Fishing outing captures a freak from the deep


TY O'MULLANE and Melissa Smith may not have caught the biggest fish ? but they nabbed one of the strangest and ugliest.

The Broadwater couple believe they landed an Eastern Stargazer, or Kathetostoma laeve, which they say has an electrified head carrying a charge of 60 volts to paralyse prey.

The two volunteer firefighters were having a friendly fishing battle for the biggest catch at the Evans Head wharf on Saturday night, when 21year-old Ty felt a mighty fight on the end of his line.

"It was only three metres from the wharf, but I thought it was really big," he said.

However, the battler, once landed, measured only 37 centimetres and about 250 grams.

With eyes on the top of a bone-hard head too tough to cut off, it was unlike anything the experienced fisher folk had seen before.

"We thought it was a dogfish," said Melissa, 24.

"But it's not.

"It has huge back teeth so I didn't want to touch it.

"It somehow came off the line by itself.

"Fish usually take 15 minutes to die, but this one wriggled for an hour."

The couple consulted Melissa's parents, who know the local waterways well.

After delving into the family encyclopaedia, the family be- lieve their catch to be an electrified Eastern Stargazer.

The bulldog-like fish lies on the sandy bottom of estuaries with only its eyes and mouth visible, waiting to zap unsuspecting crustaceans, according to the encyclopaedia.

It has also been known to bite night divers.

"It's a beautiful name, but a very ugly creature," said Sue Smith, Melissa's mum.

"It is supposed to be edible, but I think we will bury it.

"It is frightening to think you can find this in the Evans River.

"What if a child found it?"

The Eastern Stargazer is a sea- water fish rarely found as far north as Evans Head, said Mark McGrouther, Australian Museum fish collection manager.

"We would not expect it any further north than Central NSW," he said.

Mr McGrouther had not heard the species was electrically charged.

The scientist believes it is possible that Ty and Melissa may have landed another member of the stargazer family more commonly found in northern NSW waters, called Ichthyscopus sannio.

The fish will be identified from Northern Star photographs tomorrow.

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