It wasn’t too many years back that the secret of catching tripletail during stone crab season was known only to a few locals. A lot of charter guides wish that were still the case. But secrets have a way of getting out, and now it’s common knowledge that these fish hang out under the crab trap markers and can be caught there.
Before everyone was aware of this, those tripletail were stupid easy to catch. They’d just hang out right under the float, even if you approached within a couple feet. The state had to outlaw catching them with dipnets because they’d just sit there and let you scoop them up.
But now, with a lot of fishing pressure on them, they’ve become much more educated. That means that if you hope to catch them instead of just see them, you have to make fewer mistakes. Today we’re looking at the common oopsies that lead to missed tripletail.
Driving too close
I get it — your eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. But if you’re running 5 feet from the trap floats to see if they’re holding fish, you’re going to spook them. You really need to be farther away; more like 30 to 40 feet. Getting up a little higher will help. The fancy coolers that are so popular now are sturdy enough to stand on (just be sure you have something to hold on to). Keeping the sun behind you will also help immensely.
Stopping too close
When you spot a fish, don’t immediately come off the throttle. Instead, go another 100 yards, then turn around and approach stealthily. If you hear a motorcycle go past your house, it’s no big deal. But if you hear a motorcycle pull up into your driveway and stop, you’re going to go on alert. The fish are the same.
Missing the cast
Tripletail don’t generally stray too far from home base. You might get one to swim 10 feet for a snack, but more likely it will have to come right past the fish’s nose. So, how good are you at casting? Can you hit a dinner plate at 30 yards? If the answer is no, then you’d be well-served by some casting practice in the yard. Start off with a hula hoop at 15 yards, then 20, 25 and 30. Then do the same with a smaller target. Be sure to change the circumstances, too — with the wind and against it, sun or shadow in your face.
Out of sight
You got too close or botched the cast, and the fish disappeared. It happens. But don’t move on just yet. Instead, pinch on a splitshot and send that bait down deeper. Very often, a tripletail just swims down the rope connected to the trap. If you send a bait after him, you may still have a shot at that fish.
gotta take control
Once you get a fish hooked, job one is to get it away from the crab trap line. That rope is probably starting to get covered in marine growth such as barnacles and mussels — little knives that will cut your line like cobweb. Don’t let a tripletail swim around the rope. If it does, immediately open your bail and pull off some line. A loose line is harder to cut than a taut one. Motor up to the float and untangle the line, taking care to unwrap it the right way. A lot of fish are lost this way, including most of the really big ones over 15 pounds.
They all float
Stone crab floats are tripletail magnets, but so is anything else that floats: Weedlines, coconuts, random debris as small as soda bottles. Don’t get so lasered in on crab traps that you forget about these other possibilities. As a bonus, fish that aren’t on the crab traps are usually a lot less spooky (probably because no one ever targets them there).
At the fillet table
Tripletail look like fish — but they’re part dragon, and you can tell by the scales. Getting in requires a sharp knife (and a backup knife is a good idea). Start at the spiny dorsal fin and make the first cut alongside it. You will also find that tripletail have a heavy bone structure unlike most other fish (though somewhat similar to sheepshead). After you cut off the fillets, there will probably be lots of meat left on the carcass. Pick up the knife and get those bits of meat. They will make the best fish tacos or fried fish nuggets you ever had.
While tripletail are entertaining sportfish that pull pretty good and jump more than you’d expect, food value is the main reason these fish are so desirable. Putting one in the cooler isn’t so easy, but these tips will help make it a reality. Break a rod out there!
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.