Florida Fishing Report – “Tripletail a Cagey Catch”

Triple Tail 

I have had many long days trolling for Dolphin along the western edge of the Gulfstream and the early mornings traveling 30 to 40 miles off Islamorada trying to find the birds circling over baitfish, weedlines and floating debree – hoping to find the schools of Dolphin.

There is nothing like finding a school of Dolphin lighting up under the boat. And, many times times I have found my share of Dolphin. 

In my early days, fishing with my father we would come across floating logs, lumber and other floating objects.  All while trying to find dolphin. We would find these ugly fish my Dad called TripleTail hanging below a piece of lumber floating in the current.  He taught me how to coax them to bite.  With the bite slow for Dolphin – anything to catch like TripleTail was a great distraction.  These fish are just plain ugly. The thought of taking these home to eat was not appetizing.  That was until I tasted the flaky white fish.

Here is an article titled, “Tripletail a Cagey Catch”from Susan Cocking of the Miami Herald dated September 13th, 2007. As always, Susan has a talent to deliver proking storylines of the South Florida outdoor scene.

For years, South Florida’s most reliable strategy for catching tripletail was to locate the chameleon-like fish floating with stone crab trap buoys on the southwest coast and hugging sargassum and debris patches well offshore on the southeast coast.

Then, one spring day about seven years ago, Chokoloskee light-tackle guide Brian Sanders was motoring seaward of the rivers through the Ten Thousand Islands when he noticed a tripletail lurking beside a partially-submerged log on a mud flat.

”I cast a pilchard and caught one and four or five more came up,” Sanders recalled. ‘I was like, `Wow, look at all the tripletail,’ and I dropped the anchor and caught 15. The biggest was 16 pounds.”


It was the shallowest spot Sanders had ever seen the mysterious fish, about whose migration fisheries scientists know very little. A tagging program run out of the Gulf Coast Research Lab at University of Southern Mississippi in Ocean Springs since 2001 has yielded some information.

But scientist Jim Franks says, “Their behavior is very strange and we know very little about their seasonal movements.”  Sanders agrees.

”One week, I’ll catch ’em good; the next week I won’t see any,” he said. “I don’t fish for them a lot when they would probably be here. I do this maybe once a week.”

Sanders noticed the shallow-water tripletail fishing picked up considerably following Hurricane Wilma’s drive across South Florida in 2005. More deadfalls in flats all along the southwest coast gave the fish more places to hang out and ambush prey.

”I’ve seen them in the back country plug-casting to the shoreline,” Sanders said. “They’re also on the channel markers at Flamingo.”

On a recent trip scouting brush piles in water between one and five feet deep near the Shark River, Sanders and three companions caught a limit of eight tripletail to about seven pounds in an hour.

An isolated log in about two feet of water held the most fish. The tripletail ate small dead threadfin herring on ¼-ounce knocker rigs and chartreuse Berkley Gulp four-inch mullet. Sanders said he also has had luck using fly rods with small Clouser and Deceiver patterns.

While the anglers were bobbing and weaving around one another with bent fishing rods, an Everglades National Park ranger pulled up in a skiff and called, “What are you fishing for? Tripletail?”

Sanders told him yes, then added in an aside to his anglers, “See, it’s no secret!” Certainly not, says Jim Franks.

”Old-timers would take pine saplings down into the sand off Mississippi,” he said. “There’s a lot of knocked-down trees where we caught a lot of tripletail.”

In the past few years, Franks and colleague Read Herndon have made significant strides in understanding the life history of tripletail and have even spawned them in captivity. They hope the tagging program will unlock secrets of the species’ movements.

”We know they’re spawning in the northern Gulf in the summertime,” Franks said. “We think they live to be 6, 7, 8 years old. In the wild, females spawn at six to seven pounds, about 2 years old.”

Even less obvious is where tripletail go during various seasons of the year. The scientists have tracked them as far north as Texas in the Gulf and North Carolina in the Atlantic.

But without satellite pop-up tags that trace the species’ precise movements over several months, researchers don’t know whether the fish migrate between shallow and deep water or whether Gulf and Atlantic stocks mix.

Herndon and volunteers — many in southwest Florida — have tagged more than 1,700 tripletail since 2001 with 172 recaptures. That’s ”almost 10 percent, which is really good,” Herndon said.


The longest distance traveled was 510 miles by a fish tagged off Port Canaveral in March 2006 and recaptured nearly three months later off Topsail Beach, N.C. But Herndon said most of the fish tagged in southwest Florida’s Gulf traveled no farther north than Apalachicola in the Big Bend region.

”None tagged in the northern Gulf ended up in South Florida, nor vice versa,” Herndon said. “We assume they go offshore. They’re certainly migratory, but not to the same extent as cobia.”

The program’s most prolific tagger is Englewood commercial stone crabber Nick Drinnen, who tagged 524 tripletail while pulling his traps during the past two years.

The scientists would like to get even more fishermen involved in the tagging program.

”We need more tagging results,” Franks said. “I can walk off my pier here and catch a tripletail and the same day see one 100 miles offshore. We’ve seen big ones feeding and fattening up for the winter migration. But we’re not sure where they go.”

by Susan Cocking of the Miami Herald