What fish is that?! Books to help identify fish species

There are so many different species of fish in the sea that anglers who are regularly on the water can sometimes pull up a fish they struggle to identify.  People new to the sport of fishing are even more prone to catching something falling outside the popular species they may not recognise.  


If you're fishing for the plate you want to be aware of what fish may or may not be edible.  While these species form a lesser percentage of the overall fish population some fish can kill, some can make you gravely ill and some carry the chance of passing toxins which can have you feeling nauseous, vomiting or needing hospitalisation. On the other side a lack of familiarisation with what you have caught may cause you to throw a fish back that has first-class eating qualities!

Fishing regulations are another reason to be familiar with your catch.  A lack of knowledge could find you innocently keeping undersized fish or holding on to numbers of fish which take you over the bag limit.

Swallowtail - the 'knight in sharp armour'

Also some fish have the equivalent military hardware of a U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat. Flathead, for example, are armed with a series of spikes on the top and side of their heads which are loaded with an anti-clotting agent making puncture wounds difficult to stop bleeding. Swallowtail have razor sharp body armour and estuary cod have sharp blade-like protrusions called gill rakers which will have your hands looking like they've had a run-in with Freddy Krueger if you're not careful.

There is a range of information available on fish species online, for sale at your local tackle store or given away in brochure format by the respective fisheries departments in your home State.  In this series of articles we'll have a brief look at some of the resources available in hard copy and online that anglers can use to help grow their understanding of fish species.

The book
Sea Fishes of Southern Australia by Barry Hutchins and Roger Swainston is a guide to fish you are likely to find from Kalbarri in Western Australia around the bottom of the sunburned country, Tasmania, and through to Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales. 

It has 150 pages of information and it is illustrated with colour drawings by Roger Swainston, an excellent West Aussie artist based in Fremantle (www.rogerswainston.com). The book is written by Dr Barry Hutchins, a well respected marine biologist who retired from the Western Australian museum in 2007 after 35 years of service.

The book doesn't only cover fish species. You'll also find information on a range of other topics such as how to photograph fish, dangerous fish, fish deformities and a valuable edibility guide. The guide is best used as an indicator rather than a definite point of view though as everyone has different culinary preferences.



Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-East Asia by Gerry Allen covers species found in the top half of the country and up into Asia.  It holds over 240 pages of information and like the above mentioned book there are a range of other topics covered including how fish are classified, dangerous fish, photographing fish and edibility ratings for all relevant species.

Australian Fish Guide by Frank Prokop not only contains details on over 300 of our popular sport fish it includes rigs and techniques for catching them as well as covering both fresh and saltwater species. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and Sea Fishes of Southern Australia are based around oceanic species.

If you are a land-locked fisherman then
Freshwater Fishes of Australia, another publication by Frank Prokop, is likely to help.  This book provides information and illustrations of every freshwater fish currently known in Australia.  It explains the scientific information available: name, life cycles, distribution, habitat etc and the ever important edibility ratings.


These are four readily available books which can help build a knowledge or provide the answer to the question - "what fish is that?!"  It's not a definitive guide, other publications are available which provide more localised content and some display photographs of fish rather than illustrations, but these are popular, generic and easily accessible books.

All books are available for around $30 each and should be available in most tackle stores or dive shops.

In the next article we'll look through some of the online resources available for species information and identification.

Written by Ben Derecki for Seabreeze.com.au