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Sport Fish | Information, Best Practices, Species & Records

Common sport fish (or game fish) in the Indian Ocean that are found in Sri Lankan waters have been categorized into nine groups that include ten fish families: Billfish (Istiophoridae and Xiphiidae), jacks and pompanos (Carangidae), tunas, bonitos and mackerels (Scombridae), barracudas (Sphyraenidae), cobia (Rachycentridae), dolphinfish (Coryphaenidae), groupers (Serranidae), snappers and emperors (Lethrinidae), and Lates perches (Latidae). A list of common family names related to marine game fish with the number of associated species found in Sri Lankan waters is shown in Table at the bottom of this page. Many are extremely valuable commercially and for game-fishing.


Food availability, water temperature and oceanic currents seem to be the main factors that determine whether a particular game fish species will be found in any given location. All game fish are predatory which feed on a wide variety of smaller fish, crustaceans and cephalapods, thereby keeping the ecology in balance.

Many species of fish migrate on a regular basis, on time scales ranging from daily to annually or longer, and over distances ranging up to thousands of kilometres. Forage fish often make great migrations between their spawning, feeding and nursery grounds. Schools of a particular stock usually travel in a triangle between these grounds. Fish usually migrate because of

diet or reproductive needs, although in some cases the reason for migration remains unknown.


The term highly migratory species (HMS) has its origins in Article 64 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Convention does not provide an operational definition of the term, but in an annex (UNCLOS Annex 1) lists a number of species found in Sri Lankan waters considered highly migratory by parties to the Convention.

Talang queenfish, S. commersonianus spawn at least twice during the spawning season (April to August) along the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar coasts.


Game fish that carry ciguatoxin are identified in the species table below with an exclamtion mark (!) after the common name. Ciguatoxin is produced by microalgae and can accumulate in the flesh of fish that eat it. Ciguatera fish poisoning is limited to human consumption of fish that inhabit waters around deep reefs, and usually involves the larger fish.


Oceanic sportfish are marine game fish pursued for sport by recreational anglers. Species of marlin, sailfish, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, giant trevally, bonito, queen fish (the world record is held in Sri Lanka), barracuda, grouper, cobia and tuna make Sri Lanka second to none when it comes to sea angling. The calm season for fishing on the northwestern, western and southern seaboards are from November to beginning May while the period for fishing on the eastern and southeastern seaboards is from end March to October. Essentially there are three types of marine sportfishing:

  • Deep-sea fishing

  • Continental shelf fishing

  • Shoreline fishing


Deep-sea fishing, often referred to as big-game fishing provides some of the most opportunistic and challenging big game fish. The clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean shelter a wide range of fish species that will put up a fight before being hauled in. Among the fish species found in pelagic waters are large marlin, swordfish and tuna.


Trolling over the continental shelf yields catches ranging from the 10 kg skipjack tuna to giant trevally, sailfish and marlin which attain a size to

provide a challenge to the best big game anglers of any country. In recent years, the development of both jigging and surface-popping techniques has seen the giant trevally become an extremely popular candidate for catch and release fishing, with charter operators based around this concept.

The long shoreline along with the continental shelf and adjacent waters provide ample opportunity year round for recreational anglers. The outfalls of 103 major river basins and hundreds of other estuaries, and lagoons all round the island are the most popular spots frequented by local surf casters as well as bait fishermen.


Many varieties of game fish of the Carangid family, locally called paraw and known elsewhere as trevally, are taken. These swift and powerful carnivorous fish attain a length of 1.5 m and a weight of 70 kg. The schooling habits of the caranx, their keen eyesight and some built-in sensory mechanism make them congregate in estuaries immediately after monsoons and rains.


Next in popularity among surf-casters come the barracuda and Spanish mackerel as do other species known as giant perch and threadfins which frequent estuaries.

Sportfishing Best Practices


The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) is committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule making and record keeping.


In this day and age where catch and release is practiced more by anglers, a long drawn out fight is no good for anyone, so get the fish fast and release it as soon as possible to improve fish populations. Fish size limits, catch-and-release, and use of circle hooks instead of J-hooks are measures designed to increase survival in catch-and-release sport fishing.

The most important steps an angler can take to increase survival are to

(1) hook and land the fish as quickly as possible,

(2) leave the fish in the water while removing the hook, and

(3) release the fish as quickly as possible.

In any case, three groupers (Giant grouper, Malabar grouper and Blacksaddlled coralgrouper) are currently listed as threatened species and should be released on sight. Two of them may carry ciguatoxins.

Weight can be determined from fish measurements, so you don't need to weigh the fish onboard. This makes onboard handling quick and reduces the stress on the fish. Download a convenient wallet-size fish weight calculator that gives the fork length-weight relationships.

Onboard Catch-and-Release Fish Handling

  • Land a fish quickly and gently using wet hands or wet non-abrasive gloves.

  • Never grab a fish by its gill only or lift it by its tail only.

  • Avoid the use of a gaff.

  • De-hook the fish on a landing mat, preferably vinyl or a wet towel.

  • Cover its eyes with a wet cloth while de-hooking.

  • If you wish to calculate its weight, quickly measure fork length and girth of the fish.

  • If you take a photo, do this as quickly as possible.

  • Avoid bruising the fish and release it back into the sea as quickly as possible.

  • Revive an exhausted fish by first placing one hand under the tail and holding the bottom lip with the other, headfirst into the current or while the boat is in gear. If it is severely lethargic, depress the bottom lip to cause the jaw to gape and gently move the fish forward. 

The entire onboard handling process should be as quickly as possible and not exceed 1 minute.

Game Fish Species

!  indicates species that carry ciguatoxin