Two Ways For Tripletails

These fish exhibit some strange habits, but are great battlers when hooked. Here's a twofold plan for catching them on live bait or a fly rod! (July 2008)

Suspending a bait under a popping cork is one way to fool a tripletail on the Gulf's waters.
Photo by Pete Cooper Jr.

When you get right down to it, there's never just one way to catch a fish -- any fish! Some ways are certainly more effective than others, and some are definitely more fun than the rest. Then, at the right time and the right place, a rare few are both better and more fun.

With some popular fish species, though, time and place have little bearing on the productivity of certain techniques. One or two patterns simply work best whenever a particular species is involved. And if you want to have fun catching them, you'd best adhere faithfully to the tried and true!

There's always the possibility that one of those "patterns" may be a bit unorthodox as well.

Take tripletails, for example.

I have been infatuated with these fish ever since I met my first one over three decades ago. That's not to imply that over those 30 years, I've been consistently successful in catching them, just that I've hit on a couple of ways to catch them on a reasonably regular basis.

And for me, that's rather noteworthy, since tripletails tend to become quite temperamental at times!

On the other hand, when they aren't so predisposed, they strike some fairly radical offerings.

Rather than furnish you with data for those offbeat instances, let's look at two techniques that are effective on most occasions.

As an overview of sorts, tripletails often seem to need a little time to decide whether they want to eat a particular offering. That could be a direct result of their habit of holding tightly to some form of structure and their unwillingness to leave it.

For consistent success with tripletails, your offering must be presented slowly. Keeping it in their faces for the longest time, apparently, helps convince them to eat it.

This is rather difficult to accomplish with a chuck of bait or a jig-and-soft-plastic combo, since those tend to sink rather fast or plummet into the depths when you pause them during the retrieve. So for the most consistent results, such an offering should be suspended beneath a float.

I prefer a 3-inch weighted red-and-white popping cork.

Over the years, it's become apparent that tripletails much prefer rising to strike than descending. Therefore, I suspend my lure only a foot or so beneath the cork. It doesn't depend on water clarity -- clear or grungy, that setup works best.

The bait of choice is a fresh shrimp of medium size. If it's a live shrimp, so much the better. Tripletails also merrily munch on small finfish, as well as not-so-small blue crabs. But for this consistent technique, shrimp rate at the top of the list.

Dead shrimp can be threaded onto a 1/4-ounce jighead. Live ones should have a bare hook run through the base of the horn.

When prospecting around pilings or channel markers, the floats on crab-trap lines or similar static structures, make your cast just beyond them and work the rig slowly close alongside.

In stained water, an occasional soft pop of the cork may help get an unseen fish's attention.

On the other hand, when the fish are visible, simply use the float to suspend the bait. Too much action may attract the fish to the float rather than the bait. And after a tripletail strikes the cork, it usually won't have anything to do with the shrimp.

When casting to visible fish, it's usually better to make a gentle, underhand flip, aiming at a point a couple of feet to either side or in front of the fish. That way, the impact of the float is unlikely to spook it, nor draw too much of the fish's attention.

Any popping outfit that's sufficient for inshore fishing is appropriate here. Fourteen-pound monofilament line is adequate in almost all occasions, though the "dropper" from the float to your hook should be fluorocarbon of 30-pound-test.

With these tripletails, the second technique for consistent positive results is fly-fishing.

Almost without exception, this type of action is a sight-fishing exercise -- and surprisingly effective.

Casting to fish around structure will work, but fly-fishing is best practiced around offshore flotsam. That can be bits of randomly encountered debris, or flotsam collected along a current line.

Unweighted flies tend to stay in a fish's face, or at least at its present level, better than do weighted versions. One day, I was fishing with a friend who discovered a nice tripletail holding on a log within a big mat of Sargasso weed. On a lark, he offered the fish a small popping bug. That strike was something to behold!

No matter whether you're fishing with shrimp or flies, that scenario of finding "structure within structure" is something to remember. A combination like that is very likely to attract any fish in the vicinity.

"Thinking small" is another critical fly-fishing consideration. Here, though, these small flies should be created on a fairly stout hooks.

For everyday purposes, I prefer a fly about 2 1/2 inches long, tied on a size 2/0 short-shank hook. It's tied in dark-green over chartreuse and liberally dressed with strands of a sparkly material known as Krystal Flash.

This has accounted for most of my tripletails, including a few fish weighing in the double digits. It also works at least as consistently as the small brown "shrimp flies" that a fly-fishing friend from another part of the Gulf coast swears by!

Making consistent catches, though, requires varying your retrieves. As a general rule, present the fly in such a way that your retrieve passes in front of the fish, across its field of view.

The object is to generate a quick reflex strike. The longer the fish can scrutinize the fly, as opposed to a live bait, the less likely it becomes to strike.

If the tripletail doesn't strike, bu

t simply begins to follow the fly, you might consider stopping the retrieve entirely, allowing the fly to sink slowly. Often the fish will follow it down and sometimes, suck it in.

In this case, you do not want to risk moving the fly, so don't take up the slack in hopes of feeling the take. Instead, watch for the fish's gills to flare. That's the signal for you to set the hook.

As with the recommended conventional-fishing gear, any fly tackle that's suitable for inshore speckled trout or redfish will work for tripletails. But I would choose something on the heavier end, like a 9-weight setup. A 16-pound-test leader finished with a foot of 30-pound shock tippet -- both of fluorocarbon -- is about right.

No matter where you fish along the northern Gulf Coast, one of these two tactics should give you a good shot at catching some tripletails.

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