What is the Scariest Fish to Catch?

The world is full of scary fish, from the infamous Piranhas of South America to Hollywood’s go-to killers: Sharks. There’s something about being in the water that fills people with fear. And looking at some of the things that live in it, we’re not surprised.

These spooky species take things to a whole new level of terror. Some are fearsome predators which devour anything in their path. Others are just so strange they were born to fill your nightmares. Each fish has its own signature something that sets it apart as one of the planet’s scariest sea creatures.

9. Sheepshead

Man holding a Sheepshead on a boat on a sunny day
“This doesn’t look so scary!” It will soon…

They say that the worst monster is the one you never notice. It sits there, in plain view, and one day you realize it’s absolutely terrifying. That’s definitely the case with Sheepshead. They’re a popular catch in the Gulf of Mexico and the West Atlantic. They’re also a common sight in fish markets and restaurants. But this seemingly-innocent food fish hides a horrible secret.

Fear Factor: Mutant Mouth

Face-on view of Sheepshead with mouth open, looking at teeth
Most fish don’t need a dental plan. Sheepshead does.

Take a look in a Sheepshead’s mouth, and you’ll find row after row of bizarrely human-like teeth. This freaky smile earned them their name. “Human teeth fish” probably didn’t sound scientific enough when they discovered it.

Is this the result of secret experiments? A voodoo curse? Toxic waste? Actually, Sheepshead are shellfish specialists who use their terrible chompers to crush their prey’s armor. We would tell you to stay away from their bite, but let’s be honest, you’re not going anywhere near that mouth.

8. Anglerfish

Brown Anglerfish camouflaged on the sea floor
Anglerfish look pretty creepy at the best of times

Commonly known as “Sea Devils,” Anglerfish are the archetypal horror of the deep. They lurk on the bottom, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come their way. Their mouths are so big they can eat fish almost as big as they are.

Anglerfish inhale their meals whole. If they’re too big, they tear into them with long, pointy fangs. If you’re a fish, you really don’t want to get close to them. But sometimes you just won’t be able to resist.

Fear Factor: Death Trap

Scary Anglerfish facing camera with mouth open in the dark
Turn out the lights, and Anglerfish enter a new world of terror!

Anglerfish get their name from the glowing “fishing rod” which hangs in front of their mouths. Deep-water fish are attracted to this like moths to a flame. Remember that scary fish in Finding Nemo? That’s an Angler. And yes, they’re every bit as horrifying as Pixar says.

Fish aren’t the only ones which fall into their trap – you may have eaten one of these monsters without even knowing. Anglerfish are often sold under a different name: Monkfish. They’re a delicacy in seafood restaurants and fish markets worldwide. Clearly, there’s a good reason they’re not normally served whole!

7. Blobfish

Three Blobfish lying next to each other
Blobfish have got to be the most aptly-named creature out there. (NOAA)

Blobfish are hands down the ugliest fish in the world. In fact, they’re the ugliest anything in the world. This ball of gloop looks so wrong, a lot of people didn’t even think it was real when pictures first started showing up. With its large nose and sad, droopy frown, the species has a nightmarishly cartoony feel to it.

The Blobfish’s sheer ugliness has made it something of a pop culture phenomenon. They’ve featured everywhere from internet memes to episodes of the X-Files. You can even buy Blobfish plush toys if you want to snuggle up with these grotesque goo balls.

Fear Factor: Melting Blob

Blobfish on a black background facing the camera
There’s ugly, there’s really ugly, then there’s Blobfish (Flikr, James Joel / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Blobfish aren’t exactly scary until you realize that they’re not supposed to look like this. They’re adapted to living deep underwater. They’ve got no bones and the only thing holding them together is the force of the water. When a Blobfish reaches the surface, their bodies can’t handle the lack of pressure. They “melt” into the blob of fat you normally see.

In fact, we don’t even know what Blobfish are supposed to look like. We’ve never photographed them in their natural habitat. They could be a perfectly normal fish until we bring them to the surface ‒ no wonder they look so sad!

6. Payara

A large Payara fish being held by an angler on a boat
People travel from far and wide to catch a Payara. We’d run the other way.

Found in the remote reaches of the Amazon Basin, the Payara is an apex predator which regularly eats fish half its size or bigger. They specialize in hunting in fast currents, but they can show up anywhere, from small streams to open lakes. Wherever they go, they’re at the top of the food chain.

The Payara is a relative of famous river monsters like Piranhas and Tigerfish. Strong pedigree for a scary fish. Payara more than live up to the family’s reputation, too. They’re strong and very aggressive. Because of this, they’re also a popular gamefish. They attract a fanatical following of freshwater anglers who travel from far and wide to take them on.

Fear Factor: Vampire Fangs

Close-up of the scary fish Payara showing long teeth
You need a lot of guts and some thick gloves to pick up a Payara

Payara are a type of Dogtooth Tetra, but they have another name that seems much more fitting: “Vampire Fish.” Payara have such long teeth – up to 6 inches – that they actually have to sheath them into their own heads to close their mouths. Nothing says “vampire” like hidden fangs.

The freaky thing about them is that at first glance they look a little like a Salmon. They’re the same shape and color and reach the same size – around 30 pounds. Now imagine one swimming towards you, only to open its gaping mouth and show off that deadly bite.

5. Frilled Shark

Frilled Shark in the dark
A Frilled Shark preserved for science. Scary science… (Wikipedia, Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

You can’t have a list of scary sea monsters without at least one Shark on it. That’s pretty much the law. But while all Sharks strike fear into our hearts, some species go above and beyond to scare us out of the water. The Frilled Shark is a classic example of this.

Frilled Sharks are the last of an ancient family which date all the way back to the Jurassic. We know very little about them, but what scientists have learned is enough to make us steer well clear of them. Frilled Sharks hunt by floating silently in the water, then coiling their bodies and lashing out like a snake. And that’s not even the worst part.

Fear Factor: 300 Teeth!

Frilled Shark open mouth, view of lower jaw with teeth
The Frilled Shark must spend half the day brushing its teeth. (Wikipedia, Kimse / CC BY-SA 2.5)

Look at that mouth. Why would anything need so many teeth? Frilled Sharks have around 300 barbed, backward-facing fangs that funnel food into its mouth. Once this monster gets hold of you, there’s no getting away.

Some experts think that they actually use their teeth to lure fish toward them. In the water, the Frilled Shark’s dull grey body is almost invisible, but their bright white teeth aren’t. Fish and Squid might be tricked into attacking the Shark’s mouth, mistaking it for prey. By the time they realize their mistake, it’s too late to escape.

4. Sarcastic Fringehead

Sarcastic Fringehead fish looking out of a hole in a reef
Yes, Sarcastic Fringehead always look this grumpy.

The Sarcastic Fringehead may look cute at first, but it’s highly territorial and extremely aggressive. They live in small holes or hollows in reefs and spend most of their time with just their head poking out. When something gets too close, they burst out and chase it out of their turf.

Sarcastic Fringehead seem to have no fear. They’re known to attack creatures much bigger than them. Even humans are sometimes harassed by them while diving around reefs. But what’s the big deal? It’s just a fish, right?

Fear Factor: Giant Jaws

Sarcastic Fringehead fish with large, open mouth
Say “Cheese!” (Wikipedia, Wikistudent348 / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nope. It’s not a fish. It’s a full-on sea monster. When it wants to scare off an intruder, it goes through a terrifying transformation. Its mouth splays open like the poison-spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park. This is where the Sarcastic Fringehead gets its awesome name.

The Fringehead also uses its freaky mouth when hunting, enveloping fish and crustaceans whole. People have even recorded them trying to swallow whole octopus! Add in their incredible aggression and complete lack of fear, and they become very scary indeed, especially when they burst out at you from nowhere.

3. Northern Stargazer

Northern Stargazer fish swimming along the sea floor
Stargazers are fearsome hunters. They’re also pretty ugly.

Stargazers are a family of fish named for their upward-facing eyes. They live all over the world, including along the East Coast of the United States. They’re venomous and predatory and all-round unpleasant. You wouldn’t want one as a pet, that’s for sure.

There are a lot of ugly fish out there, though. Much more dangerous ones, too. What makes this one special? If they don’t look so bad, it’s because you’re seeing the whole thing. Like all great monsters, they’re at their scariest when you only catch a glimpse of them.

Fear Factor: The Face in the Sand!

Northern Stargazer face staring out of the sand
Stargazers love looking at the night’s sky. And at you, as you swim.

Stargazers are ambush hunters. They bury themselves in the sand with just their eyes poking out and wait for a fish to swim their way. When something gets close, they burst out and gobble it up before it even sees them coming. Then they disappear beneath the sand again. Sure sounds like a horror movie monster.

Imagine that next time you’re at the beach, and keep an eye out for a face staring up at you from the seafloor. Oh, and if you think you’re safe in the shallows, think again. These guys live in pretty much any depth of water. They show up every year in East Coast tourist spots like Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach.

2. Lamprey

Lamprey fish on rocks underwater
“Aw, look at it!” Just you wait, you’ll be screaming soon.

Predators are scary, sure, but nothing sends chills down your spine like a parasite. Even the word can get your hair standing on end. And Lampreys are the worst of them all. They’re ancient, hardy, and incredibly versatile. Saltwater or freshwater, lakes or rivers, shallows or depths ‒ they thrive in every environment. They even climb waterfalls as they head inland to mate. Nowhere’s safe.

Lampreys prey on fish, sucking the life out of them like a vampire and leaving round, oozing wounds that refuse to heal. They’ve been known to attack swimmers in the past, too. But the true horror is how they do it.

Fear Factor: Living Drill

Lamprey mouth
Lampreys really are the stuff of nightmares

Lampreys have a unique way of feeding. They attach themselves to their host with a sucking mouth and a ring of teeth. Once they’ve latched on, they bore into it with a barbed tongue and drain its blood. Picture the double-mouthed monster from “Alien” and you have a fair idea of how it works.

As if that wasn’t enough, they also secrete anticoagulants – blood thinners. The host doesn’t stand a chance and even after Lampreys move on, fish struggle to recover. We can’t overstate how horrible these guys are.

1. Goblin Shark

Pink Goblin Shark lying on a wooden floor
Calling this a “Goblin Shark” really isn’t fair to goblins. (Imgur, Unknown)

Everything about the Goblin Shark fish screams insanity. Its long nose gives it a hellish unicorn look. Its pink flesh makes it look like it’s got no skin. You can see how people used to believe in dragons and sea monsters when there are creatures like this out there.

As if all that wasn’t enough, this is the biggest fish on our list by far. For years, scientists thought they maxed out at around 13 feet. That was until 2000, when a giant female over 20 feet long was caught in the Gulf of Mexico. We still have no real idea just how big they’re capable of getting.

Fear Factor: Ballistic Bite

Goblin Shark eating a Red fish
Once you’ve seen a Goblin Shark eating, nothing else will scare you in the same way. (NHK)

Goblin Sharks are slow swimmers. They don’t chase their prey down. Instead, they hang silently in the water and use their noses to sense a fish’s electrical waves. When a fish gets close enough, the Goblin Shark’s jaws catapult right out from their mouth and snap shut, slicing into it or devouring it whole.

The Goblin Shark has a lot going for it in the horror department. It’s the perfect combination of everything that makes the ocean scary: big Sharks, grotesque monsters, and sharp teeth shooting towards you out of the dark.

And So Many More Scary Fish!

New species are always being discovered, and the deeper we look, the weirder they get. Who knows what’s still lurking down there? One thing’s for sure, there are more than a few monsters waiting for us.

All credit for this frightening fish list goes to Fishing Booker! https://fishingbooker.com/blog/9-scary-fish-to-haunt-your-dreams/

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