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The Amazing Tripletail
written by Ron Brooks

Three times the tail means three times the fight.
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During the spring and summer months, "trips" can be located by savvy anglers who know where to look. 

As we sat tied to a mangrove in East Cape canal on the southwest tip of Florida, I saw a large brown object floating with the outgoing tidal current and heading toward our boat. Much to my amazement, it turned out to be a fish of strange proportions that looked as if it were almost dead. Drifting just under the surface and lying on its side, only a close look revealed that its dorsal and pelvic fins were slowly moving. I picked up the net in an attempt to land it, but about three feet from the boat he slowly swam down and away.

That was many years ago, and it was my first exposure to these rather strange but hard-fighting fish. I had to look long and hard at reference books in the library to identify and learn about them. Since that time, I have caught my share of them, and actually developed some successful tactics pursuing them.

the name comes from and describes the shape of the dorsal and anal fins and tail. Extending back, broad and full, the fins help give the appearance of three tails. It is generally a dark brown color, although I have caught some that had a mottled brown and off-white coloration

The tripletail is found from Massachusetts and Bermuda to Argentina, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. It is also found in the Mediterranean Sea as well as from Portugal down the African coast to the Gulf of Guinea. In the Eastern Pacific it can be found from Costa Rica to Peru, and in the Western Pacific around Japan, Fiji, and Tuvalu.

While not terribly abundant in any locale, they are found in good numbers along the Gulf coast and southern Atlantic states from March through early October. Then they migrate to the south during the winter months.

During the spring and summer months, "trips" can be located by savvy anglers who know where to look. Understanding the strange habits of these fish helps anglers find and catch some very good table fare!

Trips have a peculiar habit of sunning themselves. They will spend hours floating just under the surface on their sides, occasionally turning from one side to another. They identify with structure so well that they will actually stick their mouth right up next to a piling or pole. In waters where crab trap floats dot the surface, they can be found at the surface just under one of the floats.

Not much of a schooling fish, anglers catch them either by chance or by specifically targeting likely areas that contain some type of structure. Once you find one trip, you will likely find more individual fish scattered in the same area. And once you find an area, you can depend on that area having fish year after year.

The tactic that works best is to run at a reduced speed through an area of poles, markers, floats, or buoys. Keep the boat well away from the structure 75 to 100 feet or more, and as you pass it, have someone on the bow of the boat look long and hard at that structure. A dark shadow under the surface and next to the structure means fish. 

Swing the boat around and idle back to the pole or marker on which the fish was sitting. Chances are good that because you ran right by him, he is still up in the water column. But if he isn't visible, he is still on that structure - just in a deeper location.

We use a small jig head with a shrimp tail or small live shrimp and we gently cast it to the structure, allowing the bait to drop toward the bottom. It only takes one or two casts to make a hook-up. Generally, if the fish is there, he will eat your bait.

At that point, the fight is on, and this broad three-tailed bruiser can really fight. Short, powerful runs are followed by a broadside, digging fight to the boat like trying to drag a plank to the boat broadside!

Another method to find some trips is to simply run the shoreline outside the surf and look for them floating on the surface. Once again, it takes a long but gentle cast to get as close as possible without hitting the fish.

Along the Atlantic Seaboard, large numbers of tripletail are taken as by-catch by shrimp boats. Many anglers who know the value of these fish both for their fight and for their great taste stay at odds with the shrimpers, feeling that the March and April take is of relatively large fish, probably a part of the breeding stock. That battle goes on annually and is currently being studied by state game and fish biologists.

areas of the Gulf Coast have good populations of tripletails. Channel marker buoys and any floating object will attract them. In the South Florida area, Florida Bay has a good population of fish and they can be seen outside the Everglades National Park under crab trap buoys all summer long.

Along the Atlantic Seaboard as far north as Massachusetts, the trips will float outside the surf line and in and out of the many inlets.  Most people think they are simply a dead fish floating along and they pay little attention to them. These people are missing the boat on some fine fishing action!

Farther south, the Cape Canaveral area in Florida is home to a good summer population. The shipping channel buoys heading out from the cruise ship port are favorite hangouts. On a recent cruise I watched the buoys as we slowly slide by and four out of the six buoys had fish on them. Some had more than one. Anglers were fishing all over the area, but no one was pursuing the trips I saw. They probably didn't even know that they were there!


These fish are easy to catch, and once you locate that first fish, you can be assured of some continued summer fishing fun in the same area.  Triple your pleasure on your next trip out!

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