Fall tripletail fishing gives anglers just as much excitement as reds and specks, and perhaps even better eating than flounder.
Although hunting seasons for deer and ducks won’t open until quite a bit later this winter, I am absolutely hunting this morning as I slowly motor through a string of crab trap floats.
This kind of hunting doesn’t involve camo clothing, scent blockers, or well-trained retrievers to bring the downed game back to the blind. This kind of hunting is simply a matter of me looking for dark, stealthy, eager to bite tripletail which love to conceal themselves under floating stuff of any kind.
Tripletail are perhaps the prime sight fishing quarry for northern Gulf Coast anglers from Louisiana to the Big Bend of Florida.
And now my hunt seems to be paying off. Below a big green crab trap float, I see a dark shadow which slowly moves around the line which attaches the Styrofoam float to the metal trap on the bottom below. This dark shadow is a tripletail, and it appears to be a good one. I think this fish will go better than eight pounds- maybe a lot better.
When fall tripletail fishing, I have my standard tripletail rig ready. I use a medium action spinning or casting rig with 20 lb. line and a popping cork fixed a couple of feet above a hook with a live shrimp. I cast this rig past the crab trap float and then quickly work the shrimp close to the float. When my bait reaches the float where the tripletail was spotted, I let the shrimp sink below the popping cork.
The shadow below the float seemed to disappear. I can’t see it at all, and I would hate it if the fish had spooked by my cast. But tripletail don’t spook easily, and as my popping cork reaches the float, I see the dark shadow appear from below the float. The tripletail sees my shrimp, and it appears to be very interested in a nice shrimp dinner.
My popping cork bobs once, and then it just disappears. When I come back on the strike, I decide that this tripletail may just go over eight pounds. I manage to get this fish clear of the nasty, line-cutting crab trap float rope and into open water.
I get a strong, powerful run, and then the tripletail comes to the surface where it puts on a fight that is worthy of any game fish. This tripletail jumps like a ladyfish, and it pulls hard like a bull redfish. Fall tripletail fishing is a whole lot of fun.
Where Are They?
Tripletail are creatures of contradiction. For instance, trips are always found near some sort of structure, except for those times they’re in open water. Anglers that enjoy fall tripletail fishing can reliably look for them near floating stuff, but many times the tripletail are caught in open water away from any kind of floating stuff. These fish can make anglers go a little bit nuts.
Anglers that are fall tripletail fishing may locate great fish in the big bays where the fish have spent the summer feeding on a wide range of fish, crabs, shrimp and other food. Tripletail can also be found in the fall in near shore waters where the fish will be moving toward open waters of the Gulf for escape from cooler water.
Studies indicate that tripletail in the northern Gulf of Mexico are somewhat migratory as they move between the ocean in winter and inshore waters in summer. Unlike cobia, there appears to be little east and west movement.
Crab trap floats are the classic floating structure, particularly in the Mobile Bay system and Apalachicola Bay. Anglers that are fall tripletail fishing can meet with good success slowly running down rows of crab trap.
However, weed mats, floating wood, even dead fish on the surface can hold trips that will respond to angler’s offerings. Anything that is floating is a potential hotspot for fall tripletail fishing.
“Anglers that are fall tripletail fishing can meet with good success slowly running down rows of crab trap.”
Fall tripletail anglers would be making a terrible mistake to overlook other kinds of structure. Any kind of solid structure such as channel markers and major reefs can hold tripletails in fall. Gas rigs in Mobile Bay and permanent navigation markers along the ICW can be great locations for tripletail to hold close to.
The biggest tripletail I’ve ever seen caught, a massive 27 lb. stud, was caught off a navigation pole just north of Dauphin Island. This massive tripletail came during the fall, and it came in deep water. The first indication we had of this very big tripletail came when my buddy let a live shrimp drift down alongside the nab pole until the tripletail devoured it.
It is not unusual for anglers to encounter tripletail in open water. For whatever reason, in the fall many times anglers will be anchored up working an oyster reef or sunken shrimp boat and a big tripletail will appear out of nowhere and just drift by the anchored boat. It can be a real wake up to an angler to realize that a big tripletail has just arrived unannounced. These open water fish often appear to just be floating along, and they don’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. These open water fish are almost always a very light color, almost white. This is in contradiction to the very dark, almost black color, they tend to be when they are hanging around structure. Most open water trips look like some sort of trash drifting in the current. When fall tripletail fishing, most tripletail will respond to a shrimp or properly sized artificial put in its neighborhood.
How to Rig for Tripletail
Fall tripletail have had all summer to eat and get big, so anglers need to make sure their equipment is up to the task.
A good spinning or bait casting rig- say about a seven-foot long medium to medium-heavy rod with a 3000 to 4000 series reels with a couple of hundred yards of 25 lb. line will work well.
Since tripletail have very abrasive gill covers, a couple of feet of 30 lb. or heavier fluorocarbon leader can be a very good idea for big fall tripletail.
Sometimes some pretty long casts will be needed to reach tripletail on distant cover, so whatever kind of rig is used, it should be comfortable for the angler to make long casts.
One of the most fun ways to participate in fall tripletail fishing is to use a fly rod. Many times, trips holding tight to cover can be approached closely enough for anglers to make a good accurate cast with a fly rod.
An eight-weight rod or heavier is a good idea. Tripletail are strong fish, and a too light long rod may quickly be overwhelmed by a big fish that doesn’t want to come in. Make up a strong leader of a 30-lb. butt section with a 20-lb. tippet. It may be necessary to have a short section of fluorocarbon in 30 lb. weight as a bite leader.
A wide range of saltwater flies will work for fall tripletail fishing. Anything that looks like a shrimp or minnow will work. Most tripletails I’ve seen caught on a fly rod came on weighted clousers that were slowly worked right in front of the tripletail.
Make a strong strip-set when the fish strikes on a fly. A weak rod-bending hook set that works for bass and bream won’t work for tripletail. Point the fly rod at the fish and get the line tight and set the hook with a direct, sharp pull on the fly line. As soon as possible, get the fly line on the reel so the reel’s drag can help work the tripletail. These are not good fish to try and work toward the boat by hand-stripping the fly line- strong runs and powerful jumps make using the reel’s drag the best idea.
Don’t Give up on a Good Fish
In October, tripletail are feeding actively to build up energy reserves for the upcoming winter, so they eat just about anything that comes their way. At any point in the year, trips are not especially spooky. Some anglers call them “dumb” and anglers in October can find some really big tripletail. Cast to them, miss on the hookup and cast right back to the fish and give it another chance to eat. Even trips that are hooked and lost on the way back to the boat will very often respond to the same bait cast in their direction again.
Tripletail will generally stay in their preferred location even if a boat gets pretty close, and trips will often make multiple strikes on live shrimp, especially.
And once the tripletail is caught, if it meets state regulations, some great eating is in store. Tripletail because of their tough scales and odd shape can be a bit of challenge to clean. A good very sharp fillet knife- electric knives are good for cleaning trips- is essential. The filets are solid, firm white flesh, and they cook up very well on the grill or cut into strips for frying. Don’t over-season tripletail fillets- the fish tastes very good on its own with no need for lots of seasoning.
Sidebar- Tripletail Regulations and Current Status
Tripletail anglers on the Gulf Coast will want to keep in mind that the bag and size regulations vary slightly depending on the waters being fished. Here are the current state regulations for tripletail
Three per person daily
Two per person daily
Three per person daily