• Published:February 2, 2016
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Catching tripletail off structure is a blast. These hard-fighting fish are a lot of fun on light tackle and one of the best eating fish in the ocean.


My first encounter with tripletail took place years ago when fishing out of Venice, Louisiana. We found an old laundry basket floating offshore and thought for sure it would hold a dolphin or two. No dolphin, but after a few throws of a little bucktail with a shrimp on it, I hooked my first tripletail. It didn’t take long to get a few more in the box. 

THE FISH

Atlantic tripletail are a semi-tropical pelagic fish that can be found in the Atlantic as far north as Massachusetts, but rarely seen north of the Chesapeake Bay. Anglers typically encounter tripletail off of Florida, in the Atlantic and Gulf waters in open water floating along with debris.

Tripletail migrate to warmer waters in the winter. This warm-water migration is the key to the fishery. Two things happen in October that ignite this fishery: stone crab season opens on October 15 and the first hint of cooler weather starts.

Tripletail will start to move in closer and ‘sun’ themselves while holding behind the crab pots that stretch as far as you can see in the Gulf. The buoys will be found from October 15 - May 15, but your prime months to target tripletail are January and February. Rather than run around offshore looking for debris, the crab pots create a debris field that will hold a ton of fish!

HOW IT’S DONE

I’m now retired and live in the Florida Keys, the epicenter of sport fishing. I’ve got my own boat and I’m on the water almost every day. Yet I usually only catch a few tripletail, all of them incidental catches when I’ve been offshore dolphin fishing, but I wanted to change that.

My friend Capt. TJ Zinkand of Live Action Fishing Charters invited me to Islamorada to take my new boat out for some tripletail fishing in the Gulf. TJ fishes an 18-foot Hewes out of Robbie’s Marina, but today we were taking my new Maverick HPX 18. We ran a total of 80 miles fishing out of Islamorada, so you’ll need a boat with at least a 100-mile range, but it is very easy to do in a flats skiff on a nice day. If you left from Marathon, you’d be in the middle of the buoys in 25 miles.  

“I like to start checking buoys past Sandy Key. You get less grass on them and it’s easier to see the fish,” Zinkand says.  We ran up almost to East Cape before we picked a line of buoys and started working them to the west.

Juvenile tripletail have some green in their color pattern and actually lay on their sides right at the surface, tucked up close in the lee of the pot out of the current. They are very easy to spot.  The bigger adult fish are black and may sit next to the buoy or down the line a bit. You can run by them and they usually won’t spook. They’ll hold long enough for you to make your turn and get back to make a cast. 




If you fish a boat with a tower, you’ll be able to see the fish from a great distance and come up slowly to the one you want to target. The day we fished was flat calm and I found that I could stand on my casting platform, using my bowline for balance. This gave me plenty of elevation to see the buoys and the fish behind them. Approach the buoy with the fish, cast a shrimp up-current and drift it back to the fish. Keep the bait just far enough away from the buoy to get the fish to come off the trap line and take the bait. Then set that hook.  

We only had to run about six miles west, alternating between different lines of buoys and picked up three keeper fish and released six smaller tripletails.

When you find the crab trap buoys, you might see a crab boat around. If you don’t see any grass on the line of buoys you are fishing or if you have not seen any fish after running a few lines, it means the traps have been recently pulled. Move away and start working an entirely different line of buoys.

“The fish tend to leave a pulled trap and won’t return for a couple days after it has been pulled,” Zinkand says.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED

These fish put up a great fight on light tackle with speedy runs and quick jumps. A light-action spinning rod with 10- to 15-pound braided line is ideal. If the fish are skittish, you’ll need to keep your distance and make a longer cast. We were looking for some bigger fish and tied on 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders, but you could go down to a 15-pound leader tied to a 1/0 Mustad 7754D extra-short shank hook. The bait of choice is a live shrimp, but we had luck with dead pilchards and cut ballyhoo. Tripletail will also eat a fly if you want to throw some feathers at ’em. You’ll want to use a Boga-Grip or a large net to land them -- tripletail have very sharp gill plates.  

Florida regulations allow a two fish daily bag limit with a 15-inch minimum size. The Florida record tripletail weighed 40 pounds, 13 ounces.  My personal best tripletail was 7 pounds even.  Regardless of the size of your catch, their line steeling bursts of speed and quick jumps make this a spectacular game fish for any angler.


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