Get in on the tripletail bonanza

Big tripletails, like this one caught near the Calcasieu jetties, are not only t

Fishing on Sabine and Calcasieu lakes is gradually improving, even with water temperatures holding at a sizzling 89 degrees. Both of these “hot” fishing locations are producing fair numbers of trout and reds, along with one of the weirdest fish on earth – tripletails.

A tripletail is one of the wackiest fish you’ll ever see, or catch. They taste great, fight hard and can be caught right about now at the many wells between Sabine and Calcasieu. The wells, located anywhere from 1 to 6 miles offshore, are usually the best. For some reason, this is a great area to fish for tripletails.

These fish get big. The Texas record weighed 33.50 pounds and was caught June 29, 1984, by Edie Pruitt while fishing on Matagorda Bay, located on the middle Texas coast. In fact, this particular bay is the go-to body of water to find record setting tripletails in August and September.

There are a few areas along the Texas coast where tripletails are most abundant. TPWD’s coastal fisheries catch data shows that the near shore structure off the Sabine jetties produces the most tripletail. The Gulf off Galveston and Matagorda are the second and third highest producers. In Texas bays, however, West Matagorda Bay is where most tripletail are usually caught by recreational anglers and in TPWD gill nets. Why Matagorda Bay is so appealing to tripletail is a mystery. It could be due to a combination of the number of pilings and platforms and the salinity regime.

“The most characteristic and certainly one of the most unusual behaviors exhibited by these fish is to lie just below the surface, floating with one side exposed, looking — for all intents — dead,” says Bill Balboa, TPWD’s Matagorda Bay Ecosystem Leader. “To my knowledge, there has been no scientific evaluation of why tripletail behave in this manner. I suppose it is not unreasonable to speculate that this trait may relate to either thermal regulation or as a feeding strategy as they ‘lie in wait’ for an unsuspecting prey item to assume a position under their floating bodies. The latter seems the most feasible since tripletail are often found near weed lines and many of their prey items would naturally be fish that are associated with floating structures.”

Tripletail are most often seen and caught near structure like wells, pilings and floating objects such as wooden pallets and weed lines. They also prefer the mouths of rivers, passes and bays opening into the Gulf. It is this affinity that makes tripletail a relatively easy target for anglers. It is merely a matter of locating structures or “weed lines” holding tripletail, placing appropriate bait near the waiting fish, and then the action begins. The biggest obstacle to landing these fish is trying to pull them away from pilings or other obstacles before they wrap or tangle the line and break off.

One of the best baits you can use to catch these fish is a peeled shrimp on a No. 3 or 4 Mustad Wide Gap croaker hook. I like to skewer a peeled shrimp on the hook. When a tripletail is spotted it’s just a matter of pitching the bait past the fish and reeling it up within eyesight.

Another option is to rig a small piece of peeled shrimp on the triple hook behind a 1/4- or 1/2-ounce silver spoon. I’ve caught quite a few big tripletails with this lure/bait combo around the wells a few miles east of the Sabine jetties.

“Tripletail are popular game fish in all Gulf Coast states,” says Balboa. “In other states, tripletail are often referred to as blackfish and are a popular and fairly well-known game fish. In fact, some Gulf states even allow limited commercial harvest of the species.”

When it comes to good-eating fish, it’s tough to beat a tripletail. The flesh is firm and white and is considered by many to be equal to or superior to red snapper or grouper.

Sabine Lake trout

On Sabine Lake, the trout bite is best on the lower end from Blue Buck Point on down to the causeway bridge. But if you’re dead set on boxing a limit of trout you might head out to the rigs just east of the Sabine jetties. That’s where a lot of trout have been caught on soft plastics rigged on 1/4- ounce jig heads. Best colors are red/shad, chartreuse/pepper or white/red.

Guide Buddy Oaks with Hackberry Rod and Gun Club says their fishing on Calcasieu has improved 100 percent over the past week or so. The top bait is live shrimp. The best area to fish is along the ship channel.

“Lots of hot August weather hasn’t slowed the catching,” said Oaks. “These last few days have been the best fishing of the year. Most limits of speckled trout are coming very early in the day up and down the ship channel on both sides. The fish are congregated on the drop-offs. Live shrimp is the No. 1 bait, but live pogies are bringing in the bigger trout. On calm days, good catches are coming from the short rigs doodle socking on bottom with live bait and glow/chartreuse Hackberry Hustlers.”

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