Can You Eat Ladyfish? Ladyfish 101 with Cooking Guideline

Let’s say you’ve been out on the water in the sun all day and you’ve encountered several ladyfish. It’s not an uncommon scenario if you are out fishing in Florida or anywhere on the Atlantic coast of the country. But the question is, can you eat Ladyfish?

To sate your curiosity, the short answer is yes, you can eat Ladyfish. However,  it’s quite different from your average fish on the table. Meaning that you can eat it, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to like it. But what makes Ladyfish different from other fish? Does it taste any good? Is it even worth trying in the first place?

Since you asked, we are going to dive deep to answer all your questions. You can find out about the taste, techniques for preparing and cooking, precautions on eating this fish, and more. Lastly, there’s a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section at the end to help clear out any of your confusion.

Let’s get right down to it then!

Ladyfish 101

First of all, here’s a quick rundown about the Ladyfish species to get started with.

Ladyfish are an inshore species. Meaning you will find them in bays, coastal flats, estuaries, and so on. While they can be found year-round, the location varies according to season. In spring, you can commonly find them throughout estuaries and bays. But they tend to stay away from the harsh sun by shifting to deeper waters in summer.

Ladyfish come in sizes of up to 3 feet and often weigh up to 5-7 pounds in the offshore area. They normally feed on silverside minnows, crustaceans, shrimp, crab, etc. But you might be surprised to know that when Ladyfish first hatch they do not live on any food. They directly absorb nutrients from the water like sponges.

Do People Eat Ladyfish?

Do People Eat Ladyfish_

As we mentioned in the introduction, you can definitely eat a Ladyfish. However, while it may be safe to eat, it isn’t something that the vast majority of people enjoy. Ladyfish has a unique taste and mushiness that isn’t like any other fish on the restaurant menus. It doesn’t pack much meat and the ratio of bone to meat is likely to disappoint you as well.

Hence, people like to consume it pressure-cooked, in a deep-fried patty, or in the form of fish cakes.

How Does it Taste?

As the adage goes, all fishes are not equal. It’s especially true for the Ladyfish. It doesn’t quite classify as a tasty fish and the texture of it is like no other fish you eat at the restaurant. A common complaint about the taste of Ladyfish that often comes up is – it has a mushy and oily taste.

Mushy? That’s Subjective

Most people describe Ladyfish as mushier than any other type of fish commonly consumed. It has crumbly meat, more crumble than canned tuna, but not too worse than mackerels. Other than that, it also doesn’t melt in your mouth and is much more fine-grained than you might expect from a fish.

If you are the type who likes firm and textured fish that melts in your mouth, Ladyfish might not be right for you.

Oily? It Certainly Is

The oiliness of the Ladyfish is quite overwhelming for most people trying it for the first time, not in a good way to be frank. The fat is a major contributor to the mushy or texture-less feel of it, and it’s the main reason people shy away from trying it for a second time.

That being said, the taste is subjective and it all comes down to personal liking. With the right chef, this oily fish can be handled. Pressure cooking and grilling are two common ways to reduce the oiliness of the Ladyfish.

The Bony Insides of a Ladyfish

The Ladyfish is known for having too many bones. Don’t let that disappoint you though, because it can still be consumed as long as you prepare it in the right way.

It’s not like the fish has a large spine or large bones. The problem is, they have too many tiny bones that are hard to separate from the meat. It takes quite some time to prepare and clean all the small bones. Flaked fish and pressure-cooked fish recipes are two easy ways to debone the fish. You can remove all the tiny bones manually as well, but filleting would be a tedious route.

So when you prepare a ladyfish for cooking, make sure that you spend some time removing as many bones as possible so that you don’t have to go looking for the prickly bones while munching your meal.

How Do You Prepare a Ladyfish?


Ladyfish aren’t really a popular food item, and very few anglers actually forage for them. In fact, it’s used more often as bait for catching other fish. Not many people would be able to tell you how to clean a ladyfish for cooking.

As for preparing the ladyfish for cooking, you can simply start filleting it like any other fish. But be sure to separate the thin layer of bones. Meat can easily be collected from the bones with the “spoon method”, where you gently scrape the fish with a spoon. Most of the meat should easily come off as you glide across.

If you don’t want to separate the bones though, you can just smoke or grill them well to eliminate the bones with heat.


Like most seafood, ladyfish are best when eaten fresh. You probably won’t be saving this species of fish for a holiday dinner, but they do freeze well. It’s an easy fish to can too. Just take off the fillet, collect the meat with a spoon, throw them in a pressure cooker with some seasonings or marinade, and you’re done.

Cooking Ladyfish

While ladyfish is not a common fish to be used in recipes, there are not many recipes available online. But you can just cook it like you would for any other normal fish. Deep frying with bread crumbs, using a pressure cooker, grilling – anything will work. So we won’t go into detailed recipes for today.

However, since it’s not exactly a tasty fish, you should definitely consider using some techniques to make it easier to consume. Seasonings are a must no matter which recipe you try. If you are using a frying pan, some chopped onion and lime juice can really help make the mushy meat taste better.

Recipes with a low amount of oil are definitely recommended since the ladyfish meat is oily enough in itself. Smoked or grilled ladyfish recipes also tend to be comparatively less oily. So it might be a good time to take out that smoker or barbeque if the fat is too much for your taste.

Is it Really Safe to Eat? Mercury Levels in Ladyfish


As we mentioned before, Ladyfish are safe to eat. Although it’s quite a task to remove the tiny bones of it, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. However, there’s one consideration on consuming this fish regularly – mercury levels.

With the industrial pollutions affecting the natural water sources, mercury has been detected in some types of saltwater fish. We did not find any exact information or numbers on the internet, but the ladyfish seems to be one of them. It doesn’t mean you have to stay away from it, but it is recommended that you only consume it sparingly. Pregnant women and children are discouraged from consuming anything with detected levels of mercury, so we do not recommend it for them.

Should you give Ladyfish a try?

So now that you know pretty much all about eating ladyfish and its pros and cons, you might be wondering, is Ladyfish worth a try?

After a long day of angling, if all you find are ladyfish, it’s worth a shot. It’s not disgusting or unhealthy in any way, but it’s also not particularly great in any aspect, as far as fish go at least.

Make sure you have enough time ahead if you do decide to try it out though, as it takes quite a while to prepare and clean this fish. You may not get as much meat as you would normally expect, but it can bring some variation to your table nonetheless. The recipe is a personal choice, but try to start with something simple. As we explained before, flaked fish or pressure-cooking methods are two great choices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ladyfish are often known as skipjack fish, fiddler, banana fish, long john, ten-pounder, or elopid.

Commonly used as a bait for larger fish, the ladyfish is a gamefish people like to refer to as the “Poor Man’s Tarpon”.  They are one of the most common targets for fly fishing and light tackle.

It has an elongated slender body with a pointed head. Coming from the Elopidae family of fish, this fish has a large mouth and eyes. The body has a compact oval cross-section and a large deeply forked tail.

Majority of the ladyfish caught by anglers are released into the water or used as bait for larger fish. Most anglers are commonly interested in their fight factor rather than their food value. However, many people do claim that they love to dig their teeth into the juicy meat of the ladyfish.

Although the ladyfish resemble the tarpon, they are two different species of fish. They are easy to differentiate from tarpon because of their distinct bony structure that’s visible externally between the lower jaws.


If you’ve read this far, you’ve already got the answer to the question that got us discussing Ladyfish in the first place – whether it’s edible or not.

Although you might often hear them being called “trash fish” by experienced anglers, catching ladyfish and cooking them can be quite enjoyable. They can be fun species of fish to catch and cook. With the right techniques and some cautions, you can make some really unique dishes with it. There are more desirable fish to eat, but the ladyfish are worth a shot if you are looking to experiment with something new.

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