Virginia Saltwater Fish – Unusual Species

northern puffer fish
Northern Puffer (swelling toad)

This article describes unusual and odd looking saltwater fish that are caught or seen by fishermen in Virginia.

Northern Puffers

The northern puffer is an odd looking fish that is caught in Virginia waters. Also known as swelling toad, blow toad, and blowfish, this species often inflates like a ball when threatened. Northern puffers are sometimes marketed as “sea squab.”


Burrfish are small relatives of puffers. These slow swimming fish inflate like puffers, but have an added armament of burr-like spikes.


The gray triggerfish is a reef species that is often caught in Virginia waters. These unusual fish have hard scales, rabbit-like teeth, and a locking dorsal fin spine that can only be lowered by moving the fish’s “trigger” fin.


The ribbonfish can be a surprise catch for Virginia anglers. Also known as cutlassfish or hairtail, ribbonfish have a long, ribbonlike body with bright silver coloration and fang-like teeth.

Traditionally a southern species, this oddly shaped fish has expanded into Virginia. Ribbonfish often travel in large schools along the coast and into the Chesapeake Bay and coastal estuaries.

Ribbonfish are caught by trolling, casting, jigging, or bait fishing. They readily attack any small lures that resemble baitfish.


The lizardfish is a small cigar-shaped fish with a large lizard-like mouth. Lizardfish are tan above and white below. This species is sometimes found together with flounder.

Sea Robin

The sea robin is a common for seaside flounder fishermen. These specialized fish have wing-shaped pectoral fins, spiny heads, and hard-scaled bodies.


The northern stargazer is sometimes caught by surf anglers and boat fishermen. Similar in appearance to the oyster toad, stargazers are said to be capable of generating electric shocks from organs on their head.


The pigfish often gets attention for its grunting sounds, which distinguishes it from similar species. Pigfish are caught around piers, rocks, and oyster bars.


Hake may be unfamiliar to some anglers. The red hake, also known as ling, features a slimy coating, chin barbel, and threadlike appendages on their pectoral fins. In the fall, red hake are caught along the surf, most often after dark. Red hake are also caught from deep ocean wrecks and other bottom features.

The spotted hake, a similar species, is sometimes caught in tidal rivers and coves of the lower Chesapeake Bay.


The houndfish often startles fishermen along the Virginia Coast and its seaside estuaries. This slender fish has a long slender head, needle-like teeth, and large eyes. Known for their leaping abilities, houndfish are hard to land when hooked.


The windowpane is occasionally caught by flounder fishermen in Virginia. Also known as sand flounder, this species is much wider in proportion to its length than summer flounder.


The monkfish or angler fish is a fearsome looking creature that is caught most often on deep water wrecks. This fish has a huge mouth, sharp teeth, large eyes, and slimy coating.

Ocean Sunfish

The ocean sunfish, or Mola Mola, is a large, oddly shaped ocean dweller that is often seen off the Virginia coast. These docile fish are often seen basking on the surface.