– Horse shoe (Meuscenia hippocrepis)

– Six spine (Meuscenia freycinetti)

– Fan belly (Monocanthus chinensis)

– Unicorn (Aluterus monoceros)

– Black reef (Eubalichthys bucephalus)

– Mosaic (Eubalichthys mosaicus)

– Chinaman (Nelusetta ayraudi)

Commonly referred to as Leatheries!

The leatherjacket is strange looking species of fish that is often encountered as a by catch whilst fishing for other popular in shore species such as bream and whiting. There are many varieties of leatherjacket found throughout Australia with most proving to posses very good eating qualities making them one of the most popular species available today. Anglers of all ages can target leatherjacket with ease and success and not only are these great little fish generally quite easy to locate but are also great fun and simple to catch!


Horse shoe – Found in W.A., N.S.W., VIC, S.A. and TAS.

Six spine – Found in W.A., N.S.W., VIC, TAS and S.A.

Fan belly – Found only in QLD, VIC, TAS and N.S.W.

Unicorn – Found in W.A., N.S.W., VIC, TAS and S.A.

Black reef – Found in N.S.W., VIC, S.A., TAS and W.A.

Mosaic – Found in N.S.W., VIC, S.A., W.A., TAS and QLD.

Chinaman – Found in N.S.W., TAS, VIC, S.A. and W.A.


Horse shoe – Grows to over 55cm in length and around 2.5kg in weight.

Six spine – Grows to over 55cm in length and around 2.5kg in weight.

Fan belly – Grows to over 40cm in length and around 1.5kg in weight.

Unicorn – Grows to over 70cm in length and around 4.5kg in weight.

Black reef – Grows to over 40cm in length and around 1.5kg in weight.

Mosaic – Grows to over 60cm in length and around 3.5kg in weight.

Chinaman – Grows to over 75cm in length and around 5kg in weight.


Most smaller leatherjacket species prefer estuary and harbour habitats with plenty of weed and reef cover. Larger species are more likely encountered in offshore waters ranging from 5 – 500 meters in depth.  Wharves, rock walls, jetties and wrecks are always a great place to find leatherjacket as they shelter from predators and feed on the many food sources found in the area. Leatheries can also be found roaming the deep, blue oceans in extreme depths of over 200 meters or more, these are pelagic Chinaman and Unicorn leatherjacket and are considered to be a nuisance by most anglers and have an infamous reputation for biting through main lines and leaders.


Horse shoe – Bright blue, green and yellow in colouration with a distinct horse shoe pattern located at the base of the tail.

Six spine – Similar in appearance to the horse shoe leatherjacket and are blue in colouration with yellow blotches. There are 5 – 8 spines present on the caudal peduncle and female specimens are typically brown, pale green or yellow with three to five broad, brown stripes running vertically along the flanks.

Fan belly – Light brown to cream in colouration with a beautiful Asian fan shaped fin running under the chin and along the belly.

Unicorn – Similar in appearance to a north west blow fish and is light brown to grey across the top half of the body with a silver to white under belly.

Black reef – Dark brown to maroon body colouration with distinctive yellow ring around eye.

Mosaic – Yellow in colouration with orange spots all over also roundish in shape.

Chinaman – Light brown to grey colouration with bright yellow fins, large sizing.

All leatherjacket species as their name suggests have no scales and are covered in a leather like skin or jacket! A large proportion of the fish is head and they also have very powerful, sharp teeth.

Taste rating

  • Fifty Taste Rating

Most leatherjacket species are excellent eating and are similar in taste to the famous John Dory.

Sport rating

  • Eighty Sport Rating

Leatherjackets are better known for their eating qualities than their sporting abilities.

Tackle requirements

Ultra light and light graphite spin rods 6’6” – 7’ in length that will cope with gel spun, nylon and braided lines rated from 2 – 4kg are ideally suited to targeting leatherjacket and when coupled with quality spin reels in the 1000 – 2500 class make excellent combos. Larger outfits spooled with heavier 10 – 12lb nylon line can also be used when targeting larger fish around heavy cover. Longer rods 8’ to 10’ in length and spin or over head reels loaded with nylon lines around 4 – 6kg are preferred for targeting leatherjacket at most coastal rock locations around Australia. Fluoro carbon leaders with breaking strains of  6 – 15lb should also be joined to mainlines via an improved albrite knot and not only prevent the fish from seeing your brightly coloured main line but
also help from being chaffed of on rough underwater structures.

Recommended baits, lures and rigs

Small, cut pieces of prawn, blood worm, and small bait fish such as mullet, mackerel and pilchards are all ideal bait options for chasing leatherjacket and should be fished on a long shank pattern of hook to avoid bite offs and allow for easy removal.

Handy hints and tips

Try rubbing a couple of drops of aniseed oil on your hands before commencing fishing, this will encourage shy fish to actively feed and is considered to be illegal in some countries due to its efficiency for attracting fish. Always fish as light as possible for leatherjacket this includes sinkers, lines and leaders. Long shank hooks will help to prevent bite offs and are much easier to remove!

Preferred fishing times and tides

Most fish species including leatherjacket prefer rising tides and low light periods such as dawn or dusk but will also actively feed during most stages throughout the day and night depending on tidal movement and of course location.

See Nick’s latest Fishing Videos at Perth Fishing TV HERE


[What The Fish]