are transparent and look like small ribbons. They drift in the water, absorbing nutrients as they travel and eventually winding up in brackish inshore waters, where they mature into adults. Adult ladyfish prefer brackish to fresh water and consume crustaceans and smaller fish, including some of their relatives. They are vulnerable to predators like alligators and some larger fish.

There are not very many commercial uses for ladyfish. They are too bony for most people to enjoy eating and while they can be ground into fishmeal when they are trapped as a bycatch, most fisheries do not make a point of pursuing these fish. Some sport fishers will attempt to land the fish because they can provide an athletic challenge by fighting the hook. Record setting fish have measured up to three feet (one meter) long.

People who are learning to fish may search for ladyfish because they are a readily available species and they provide some opportunities to learn basic fishing techniques without running the risk of losing a more valuable catch. Some fishing tours can take people to seek out ladyfish by request.

These fish tend to prefer shallow water habitats with sandy bottoms. People interested in popular prey species like perch and shrimp can sometimes locate their prey by seeking out schools of ladyfish. People who eat these fish species tend to use them to make fishcakes, as this allows them to shred the meat to remove all of the bones so that the fish can be eaten safely. The flesh can be mixed with other fish species to make fishcakes. The shredded flesh freezes well and can be stored in sturdy freezer bags or vacuum containers for several months.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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