They hang in the shadows; they try to blend in, go unnoticed. They’ll size up their target, wait for the right moment and then strike with a potent blend of speed and aggression. Sound like a mugger, a carjacker, maybe a purse-snatcher?
Nope, none of the above. We’re talking about tripletail—one of the top fall targets in the Gulf of Mexico. Built similar to a bluegill, this tall-profile fish sports a prominent secondary dorsal fin and anal fin that both ride so far aft that they actually appear to be the outer twain of three tails.
Colored with a mix of browns, blacks and sometimes a touch or tan or white, the tripletail blends in well with the various flotsams common to coastal waters and the sea growth that accumulates along crab trap buoy lines.
Not surprising then, that one of the top ways of engaging these sneaky fish is to idle the rows of crab traps positioned along coastal beaches and scan the water for something that looks like a piece of trash, maybe a brownish pie plate, or perhaps a plastic grocery bag drifting by a buoy.
You certainly will see flotsam and sea growth, but very often that innocent object is actually a calculating illusionist, locked and loaded. Soon as a baitfish, shrimp or small crab drifts by, the motionless suddenly springs into motion, nabs the meal and returns to the ruse as if nothing ever happened.
Savvy anglers have figured out that presenting live shrimp or small baitfish like scaled sardines (“pilchards” or “whitebait”) under corks allows them to target the tripletail strike zone by drifting a bait into range. Weighted popping corks are preferred when windy days require more casting distance, but in calm conditions, any light float and a split shot will do.
Minnow style flies and artificial shrimp will also tempt the ‘tails. Make long casts past the targeted buoy and bring your bait past the fish’s nose. And don’t hesitate to hang one of those plastic shrimp under a cork—that’ll work, too.
So, watch those buoys, look for odd items in the water and don’t be fooled. No shame in casting toward what may ultimately turn out to be an actual piece of flotsam or sea growth. However, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how often that pie plate or plastic bag comes to life and eats your bait.