The Weirdest, Wildest, and Rarest Fish of 2021
Some of the world's most unusual creatures live underwater. These are the strangest fish that we wrote about this year
It’s been a hell of a year for unusual fish. Granted, these aren’t the biggest fish of the year—and many of the stories behind them don’t even involve any actual fishing—but that doesn’t make them less interesting. If anything, what makes these fish so interesting is that they’re so strange or rare they’ll make you do a double-take when you see them. From a mutant carp to a “demonfish” to monstrous sunfish, here are the 10 weirdest fish of the year.
Read Next: The Best Fishing Records of 2021
1) Biggest Sawfish of All Time
Sawfish are a rare species of fish characterized by distinctive, saw-life “rostrums” that they use as a weapon and a digging tool. This spring, a 16-foot monstrosity washed up on shore in the Florida Keys. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation biologists estimate the beast weighed 800 to 1,000 pounds—and say it’s the largest sawfish on record. Sawfish are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists could not pinpoint a cause of death for the large sawfish.
2) Angler Catches Rare Mutant Carp
Connecticut angler Jimmy Ayala caught what some consider a “double mutant” carp. The fish has the traits of both the fantail carp and the mirror carp, which are mutations of the common carp. State officials say they don’t know how a fish with both morphs occurs—but it’s quite the sight to behold.
3) Beachgoers Find a Mysterious Moonfish
A 100-pound opah washed ashore at a beach in Oregon. Opah, also known as “moonfish,” are the only fully warm-blooded species of fish known to scientists today. They’re typically found deep in the ocean, and why such a large specimen was found dead on a beach remains a mystery. A group of students dissected the big specimen this fall.
4. The #Demonfish, Which Was Actually a Sheepshead
“I’m not sure what this weird-looking fish is, but this is why I won’t swim in canals or rivers,” said TikTok user Frankie Nickole, when she posted a video of a fish she called a “#demonfish.” The fish, which boasts a set of freakishly human-like fish, is actually a common sheepshead. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not still a total weirdo.
5) Tennessee Piebald Catfish
You don’t see a catfish like this every day. There were a number of notable “piebald” catfish caught this year, but this one is hands-down one of the most stunning—and odd-looking. Rocco Mansueto caught the rare fish, which likely has leucism resulting in the partial loss of pigmentation, while on a fishing charter on the Tennessee River. “I’ve never had a client catch a piebald catfish before,” said charter Captain Joe Jellison, who put his client onto the fish. “They are quite rare—one-in-a-million chance of getting one.”
6) Biggest Sunfish Ever?
This is a straight-up sea monster. In October, a commercial tuna boat found an unexpected creature in one of their nets—a 10.5-foot-long, 9.5-foot-wide southern sunfish. Researchers from the University of Seville’s Estrecho Marine Biology Station responded to the incident. They pulled the beast out of the water with a crane and snapped a couple of photos before safely releasing it back into the ocean. “We tried to put it on the 2,204.6-pound scale but it was too heavy. It would’ve broken it,” said marine biologist Enrique Ostale. “Based off its corpulence and compared with other catches, it must’ve weighed around 2 tons…I was stunned.”
7) German Angler Lands a Wels Catfish
You’ve probably never laid eyes on a wels catfish before, let alone caught one. Well… German angler Martin Glatz landed this stunner while fishing at a lake in the Netherlands with his twin brother. He calls his catch a “mandarin catfish,” which is how some European anglers refer to leucitic wels catfish. It’s as yellow as a school bus.
8) A Lancetfish from “The Twilight Zone”
A Southern California sportfishing charter company out of Orange County posted a video of a live lancetfish—a species that typically lives in the depths of the ocean but that washed up on a local beach. The lancetfish is a long, needle-shaped creature with a gaping mouth filled with teeth that look eerily similar to snake fangs. “[It’s a] creature from the twilight zone!” writes Davey’s Locker Sportfishing & Whale Watching in the video description.
9) Footballfish Washes up on the Beach
Shortly following the lancetfish, another typically deep-sea dwelling fish washed up on a southern California beach. This time it was a Pacific footballfish—a species of anglerfish—that washed ashore near San Diego. Anglerfish typically live 1,000 to 4,000 feet below the surface, where there’s little to no light, and they use bioluminescent lights on the top of their head to lure in fish—and then chomp on them. This footballfish was only the second ever Pacific footballfish to be found in the San Diego area.
10) An Arapaima Invades Florida
Here’s a really strange fish for North America—and it’s potentially seriously bad news Florida’s waterways. A monstrous arapaima, which is one of the world’s largest predatory fish, washed ashore along the Caloosahatchee River. Arapaimas are ugly beasts that typically feast on fish, birds, lizards, and even, small mammals in the Amazon Rainforest. It’s the only arapaima found in Florida—so far. Local scientists worry there may be more. “Obviously a big aggressive predatory fish is popular amongst anglers,” said John Cassani, an ecologist for the Calusa Waterkeeper. “But the risk to the ecosystem far outweighs the recreational value of the species.”