Why Not Tripletail
If you think about inshore fishing in Florida, you probably think of redfish, tarpon, snook and seatrout. After all, those are traditionally considered the Big Four.
Here’s another one to consider: Tripletail. Skeptical? That makes sense, because many anglers consider tripletail strictly an offshore species.
Well, that perception is changing because fishermen are finding them closer to shore. You can find them on the way to fish for grouper. You can find them while fishing for tarpon. It’s simply a matter of having a game plan and executing while having an eye for detail while thinking outside the box.
When and Where
Repeat after me. Structure. Structure. Structure. Bass crave it. So do snook. And in this regard, the tripletail takes after those two species. Floating grass or weed lines are good. Crab pots are the best option, not because they offer superior bait or structure, but because you can target pods of traps until you find fish.
That’s precisely the approach Tampa resident Parker Rabow used while fishing for tarpon in Dunedin. He got tired of looking for the silver king crossing sandbars and noticed tripletail near a crab trap. One buoy then led to another and another.
“We had to drive hundreds and we’d see one,” Rabow said. “It’s a numbers’ game.”
Why crab traps? Because they’re an obvious food source. The traps attract baitfish much in the same way docks and dock lights seduce snook. Find the baitfish and you’ll find gamefish. Cliché but true.
“They’re hiding under the crab trap, and other fish will hide under the trap and they’ll eat them,” Rabow said. “In general in offshore when something’s floating on the surface, it attracts bait. Tripletail are attracted to debris, too. The bait’s there for protection and the tripletail hang out there for protection motionless, so when a crab thinks he’s finding shelter, beneath a floating buoy, the tripletail is there to eat him. It has everything to do with debris. If there were a piece of wood out there, I’d do the same thing. But there’s way more crab traps.”
Clam leases, which are usually marked with PVC pipe, are also a viable option. Gainesville resident John Clifford started to notice tripletail last summer while mining his usual redfish spots near the Waccasassa River. At first he saw a few tripletail, but then realized the more he looked for his potential quarry, the more fish he saw. His personal best (fish caught) in one day was 15, which led him to ponder his discovery: Did the tripletail suddenly move into the area or were they there along?
Clifford thinks the latter.
“Maybe I just wasn’t looking,” he said.
One thing that could help you get dialed in is the SGF Angler Action and iAngler logs. If you know when and where you caught tripletail over a season or two, pinpointing when and where the fish are likely to be becomes much easier once your data reveals a trend or two.
Tripletail is a spring and summer affair, although you can probably catch them in early fall, depending on the weather and what part of Florida you live in. Although you may have to cover water to find them, chances are you will find more than one when you do find them and they’re not hard to catch.
The person driving the boat need not putter along. You can see tripletail from a respectable distance and they’re not going to spook. Once you spot one, simply circle back within casting distance. Make your cast and retrieve slowly. You should be able to take multiple shots --- unless you hook the trap.
“They’re there to eat,” Rabow said. “They’re not that smart and they’re definitely not that spooky.”
What You Need
Tripletail can be caught on fly or spinning gear. On fly, you can use an 8-weight setup with floating line with a standard inshore leader with a bite tippet of 30, 40 pounds. Tripletail fight hard, but are not known for long runs, so there’s no need for loads of backing --- 150, 200 yards will do just fine.
For flies, a circular, Merkin-style crab pattern will entice a tripletail. Adjust the size of the fly to the size of the fish’s prey.
As for the presentation, it’s best to cast away from the fish and let your offering drift into the strike zone. But even the best casters miss, and if you throw right at the fish, you still might hook up, so don’t give up on a bad cast.
Those who prefer spinning gear can easily use their redfish setup. Clifford uses a 3000 reel spooled with 10-pound braid with a 7-foot fast-action rod. His lure of choice is a Gulp shrimp. A D.O.A shrimp is good option as well.
The Final Word
Too often we get sucked into the pattern of fishing for species that we know, but why not try something different? Tarpon and redfish can be notoriously fickle. When those two sparring partners, tripletail is an obvious option that doesn’t require a lot of legwork and offers decent size ---- 20 pounds is a big inshore fish --- a good fight and a delightful meal, if you choose to sometimes stray from catch-and-release.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission guidelines limit each angler to two tripletail per day with a minimum size of 15 inches. However, harvest regulations can change. Always check with the FWC for updates.
In fact, the FWC is currently seeking input for a study on tripletail. You can send them information via this link: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/rulemaking/comments/#Form
Logging all of your catches in iAngler helps as well. FWC commonly requests catch data from SGF's iAngler databank. We've helped with seatrout, reds, snook, and most recently cobia. You can make your fishing trips count double and then some by taking the time to join iAngler and help create a #brighterfishingfuture.
Mike Hodge is a freelance writer from High Springs, Fla. and a regular contributor to SGF. Photos courtesy of Parker Rabow