Categories: Saltwater

Triple tail fishing from Matagorda West Bay

Tommy Countz, (www.matagordafishing.com) , 2001 Winner of the CCA of the Matagorda Bay Guide’s Cup, and was CCA Guide of the Year in 2005. He fishes the Matagorda Bay systems for speckled trout, redfish and flounder. He’s also an expert on fishing for the triple tail, a fish that many anglers have never heard of before.

Tripletails are kind of an odd-looking, deep-bodied fish with the soft rays of the dorsal and anal fins set well back toward the caudal fin giving it a tri-lobed appearance, thus the name triple tail. Coloration can vary from almost black through reddish-bronze to yellow or mottled.

The triple tail often floats on its side at the water’s surface, the coloration and movements resembling that of a dead leaf, or as Countz says, “like you are looking at an empty ice bag floating on top.” They are frequently mistaken for floating debris.

Lengths of three feet and weights of 30 to 50 pounds are attained, but normally they range from 5 to 15 pounds.

Tripletails prefer the mouths of rivers, passes and bays opening into the Gulf displaying some indifference to salinity. They congregate around ship-wrecks, buoys, boats, beacons, pilings, jetties and floating objects. Some of their favorite haunts are pilings, jetties, buoys and other floating objects at the mouths of rivers, passes and bays. Food consists of live shrimp, crabs and small fish.

Countz says that his clients catch them all through the summer.

The triple tail he usually tangles with are usually found in deep water, 12-14 feet deep, around visible structure.

Counts define triple tail structure: “anything that sticks up out of the water or floats in the water. I have seen triple tail around the edges of an old mattress a shrimp boat threw out. One time we found a plastic barrel floating in the bay with both ends cut out as we were passing by.
“We circled back around, through a bait out, and a 12 pounder came out of the bucket, out of the barrel and ate our shrimp. One year we had a PVC pipe sticking up out of the mud, leaning over and floating, and we got four off of it.”

Does it always mean the fish are around visible structure only?

“If you could see the invisible ones, they are going to be around it, like old well heads down under the water. One of the best spots we ever hit was in the Oilmen’s Tournament about four years ago. A shrimp, or tug boat knocked over one those big pylons along the Intercostals canal; you could barely see it in the water.

“We got a 32.7 (pounds) off of it that won the tournament, caught three more, and broke two more off. They were just balled up along that old pylon underneath the water.”

Countz describes the finding and fishing as a crazy deal; “they like structure, and that’s where we fish for them, but not all the time.”

One calm day as he was running across the bay in his boat he could see something floating. Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on one of its web pages says the triple tail often floats on its side at the water’s surface, the coloration and movements resembling that of a dead leaf. They are frequently mistaken for floating debris. “We’ll stop, and if you can see them, put a short leader on throw up in front of them, you can catch them.”

What’s the complete triple tail fishing rig like?

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommends live shrimp, crabs and small fish; used with small hooks. Countz likes to use live shrimp under a popping cork, using about six to eight feet leader under the cork. “It’s real difficult to throw a six or eight foot leader.

“For people who aren’t used to casting a rig with this much leader, it’s a pretty tough deal. They’ll hang the boat, hang the T top, and hang each other. They’ll dip the shrimp in the water and when they cast, and they’ll rip it off the hook.”

He describes the how-to’s of fishing the triple tail rig. “I use a little bigger reel than I use for trout fishing, and I kick all the brakes out. You are not making a long cast. The guys that fish with me have mastered the bass flipping technique. If you can flip for bass, you can put that cork where you want it without making a long cast.

Laguna Rods, (www.lagunarods.com), headquartered and made in Katy, of which Countz if part owner, has a rod made for the triple tail.

“We take our 7 ½ medium heavy bait caster and cut about four inches off the tip which gives it a lot more backbone. You are not finesse fishing; you’re just waiting for the cork to go under. When it goes under you have to be in action. You want a rod with plenty of backbone to be able to set the hook and drag the fish to the boat.

The item that has been biggest asset in fishing for these hard fighters is the use of braided line on reels. “Back when we used monofilament if you were 20-30 yards back from structure, like a piling, a  20 pound triple tail can stretch monofilament around that pole and cut you off. “

He prefers a one ounce swivel sinker, 80 lb test monofilament for the leader, maybe about 18 inches long from the bottom of the swivel sinker. Then he ties on a “real sharp, heavy duty single hook, such as a Mustad Live Bait hook.” Then he pinches a small buckshot three inches above the hook to keep the sweep of the current from taking the leader into the pole or the structure, hanging it up.

“We use a deal we borrowed from the crappie fishermen called the Bobber Stopper. They make some that are kind of like yarn, but the best that I have seen is the one Bass Pro Shop sells. It’s a little rubber bead, a red plastic bead, and a real thin wire that goes through both of them, but there’s a loop out on the end of the rubber bead.”

I recommend you pick one up at Bass Pro Shop to see exactly how everything comes together with this simple, but unique cork stopper. As a kid we used something similar by cutting a piece of a thin rubber band and tying it tight at a place on your line above the cork at the desired level where you cork was to sit in the water.

The Bobber Stopper set up, or the old fashioned rubber band knot is small enough to go through the tip and guides; you can slide it up or down the line to adjust for how deep you want to fish.

“I get these, probably six inch Mid Coast Corks. They have a big clear bead on top and one on the bottom that makes it click. They have a once ounce swivel sinker. I cut the leader out that comes with the rig, and use all the other components to make up my triple tail rig. With that one ounce sinker, it’s going to sink real quick, and get your bait at the right depth.”

Back to the structure we talked about earlier: “You want to fish real close to the structure. I tell people I want their cork to float within 12 inches of the structure, or they’re not going to catch a fish. If your bait is three feet from the structure, such as channel maker pilings on the intercostal, 89-100 times it’s going to be a sheepshead or a gaff top, not a triple tail that you will catch. The triple tail spiral up and down the pole feeding on little bait fish.”

Also, an angler has to be able feed line out and take it in quickly as the boat moves in to and away from the structure. Otherwise it drags the bait away from the structure. “You have to be quick. If you’re feeding line out when a triple tail hits he is going to take a whole lot of line.

“I see a lot a people who have heard about triple tail, and think they will go out and catch one without knowing much about them. If they do catch a tail they are darn lucky. Most people think you just got to throw up around structure and the fish will come out and eat your bait. Triple tail is a pretty lazy fish.

“There’s an art to catching them; I learned from Raymond Cox years ago how to fish for those suckers. Since then I have kind of honed my skills.”


Tom Behrens:
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