If you were to ask me what my most memorable catch has been, I have a clear answer. Our first tripletail. I didn’t even reel the fish in. I was the spotter and the netter. My father earned the honor of bringing our first blackfish to the boat 4 years ago. But, I claim every bit of the experience and excitement we shared that day. It was the kind of fish that helps you get through the next three weeks of work and school.
Sometimes, my affinity for bird watching and spotting schooling fish can come in handy. On a bright, extremely hot morning, my eyes saved an otherwise average fishing day. We had spent the morning trout fishing, and had managed a nice couple of specks. But after 5 hours of fishing, two trout were hardly worth an impressive photo.
We had always talked about trying our luck at this elusive, seasonal species. The main issue was that our old boat, at the time, had limited fuel reserves. If we were able to find a tripletail on our 12 gallon fuel range, we would have to be very fortunate. For this first fish, it only took half a mile. Approaching at an appropriate distance, we sped by crab pots in about 6-8 feet of water near our final trout hole . We were careful not to venture too close, in order to keep an unsuspecting fish from being spooked.
About a dozen crab pots in, my eye caught a subtle brown, black shape under a buoy. We immediately circled and found ourselves within casting distance from an 18 lb blackfish. As Phil Dunphy of Modern Family stated, “Not since that time I fell off the roof as they were delivering the trampoline have things come together so beautifully.”
He was lying there on his side, like it was his chance to impress us. I had seen videos and read articles of people catching this species with shrimp flies. Shaking, I put my fly rod together, tied on a Hane’s Shrimp, and placed a perfect cast up-current of the target. It drifted slowly by, and promptly the fish turned and trailed the fly a few feet. To my dismay, he didn’t take the fly. It may have been the closest I have come to having a heart attack over a fish.
Funny fact about tripletail: if you don’t spook them, they will just hang around the same spot. They may disappear for 10-20 seconds, fooling the impatient hunter. But eventually, the fish will reemerge and pretend to be flotsam. Any innocent passerby looking for shade and shelter has a rude awakening.
Unfortunately for this fish, we had one last live shrimp in the live well, and he was the size of my pinkie. After a few more fly casts without a reaction, the sqwirming crustacean was hooked and tossed out. Like lightning, the fish flashed and ate the shrimp. Apparently shrimp flies need real moving parts, or a better caster. After an intensely hard fight, the fish found his way into our ice chest and onto our dinner table.
As someone who enjoys cooking seafood almost as much as reeling it in, I have to admit that there isn’t a better tasting and versatile fish in the Gulf of Mexico. A strong statement, but it lives up to the hype if you find yourself with fresh blackfish at your knife. If you can picture the white flaky texture and flavor of a flounder, increase the thickness by 3 inches. Multiply this by 80 percent of the body weight of a tripletail, and pound for pound, you have one incredibly meaty sport fish .
Often referred to as the “Crappie of da Sea,” the species ranges all along the Gulf States, and should not be confused with the “blackfish” of the east coast. One looks like a black crappie, the other like a smashed sheepshead. Tripletail put up a fight like a permit, and change colors like a brown and gold mahi mahi. Below is the recipe for finding this sought-after surface eater. Where do they go in the winter? No one seems to know. Likely, they spawn offshore on sargasm or migrate to warmer weather. Regardless, they come back every year. But these numbers have been declining in recent years. Pay attention to your local size restrictions. Limit your catch, don’t always catch your limit. Tight lines!
The Tripletail Hunting Recipe
At least one fisherman
An assortment of baitfish or shrimp flies
A large collection of well soaked crab pots in 5-15 feet of water or floating debris (trees, trash, etc)
Floating and standing channel markers adjacent to shallow water
9:30 am-4:00 pm time slot
A decent sized gasoline tank
The most effective way to catch these delicious finned floaters is to fish in late spring to summer, when temperatures are near their peak. In Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, this is usually late April to mid-July. After a major tournament, like the ADSFR, these fish become scarce in the area. Our most successful methods include getting shrimp right up against a channel marker, trying different depths with a bobber stopper. If there is no success after a dozen casts, move on.
Additionally, places like Bayou la Batre and deeper areas near marshland play host to hundreds of lines of crab traps. But, please be respectful of the crabbers. If you snag a pot, untangle it to avoid injury. In these situations, you may or may not see the fish. Casting a few times to each pot never hurts. If you are fortunate, you will spot a dark shape a few feet below or right up against a buoy. Be aware, they are multi-colored and can be disguised similarly to algae stuck to the rope. When in doubt, cast.
Furthermore, cast to any tree, driftwood, or random object floating on the surface of the brackish waters. These fish love to find debris. This fishing method takes persistence and patience. And in the summer heat, you want to make sure there is a good supply of Gatorade on board. The pay off may only be one or two fish, but it will definitely be worth the struggle.
Comment below with your experience!