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The Hardest Fish to Catch

The challenge of catching fish usually becomes easier as an angler gains experience, but some fish are elusive regardless. At some point, anglers discover fish that are difficult to catch but worth pursuing because of intrigue or achievement.

These fish are commonly referred to as “bucket list species”, and everyone’s bucket list looks a little different. Let’s dive in and take a look at what makes these fish so hard to catch that landing one is automatically the catch of a lifetime.

Deep Sea Fishing

Qualities of Bucket List Fish

Finicky Fish

One of the ways that fish can be frustratingly difficult to catch is with tendencies or abilities that make them overly selective when it comes to feeding. Since most angling is done by convincing fish to eat your bait, finicky fish are hard to catch.

Permit, bonefish, and tarpon are all popular bucket list fish and perfect examples of the different ways fish can be finicky and avoid being caught.


Permit have big eyes that give them phenomenal eyesight, allowing them to detect when even the slightest thing is out of place. Permit see everything, and if a hook isn’t perfectly hidden or the bait is a little banged up, they will ignore everything you throw at them.

Bonefish have amazing senses as well, but the most infuriating thing about them is that as soon as something seems wrong, they don’t hesitate to flee the area. These fish survive by leaving at the first sign of danger, so you have to be on point to just be able to make a cast, let alone get a bite.

Tarpon are notorious for being picky eaters. While bait selection and presentation is key, there is no magic lure. These fish change their mind quickly and often.

Powerful Fish

The most straightforward way fish test anglers’ abilities are by putting up a big fight. Fish that are big, agile, or just flat out strong can break off and spit hooks easily, making the fight equal parts strength and skill.

Powerful fish like blue marlin, swordfish, tuna, salmon, and so many other species have the strength to make anglers and their tackle fail. There are no guarantees with these fish because at any moment they can be gone, even after you got lucky enough to find one and get a bite.


Another aspect of these fish that makes them so sought after is their size. It’s no secret that anglers love trophies. Grander marlin, gator trout, and anything else that happens to be exceptionally large can make the bucket list because their strength is hard to overcome.

This also applies to fly fishing or light tackle, which is much smaller tackle than would normally be used on a conventional setup. This adds another level of difficulty and tests the skills of the angler even more because fighting with light gear made for finesse amplifies the felt strength of the fish, creating more chances to break free.

Rare Fish


Tigerfish and bonefish are rare because they live in specific habitats that force anglers to travel a long way to find one. Fish that only live in a specific area or body of water create limited opportunities for anglers, which in turn makes landing one the catch of a lifetime.

Since these fish are hard to come by, chasing them requires a lot of planning and effort but is a great way for anglers to gain unique and memorable experiences that they will cherish. After all, a bucket list is a collection of experiences that you would like to do at least once in your life.

If you want to read more about the pursuit of a rare fish, check out the story of our co-founders trying to catch self-sustaining rainbow trout in the foothills of Kilimanjaro that hadn't been fished in nearly a century.

Blue Marlin

Chasing Fish

The fish I already mentioned are some of the most popular bucket list entries because they are truly incredible, and the word got out about how rewarding it is to best one of Mother nature’s most elusive creatures.

Everyone is working through their own list of challenging fish, so I thought it would be interesting to hear from you—the anglers—about what you’re chasing. I started by asking Attison, one of the Co-founders here at Captain, three questions:

  1. What’s the toughest fish you’ve caught?

“100+ pound yellowfin out of Venice. Say what you will about the fight in tuna, but we were rigged up to catch smaller tuna and this one took tons of line and circled below the boat until I was sweating bullets in the humid July heat.”

  1. What fish did you try hardest to catch but came up short?

“I still can't manage to land a big striper. Have been out in my home waters of the Chesapeake Bay countless times but have never gotten the monster I'm looking for. Every time I head home I mix up spots, techniques, lures, etc, but she always manages to be one step ahead of me.”

  1. What fish are you chasing next?

“Bull redfish on the fly. Headed to Louisiana later this year to try my luck in the fall.”

What do You Think?

We all enjoy listening to an angler explain their interests and what they are chasing, but we want to hear from you. Let us know your answers to these questions by sending them to us at [email protected].