What's Biting: Tripletail
Sunshine is abundant here on the Alabama Gulf Coast. And this time of year, the dog days of August, everybody is looking for a little shade.
That also includes one of the most prized fish species on the Gulf Coast, the delicious tripletail. Also called blackfish, the tripletail name comes from the fish's fin configuration that makes it look like it has three tails.
[caption id="attachment_7222" align="alignright" width="208"] Tripletail[/caption]
Although you might rarely see a tripletail moving from one spot to another, the fish is almost always found in the shade. And it usually doesn't matter much what provides the shade in inshore waters. It could be a channel marker pole, a crab trap float, a lot floating down a bay or the top of an ice chest that got blown off. In fact, some anglers even make there own shady plots by deploying a piece of floating material. They go fish other spots for a while and then come back to their tripletail attractors to see if any fish have arrived. When it's time to go in, the attractors are picked up and stowed in the boat until the next trip.
Because tripletail are solitary fish during the summer, you'll have to burn a little gas to travel from spot to spot. Of course, that's not always a bad thing when the sweat starts rolling down your face and you need a speedy boat ride to provide a cool-down.
During the cooler months, tripletail can be found offshore, usually around mats of sargassum grass. When the grass moves to the shore, the fish follow and find shade wherever they can.
Be forewarned that tripletails are easy to spook, so once a fish is spotted, a stealthy approach is needed. Live shrimp under a slip cork is the traditional method to catch blackfish. Flip the bait in front of the fish and watch for the fish to head toward the bait. Every once in while, you'll find a finicky blackfish that refuses to eat for whatever reason. It's best to leave the fish and come back later in the day to see if he's changed his mind about eating.
Live shrimp isn't the only bait that works on tripletail. I've seen them hit live and cut menhaden (pogies), live finger mullet and live croakers. Because there is so much for them to eat on the Alabama Gulf Coast, tripletail can grow to enormous sizes. Most fish will be from 5 to 15 pounds, but the state record is 37 pounds, 5 ounces.
Because tripletails vary so much in size, it's best to choose rugged fishing tackle. Some old-timers insist the best way to catch tripletail is with a Calcutta pole, a large cane pole rigged with heavy line. Most anglers, however, use medium-heavy rods and relatively heavy line.
The reason for the heavy line is to be able to move the fish away from the structure as quickly as possible. If the fish has the upper hand, it will usually head back to the structure and the razor-sharp barnacles will make quick work of slicing your line. Some people are using 20-pound test line while others prefer 30-pound test. Don't be shy when it comes to the hookset. You've got to drive that hook into their bony jaw or the fish will get away and won't bite again until at least the next day.
While the daily bag limit in Alabama waters is three fish with an 18-inch minimum total length, that is probably optimistic. Every tripletail put in the ice chest is cause for celebration. Each additional fish is gravy. Fortunately, because of Alabama's fertile waters, anglers down here are often treated to tripletail gravy days.