With water temperatures dropping down to 75 degrees and stone crab traps getting put out in the Gulf, it’s almost time for some fun tripletail fishing. Fishing for tripletail can be some of the best and most fun fishing of the year, because you’re sight-casting to every fish.
When I head out for tripletail, I always make sure to have a few things on my boat. The first is a full gas tank, because I know sometimes I’ll end up driving around a lot. Next is a well full of live shrimp. Tripletail love shrimp, so it’s one of the best baits there is for them. Then, I check my stash of floats and make sure there’s a bunch.
Tripletail like things that float in the water. Floating grass, debris, wood and even leaves will sometimes have fish under them, so of course they’re drawn to crab trap markers. When you get out off the beaches where the trap lines are, you’re going to see a lot of people running up and down past the floats. They’re hunting for what looks like a brown paper bag floating just under the surface.
You don’t have to run on plane to find these fish. A lot of the time, I just keep my trolling motor in the water and idle down the trap lines. That makes it a lot easier to actually catch tripletail because you’re not running past them and scaring them, plus you don’t have to worry about turning around to find them.
Once I find a trap with a fish or two under it, I figure out which way the current and wind will push me. Then I position the boat upcurrent of the fish so that I can cast my bait and let it float to them. It’s important to let the current do the work here. I don’t believe many shrimp are going to swim upcurrent toward a predator, so I keep it as natural as I can.
If I’m going for a natural presentation, why the float? Simple: I have seen a lot of tripletail abandon their crab trap marker to swim right under my float. Then they look down and there’s a nice little snack for them. Don’t be afraid to use an oversize float — it might actually help.
When I am fishing for tripletail, I only allow one angler to cast at the fish. With more people casting at the fish, there’s a higher chance for a bad cast — you’ll spook them if you cast too close. More importantly, how many times have you ever seen a school of shrimp swimming along? One shrimp in the water is an opportunity. Two or more is weird.
A lot of people think that you need live shrimp to catch tripletail. Truth is, you don’t. Actually, I prefer to use artificial baits. When I’m throwing fake stuff, I get on the back side of the current so that I can retrieve the bait to the fish — again, think about how bait moves with the water.
DOA Shrimp in the clear color are good. Out in the Gulf, the water is clearer than in the Harbor, so the shrimp are usually very pale, almost translucent. You can put this lure under a float if you want. What I like to do is free line them. I they don’t hit it with a slow retrieve. I’ll reel it up to the fish and then stop. If you see that fish follow you bait down deep, get ready — it’s about to go down.
Strike King makes some paddletails and curly-tail grubs that work amazingly well on the tripletail. I use a white tail on a pink Rockport Rattler jighead pink (2/0 hook, eighth-ounce weight). Throw it past them and slowly reel it back, allowing the bait to get as close to the fish as possible. The curly-tail in particular really seems to get them fired up and makes them very aggressive.
No matter wht you’re using for bait, after hooking up on them it’s game on. Tripletail fight hard and jump all over the place, They also like to run around the rope attaching the marker to the crab trap. If this happens to you, relax. Flip your reel’s bail open and take your boat around the trap. Don’t try to horse the fish around the rope; that will just get you a broken line.
Handle tripletail with care — they have a lot of sharp surfaces, including the gill covers. They’re an excellent table fish, but please remember that the size limit is now an 18-inch minimum. Also, don’t try to snag or free-net one. To stay legal, you have to use sporting hook-and-line methods. And now that you know how, get out there and have some fun with these fish.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.