Grey Triggerfish – The Great Taste is Worth The Fight
After I have the Escape in position above the reef below, I call over the boat’s communication system and tell my eager anglers for the day to “Let’em down and see what’s there.” On all sides of the boat, anglers drop their baited hooks and sinkers down, and it doesn’t take long for things to start happening. Almost as quickly as the bait went down, hooked and fighting fish are coming up. Some of the landed fish are the bright red of snappers, but some fish are a solid, dark, almost black color. They have big heads and snapping little beaks for mouths, and the anglers seem to be pleased with either catch. Not so long ago, they would have been considered a bad thing. Of course, these dark grey fish are triggerfish. Triggerfish are treasured now, but formerly, they were considered “trash” fish and rarely kept but today, knowing how to catch them is valuable and leads to some great triggerfish eating.
But things have changed.
I can’t believe that some people used to think that triggerfish were “trash” fish. I can’t believe that anyone would ever throw back a legal in-season trigger. Maybe it is because they can be a challenge to clean, have skin like sandpaper-covered leather, or maybe because they can deliver a very intense bite if someone is careless enough to get a finger within range of those strong triggerfish teeth. Some folks used to consider triggers as trash, but there’s a lot to like about triggerfish.
Triggers were a trash fish before my time. We here in my family have always tried to catch them, and we have always loved to eat them. I can imagine people just didn’t like to go to the trouble of cleaning them.
But triggers are not trash- at least on my boat they are not.
Where We Go To Find Them
Grey triggerfish are true reef fish, and they prefer deeper water. In fact, triggers and red snapper seem to find the same kinds of reefs and the same depth of water very attractive. In general where we find snappers, we find triggers.
Although triggerfish can be caught in large numbers once they are located, folks who want to catch the biggest and best triggers will need to get a ways offshore to find them best triggerfish.
You can catch triggers after you get in around 60 feet of water. This depth will be about ten miles south of Dauphin Island. Again, when the keeping-size red snapper start showing up, we generally will find snappers. And if a really hot school of triggers is occupying a certain reef, they can clean out baits offered to the snapper before the snapper ever get a chance to bite. Triggers can be very aggressive feeders, and a big school of sub-legal triggerfish can make catching red snappers almost impossible as they clean off bait sent down for snappers. This eager triggerfish bite can frustrate anglers who are set on catching red snapper.
Some spots always hold a few more triggers than others for some reason, but triggers are found on almost all spots where red snapper are. We get into some good triggerfish action on chicken coops, tanks, and shipping containers.
How We Rig For Them
Triggers are not massive fish, and a ten-pounder is a really good one. But they are strong fighters, and when they turn that broadside to the pull of the hook, they can be a struggle to get in. They fight pretty hard, and they make strong, fast circles as they fight against the pressure of the hook.
We use a standard two hook “chicken rig” when we are seriously targeting triggers and that entails rigging a bank sinker and two small circle hooks on short leads.
Grey triggerfish are not picky when it comes to bait and they will eat just about anything. Squid is good and it stays on the hook better than most other natural bait. Cigar minnows and cut bonito also work well. Triggerfish will bite just about anything that they think is edible, and triggers can be caught on artificials as well as natural bait.
With triggerfish, the tougher the bait, the better it works because a school of hungry triggers can strip a two hook rig clean in a matter of seconds if the bait is too soft and easy to remove from the hooks.
The hardest part of catching triggerfish is not finding them- they’re on all deep water reefs. The hardest part is detecting the bite and allowing the circle hook to do its job.
For such aggressive feeders, triggerfish can be tough to hook. Just look at the face of a triggerfish. They have small mouths and some very sharp teeth, and their preferred feeding technique is to nip and nibble until the bait is gone. Rarely does a triggerfish just inhale a bait for an easy hookset. And it seems that the bigger the triggerfish, the lighter their bite is.
The angler will feel just a little tap. It helps to keep a good tight line and not let any slack develop as the bait is sent down. If the line is tight, a trigger is much more likely to hook itself on the circle hook than if the line is loose and slack. Consistently hooking triggerfish is a developed skill, and some folks have a lot of trouble getting with the system.
Grey triggerfish can be found anywhere in the water column. They go where the food is, and that can be from the very surface all the way to the reef below.
I recommend fishing your way down. Let the baited hook fall ten seconds. Let it sit, if no bites occur, drop it five more seconds. Somewhere in the drop the triggers will find the bait and bite. Try to keep the line tight, and start reeling when the first nibble is felt.
Anglers will need to be patient once a hot reef is located because wherever triggerfish are found, there will be red snappers there too. And sometimes, those red snappers will take the bait intended for triggerfish.
Isn’t it funny how things can change? Red snapper can be the undesirable fish and triggerfish can be the target instead today.
A Special Triggerfish Eating Treat – Miss Ann Thierry’s West Indies Triggerfish Salad
Once we have our grey triggerfish caught and cleaned, we have some of the very best eating fish of the Gulf. Ann Thierry (Captain Mike’s wife and my mom) has a wonderful recipe for triggerfish and it is some kind of good, I promise.
1 lb. cooked triggerfish fillets (bake or microwave until the grain opens. Do not overcook)
1 small finely diced yellow onion
½ cup Wesson oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup ice water
Salt and pepper
Layer fish and onions until all are used along with salt and pepper. Pour oil, vinegar, and water over top. Refrigerate and let marinate at least a few hours, but overnight is best.
Serve cold with Saltine crackers.
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Captain Mike’s Deep Sea Fishing
This article first appeared in the June 2019 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.