Once a tripletail is located they are an easy and fun fish to catch. Typically you can see the fish in the water and pitch the bait to them and watch the fish strike. A big tripletail will put up a good fight on spinning tackle. The difficult part of catching tripletail is finding them in miles and miles of the blue ocean. Typically fishermen are traveling to a fishing spot to catch pelagic fish species such as mahi-mahi, swordfish, tuna, or marlin and find tripletail fish along the way.
The key to locating tripletail is finding floating debris or surface structure in the water. The debris could be a bucket, crate, pallet, piece of wood, or clump of weed. If you find this type of debris in water with little debris or weeds for miles then there is a good chance that tripletail and other fish will be hanging out underneath the debris. Sometimes people think of debris as trash. This trash often creates its own little ecosystem of baitfish and predator fish.
Finding surface structure is exciting because there is a good chance tripletail and schools of mahi-mahi will be swimming around nearby. Tripletail do not spook easily and the boat can drift close to the debris and fish. Drift close, find the biggest fish in the area, pitch a bait right in front of the fishes mouth and the tripletail will typically bite. If not, keep an eye on the debris and do more drifts with different baits until the fish does bite.
Fishermen get very excited about finding debris that might have tripletail because these fish are fun to catch and are delicious to eat. Tripletail have white flaky meat similar to a flounder or halibut. Tripletail also have very tough skin and scales so make sure you have a sharp knife when cleaning the fish. Below I will discuss the best lures and baits to catch tripletail.
Here Are the Best Tripletail Lures and Baits
1. Squid Tripletail Bait
The best bait I have found for tripletail is a small 1-inch piece of squid on a small hook. These baits can be hard to cast so light spinning tackle is best. Cast the squid right in front of the tripletail and it will typically take the bait! This is also a good bait because most people have squid on the boat because this is also a good bait to have ready to quickly pitch to schools of mahi-mahi.
Owner Mutu Light 4/0 Circle Hook for tripletail
Owner Mutu Light Circle Hook size 4/0 works well with squid and live bait. Tripletail have hard mouths so a thin strong hook is a good idea. Tripletail now have to be over 18 inches to keep in Florida and the standard Mustad 3407 hook does work. This smaller hook allows for smaller baits to be presented with less hook exposed. This is good because tripletail can be hook and leader shy. Typically the pitch gear is set up for mahi-mahi which are not typically leader or hook shy so it is a good idea to have a pole set up and ready to go for tripletail.
In the video above my dad, brother, and I are catching tripletail offshore in the Florida Keys. We find a yellow crate and white bucket in two different areas that are both loaded with tripletail. We keep a few tripletail for dinner and also caught mahi-mahi by the yellow crate. The bait we were using was cut ballyhoo and squid. We had the most success placing the bait a few inches in front of the tripletail. Some tripletail we let go because they were undersized. We also let one big one go. We kept three for dinner which was plenty of fish for us to eat on the trip.
There was also false amberjack in the area that we caught for fun. A few frigate birds were in the area but we mostly picked the fishing spots because of the floating structure. No sargassum weed was near the yellow crate, it was just one crate and was loaded with fish. There was quite a bit of sargassum weed near the white bucket. We were about 10 miles offshore and fishing in late August. Tripletail can be found offshore in the Florida keys years round. They are also found inshore except if the water gets too cold during the winter. Tripletail spawn in nearshore waters in mid to late summer.
2. Shrimp Tripletail Lure
The DOA shrimp is 3-inches in length and weighs 1/2 ounce. Sometimes fresh bait is not available and lures are needed. A good choice would be a DOA shrimp or a small jig. Tripletail can be deep below the floating structure so having someone dropping a jig in the area is always a good idea. Other desirable fish like mahi-mahi, tuna, or reef fish could also be hanging out deep even if the tripletail are only at the surface.
Live shrimp are actually the best bait for tripletail. The problem is I almost never have live shrimp on the boat when going offshore for pelagic fish. When using shrimp put the shrimp on a float with an owner mutu light hook. The float adds weights and makes it easier to drift the bait near the floating structure. The DAO shrimp can also be placed on a float. When fishing inshore waters for tripletail the red glitter color pattern and clear are good options.
In the picture, my brother Kevin is holding a large tripletail he caught fishing offshore in the Florida Keys.
3. Live Bait Fish on a Float
If live baitfish are available this another good option. Put the bait two or three feet off a float so the bait cannot swim deep or get far away from the floating structure being fished. The baitfish shown above are pilchards and scaled sardines which would work perfectly. I would recommend using the owner mutu light hook previously shown above. Hook the bait through the nostrils just above the upper lip. Visit the cast net page to learn about how to catch this type of bait.
Small Float for Tripletail
A two-inch slip peg float helps keep the bait near the surface where the tripletail are usually located. I would use a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. This is heavier than is needed for tripletail but the pole might also be used to catch mahi-mahi or other fish throughout the trip so having a strong leader line is a good idea. If a float is not used the bait will likely swim below the structure and not be passed in front of the tripletail. Sometimes the tripletail are aggressive and will swim 10 feet or more to eat a bait. Typically it works better if you can get the bait within a few feet of the fish. If that does not work try getting the bait a few inches from the mouth of the fish.
4. Ballyhoo Tripletail Baits
Cut a small one-inch piece of ballyhoo as a pitch bait. Often times when fishing for tripletail you are trolling with ballyhoo baits to catch other fish. A j-hook and ballyhoo are always ready to go when fishing for mahi-mahi. Cutting a 1-inch piece of ballyhoo is a quick way to pitch a bait to a tripletail. I have not caught a tripletail with the whole ballyhoo. Pitching the whole ballyhoo near the debris as a first cast is a good idea though because you never know what other big fish might be in the area.
Mustad Tripletail Fish Hook.
Mustad 3407 j-hook is the classic saltwater fishing hook. Size 6/0 would work for both mahi-mahi and tripletail. This hook is a bit large for smaller fish but tripletail must now be over 18 inches in order to keep the fish. If ballyhoo does not work after a few drifts do not give up just try a different tripletail bait or use a smaller hook and lighter leader line with the ballyhoo.
In the picture, I am holding a tripletail that was caught offshore in the Florida Keys.
5. Shrimp, Squid, and Crab Flies
Shrimp, squid, and crab flies are good lures to use for tripletail. The flies include bunky shrimp, mantis shrimp, and pink squid. Flies are very fun and productive ways to catch tripletail. The fish are typically near the surface and will chase small baits in the area. A shrimp or small fish fly would be a good choice to try. Tripletail are typically spotted before being caught even with bait. Tripletail are not easily spooked by the boat so be patient and make good casts. If a small fish is going to take the fly, try and pull it away. Look for that big keeper tripletail. Shrimp and crabs are frequently eaten by tripletail so these make great fly baits.
6. Baitfish Tripletail Fly
The Clouser Minnow and Deceiver are baitfish imitation flies. These are meant to look like small baitfish and three of them have small bead weight heads. Tripletail often lay flay near the surface to look like structure themselves. When small fish start to swim close to them they can ambush their prey. Make the fly look as natural as possible. Small slow movements when the fly is near the fish and floating structure is best. Bass Pros also has a similar baitfish fly pack with 4 flies.
7. Gulp Shrimp Tripletail Baits
Gulp alive 3-inch shrimp baits. Gulp is one of the few baits that can out fish live bait. That is for several reasons. Mostly the strong scent of the bait encourages nearby fish to strike. The strong soft plastic also has great action on a hook. These baits are neutrally buoyant and the weight of a hook will make them sink slowly. Often these shrimp baits are placed on 1/8 once jigs when fishing on the reef. In this case, putting them on a Mustad 3407, size 6/0 j-hook would be perfect. Adding a float is a good idea when fishing floating structure so the bait stays near the surface. The float bobbing up and down in the water gives the bait good action as well.
8. Small Crab Tripletail Baits
Gulp saltwater peeler crabs are about 2-inch circular baits. Natural peeler or molting are good colors for offshore fishing in blue water. Amber glow and new penny are both good colors for inshore tripletail action. In general, I would say crab baits are better for catching tripletail inshore because that is where the largest number of floating crabs are located. Live crabs will work great but gulp crabs are easier to always have on hand. If you only have artificial baits and spot triple this is a great bait to use. I would use the owner’s mutu light circle hook. When bringing the line tight do not set the hook because it is a circle hook but gives lots of tension because tripletail do have hard mouths. It is not uncommon to get a good bite and not get a hookset. Luckily the tripletail will usually bite again.
In the picture, I am releasing a large tripletail using a fish lip gripper.
How to Catch Tripletail
Tripletail are found both offshore and inshore. They are typically near the surface around some type of floating structure. Once a floating structure is located determine the wind and current. Cast a bait so that it naturally drifts close to the floating debris. Tripletail will typically bite within the first few casts. If there are lots of tripletail under the floating structure slowly drift near the structure and look for the biggest tripletail and try and get the bait near the largest tripletail fish.
In Florida, the fish has to be over 18 inches to keep. If you see the tripletail and it does not bite try all the different baits and lures suggested above. I would be very surprised if you can not get the fish to bite. Bring a large tripletail onto the boat with a net. The skin is very tough and you will not be able to easily gaff the fish.
Lastly, be patient when fishing for tripletail and enjoy the experience. If you catch one or two on dead bait switch to a fly for a challenge. If kids are on the boat have a light tackle setup available to make the fishing easier and more enjoyable.
Frequently asked Questions
Can you spearfish a tripletail in Florida?
No, it is illegal to spearfish tripletail fish in Florida. I have seen videos posted of people spearfishing. Also on forums, they say it is only illegal in state waters. The truth is that it is not legal in federal waters because state regulations apply in federal waters in this case. Tripletail fish are not weary of divers and boats so sometimes people see a delicious fish that will not take a bait and really want to spearfish it. It would be so easy to spearfish tripletail and that is why I think that it is illegal. The skin of the tripletail is very tough like armor but a strong speargun will go right through. In most state and federal waters in the USA, it is hook and line gear only, no nets or spearing so do not spearfish tripletail.
What does tripletail fish taste like?
Many people say that tripletail is their favorite fish to eat and for this reason get really excited when they catch one. Tripletail is very good, it is white firm meat that does not taste fishy. Tripletail fish meat is the most similar to flounder or halibut in my opinion. Personally, I like tuna and mahi-mahi better but if I caught a tripletail and did not have a boat full of tuna and mahi-mahi I would definitely keep it for dinner.
What kind of fish is a tripletail?
Tripletail is a unique fish and are the only species within their family. The larva goes through four levels of development before it looks like what we think of as a tripletail fish. Tripletail often lay flat near the surface although they do have eyes on both sides of their bodies. This is different from flounder or halibut which has both eyes on one side of the body. Tripletail is a very bony fish and is not the easiest to fillet.
What is Florida tripletail?
The Florida tripletail is also called the Atlantic tripletail. It is found in the warm water of the Atlantic Ocean as well as in tropical seas like the Caribbean. These fish are found in the Mediterranean Sea and in the pacific ocean. A tripletail is most well-known for its three tail fins that include a large adipose fin, caudal fin, and cloacal fin. The tough scales of the fish extended onto the fins and the tripletail body is tough like armor plating.
A tripletail is not a flatfish like a fluke, flounder, or halibut. However, it is commonly found lying flat near the surface offshore in deep water near floating debris. A small ecosystem of bait tends to form near floating objects offshore and this offers feeding opportunities for tripletail.
Where are tripletail found?
Tripletail are commonly found as far north as the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland and go as far south as the Caribbean. These fish can also be caught in the Pacific Ocean from Costa Rica to Peru. Tripletail can also be found in the Atlantic side of South America from Bermuda to Argentina.
Spawning takes place in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastline from mid to late summer. This is a good time to fish for tripletail in nearshore waters. Adult tripletail are also found as pelagic fish offshore near floating objects.
What is the tripletail size limit in Florida?
The tripletail size limit in Florida is 18 inches and is 18 inches in Georgia as well. Each angler can keep two fish per day. The season is open year-round and the state regulations also apply in federal waters. The fish have to be caught with line gear such as a fly reel or spinning reel. Spearfishing gear and cast nets are not allowed.
How big to tripletail get?
The IGFA world record triple tail was 42-pounds 5 ounces caught in Zululand, South Africa in 1989. Any tripletail over 10 pounds is considered a very large triple tail. Most tripletail caught are between 12 and 24 inches and weigh less than 10 pounds. The Florida state record for tripletail is 40.8 pounds.
What is a pacific tripletail?
Pacific tripletail is the same as Atlantic tripletail but is caught in the Pacific Ocean. These fish are found from Costa Rica to Peru.
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands, and Alaska. Growing up in Pennsylvania Cody has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!