It was staggeringly hot, smotheringly humid and the wind had diminished, leaving a flat Gulf of Mexico that reflected the searing sun right back in our burning faces.

But the most brutal thing about that summer day, Capt. Kenny Shiyou said, was how the tide suddenly died and had taken the speckled trout bite down with it.

"That ship has sailed," he said of the specks, "and it's time to get this big boat moving, too.

"It's tripletail time."

Those words had an immediate chilling affect on me and I smiled, but sadly my buddy and fishing partner Dan Smith of Ridgeland didn't understand how cool this was going to be. Recovering from a recent concussion and sweltering in the heat on the back deck, he was suffering and his head was hanging low.

"He gonna make it?" Shiyou asked. "He doesn't look too good."

No problem, I told the captain.

"A dose of tripletail time will bring him back to life," I said, which made Shiyou smile as he cranked the big engine.

"Oh yeah; then let's get this thing going," he said with a laugh that was soon drowned out by the increasing hum of the Yamaha 4-stroke.

The 10-mile run back from the Biloxi Marsh to the west end of the Mississippi Sound brought Smith back to life.

"Man, that Yamaha air conditioner is nice," he said. "Too bad we can't fish with it running."

Oh contraire: That's exactly what we were going to do.

Welcome to tripletail fishing, modern style.

"Coolest thing we got down here," said Sonny Schindler, who along with Shiyou, Matt Tusa and Kyle Jarreau, captain the four-boat fleet of Shore Thing Charters of Bay St. Louis. "It is a great way to spend those miserably hot, mid-day lulls we get in the summer, catching the tastiest fish in the Gulf and running high speed."

No kidding. The way to catch tripletails - aka blackfish - is to look for them around floating debris or other materials on the surface, and you can do that on the run.

"One of the neat things about tripletails is their behavior," Shiyou said. "They are unlike most fish in our Gulf in that when summer comes, most species like trout and flounder and sheepshead will all move out and find deeper water. Tripletails do just the opposite: They like warm water, and they move up into the Sound. We catch them right off the beaches.

"And they use anything on the surface to hide and ambush baitfish, small crabs and shrimp. They love shrimp. What they do is lay on their sides in the water just under the surface and right next to something like a channel buoy or a crab pot marker. As small prey moves by, they eat it."

Tripletails - so named because the fish's dorsal and anal fins point backward to give the fish the appearance of three tails - have always been around in the Mississippi Sound, but only in the past decade has their popularity grown as a sports fish.

One reason for that, Shiyou said, is the steady increase of buoys and other materials in the Sound.

"Plus, they see these stories and people start wanting to try it," he said.

Shiyou said his dad told him how people many years ago would take small pines and other trees into the Sound and stand them up, just to lure tripletails to the cover.

"And they used to fish for them with the long cane poles with about a foot of line," he said. "I've never seen that or tried it, but it sounds like it would be a lot of fun."

Schindler said he grew up fishing for them only when the opportunity was presented, usually while targeting other species.

"We've always had them around and we'd catch them as we saw them, but they were rarely targeted," he said. "That is new. We would look at some crab pots and channel markers on the way in, and if we saw one we'd stop and try to hook him up."

It was really when Shiyou joined the charter crew that tripletails were targeted, Schindler said.

"Kenny (Shiyou) is something else with the tripletails, and with the knowledge that Matt, Kyle and I had, when Kenny joined the mix it all started coming together," Schindler said. "Now we usually build our summer trips around tripletails, knowing that when everything else slows and the day gets brutal, they will bite."

What Shiyou added was two decades of encountering tripletails as a commercial trawler for shrimp and oysters in the Gulf.

"My dad was a commercial fisherman, and I was on the boat with him since I was about 10 or 11," he said. "We'd be all over the place in the Sound and I saw lots of tripletails, but we were always too busy to stop and fish them. I learned that in the late spring, summer and early fall, if we ran past something on the surface, if I looked, I'd see a lot of those fish.

"But we really never saw anybody who made a sport of it. There were people who fished for them, but not very many. I think what really boosted their popularity was when people started crabbing. Used to be we didn't have a lot of commercial crabbers in the Sound. Now we do and their crab traps and pots have made tripletail fishing a lot easier."

Back on our torrid summer day, and after our run back in from the marshes, Shiyou looked for a long line of crab pots about two miles south of Waveland.

After locating one, he slowed to an idle and got the gear ready for action - finding his pre-rigged tripletail spinning rod and getting the net easy to reach.

"Alright guys, get ready," he told Smith and me, "and one of you help me spot the fish."

Smith's color had returned, and the description of tripletail fishing I'd given during the run had definitely piqued his interest. I told him the first one was his and told him to have the rod in hand, and as soon as he heard us yell "Fish!" to get the biggest shrimp he could find in the livewell.

The long line of crab pots, which disappeared on the horizon, gave us a clear route to run. The pots were about 75 yards apart and were in a near-perfect line, purposefully set by the crabber to make his fishing easier.

"Let's go," Shiyou said and pushed the throttle forward.

His boat quickly climbed on plane, and we raced alongside the crab pots. Shiyou was on his feet behind the steering wheel. I was on the front deck, holding onto the front butt seat and watching the water.

"Anything out of the ordinary, holler, but usually just something black, like a big garbage bag, that's what you're looking for," Shiyou instructed.

It didn't take long. On about the 10th buoy, I noticed the black blob, but before I could react, Shiyou was hollering "Fish!" and starting to slow.

About 70 yards past the buoy, he turned the boat, dropped off plane and started heading back.

Smith had a shrimp in hand and quickly put it on the hook.

"When we get in position and I say throw, make sure you put it 10 feet past (the fish's) head on the side his head is pointed," Shiyou told the angler.

Shiyou used his trolling motor to put the front end of his boat about 15 feet from the buoy and the fish, which was still on its side about a foot from the big plastic ball. Smith was in position.

"See his head - he's looking to your right, so cast about 7 to 10 feet past him on that side," Shiyou instructed.

Smith did so, perfectly.

"Now reel it back slow and steady until the cork is about a foot in front of the fish," Shiyou said.

Again, Smith did so flawlessly.

No other instruction was necessary: The fish rolled over into a vertical position, eased over to the shrimp and, with a big flare of its gills, inhaled the bait.

"Hes' got it! Set the hook!" the captain yelled.

Smith bowed up, and the fight was on. About five minutes later, I slid the net under the 8-pound fish, and we all traded high fives.

"Man, that's fun!" Smith said, now fully alive again. "Just tell me this: The limit is more than one, right?"

Shiyou assured him the limit is, indeed, three, with a minimum length of 18 inches.

"Then let's do that again," Smith said.

Shiyou cranked up the engine, and we continued down the line of buoys.

Five minutes later, I was offering a shrimp to another nice fish, and Smith put my 10-pounder in the net.

The end of that line of crab pots put us about a mile off the mouth of Bayou Caddy at Waveland, the port that is home to the Shore Thing base.

"Home or more fishing?" Shiyou said. "Up to y'all."

More fishing, for sure.

On the horizon to our east, Shiyou spotted another line of crab pots and raced to get in position. Then he saw Schindler on a parallel line of pots about half a mile away.

On the radio, Schindler was reporting that his party had found five on one buoy - "my personal best to this day," he said - and had three in the boat and two more on the hook. Three he said would be keepers.

Shiyou turned the boat south and lined up on the new string of buoys. Putting the boat between the sun and buoys, he trottled up and started the run.

On the third buoy, I spotted what appeared to be either a big fish or a bunch of fish and pointed.

"Saw it," Shiyou said, slowing the boat. "It's either a wad of fish or a big one, and I'm hoping for the latter."

Smith handed me the rod, and I handed it back.

"Your first tripletail trip, so you're up again," I said.

I would soon regret that offer.

As we pulled back to the buoy, Shiyou and I couldn't believe what we saw - and what we said can't be printed here. A clean interpretation would be "that's the biggest tripletail I have ever seen."

Shiyou went from calm and collected to nervous and jumpy.

Smith moved to the front, and Shiyou started instructing.

"Make it count," he said. "Do it just like last time. Don't look at the fish, or it will be like looking at the antlers of a record book buck.

"Just make a good cast past the right side and pull it back to his face."

A surely shaken Smith missed on his first throw, pushing it too far to the right. The second fell short and the shrimp flew off in the distance.

"Come on!" Shiyou lamented.

I quickly handed Smith another big shrimp and he re-baited.

The third cast was perfect, with the cork landing 10 feet past the fish. Smith reeled it into position in front of the fish's massive head.

What happened next will stick in my mind for the rest of my life.

The fish slowly rolled over and became vertical, looking even bigger and more impressive. But it never moved toward the shrimp. All it did was levitate in position and the shrimp disappeared with a loud smack.

"He's got it! He's got it!" we were all yelling, including Smith who was holding the rod.

Seriously, from a foot away the big fish simply sucked it in so close to the surface that we could hear it.

Smith bowed up, setting the hook, and the fish took off. Shiyou told Smith to let it run and put some distance between it and the only obstacle around - the crab pot.

"Now there's nothing he can hang you on; he's all yours," the captain told Smith. "Just keep steady pressure and let him play himself down."

That took about 25 minutes, and Smith needed another five to reel the fish to the boat, where I was ready with the net.

Shiyou wanted to net the fish but I refused to give it up.

On the first pass, I missed because I saw the fish suddenly veer and I was afraid I would hit the line. On the second, I just missed because of a severe lack of talent, which had Shiyou ready to take over.

On the third, I slid the net under the big fish's head and realized that it was going to be a tight fit, if it fit at all.

So I hesitated.

"Get him! Get him! Now!" Shiyou was yelling.

I lifted on the net, nearly breaking the long shaft, and the big fish slid right in. Shiyou raced over to help lift him over the side of the boat.

It landed with a loud thump.

For about 10 seconds, nobody could say a thing. Smith was worn out, and Shiyou and I were standing over this massive pile of fish with our mouths wide open.

"Biggest danged tripletail I have ever seen or caught," Shiyou finally said, which was followed by so much screaming that Schindler and his crew could hear us a half mile away.

The radio soon cackled.

"Capt. Kenny, is that you?" Schindler was calling.

"Yeah you got me," said Shiyou.

"What's going on over there, a party?" Schindler asked.

"You better believe it because what we're fixing to come show you is hard to believe; it's a monster," Shiyou said. "As soon as we get through taking pictures and figure out how to get it in the ice chest we'll be right over."

An hour later, we were back at the dock, and Shiyou took it to a nearby bait dealer and had the big fish weighed - 25.7 pounds.

Big, yes, but only a sign of things to come. Within a month, Shiyou put one on the dock that was 27.2, another over 26.7 and another just over 25.

The Mississippi record is 37.75 pounds caught in 1972.

"I'm gonna beat that one day," Shiyou said.

Don't doubt him.