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Love Those Trashy Tripletail

by Pete Cooper, Jr.



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Here's a fish almost everyone will appreciate. Unfortunately, many anglers have never heard of them, relatively few have ever seen one in real life, and even fewer have caught one. Well, you've heard of them now, the reason you may not have ever seen one is because you haven't been looking for them, and I intend to inform you how to catch them - when they have decided they are hungry, anyway.
First of all, though, let's look at how they appeal to the preferences of the aforementioned types of fishing folks.
The Fillet-seekers...
It is possible that thinly-cut sauteed wahoo steaks and small fried flounder taste better than tripletail cooked literally any way you choose, but I wouldn't bet on it! I like mine filleted, skinned, cut into small chunks, and fast-fried in a beer-batter, but whatever trips your trigger...
The Action-Seekers...
Dave and Debbie Ballay and I caught 23 one day. Admittedly, that's a few more than what a "normal" day usually consists of, but you must realize those were 4-6 pound fish. Not wishing to compare apples and to oranges, but to emphasize a point, how many times have you and two friends caught 23 4 to 6 pound specks in one day? Or even redfish? And as far as their stamina foes, tripletail fight like giant bluegills might and will even jump on occasion. Think about that for a moment, along with the fact that 10 pounders are fairly common. And get this: the Texas state record taken by Mrs. Eddie Porter in 1984 weighed 33 lbs. 8 oz., the Louisiana record taken by Mrs Jimmy Toups in 1959 weight 39-8, the Florida record taken by Thomas D. Lewis in 1998 weighed 40-13, and the IGFA world record taken of the Republic of Sought Africa in 1989 by Steve Hand weight 42-5! Fish like those are guaranteed to give you some action!
The Talent-Testers...
Show a small, shrimp-tipped jig to any given tripletail, and the odds are about even he will eat it, but without the bait he is much more undecided. Show him that jig (or a well-presented fly) straight-up, and he might take it immediately - or he may follow it all the way back to the boat only to turn away at the last moment - or he might not react to it in any manner at all! Aggravating? Sometimes. Wily? Not really. A challenge? Most certainly!
In order to enjoy the taste, action, and challenge tripletail provide, you must first find them. Here, I have no intention of relating the pros and cons of planting leftover Christmas trees in nearshore waters, as some folks in Mississippi and Alabama are rumored to do. And unless you are one of the "talent-testers," you should only give those found around buoys, channel markers, and the floats of spiny lobster traps a few speculative casts; they are usually heavily fished and often become quite wily! Our interest is those found offshore around flotsam - that lovely trash which tripletail and all accomplished tripletail-seekers hold so dear.
Finding Tripletail...
Okay, now you know where these fish are likely to be found. How do you go about fishing for them? Simple: first you look for them.
Upon noticing virtually any floating object, you should idle up to a point close enough to provide good sub-surface visibility but not so close as to spook any fish which may be present. A distance of 40 to 50 feet is about right in clear water and bright sunlight; a little closer may be necessary in less ideal conditions.
If the flotsam is fairly small, any attendant fish will be readily apparent. They are similar in shape to a large crappie. If they are in an upright mode, they are grayish in color, but if they are lying on their sides like a flounder as they are prone to do, they appear starkly white. That's rather weird, especially considering once they are in the boat they are either black or a dark mottled brown. Just a tripletail, thing, I guess...
If the flotsam is fairly large, don't be in a rush to leave it if you don't see any fish around its perimeter. Anything the size of an average dining-room table or larger is almost guaranteed to be attended. Give them time; they'll show themselves.
Calling Tripletail...
While flipping jigs - baited or otherwise - is the most common tactic, "calling them out" is one of my favorite techniques (other than fly fishing for them), and it is very versatile. Suspend a quarter-ounce jig - the type with the short, stout hook - about 1 1/2 feet beneath a popping cork, dress it with a soft-plastic like you'd use for specks or redfish, and sweeten it with a 50/60-count shrimp. Cast this to the edge of the flotsam, give the cork one good, loud pop, and let it sit. You will get bit!
Of course, there's always a chance the source of that bite will be a 4 foot cobia instead of a 4 pound tripletail. That should present no problems for the "Fillet-Seekers" or the "Action-Seekers," though if it is hooked on tackle most suitable for the 'tails, the ensuing action may be short-lived, and there will be no grilled cobia steaks for supper that night! I would recommend nothing lighter than a 6-1/2 foot medium-heavy "pitching stick" and a reel holding at least 150 yards of 17-pound mono. That's a bit stout for most tripletail you will encounter, but it will give you a chance with a good cobia - which are also commonly encountered beneath the trash.
For the "Talent-Testers" there's the ole "bait-and-switch" routine. Here, one crew member lobs an unbaited popping rig to the edge of the trash, then begins to pop it back toward the boat. When a tripletail appears behind it, he immediately snatches it away from the fish, and a crew-member with a more-suitable spinning outfit in hand quickly shows the fish a jig. If a cobia appears rather than a tripletail, the guy with the spinning outfit sits down, and the guy with the popping outfit continues the retrieve until the fish strikes. And here's a slightly off-the-topic helpful-hint: cobia are often more attracted to the cork than the jig. To prevent that, once the fish appears stop the pops and begin a straight retrieve. Sometimes that will keep his attention on the jig, but I'd advise you have plenty of corks aboard!
The bait-and-switch routine is also an excellent tactic for someone aspiring to catch 'tails on flies. Frequently several fish will pursue the jig, and they are usually quite competitive. Drop a Clouser Minnow into their midst, and they will fight for it - sometimes. It all depends on their mood - curious or hungry - and when you fish for them without bait, they can be very temperamental.
That's why I like them so much. Most species inhabiting the waters around the Gulf coast are usually aggressive to the point where they are relatively easy to catch. Tripletail are not; occasionally they can be as tough as a mangrove snapper or a very large speck. Fortunately, that doesn't happen often, but when it does it sure makes a challenge - especially while flyfishing.
I once met a 9-pounder cruising along a weak current line. Just as I was about to cast at him, he left the line and headed across open water at a fairly good clip. Following him, I made four casts which I considered perfect but which drew no response whatsoever. The fifth cast - exactly the same as the others (Quite an accomplishment, considering how rattled I was getting!) - caught him.
Then there was my state-record fly-caught fish which I noticed swimming along a grass-line no more than 20 feet distant: I lobbed the fly in front of him, he ate it, and that was that.
Then there was the one holding beneath a cardboard box. Brent Ballay and I must have made two dozen casts at that fish and never had a look! And who could ever forget a day like the one when
Capt. Bubby Rodriguez and I found a herd of them under a thick patch of trash on a current line and caught nine to over 11 pounds. Man, I ate tripletail for a month after that one! Loved every minute of it, too - almost as much as I did catching them. It was sort of like revenge...
They may be temperamental, but they are great fish. Look for them - you'll see...

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