The weird world of fish stomachs

At the end of the day, I am always intrigued by what fish are actually eating in their natural environment. While we all have our own ideas about what we should use to capture them, fish remains the judge of whatever you put in front of them, and in some cases, I have found bizarre things inside them.

At the filleting bench, when all of the filleting is done, I like to line up all of the stomachs and work out what each fish has been feeding on. This can make a huge difference in improving your fishing skills and is fascinating to me.

Here are a few of the weirdest things I have found in recent memory

Upon opening up a large gurnard over 1.2kg, I find that the usual paddle crab prey is absent. These bigger specimens swap over to larger prey. Sometimes, seeing what fits in their small stomach can be wild. One gurnard had three huge red bandfish barely fitting inside its stomach. Yet it decided to eat my bait, too. Other gurnards have had whole flounder and even mantis shrimp, which have one of the quickest strikes in the animal kingdom. Gurnard take all of this in their stride and eat them anyway.

Kingfish are opportunistic feeders, and upon opening many recent fish I have kept, I was shocked to find a 95cm kingfish with 4 gurnards in its stomach, another with 3 blue cod, and finally, an 89cm fish that had been feeding on spotty sea perch and scarlet wrasse. Kingfish seem to have good taste for some of our best-eating species. Do not discount putting down a live gurnard (heaven forbid) or any small reef fish as live bait; this is the lesson here!

One particularly memorable fish was a brown trout from the Ngaruroro River in Hawkes Bay; I landed and kept the very fat and well-conditioned trout. Later on, when filleting it at home, I noticed that the stomach was not fat but had a big lump. I completed the fillets before opening up the stomach and discovered that this lump was a large rock. To this day, it still stumps why this fish would ingest a rock, let alone manage to swallow it. The rock was never going to be able to be expelled due to its size and barely would have made it down its throat!

Disappointingly, opening up stomachs also has me finding more and more pieces of plastic. I have found trout, in particular, with small pieces of plastic bag inside that they mistake for small insects. It’s a sad reminder that we all have a part to play in keeping rubbish out of the rivers and oceans.

If we want to keep eating fish, we should be more responsible with where our rubbish ends up in the long run.

I’m sure I will find plenty more wacky and wild things inside fish stomachs.

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