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July 09, 2007

Sensational Sight Casting

Our editors share their favorite fisheries for the ultimate thrill of seeing each strike in this series.

More often than not, we feel a strike long before we ever get a look at its source. But in a few fisheries, we see our quarry well before the hook-setting stage - which raises the thrill of fishing to a whole new level. Not much in fishing produces a rush like actually watching a big fish charge up to inhale a lure or bait (nor is there much as frustrating as watching fish decide not to eat). Here, Sport Fishing's editors have each picked one of their favorite sight-fishing spots and offer a brief description, along with contact information for anyone wanting to get in on the excitement.

Anguish and Exhilaration: Georgia Tripletail

"Look for something that resembles a black or white trash bag," my guide said the first time we scanned the shallow water off Georgia's Jekyll Island. So I started thinking junk, refuse, flotsam. But before I could spot any good swill, he pointed.

"There," he whispered, carefully throttling back to neutral. We drifted toward the dark flat spot on the water's surface.

My fellow angler and I crouched, poised on the casting deck. Our weapons of choice: light spinning rods, rigged with floats and live shrimp. The tripletail lay placid at the surface about 40 feet away. My friend cast his shrimp just in front of the blob, which we estimated to be about a 10-pounder.

"He's on it. He's on it!" the guide hissed. We watched the tripletail submerge and swim around the shrimp.

"He's just looking at it!" my friend groused, hands poised to reel and set the hook. Nonchalant and apparently not hungry, the fish swam away.

Exhilaration followed by anguish typifies this sight-cast fishery. Tripletail, like cobia, often inspect their food before eating. Perhaps they see the world as their own particular cafeteria line and they want to choose between the jello mold and the chocolate cake. Or perhaps they're just curious.

Once you get past that moment of decision and the tripletail slides up to your shrimp and eats it, angst disappears. Powered by a thick tail and plenty of muscle, trips explode with surprising energy when hooked, often leaping and greyhounding - sometimes into the boat.

Anglers usually encounter tripletail incidentally while fishing around buoy lines or channel markers, so they see this behavior only occasionally. However, over the sand flats off Jekyll Island, Georgia - once a winter playground for the extremely wealthy about an hour north of Jacksonville, Florida - tripletail are much more than incidental.

Lobotes surinamensis gather here in the spring, from late March through June. Biologists can't say why here and also off Cape Canaveral, Florida, about 200 miles south. But their numbers are so great off Jekyll that spotting them becomes routine at times; anglers can count on as many as 20 shots a day.

The average trip measures about 12 to 20 inches, but a few make it to the 20- to 30-pound range. Tripletail make wonderful table fare and may be legally kept when they measure over 18 inches. Regulations passed this year dropped the five-fish daily bag limit to two.

Because the water around south coastal Georgia can be rather muddy, live bait - shrimp in particular - tends to be the choice for most anglers, though tripletail will take plastics, jigs and flies.

With any wind, a typical trout setup works well - a 7- to 9-inch balsa float or a rattling float like a Cajun Thunder followed by a small torpedo weight, an  18-inch leader and a Kahle-style shrimp hook. Some anglers use black electrical tape to cover the submerged portion of the balsa float, which is often a bright color.

Tripletail may seem an easy target because they can lie fairly still on the surface. But frequently they are moving in a specific direction, and from their vantage point, they can see a good distance. Tripletail  become bonefish-skittish after they've been targeted for a month or more, so that means late April and May rank as prime time to visit Jekyll Island.

- Chris Woodward, Editor

Capt. David Blackshear, 912-638-2512
Capt. Greg Hildreth,
Capt. Larry Kennedy III, 912-634-6987,
Capt. Frank Mead, 912-638-4261