Tripletail x3 — How Experts in Three States Score with These Light-Tackle Targets

Pros' tips from Florida, Georgia and Mississippi

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Tripletail Times Three

Gently, I nudged the outboard into gear and turned the Pathfinder bay boat in a wide circle. The three anglers on deck crouched. "Yeah, I still see it. It's still up," I whispered. The** tripletail** swam lazily on its side as if transformed into the flotsam it mimics. The angler cast a live shrimp and cork toward its path then slowly reeled the bait. If his geometry was correct and the fish stayed its course, the bait and tripletail would intersect. But that’s still no guarantee of a hookup. Tripletail remain a stubborn enigma to most anglers. In some places, the fish orients only to structure such as buoys and pilings; in others — such as south Georgia — it swims over shallow, featureless sand bottoms, and sometimes rises to lie at the surface. The species’ range covers a fairly broad global area, but in our country, anglers in three particular regions find steady concentrations of the fish at certain times of year: coastal Georgia, Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. To further explore this puzzling fish, I spoke to captains and scientists who target and study tripletail in these regions. (Note: Adapted from a full-length feature article in the March issue of Sport Fishing_.)_Sam Root
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GEORGIA: When, Where and How

When: Tripletail start showing up when the water temperature on the beaches tops 65 degrees, says Capt. Greg Hildreth. That's usually in late March or early April. The peak of the sight-fishing for tripletail is mid-May to mid-June. However, some tripletail move to the channel markers in late April, and remain around structure until September. When sight-casting, you can expect to see an average of 30-plus fish a day and catch seven to 12 fish. “My best day, a few years ago, saw us tag and release 38 tripletail,” Hildreth says. The best time of day for sight-casting is midmorning till midafternoon. “I usually don’t leave the dock until 9:30 — when the sun is high enough to see.” ... continued on the next image.Capt. Spud Woodward
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GEORGIA: When, Where and How

Where: Georgia researchers started tagging and releasing tripletail in 2001 and collected samples in 2009 and 2010 to try and figure out why the fish do what they do off of the Georgia coast — and that is: float on the surface in shallow, featureless water. The highest concentrations of tripletail seem to occur just off Jekyll Island, near the south end of the state’s 100-mile-long coast. The fish seem to float seaward on an outgoing tide; they’re found closer to shore on an incoming tide. In either case, they’re generally less than a mile from the beach in water that’s 7 to 10 feet deep. ... continued on the next image.Capt. Spud Woodward
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GEORGIA: When, Where and How

How: “I use medium-heavy-action Penn Legion rods with Penn Battle 3000 reels, spooled with 20-pound Stren Sonic braid. My leader is 16 to 20 inches of 20-pound mono tied to a popping cork, and my bait of choice is a small live shrimp on a No. 4 Kahle hook,” Hildreth says. “I also catch a good number of tripletail on fly and artificial lures such as D.O.A. Shrimp.” As described above, the normal routine is to maneuver upwind of the fish you’re targeting so you have enough time to cast the bait, and then wait it out until the fish bites or the boat drifts too close.Chris Woodward
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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA: When, Where and How

When: "We sometimes start catching tripletail in mid-February, if the water temperatures warm early, but usually the season starts in March. I would say the peak spring months are mid-April through mid-June, especially for big spawning fish up to 20 pounds. They usually bug out sometime in July," says Capt. Scott Lum, who has clients that choose to target tripletail on all kinds of tackle. The fish return during October, November and December. At peak times — in spring and fall — it’s not uncommon to catch 15 or more tripletail in a five-hour trip. ... continued on the next image.Adrian E. Gray
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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA: When, Where and How

Where: “In March we start sight-fishing for them on weed lines and debris, sometimes in only 25 to 40 feet of water along the beaches, usually south of Patrick Air Force Base to Port Canaveral," Lum says. "The fish are generally under 10 pounds. “April brings lots of sargassum and flotsam. My theory is that the tripletail float in with the weeds, and then find the ship-channel buoys. By May and June, they’re usually stacked up on buoys and other structure. When beach-renourishment -operations are going on, we see lots of dredge barges and equipment, floating pipes, pumps, anchor buoys, and sometimes even jack barges — all of which can hold tripletail.” ... continued on the next image.Chris Woodward
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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA: When, Where and How

How: Anglers either sight-fish for the tripletail or work the structure. “When sight-fishing, I run my Contender from its tower at a moderate speed, working southeast, looking for slick water or sargassum. “I motor along the weed line with the sun at my back until I spook a tripletail or cobia. When I see a fish, I try to cast from as far away as possible using light tackle with 20-pound braid. I cast a few feet past the fish’s field of vision, twitching the bait to entice a strike.” When fishing buoys, Lum uses the outboard in reverse with the motor facing the wind to hold position up-current so I can drift baits back under the buoy naturally. Artificial baits include soft-plastic shrimp-patterned lures like Livetarget Shrimp, Savage Gear Manic Shrimp and D.O.A. Shrimp, or Mission Fishin’ jig heads from ⅛ to ½ ounce, along with Hogy swimbaits. Live bait choices include medium to large shrimp, finger mullet, small menhaden, blue runners, scaled sardines, and bigeye scad. “I carry 14 rods, all rigged differently. For fishing buoys, I use medium tackle and 30- to 50-pound PowerPro tied to a short piece of 50-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader using a double uni-knot.”Adrian E. Gray
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MISSISSIPPI: When, Where and How

When: Water temperatures of 70 to 72 degrees signal the tripletail arrival, says Capt. Sonny Schindler, who runs out of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. That usually coincides with late April or early May. The best time of year to catch them is summer: July and August. "And if the tropical storms and hurricanes don't hit us in September, that is hands-down the best month," he says. "The latest we have seen them linger is mid-October, but no storms hit us that year." If you spend all day looking for tripletail, it’s not uncommon to enjoy well over 20 shots at fish. Most days, though, Schindler looks for them on the way in from trout and redfish fishing. With this limited search time, he says he usually sees three to five fish on a good day. ... continued on the next image.Chris Woodward
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MISSISSIPPI: When, Where and How

Where: Schindler fishes Chandeleur Sound, Mississippi Sound and the Lake Borgne area off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Little to no tide is preferred, but you can still catch tripletail on the big ranges. The hotter the better, and it gets hot down there. “We fish anything floating or fixed: buoys, crab-trap floats, channel markers, grass lines, debris, dead animals.” ... continued on the next image.Adrian E. Gray
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MISSISSIPPI: When, Where and How

How: “We do the run-and-gun, especially if it’s midday in the summer. We run hundreds of crab traps and channel markers at 30 mph or faster. The faster you go, the smaller your wake, so it doesn’t roll the fish. “...we normally just put the sun on the opposite side of the boat and look underneath as we pass.” When you see a fish, spin around and come in from the down-current side, he advises. A big live shrimp is without a doubt the best bait. Other live baits that have worked include small finger mullet, pogies, cocahoes (killifish) and squid. The best artificial bait to use would have to be the jumbo Savage 3-D Shrimp. “We use no less than 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. I keep rods rigged with leaders measuring from 10 inches to 4 feet, terminating with 2/0 to 4/0 live-bait hooks.”Adrian E. Gray