Summer's Prized Catch, Tripletail
Part of the What's Biting Series
Dodging thunderstorms is a daily occurrence for inshore anglers during this rainy August period. But the rewards of heading out between storms can be great, especially when it comes to one of summer’s prized catches – the tripletail, otherwise known as blackfish.
The tripletail gets its name because the fish’s soft dorsal, anal and caudal fins come together to make it appear the fish has three tails.
Tripletail fishing is a treat only enjoyed by Alabama anglers during the summer, when the water temperatures rise and the baitfish populations explode. The tripletails head inshore to gorge on the abundant prey before they head back into the Gulf of Mexico when the water starts to cool in late fall.
Sargassum grass provides cover for tripletails when they live in the open water of the Gulf. Sargassum will slowly migrate toward the shore, so blackfish will follow and look for cover on anything that provides shade. Channel markers, buoys, crab trap floats or any other flotsam are where blackfish hang out.
Often anglers will cruise from spot to spot, looking for blackfish hanging around the structure. If one is spotted, the angler will make a wide loop and try to make a stealthy approach where he can cast some type of live bait in front of the fish.
Live shrimp under a slip cork is the most common bait for blackfish. Flip the bait in front of the fish and watch for the fish to head toward the bait. However, blackfish are known to be finicky at times. If the fish ignores the bait, leave the fish alone and come back later in the day to see if the fish is willing to take the bait.
But not all blackfish have to be spotted to be caught. A few anglers will toss a live shrimp, pogey or finger mullet near each piling or crab trap float they get near to see if a tripletail is lurking just deep enough in the water to go undetected.
That’s exactly what happened earlier this year when a group of guys were tripletail fishing. The big live shrimp splashed down in the water near a piling and drifted about 10 feet away from the structure when the cork went down in a flash. After an adrenalin-filled, 10-minute battle, a 30-pound blackfish was hauled into the boat.
With the expansion of the oyster aquaculture industry, the suspended oyster containers can also make an excellent spot to find tripletails. One oyster farmer told me recently that it’s not uncommon at all to see blackfish hanging around the containers when they go to check on the oysters.
When it comes to tackle, your inshore gear for speckled trout and slot redfish is not going to be sturdy enough to subdue a decent-sized tripletail. Old-timers used 16-foot Calcutta cane poles rigged with heavy line and overpowered the fish. Today’s blackfish anglers use medium-heavy rods and relatively heavy line. The heavy line helps keep the fish away from the structure, where razor-sharp barnacles can slice through the line in a heartbeat. Some people use 30-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line while others are going with 60-pound braided line with a heavy fluorocarbon leader. And don’t be shy on the hookset. You’ve got to hit the fish hard to ensure the hook imbeds in that bony mouth.
The daily bag limit in Alabama waters is three fish with an 18-inch minimum total length, but most blackfish anglers know that a limit is seldom achieved. A successful blackfishing trip means one nice fish in the ice chest. More than one in the ice chest is a great day of blackfishing, but the summer of 2017 seems to be one of those years where the great days are happening much more often.