Kelpfishes and Fringeheads: Family Clinidae
Species: Neoclinus blanchardi (Girard, 1858); from the Greek words neos (young) and clin (recline), and Blanchard (in reference to its discoverer).
Alternate Names: Twospot fringehead or fringehead. Called tubícola chusco or blenia in Mexico.
Identification: Typical slender blenny-shape but with a huge head and a huge, exaggerated mouth that extends past the eye. Their long dorsal fin extends from the rear of the head almost to the rounded caudal fin (tail). Their coloring is usually brown to gray to black tinged with red, and gray or pale blotches. There are two large spots (ocelli) found in the dorsal fin, one between the 1st and 2nd spines, the second between the 5th and 9th spines. These spots are typically metallic blue surrounded by a golden ring but they’ve also been reported as brown and simply as “dark.” Why fringehead? Easy, they have fringe-like appendages called cirri over their eyes.
Size: The largest of the California fringeheads! Known to reach the ginormous size of 12 inches in length. Most caught from piers are 6-9 inches long.
Range: Isla Cedros, central Baja California, to San Francisco Bay. Considered uncommon north of Point Conception.
Habitat: Sarcastic fringehead are most often found along the open coast on sand or hard mud although some are also found in bays. Typically found from beyond the breaker zone to a depth of about 200 feet. They will often take up residence in whatever empty shells or bottles may be in the area and reportedly come out of their domiciles at night to roam nearby areas. They are aggressive and fiercely territorial and will try to protect their homes from any intruders including divers (and how many other six-inch fish are willimg to attack divers?). Primarily feeds on benthic crustaceans like small shrimp and crabs.
Piers: Never too common, but a few are taken each year. Best bets: Embarcadero Marina Park Pier, Shelter Island Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, San Clemente Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, and Stearns Wharf.
Shoreline: Occasionally taken by shore anglers.
Boats: An inshore species rarely take from boats.
Bait and Tackle: Taken incidentally when using small hooks and fishing on the bottom.
Food Value: Generally too small to be table fare.
Comments: They are considered the most aggressive of the fringeheads—bad-tempered, irritable, shirty little creatures with an attitude. They are best left alone.