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Living Sanibel: Tripletail once abundant, now rare catch

By Staff | Oct 7, 2015

Tripletail found in the Gulf of Mexico. DIANE PEEBLES

A primitive fish and the only member of its family, Lobotidae, the tripletail has some unusual habits, making it one of the easiest fish to catch in the Gulf of Mexico. It is called buoy fish for good reason: it has the unusual habit of hanging around almost any floating or stationary object in the sea. Locally it is often targeted by anglers shortly after the stone-crab traps are set in mid-October every year.

Anglers run the traps with a light tackle rod in hand and a live well filled with shrimp. Once they discover a basking buoy fish, they turn the boat around, head upwind, and drift down unto the unsuspecting fish. A fresh shrimp cast out with no sinker within a few feet of this predator cannot be turned down. Once hooked, the tripletail is a powerful adversary. It dives, runs, and flops up and out of the water like a 10-pound pancake. The larger ones tend to wrap the trap line and escape, but the smaller ones come home for dinner.

A delicious eating fish, the tripletail, because it is so easy to catch, has been over-harvested by local anglers and is now a rare catch. Twenty-years ago the tripletail was so plentiful that almost every buoy held one or more fish. Today, an angler might run 200 traps before spotting one. Ten years ago there were no size or catch limits on tripletail, which didn’t help the survival rate. Recently Florida Fish and Wildlife adopted both slot and take limits on tripletail.

The tripletail eats small fish, shrimp, and crabs. It is often too large to be eaten by anything other than sharks and goliath grouper. A solitary wanderer, its range is worldwide in tropical waters.

This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.