Lizard Fish Guide

The lizard fish is a common yet little-discussed resident of shallow coastal ocean waters. Often a fisherman who hooks one of these homely fish just lets it go. But are there reasons to hang on to them? Let’s find out more so you can judge for yourself.

Fish Profile: Lizard Fish Overview

A lizard fish on a rock.
Scientific name:Synodontidae
Other names:Grinners
Appearance:Slender body, mottled skin, toothy mouth
Diet:Other small fish and invertebrates
Average weight and length:1.5 lbs, 17 inches
Habitat:Sandy ocean bottom, coastal waters
Peak spawning:Spring
Behavior:Fast swimmer and excellent predator
Depth range:Shoreline to 1300 feet
Conservation status:Least concern

What Is a Lizardfish?

A lizardfish is a member of the Synodontidae family. Within the Synodontidae family, there are four genera and over 80 species. Many of which were recently discovered within the last ten years! The best-known species are the inshore lizardfish and a variety known as the Bombay duck.

Fun fact: The deep-sea lizardfish is not a member of the Synodontidae family but a part of the Aulopiformes.

What Does a Lizardfish Look Like?

Lizardfish are long, thin fish with a few unique characteristics that make them easy to identify.

They have a lizard-shaped head and a large mouth full of sharp teeth – even their tongue has teeth! They have a dorsal fin about halfway along the length of its back with a similar fin on the belly. Also notable is their mottled coloration, which often includes brown, grey, and black tones.

Most lizard fish are about 1 ½ feet long and weigh under two pounds. Their young have characteristic black abdominal spots that fade as they grow.

Where Are Lizardfish Found?

Lizardfish are spread over large portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Most live in shallow sandy areas where they blend in and have abundant prey. A few species inhabit water over 1000 feet deep, and the related deep ocean lizardfish is found two miles deep!

The inshore lizardfish can be found in the brackish water where freshwater meets the sea. However, no lizardfish are freshwater creatures. In the United States, the Gulf of Mexico is a prime location if you want to see or catch lizardfish.

What Do Lizard Fish Eat?

The lizardfish is an excellent predator and not a fussy eater. They may remain motionless along the ocean bottom, appearing to “sit” on a rock. Then, when a smaller fish swims past, they attack fast. With its mouth full of very sharp teeth, its prey doesn’t stand a chance.

Fun fact: Lizardfish may eat the bait intended for other fish varieties.

How Do Lizardfish Reproduce?

The female lays her eggs along the bottom, where they may fall into protected nooks among rocks and plants. The male will then release the sperm. In contrast, deep-sea lizardfish have both male and female reproductive organs. Therefore, they can mate with any other member of their species.

Lizardfish’s prime mating season is in the spring, with the second season in the fall.

How Do You Catch a Lizardfish?

For every fisherman wondering how to catch a lizardfish, several others probably wonder how to avoid catching lizardfish.

Since they are predators, they are attracted to pretty much any bait that an angler might cast their way. In turn, they are often themselves used as bait for larger ocean fish such as halibut. If you are trying to catch a lizardfish, they like pile worms or squid as bait. Make sure the bait is moving to catch their attention.

Lizardfish FAQ

Can You Eat a Lizardfish?

You certainly can eat lizardfish, and many people do, especially in India. The flavor is mild and the meat is flaky, making it a delightful dish.

Is the Lizardfish Poisonous?

No, the lizardfish is not poisonous. You can eat them or use them as bait without worry.

How Big Does a Lizardfish Get?

Most lizardfish get no bigger than 20 inches in length and about two pounds. The deep ocean varieties are reported to reach larger sizes but are rarely seen.

What Colors Are Lizardfish?

They are almost any color, including reds, blues, and greens, but mottled with brown, grey, or black.

How Will I Recognize a Lizardfish?

You can recognize a lizardfish by looking at its toothy mouth and long thin body.


The next time you are out ocean fishing, keep an eye out for that toothy grin! Lizardfish are an exciting family of fish found worldwide except at the poles. They are easy to recognize and easy to catch.