AKA: swell toad, puffer, blowfish, blow toad, toadfish, sea squab

Description: Small to medium-sized fish with a blunt body capable of inflating with water and air. Puffers have grayish-brown backs and upper sides, but are yellowish-white on the lower sides and belly. Tiny black spots are scattered over most of the body, particularly the cheeks, and there is a row of seven to 10 vertical bars along the sides. The head and body are covered with prickles that give the skin a sandpaper quality.

Size: Northern puffers grow to 14 inches and 1.5 pounds.

Sometimes confused with: oyster toadfish, porcupine fish, striped burrfish

Habitat: Puffers are found from Cape Cod, Mass., to northeastern Florida over sand bottom near or amid sea grass in waters ranging from 3 feet to 180 feet deep.

Eating habits: Puffers have four powerful teeth that allow them to crush any small animal they capture, such as crabs, clams, mussels, shrimp, worms, sea urchins, sponges, sea plants and sea squirts.

Life cycle: Puffers reach sexual maturity between ages 1 and 2. Spawning occurs inshore during warmer months. The eggs attach to objects on the water bottom, sometimes in a clump.

Fishing tips: Puffers are caught by hook and line from piers, jetties, boats and from shore usually with two-hook bottom rigs baited with shrimp, bloodworms or squid.

The Northern Puffer is not deadly poisonous like its tropical counterparts and has been eaten by humans for years. However, some scientists believe there are low-level toxins in the skin and organs. Fishermen are advised to thoroughly clean the Northern puffer of all skin and viscera before eating.

N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament

No award given for this species.


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

Download the Fish Rules mobile app