Like just about every other creature, us included, the blackfish is just looking for a little shade during the dog days of summer.
And the blackfish, also known as tripletail for its fin configuration that makes it look like it has three tails, has been especially plentiful in Alabama coastal waters this summer.
When that heat starts to get to you and sweat starts rolling down your face, it’s time to start searching for one of the best-eating fish in Alabama waters.
Blackfish migrate into the inshore waters when water temperatures rise and can be found around any kind of structure that offers shade. Sargassum grass provides cover for tripletails while they’re out in the open water of the Gulf. When that grass moves to the shore, the fish will follow and find cover on channel markers, buoys, crab trap floats or any other flotsam.
Although this summer hasn’t really been a scorcher, so far, it still gets uncomfortably hot if you’re anchored and there isn’t much of a breeze. That’s what is great about tripletail – you have to hunt for them, which means cranking up that outboard and cruising along in the coastal waters, checking every type of structure for any shadows lurking near the shade.
Once a fish is spotted, stealth is the key. A spooked fish will not eat. If the fish refuses to eat for whatever reason, come back later in the day to see if the fish is hungry.
Most anglers get the largest live shrimp they can find and hook it under a slip cork. Carefully flip the bait in front of the fish and watch for the fish to head toward the bait.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a blackfish that is ready to eat, and one of the telltale signs that a fish is ready to bite is it will change colors to an almost white hue. When a fish changes colors, any type of bait that lands close, the fish will inhale. Of course, 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.
At times, you’ll be surprised that blackfish will hang around even the smallest of structures, mainly crab trap floats. Don’t hesitate to cruise down a trap line to look for fish.
Because tripletails vary significantly in size (the state record is 37 pounds, 5 ounces), it’s best to choose rugged fishing tackle. While some diehards still use Calcutta poles, large cane stalks rigged with heavy line, most anglers use medium-heavy rods and relatively heavy line.
The reason for the heavy line is to be able to quickly move the fish away from the structure, which are always encrusted with razor-sharp barnacles that will easily slice through any fishing line. Some people use 20-pound test line while others stick with 30-pound test. Another reason for the heavy line is to be able to really drive home the hook once the fish takes the bait. If you fail to set the hook properly in that bony jaw, you can forget about that fish biting again for at least a day.
The daily bag limit for tripletail in Alabama waters is an optimistic three fish with an 18-inch total length minimum. However, most anglers who pursue blackfish are happy as can be to put one fish in the ice chest. This season has been particularly productive for tripletail anglers, so don’t miss out on this late summer opportunity.
To learn more about fishing on the Alabama Gulf Coast, check out the fishing brochure from Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.