AKA: triggerfish, taly, leatherjacket, leatherneck

Description: Gray triggerfish have large incisor-like teeth and deep laterally compressed bodies covered with tough, sandpaper-like skin. The action of the dorsal spines give the triggerfish its name. The first spine is large, and when erect it remains so until the smaller second spine is deflexed, triggering the first. Gray triggerfish are generally gray with green overtones, with about three faint, broad dark blotches on the upper body and often white dots and lines on the lower body and fins. There are bluish, purplish spots and lines on the upper body and dorsal fin. There is a pale, narrow band on the chin and the upper rim of the eye is blue.

Size: Gray triggerfish grow to 30 inches and 13 pounds. 

Sometimes confused with: filefish

Habitat: Along the western Atlantic, gray triggerfish are typically found in hard bottom areas such as wrecks, rock outcroppings and coral reefs in waters 80 to 300 feet in depth.

Eating habits: Triggerfish use their dorsal and anal fins to ascend and descend vertically and hover over the bottom searching for food. They use powerful jaws with incisor-like teeth to chisel holes, dislodge and crush hard-shelled prey.

Life cycle: Spawning occurs offshore during spring and summer when fish are 2 to 3 years old. Triggerfish have demersal eggs that are deposited in nests. Adult triggerfish guard the nest. After hatching, juvenile fish head to the surface and are often associated with Sargassum (floating seaweed).

Fishing tips: Triggerfish are hard to catch with hook and line because they nibble the bait. They are usually caught by anglers bottom fishing for other reef species.

N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament

Award for harvest of fish, 5 pounds or greater.

See the list of weigh stations


Persons engaged in recreational fishing in North Carolina coastal waters are required to possess a Coastal Recreational Fishing License in accordance with G.S. 113-174.2.

Current Proclamations

Recreational Size and Bag Limits

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