Sight-Casting To Cunning Tripletails

Perched high in the flying bridge, the captain kept a sharp eye out for any shadows or activity near buoys or floating debris. As the captain passed near a channel buoy, he spotted a shadow. An angler grabbed a light rod, baited it with a shrimp and tossed it toward the buoy. As it slowly sank, a dark circular object darted out from under the buoy to inhale the morsel!

Anglers don’t usually associate sight-fishing with the deep water offshore, but keeping an eye (and a crab or shrimp) peeled can put more fish in the boat. Tripletails frequently drift along with floating debris, sometimes as small as a beverage can. They hang around channel buoys and cruise weed lines. Sometimes, monster tripletails also sun themselves in open water.

tripletail caught by fisherman
Capt. Brandon Ballay (right) of Sportsman’s Outfitters Unlimited holds a tripletail caught by the author near an oil platform south of Venice, La. (Photo submitted by John N. Felsher)

“We always carry a variety of jigs and live bait to look for targets of opportunity,” said Capt. Joe Shute, with Fish Finder Guide Service in Atlantic Beach, N.C. “Sometimes, we see floating debris and always stop to see what it’s holding. We might see two or three tripletails under an old wooden pallet.”

Also called blackfish, tripletail range throughout the warm waters of the world. Looking something like a dark brown bluegill on bad steroids, tripletail can exceed 40 pounds! Although typically considered an offshore fish, they often enter salty estuaries where they hang around dock pilings, bridges and crab trap floats.

Because of their nomadic nature, tripletails can show up in one place today and disappear tomorrow. Therefore, few people intentionally fish for them. Most people catch tripletails as bonus fish if they spot one hanging around floating debris.

“Tripletails are kind of a ‘now you see them, now you don’t,’ fish,” explained Capt. Erik Rue with Calcasieu Charter Service in Lake Charles, La. “About 99 percent of the ones we catch are seen first. Then, we cast to them and watch them eat the bait. When I’m targeting tripletails, I get in an area with a lot of floating debris and burn a lot of gasoline. It’s sight-fishing, almost like hunting. We have to see them before we can catch them.”

When hunting tripletails, position a spotter equipped with polarized glasses and binoculars high in a tower to look down into the water for any dark moving objects. River deltas and ship channels create exceptional places to hunt tripletail. Fertile river deltas spawn abundant plant growth, giving tripletails excellent places to hide. River currents and ship channels also carry floating debris out to sea. Boxes, crates, lumber and other junk may fall off ships and float on the water, providing great cover for tripletails.

After spotting tripletails hanging under cover, approach from upwind. Stalk them almost like a hunter pursuing a deer, but using the wind to carry the boat to structure instead of human scent away from an animal. Watch tidal flow and wind direction to plan a drift. Don’t shut down the motor where the wake might bounce against structure hiding tripletails. That could spook them. Usually, an idling motor doesn’t bother tripletails, but watch how they react. If equipped with one, use a trolling motor sparingly to maneuver into position for a good cast.

When in casting range, toss a bait beyond the fish and bring it past the tripletail’s nose. Don’t throw right on top of the fish. Tripletails hit a variety of baits, including shrimp, squid and fish, but relish cracked crab. They also smash soft plastics, flies, spoons, jigs sweetened with shrimp and anything that might tempt speckled trout or redfish. If a fish disappears, drop a live bait or a crab to the bottom or return to that spot a while later.

tripletail in gulf of mexico
A tripletail comes to the boat in the Gulf of Mexico about 14 miles south of Cameron, La. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“Tripletails hit just about anything when they are feeding,” Rue said. “I use a light leadhead to keep the bait close to the surface. A heavier bait might fall out of the strike zone too quickly. Occasionally, if they get finicky, I tip a jig with a piece of bait or even toss a live bait. Tripletails are excellent targets for fly fishermen. Catching one on a fly is a ton of fun.”

Anglers can catch tripletails on standard bass, speckled trout or redfish tackle. A medium-action rod with 14- to 20-pound test monofilament or comparable braid should suffice. On light tackle, these scrappers put up quite a sporting fight. On the way back from chasing snapper, cobia, grouper, and mackerel, watch for tripletails. A few bonus ‘tails might turn a humdrum outing into a memorable fishing adventure!

Be sure you keep up to date with the latest fishing tips and stories. Don’t forget to check out Sportsman’s Guide for a selection of fishing gear today.

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