How to Fish for Ribbonfish: Expert Techniques and Tips


Fishing for ribbonfish can be an exciting and unique experience for beginner and experienced anglers alike. These elongated silver fish are known for their striking appearance and powerful bite. In this article, I will share some tips and techniques on how to fish for ribbonfish, helping you make the most of your time on the water.

First, let’s discuss the ideal equipment to use for ribbonfish. A spinning rod and reel around 6.5 to 7 feet in length with medium action is best suited for this task. A size 2/0 long shank hook will ensure a secure hookset when dealing with the powerful bite of a ribbonfish. Since these fish have sharp teeth, a wire leader is essential to prevent bite-offs. Apart from these specific items, ribbonfish don’t require any special gear or lures; they are often attracted to plugs, spoons, and even shrimp or fish chunks.

Fishing for ribbonfish at night can increase your chances of success, as they are often attracted to light. By connecting an underwater fluorescent night light to your boat’s battery with alligator clips, you can create a glow that lures the fish closer. With the right equipment, techniques, and some patience, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of fishing for ribbonfish.

Understanding Ribbonfish

Habitat and Distribution

I have learned that ribbonfish, also known as cutlassfish, are found in various marine environments. They are typically found in coastal waters and occasionally offshore waters, mostly in subtropical and temperate regions around the world.

Ribbonfish prefer to dwell near the surface, especially during the night but are capable of diving into deeper water to feed and avoid predators during the day. They are often seen in schools near the surface, which is when they are most vulnerable to being caught by anglers.

Physical Characteristics

As for the appearance of ribbonfish, they have elongated and laterally compressed bodies which contribute to their unique, ribbon-like shape. Their bodies are often silvery and covered in reflective scales that serve as camouflage against predators. Ribbonfish have long dorsal and anal fins that run almost the entire length of their bodies.

One interesting feature I discovered is that ribbonfish have barb-like teeth which are similar to those on fish hooks. This helps them capture their prey and prevents escape. Ribbonfish can grow up to around 4 feet in length but most typically range between 1 to 2 feet. Their diet primarily consists of small fish and invertebrates.

When fishing for ribbonfish, it is essential to be aware of their habitat, distribution, and physical characteristics so that an angler can increase their chances of success. Knowledge of these factors will have a significant impact on the overall fishing experience and the potential catch.

Choosing Your Fishing Gear

Rod and Reel Selection

When I go fishing for ribbonfish, I personally recommend using a spinning rod and reel around 6.5 to 7 feet in length. A medium action rod works great in most situations, providing enough sensitivity to detect bites and enough strength to handle the powerful bite of a ribbonfish. It’s important to choose a reel with a smooth drag system, as ribbonfish can make sudden runs when hooked.

Line and Leader Material

For my main line, I usually opt for 20 to 30-pound braided line, as it offers great sensitivity and low stretch, allowing for better hook sets. As for the leader material, I typically use 30 to 40-pound fluorocarbon, which is nearly invisible underwater and provides good abrasion resistance. A length of 2 to 3 feet is sufficient for leaders.

Suitable Lures and Baits

There are several lures and baits that work well when targeting ribbonfish:

  • Jig Heads: Ribbonfish can be attracted by colorful jig heads with a weight between ½ oz and 1 oz, and a size 2/0 to 4/0 hook.
  • Soft Plastics: Soft plastic lures such as swim shads, curly-tailed grubs, or paddle-tail minnows are effective when paired with the right jig head.
  • Live or Cut Bait: Using live or cut bait such as squid, shrimp, menhaden, or even small ribbonfish can be an effective strategy for targeting ribbonfish.

It’s important to note that you should use a stinger rig when fishing with live or artificial baits, allowing for better hook sets and reducing the chances of losing fish during the fight.

To summarize, choosing the appropriate gear for ribbonfish fishing can make a big difference in your success on the water. A medium action rod, 20-30 lb braided line with a 30-40 lb fluorocarbon leader, and suitable lures and baits like jig heads, soft plastics, or live/cut bait with a stinger rig will help maximize your chances of catching ribbonfish.

Timing and Locations

Seasonal Patterns

In my experience, ribbonfish, also known as cutlassfish or hairtail, are usually active during specific seasons. Juvenile ribbonfish are often found closer to the sea floor during the day, and they move to the surface to feed on small prey at night. Adult ribbonfish tend to travel in schools, which can sometimes appear on the surface to feed on baitfish.

Ideal Fishing Spots

To increase my chances of catching ribbonfish, I look for areas where they are plentiful. These spots can include the following:

  • Near underwater structures, like wrecks or reefs, as ribbonfish use these areas for hiding and locating prey
  • Areas with high concentrations of baitfish, since ribbonfish are attracted to them as a food source

When fishing for ribbonfish, I find it helpful to use a medium-action spinning rod and reel around 6.5 to 7 feet in length. I also use a size 2/0 long shank hook to ensure a good hookset.

Ribbonfish Fishing Techniques


I prefer to start my ribbonfish fishing adventure by trolling. They willingly hit both plugs and spoons, so I like to use these lures, either cast or trolled. It’s important for me to have a trace of wire leader to prevent bite-offs, as ribbonfish have sharp teeth. I use a 30 to 40-pound monofilament leader attached to my 2/0 hook or lure.

When trolling, I keep an eye on the depth of my lure, as ribbonfish tend to be found at varying depths depending on their hunting patterns. Adjusting the speed of the boat and the amount of line out can help me find the perfect trolling speed for enticing ribbonfish to bite.


When I’m done trolling or want to try a more passive approach, I shift to drifting. For this method, I still use the lures mentioned before – plugs and spoons. Sometimes, I also use fish or shrimp chunks as bait, depending on what’s available.

With my rod secured in a holder, I allow the boat to drift and let the currents move my bait and lures through the water. This can entice ribbonfish, as it creates a natural presentation of the bait. It’s important to remember to maintain the wire trace on my leader to avoid bite-offs.

Vertical Jigging

Finally, vertical jigging is another technique I find effective for catching ribbonfish. I like to use a six-inch trace of number three wire when jigging to ensure my line doesn’t get bitten off. I drop my jig to the bottom or the layer where the ribbonfish are known to be, and then retrieve it with a rapid up-and-down motion.

This creates an enticing swimming action that can attract ribbonfish. Vertical jigging can be especially effective when ribbonfish are schooling, as the erratic motion of the jig can draw them in.

In summary, utilizing different fishing methods like trolling, drifting, and vertical jigging can all play a part in successful ribbonfish catching. Combining these techniques with the right gear, such as wire leaders and suitable lures, can make my fishing experience more enjoyable and productive.

Handling Ribbonfish


When I’m landing a ribbonfish, I make sure to use a long-handled net to avoid getting cut by their sharp teeth. It’s important to handle them carefully, as their powerful bite can cause injury. Once I’ve successfully netted the fish, I place it in a bucket or cooler filled with water to keep it fresh before moving on to the next stage.


Before I start cleaning a ribbonfish, I put on a pair of protective gloves to prevent any accidents with their sharp teeth. Then, I remove the head by cutting it off just behind the gill plates. Next, I carefully fillet the fish, starting at the tail and working my way up to the head. The centerline bone can be easily removed, leaving me with two clean fillets. I then trim away any remaining rib bones and rinse the fillets under cold water to remove any debris.

  • Step 1: Put on protective gloves
  • Step 2: Remove the head
  • Step 3: Fillet the fish
  • Step 4: Remove the centerline bone
  • Step 5: Trim away rib bones
  • Step 6: Rinse fillets


With the ribbonfish cleaned and filleted, there are various ways I like to prepare them for a meal. One of my favorite methods is pan-frying the fillets. I simply season them with salt, pepper, and any other desired spices, then cook them quickly in a hot frying pan with a bit of oil for just a few minutes on each side. They can also be enjoyed raw or used in sushi, but be sure that they are fresh and properly cleaned. Another popular option is to bake the fillets and then stuff them with a tasty filling such as crab meat or seasoned rice before rolling them up and serving them. Here are a few popular preparation methods:

  • Pan fry: Season fillets and cook in a hot frying pan for a few minutes on each side.
  • Sushi: Ensure fillets are fresh and properly cleaned before using raw.
  • Stuffed ribbon rolls: Bake fillets, stuff with filling, roll, and serve.
Captain Tyler Brady

Captain Tyler Brady

Hi, I'm Captain Tyler Brady, founder of A Fellow Fisherman. Thank you for reading this post and visiting my site. I strive to provide the best information when it comes to fishing, whether it is myself or A Fellow Fisherman that is part of my team. Now stop reading and GO fishing!

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