How To Catch Needlefish (For Bait, Food, Or Fun!)

Needlefish are long slender saltwater fish that have thin pointed snouts and mouths full of needle-like teeth. They can be found from Maine all the way down to Brazil. 

These fish are notoriously hard to hook due to their thin mouths and hard jaws, so in this article, I’ll be giving you all the tips on how to catch needlefish.

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Where To Find Needlefish

Needlefish are coastal fish and usually reside in shallow waters that are close to the shoreline.

They can be found along beaches, bays, and estuaries and will occasionally travel into fresh water. 

Needlefish like to hang out near structures such as docks, mangroves, and grass beds and are often seen congregating in small groups around these areas. They usually can be seen hunting or floating right at the surface. 

How to Catch Needlefish

What Tackle To Use For Catching Needlefish

Most Atlantic needlefish are pretty small, so a light to medium power rod is perfectly sufficient. I would pair this with a 1500-2500 size spinning reel spooled with a 10 to 20-pound line. Needlefish can fray leaders with their teeth, so I would stick to a 15-pound or greater leader line. 

Needlefish have very thin mouths, so using a small hook is required. Hooks that are size 5 and smaller are best when targeting them. 

Methods For Catching Needlefish

Needlefish are attracted to the scent of fresh bait and will happily take a free meal if it’s presented to them.

Live or Cut Bait

The key to catching needlefish with bait is to keep the bait where the fish are – on the surface. To do this it is best to free-line the bait without any weights. 

Just put a small piece of fresh bait on a small J-hook and let it float right at the surface. 

The needlefish will be attracted by the smell and move in on it. Needlefish eat by biting through a meal multiple times in order to break it into bite-sized pieces for their small mouths. 

Let the needlefish chew on the bait for as long as needed until they finally swallow it. Then give your rod a solid jerk in order to set the hook into the hard mouth of the needlefish.

The best baits for needlefish are small pieces of shrimp, squid strips, whole or cut minnows, and strips of baitfish such as pinfish or mullet.

Traditional Lures

Needlefish can also be caught on traditional lures such as spoons, plugs, and jigs.

They are not picky with their choice of lures and the important thing is that it can stay at the surface and is small enough to fit in their mouths. 

Some lures I would recommend for catching needlefish are small floating jerkbaits, tiny flutter spoons, and crappie jigs. 

Needlefish close up

Rope Lures

Another unusual but very effective method of catching needlefish is a rope lure. Rope lures have no hooks and instead rely on friction to secure the fish.

Rope lures can be as simple as one piece of rope, or have extra elements such as spinners.

At the end of the lure is a frayed piece of rope with many strands of smaller threads hanging off. When a toothy fish bites the threads, its teeth become tangled and locked in place. 

This is a great alternative to hooks because it has a larger zone to capture the mouth and doesn’t need to puncture the bony jaws of the needlefish 

Cast Net

If you don’t care about feeling the fight of the fish, the most reliable method to catch needlefish is with a cast net. Cast nets are throwable nets with weights around the edge to sink the net down and a rope to pull in your catch and close off the opening. 

Needlefish make easy targets for a cast net because they are almost always right at the surface and often group up together, allowing you to get multiple fish in one throw. 

What Do Needlefish Eat?

Needlefish primarily feed on other fish, usually small minnows that are under 2 inches such as silversides, glass minnows, and the fry of larger fish.

They also eat invertebrates such as shrimp and squid if the opportunity presents itself. 

Are Needlefish Good To Eat?

Needlefish have white and oily meat that is said to taste pretty good if you are a fan of oily fish, however, they are absolutely filled with pin bones and it is extremely difficult to remove them all, so you may be crunching through or spitting out small bones while eating them.

Why Catch Needlefish?

Needlefish are great fighters for their size and often shoot out of the water when they’re hooked. They are fairly abundant so they make a great fish to target when the usual game fish aren’t biting. Hooking one on light gear is always a fun experience.

They also make great bait for larger species whether it’s inshore or offshore fishing. In addition to this, they can be an easy way to fill a cooler if you really want to eat them.


Catching needlefish is definitely a learning process, so use these methods and pay close attention to their behavior, but once you get it down, get ready for aerobatic action and watch out for those chompers!

They’re great fun for beginner anglers, especially for kids, and they make a surprisingly good cut bait option.

Growing up in Florida, I’ve been surrounded by saltwater my entire life…and I love sharing my passion with others.

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