Discover The Largest Barracuda Ever Caught In California

Aggressive Animal: Barracuda
© aquapix/Shutterstock.com

Written by Patrick Sather

Updated: May 8, 2023

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The barracuda is one of the most fearsome-looking saltwater fish in the world. With their long, torpedo-shaped bodies and prominent, sharp teeth, barracudas appear like meat missiles designed to kill. Sport fishers all over the world prize barracuda for their large size, strength, and ferocious nature. You can find barracudas in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, including off the coast of California. That said, what’s the largest barracuda ever caught in California? Keep reading to find out!

5 Amazing Barracuda Facts

  • A barracuda can accelerate up to 36 miles per hour from a complete standstill in just a few seconds. 
  • Barracudas rely on their natural camouflage, speed, and ambush tactics to surprise their prey. 
  • Young barracudas often congregate in groups, while adult barracudas are almost always solitary hunters. 
  • Barracudas possess excellent eyesight and can easily track small changes in color or movement when tracking prey. 
  • A barracuda features prominently in Pixar’s film Finding Nemo, as the film depicts a barracuda attacking Marlin’s family at the start of the movie, leaving only Nemo’s damaged egg behind after it’s done feeding. 

About The Barracuda

Barracudas belong to the genus Sphyraena, the sole genus in the family Sphyraenidae. The name likely derives from the Ancient Greek word σφῦρα (sphûra), meaning “hammer” or “mallet.” Whether this name is meant to refer to the barracuda’s shape or ferocious nature is unknown. Meanwhile, the common name barracuda comes from Spanish. The original meaning of the name remains unknown, but it could be of Caribbean origin. Another theory suggests it comes from barraco in the Catalan dialect, meaning “snaggletooth.” This theory makes sense, given the barracuda’s irregular, prominent teeth. 

The Great Barracuda

Anglers all over the world prize barracuda for their large size, strength, and ferocious nature.

©Itstvan Kovacs/Shutterstock.com

Barracuda Distribution And Habitat

You can find barracudas worldwide in subtropical and tropical waters. In the western Atlantic, they range from the coasts of New England to the waters of Brazil. You can find them in the Eastern Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Barracudas also live throughout the Eastern Pacific and the Indo-Pacific. 

Most barracudas live close to shorelines. Habitats where you can commonly find barracudas include coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. However, some species – such as the great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) – can live in brackish water. They tend to spend most of their time near the surface but can inhabit depths of up to 330 feet. 

Barracuda Predators And Prey

Adult barracuda have few natural predators due to their size and strength. Predators of barracudas include sharks, tuna, dolphins, killer whales, and Goliath groupers. These animals measure large enough and possess enough strength to match the power of a barracuda. 

Barracudas are opportunistic carnivores that primarily prey on smaller fish. Their diet consists mainly of snappers, herring, anchovies, jacks, and groupers. A barracuda can generate enough power with its jaws that it can easily bite its prey in half. They rely on their quick eyesight to single out and track prey. Once they have their prey in sight, they will accelerate extremely quickly to chase down their prey before it can get away. While they normally hunt alone, barracudas will occasionally hunt in packs, particularly younger barracudas. 

Average Barracuda Size

Barracudas vary in size depending on the species. Some species, such as the northern barracuda (Sphyraena borealis), measure just 18 inches long on average. Meanwhile, the largest species, the great barracuda, can measure 6 feet long at maximum. In the wild, barracudas typically measure between 2 and 4 feet long and weigh 10 to 20 pounds. 

What’s The Largest Barracuda Ever Caught In California?

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife keeps track of the largest fish ever caught in the state. It divides its angling records by method of catch, keeping records for fish caught on a line and those caught while free diving. 

To date, the largest barracuda ever caught in California on a line measured 15 pounds, 15 ounces. C.O. Taylor caught this massive Pacific barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) near San Onofre, San Diego, on August 24, 1957

Oddly enough, the largest barracuda ever caught in California while free diving was caught just a few weeks earlier. This 14-pound, 7-ounce record-setting barracuda was caught near Catalina Island, Los Angeles, on August 1, 1957, by Duke Pawlowicz.  

The largest barracuda ever caught in California on a line measured 15 pounds, 15 ounces.

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The Largest Barracuda Ever Caught In The World

The record for the largest barracuda ever caught anywhere in the world belongs to Texas resident Thomas Gibson, Jr. A prolific fisher, Gibson caught his share of record-setting fish throughout his lifetime. His accolades include the Louisiana tarpon record, which he held for nearly 20 years. However, the one record he still holds is his record-setting barracuda catch. 

Gibson Jr. caught a massive Guinean barracuda (Sphyraena afra) on February 14, 2013, during a fish trip near the mouth of the Cuanza River in Angola. He traveled to Angola to fish for tarpon, which he did in earnest, catching nearly 28 tarpon during his 7-day fishing trip. At one point, he and his fishing partner decided to troll the waters to find a tarpon that broke one of his lines. That’s when he snagged a giant barracuda. After a 10-minute fight, Gibson Jr. hauled the big barracuda on board his boat and realized he’d caught a monster fish.

Gibson Jr.’s record-setting barracuda weighed 102 pounds, 8 ounces, and weighed 6 feet, 10 inches long. The IGFA recognized the barracuda as the largest ever caught, just beating out a 101-pound, 3-ounce barracuda caught in 2002 in Gabon. 

Where Is San Onofre, California Located On A Map?

San Onofre is in the southern part of the state, in the northern part of San Diego County, in between Camp Pendleton and San Clemente. California is located in the Western United States along the Pacific Coast. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the north, Arizona and Nevada to the east, and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south.

How Do You Catch A Barracuda?

You can catch barracudas using various methods and techniques. Most anglers targeting barracuda use one of three methods: sea spinning, drifting, or trolling. 

Barracudas often require a lot of coaxing, which means moving the lure at the right speed to attract the fish. For this reason, trolling and drifting are two of the most popular barracuda fishing methods, as they allow the angler to cover a lot of water to catch a barracuda’s attention.

When using a sea spinning setup, you’ll want to opt for a heavy spinning rod. You should pair the rod with several hundred yards of braid as well as a wire leader. The wire leader is important to counteract the barracuda’s sharp teeth. 

In terms of bait, glide baits and topwater baits can both prove effective when fishing for barracuda.  

You can catch barracudas using various methods and techniques, including sea spinning, drifting, and trolling. 

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Where To Find Barracuda In California

You can find Pacific barracudas all along the coast of California. They range from the Gulf of California and Baja California north to the Gulf of Alaska. The greatest concentrations tend to occur between Baja California and southern California. That said, their distribution can vary depending on the time of year and climate conditions. During particularly warm water years, Pacific barracudas may migrate toward northern California. 

Like other barracudas, California barracudas tend to live close to shore and near the surface. You can often find them near bays and inlets at depths of up to 125 feet. In some spots, you can even fish for barracuda from piers, such as the Oceanside Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Venice Pier, and Cabrillo Mole on Catalina Island. 

Can You Eat A Barracuda?

In addition to being popular game fish, barracudas are also popular in many regional cuisines. Most people choose to prepare barracuda meat in the form of steaks or fillets. In West Africa, barracuda meat is often smoked and used in sauces and soups. Other popular dishes include fried barracuda with plantains or baked barracuda with seasonal vegetables. While not the prettiest fish, barracuda meat actually tastes pretty good. Many people claim it possesses a mild sweetness similar to wild tuna.

Unlike some fish, you should not eat raw barracuda. Barracudas can sometimes cause ciguatera fish poisoning, a type of food poisoning. While rare, ciguatera food poisoning can cause limb weakness, intestinal discomfort, and temperature irregularities.   

Are Barracuda Dangerous?

Although they look like they can do some damage, barracuda are typically not dangerous to humans. This holds especially true for the smaller species like the Pacific barracuda found off the coast of California. 

Generally speaking, barracudas do not view humans as prey. Most recorded barracuda attacks occurred as a result of someone startling a barracuda. While barracudas can bite when threatened, their bites typically are not life-threatening. That said, their strong jaws and razor-sharp teeth can cause lacerations that require stitches or other serious injuries. 


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