Types of Grunt Fish: A Complete Guide

There are more than 100 different types of grunt fish. So, if you are saltwater fishing for the first time, you’ll most likely have a hard time properly identifying each one. Each fish has different regulations too.

Before you pay an expensive fine, here is our complete guide to the most common types of grunt you’ll come across during your fishing trips.

Fish Profile: Grunt Fish Overview

Grunt fish have a unique shape that makes them appear front-heavy due to their ability to make grunting noises. They do so by grinding their teeth to produce the sound. Their bodies are laterally compressed, helping them easily swim through tight spaces.

There are many subspecies of grunt fish that include White grunt fish, Blue-striped, French, Key west grunt, Yellow grunt fish, and more. Some have blue stripes, while others have, yellow, silver, and copper scales. Their colorful scales transition to white on the underbelly.

This carnivorous fish stalks seagrass beds during the night foraging for their prey. The grunt fish diet consists of crustaceans, occasional small fish, and bivalves. 

During the day, they find refuge around coral reefs as protection against predators. You can find them around structures like docks, coral reefs, and mangroves in brackish water. 

Types of Grunt Fish

There might be 150 different types of grunt fish, but fishermen target only a few – either for bait or fishkeeping. Here are the most common types of grunt fish you’ll find in the ocean. Some of them are safe to eat, while others are poisonous.

White Grunt

A school of White grunt swimming
Scientific Name Haemulon plumierii
Other NamesCommon grunt, redmouth
AppearanceSilver-gray body with blue and yellow stripes on head and body
Ave. weight & lengthMost are 1.5 pounds and 15 inches in length
HabitatShoreline to reef edges, any irregular bottoms from depths of 80 to 115 feet. Juvenile white grunts are common in seagrass beds. 
RangeVirginia to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Bermuda
Game QualityReally Good
Conservation StatusLeast concern

The White grunt fish is an underappreciated and overlooked species when it comes to sport fishing, and consumption. Their meat is of good quality and can be found fresh in markets. It is also a key part of a historic Floridian dish “Grits and Grunts.” 

Anglers don’t normally target them but are unintentionally caught when targeting other species such as snappers, groupers, and triggerfish. They’re not the largest fish in the sea or brackish-water at an average of 15 inches in length and 1.5 pounds. 

However, it is not unheard-of catching ones of unusually large sizes from 4 to 6 pounds. They are fun to catch, and charter boats will use manual or electric reels over the outer reef edge to catch white grunts. 

This species has earned the nickname redmouth and ruby red lips from the vibrant red coloring on the inside of its mouth. The White grunt is named such for its silvery sides and its ability to make grunting sounds by grinding its teeth. 

If you are curious about the taste of a White grunt, its white, flaky flesh has a mild flavor, which some say is like black bass.

Blue-Striped Grunt

A close-up picture of a Blue Striped Grunt
Scientific Name Haemulon sciurus
Other NamesBoar grunt, golden grunt, humpback grunt
AppearanceBright blue stripes from head to tail, yellow body
Ave. weight & length10 to 14 inches and 1.7 pounds
HabitatMangroves, reefs, and coral and rocky substrates at depths to 98 feet.
RangeSouth Carolina to Brazil, Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean
Game QualityGood
Conservation StatusLeast concern

The Blue-Striped Grunt fish is a beautifully colored fish with its golden yellow body and bright blue stripes. They sport the same bright red mouth as the French and White grunt as well. It is because of this that this species is fished primarily for aquarium usage. 

They are not a typical sportfish and are only sought for fish tank purposes or being sold fresh in markets for consumption. 

They stay on the smaller side for size with their maximum length being 18 inches. These grunts are carnivores and will feed on smaller prey, including invertebrates, shrimp, small fish, and bivalves in areas of seagrass and mangrove habitats.

Expert Tip: Grunt fish are sensitive to line, so using a lead weight to carry your bait all the way to the bottom is ideal for getting them to bite. Keep in mind that you should let the line move freely through the weight.

French Grunt

A French Grunt in an aquarium
Scientific Name Haemulon flavolineatum
Other NamesBanana grunt, gold laced grunt, open-mouthed grunt
AppearanceWhite to blueish or yellow with vibrant yellow to orange stripes
Ave. weight & length0.5 to 1 pound, and 6 to 8 inches
HabitatCoral reefs, ledges, seagrass beds in bays and lagoons. Found in shallow waters to depths of 197 feet
RangeSouth Carolina, Northern Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, Bermuda, Central America to West Indies
Game QualityExcellent
Conservation StatusNot yet evaluated

When it comes to catching saltwater panfish, the French grunt fish is highly popular because of their small size and bright bronze or yellow and blue color. 

Like other grunt fish, they’re active at night when feeding and school together during the day. French grunts also typically feed on clams, krill, shrimp, and small hermit crabs, which is good to keep in mind because using their natural prey as bait will give you the most success at catching them. 

Expert Tip: When fishing for French grunts, use their natural prey as baits. You should also opt for an extra-light tackle as they are sensitive to the line and small. 

They are also good to eat and can be found fresh in markets, but they are also extremely popular in aquariums and saltwater fish tanks.


A Pigfish on sand
Scientific Name Orthopristis chrysoptera
Other NamesPiggy perch, piggy, grunt
AppearanceMottled brown or gray body with irregular vertical bars and small orange or blue markings
Ave. weight & length2 pounds and 6 to 12 inches
HabitatShallow coastal waters with sand or mud bottoms, grassy beds and edges of channels
RangeAs far north as Cape Cod, most common south of Chesapeake Bay 
Game QualityExcellent
Conservation StatusLeast concern

The Pigfish are in the same family as other grunt fish, but they look a little different. They’re called pigfish because they squeal like a pig when you catch them.  

They come in at a smaller size on average between 6 and 12 inches, but they can get up to lengths of 19 inches and weigh from 1 to 5 pounds. 

Expert tip: You can use Pigfish as baitfish to catch larger fish. 

Much like grunts in their family, you can find Pigfish around structures like seagrass beds, docks, piers, and drop-offs. It is best to use a two-hook bottom rig with peeled shrimp or bloodworms to catch them. However, you can also catch them using plugs or small jigs too.

Black Margate

Two Black Margate grunt swimming
Scientific Name Anisotremus surinamensis
Other NamesPiggy perch, piggy, grunt
AppearanceSilvery sides with black tipped scales, and black fins and tail
Ave. weight & length12 to 17 inches and 3 to 8 pounds
HabitatSteep sloping bottoms, rocky substrates or rocky reefs at depths to 65 feet
RangeFlorida, Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, Bahamas, and Caribbean
Game QualityVery good
Conservation StatusNot yet evaluated

Anglers commonly target the Black Margate during the spawning season in spring. The best way to catch them is drift fishing using baits like fish, squid, or cut clams. This method is effective because they will gather in shallower water and in large schools than where they are usually found, which is 65 ft down steep sloping bottoms. 

This species is one of the largest fish in the grunt fish family – it reaches up to 30 inches in length and 13 pounds. This makes them a lot of fun to catch, and you have enough meat to make fillets!


A school of Tomtate, a type of grunt
Scientific Name Haemulon aurolineatum
Other NamesBrown grunt
AppearanceGray to tan back, brown or yellowish stripe from head to tail, bright orange mouth, dark spot at base of tail
Ave. weight & length1 pound and get 5.5 to 10 inches
HabitatCoral and rock reefs at depths of 100 feet
RangeNorth Carolina to Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Brazil
Game QualityGood
Conservation StatusLeast concern

Tomtate are the smallest of the grunt fish family, making them excellent panfish for anglers to catch and use as bait. You’ll want to use light tackle and small hooks baited with cut shrimp, squid, or fish. 

Tomtate is oftentimes confused with blue-striped, white, and French juvenile grunt fish. All of which eventually lose the dark spot marking at the base of the tail, while the tomtate does not. They also feature the same bright red coloring inside of the mouth and previously listed grunts as well. 

They function as great indicators of larger predatory fish being nearby as they scatter in their presence


A school of Porkfish swimming
Scientific Name Anisotremus virginicus
Other NamesParagrate grunt, Atlantic porkfish
AppearanceDark bar from top of head to mouth, yellow and silver stripes, bright yellow fins
Ave. weight & length4 ounces to 2 pounds and 6 to 15 inches
HabitatReefs and rocky bottoms at depths of 6 to 65 feet
RangeFlorida to Brazil, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean to Bahamas, and Bermuda
Game QualityVery good
Conservation StatusNot listed as endangered or vulnerable

Porkfish are another species that is common in aquariums and fish tanks, but they are also popular sportfish as well. If you want to catch Porkfish, you should use a light tackle, natural baits like shrimp or worms and jigging. 

Expert Tip: If you are fishing for White grunt fish, don’t be surprised to reel in Porkfish too! These two types of grunt often swim together. 

Similar to all other grunts, they are active at night, preying on crustaceans, worms, and mollusks. They also travel in large schools during the day to protect themselves from predation. 

Alert: They are nt ideal for eating as they have been linked to ciguatera poisoning that causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and more. They are better for catching and releasing or observing while on diving excursions.

Grunt Fish FAQs

Is a Grunt Fish a Snapper?

Grunt fish are similar to and often mistaken for snappers and vice versa, but they are separate species. Grunts lack the canine teeth that snappers are known for. They are also much smaller and feature a deeper notch in their tail fin. Besides grunt fish also make the sound they’re named after while snappers do not. 

Why Are Grunts Called Grunt Fish?

Grunts are called such because all species make a sound much like grunting. They do this by grinding their pharyngeal teeth together. The sound is actually amplified because their swim bladder is kept taut. Pigfish make a very similar sound which makes it easy for people to confuse the two. 

Is Grunt Fish Good to Eat?

Most grunt fish are good to eat and are sold in markets. In fact, white grunt fish are used in a historic Floridian meal called “grits and grunts.” Even though many are good to eat, it is important to do your research because there are toxic species in the grunt fish family. 

It’s a Wrap, Grunts!

Properly identifying the species, you are fishing for is the most important thing for an angler to do. There are different regulations and restrictions on each one, especially if you are catching them to eat. The guide we’ve provided above should help you to have a better understanding and knowledge of some of the most popular grunts.