The big barracuda justifies its colloquial name by growing to great size. My largest specimen was 4 feet 7 inches long and weighed 38 pounds. This is the largest specimen recorded from the lagoon at Tortugas. However, one day I saw, under the wharf-house at Garden Key, a specimen that looked to be fully 5 feet long. As the Velella pulled out, I threw my "spoon" overboard, knowing that the fish would probably follow the boat, and hoping to get a strike. My hopes were realized, for before we had gone a hundred yards I had a strike which in 10 seconds left me with only a hundred feet of line and a groove burned in my right fore-finger just the size and depth of the line. The fish, with the spoon and remainder of the line, was not seen again.
Vincent, in his interesting, "Sea fish of Trinidad" (1910) speaks of somewhat similar experiences with blistered hands while trolling for what he calls the "pirate of the seas." But this is not unexpected when we read that his largest specimen measured 8.5 feet.
At Miami, Florida, on visiting a local taxidermist's shop, I found its walls almost lined with the mounted skins of big fellows 4 to 6 feet in length. These were taken on the Florida Reef some 6 or 8 miles away. Jordan and Evermann assign 6 feet as the average maximum size for the West Indian specimens, and this is corroborated by Hen derson (1912), while Poey (1856) states that the Havana fishermen say that it sometimes attains a weight of "fifty livres" which would indi cate a length of over 6 feet. As noted above, Holder has had wide experience with these fish and he states (1903) that he has taken them in the Florida Keys between 6 and 7 feet long and weighing 60 to 70 pounds. However, he adds that he has heard of specimens even larger than these.
One of the older writers on the natural history of the Antilles, Roche fort (1665), gives the length of the barracuda as from 6 to 8 feet with a girth in proportion. Du Tertre (1667) quotes Rochefort with ap proval, but gives no figures of his own. Sloane (1707) had only small specimens, but indicates that it grew to a large size. Labat (1742), however, makes up for any deficiencies by declaring that "They have been seen in this river [Gallion] 18 to 20 feet long and of the size of a horse." His statement, however, must be taken cum grand salis.
Catesby (1754), speaking of Bahama fish, is more moderate, though his figures come close to Labat's: "This fish grows to a large size; some of them I have seen 10 feet in length, and some I was told are much larger; though the more common length is that of about 6 or 8 feet." How ever, for present-thy Bahama fish, Captain Wilson, who has seen hun dreds, writes me that the largest measured 6.5feet. But, Fermin (1769), writing a few years after Catesby, says that along the coasts of Surinam they were occasionally taken approximately 15 feet in length. These were certainly giants.
A photograph was made of the 55-inch specimen (38 pounds), but the photographer in developing the plate unfortunately broke it. Figure 1, plate i, is a photograph of a medium specimen which, how ever, contrasts well in size with the 11-year-old boy standing be side it. These fish, however, were small compared to the one figured by Wood-Jones. (See figure 2, plate i, of this paper.) Saville Kent (1893) does not portray the Australian form, but notes that it sometimes attains a weight of 50 pounds, from which one may judge that such would be between 6 and 7 feet long. Gunther (1877) quotes Andrew Garrett that the Polynesian form (probably S. commersonii) grows to 8 feet in length and 40 pounds in weight. This must be a very slender fish, as is the California S. argentea (maximum length 5 feet). However, the form found on the west coast of Africa grows larger. Btittikofer measured a S. jello, caught in the mouth of Cape Mount River, Liberia, which was 10 feet long.
However much the authorities may vary in their estimates of the size of the barracuda, all agree that that size is great, though it does not have the bulk of the jewfish nor that of some of the great groupers, and when along with its size consideration is given to its remarkable swiftness and its implacable temper, it must be acknowledged (the sharks alone possibly excepted) as the real ruler of the Gulf Caribbean waters.