Spadefish are distinctively shaped members of the Ephippidae family of mainly tropical and subtropical species. Their bodies are very flattened and nearly as deep as they are long. The first, or spiny, dorsal fin is separate from the second, or soft-rayed, dorsal, which has exceptionally long rays at the front and is matched in size and shape by the anal fin directly beneath it.

The body is silvery and has four to six black bands that may be absent in older fish. The broad caudal fin has long rays at the tips of the upper and lower lobes so that the fin is concave. The mouth is small. Juvenile spadefish are black and are known to lie on their sides to mimic floating debris.

Species that occur in North American waters and are occasionally encountered by anglers include the Pacific spadefish (Chaetodipterus zonatus), which ranges from Southern California to Mexico in the eastern Pacific, and the similar Atlantic spadefish (C. faber), which ranges from Massachusetts to Brazil in the western Atlantic and is more abundant in the Caribbean and Florida. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called an angelfish; it is also known in Portuguese as enxada and in Spanish as paguara.

Spadefish travel in large schools, spawn in the spring and the summer, feed on shrimp and crustaceans, and are found inshore or in nearshore environs, especially around navigational markers, along sandy beaches, in harbors, or over wrecks. They may grow to 15 pounds but usually weigh less than 2 pounds. These fish are good table fare.