Now that the first cold front of the season has arrived on Florida’s west coast, anglers can expect some of the year’s best fishing. Lower water temperatures and the influx of bait schools will lure a host of pelagic species like Spanish mackerel, cobia, king mackerel and little tunny into Gulf and bay waters. In addition, floats along the beaches marking stone crab traps will attract tripletail, one of our most enigmatic gamefish.
A lot of the action you’re likely to encounter, especially in the Gulf, will center around schools of baitfish. In many cases it’s possible to take advantage of gamefish actively feeding on the surface. The best way to locate these schools is to look for feeding birds. When Spanish mackerel, little tunny and other predators are feeding on baitfish they drive the hapless minnows to the surface where they attract the attention of sea birds. Even when there is no “active” feeding on the surface, anglers should explore baitfish schools. To take advantage of this opportunity it’s important to follow a few simple tactics: avoid spooking feeding fish or bait fish by working the edges of schools or getting into position where you can make a long cast right into the melee.
When targeting Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and little tunny with lures, try top water plugs and flies. Not only is this an exciting and visual way to fish, it’s also very effective. If there’s active feeding going on make a cast right into the action. If there aren’t any outward signs of fish try working the edges of a school where predators prowl for the weak or wounded. When trolling make wide circles around baitfish or feeding fish so that lures, but not the boat, pass through the action. Fly fishers using flies can attract the attention of feeding gamefish by making several false casts near schools of bait and letting the fly and line rip off the water. On the third or fourth cast land the fly and begin a retrieve.
Tripletail are one of the least understood of all pelagic species and require the use of a technique that’s unique to them. In almost all cases one of the cardinal rules of fishing is to never approach a gamefish directly with lures or bait. The idea is that when a gamefish spots an angler’s offering it is moving away from them. Any prey that moves towards a gamefish wouldn’t last long and they know it. Tripletail are different because they are ambush feeders. They usually hover near objects like crab trap markers and other flotsam disguised as a piece of seaweed. When small baitfish and crustaceans come near they are an easy meal. When you spot a tripletail make a cast past them and work your bait or lure right into their face. This technique requires an accurate cast but will almost always elicit a strike. The best lure for fishing tripletail is one that mimics a baitfish or crustacean. A shrimp imitation like the DOA Shrimp is one of the best options. Shrimp are by far the most effective live bait. Flies should be small and the coloration of a baitfish or crustacean. Shades of tan and brown have been top producers over the years. A weed guard on a fly is a good option when fishing around crab trap floats. Most casts will need to be close to the floats and lines where tripletail hover.
Whatever your fishing style or preference the fall season is a great time to explore area waters. The cooling temperatures not only attract gamefish but they’re also a welcome relief from the hot and humid “Dog Days.” Make sure you carry multiple rigs so you can take advantage of the numerous opportunities that the season might offer.