Fishing guide Ronnie Daniels saw his first tripletail of the year in May, but it wasn't until this week that the fish showed up in numbers just off the beaches of the Mississippi coast.
"We saw over 20 today, which is abnormally good," Daniels said. "We caught eight."
Daniels, who operates Fisher-Man Guide Service out of Pass Christian, said he and a crew filming his TV show spotted the tripletail in the Mississippi Sound while running past pilings, crab-trap floats and anything else they found floating in the water.
"A lot of the fish we're seeing this year are 5- to 6-inch fish, which is very promising," Daniels said.
That means many of the triple tail, aka blackfish, the guide sighted were too small to keep. State regulations stipulate tripletail must be at least 18 inches long before being kept. The daily creel limit is three fish per angler, according to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
Daniels said catching your limit is pretty straightforward: Just cruise past anything that's floating or sticking out of the water and look for shadows, as tripletail lay horizontally under pretty much any flotsam.
"We had one that was spotted under a dead (black) drum today," the guide said. "We've caught them under watermelon rinds, under floating surgical gloves. Anything that's floating."
He said they also will hold in the shadows of channel markers and under buoys.
When a fish is seen, Daniels said the angler simply can make a large loop, come off plane well away from the fish's location and ease to within casting distance.
At that point, it's just a matter of putting the right bait in front of the fish. And, while tripletail can be caught with artificial lures, Daniels said live shrimp is almost a guarantee.
"If you're going to spend the time and the fuel money running around looking for them, you're not a smart individual, in my opinion, to not spend the $4 on live shrimp," he said.
There are two approaches to presenting the fish: free-lining or hanging the bait under a cork.
Daniels said he uses the latter approach when blind casting to buoys and pilings in hopes of catching a fish that might be hanging too deep to see.
He generally prefers free-lining shrimp when he's casting to fish near the surface, although sometimes a cork can help keep the bait accessible to the fish.
But, if you go with a cork, don't be watching for the float to plunge as it would with most fish.
"Triplefish are surface feeders, so they'll just sit there and eat the shrimp (off the hook)," he said. "They rarely pull the cork down."
He said the best course of action is to cast well upcurrent of the fish and let the bait be pulled back to the fish's location.
Once a fish shows interest, however, patience is required — even if it looks like the fish has taken the bait.
"Don't set the hook too fast," Daniels said. "They'll look at it; then they'll grab it; then they'll eat it."
It's best to check the tide charts before heading to the coast and choose just the right time to maximize your efforts.
"The key times are the peak of a tide, the bottom of a tide or a neap tide day," Daniels said.
In other words, when there is little tidal movement. That might seem counterintuitive, but Daniels said it makes sense when considering where fish hang out.
"My theory is they're not fighting the current as bad (on the low-tide periods) and they can stay on a float or a buoy easier," he explained. "But whatever the reason, the lower the tide (movement), the more prevalent the sightings."