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The Tripletail Brothers

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Geoff with a good tripletail Geoff with a good tripletail

Geoff Maynard goes to Florida in search of this rarely mentioned powerful game fish and the anglers who regularly pursue it.

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I encountered my first tripletail about 10 years ago. I was with my wife on a on a Florida holiday trip and we were taking a stroll down the jetty on the seafront. A local hand-line angler was surrounded by people taking photos. I naturally ambled over to join them and see what the ooing and ahhing was all about. The captor was in the process of dispatching an angry looking fish of about 5lb that resembled a flattened grouper, if it looked like anything at all. Its most distinguishing feature, other than a face like a badly defeated boxer, was it’s powerful tailfin arrangement. I remember thinking that a fish built like that was going to give a good account of itself on rod and line. It was a decade before I discovered my suspicions were correct.

The Martin family have a strong presence in these parts. Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island are littered with them, and it’s a fortunate scattering. Brothers John and Frank are without doubt two of the most knowledgeable and capable anglers in the area. In the family’s immaculately maintained boat, the Frayed Knot, they terrorise the inhabitants of the ocean on this part of the Space Coast. These guys are true Space Coast men – getting their hands dirty, working at NASA and related industries on Atlas rockets, Space Shuttles and the like, they are the unsung heroes of space research. They are also red-hot on the water and their knowledge of the local angling potential is unparalleled. If they chose to take up guiding full time they could clean up. Instead they choose to fish for fun and for food. Sometimes, on my all too rare visits to Florida, I gratefully grab the chance to join them for on a day out on the water. This was such a day and brother-in-law AJ was also aboard, making me the only non-family member aboard. Which meant as a guest I got special treatment. Yeah, right. I did too!
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At this time of year a trip out to the deeper water of the Gulf Stream would be for blue water game fish, closer in the locals will look for cobia. Even closer and almost within hailing distance of the beach and it’s tripletail they’ll chase. Our weather report for the day was perfect. Flat seas, a gentle cooling breeze and bright sunny conditions gave us the best chance of spotting tripletail. Well, I say ‘us’ but in fact my contribution to fish spotting was minimal. John, and Frank especially, are the osprey-eyed ones and can spot a tripletail at 100 yards, or so it seems. These fish have a weird habit on sunny days of floating on their sides on the surface, looking for all the world just like a piece of floating debris. Some say this is a method of attracting small food-sized bait fish, which come up to have a look at what appears to be (to them) a raft of weed - so they end up as lunch. Or maybe the tripletail are just sunbathing. Nobody actually seems to know a lot about them so a tagging operation is underway with Frank and John major participants in the programme. All undersized or returned fish are tagged.
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We cruised slowly, the motors barely ticking over, our polarised sunglasses coming into play as we scanned the ocean for free-swimming/sunbathing fish or any floating debris. These fish like to hang around buoys (pronounced boo-ays in the US) and any floating items like weed, rubbish, flotsam etc seem to attract them, so ‘weed lines’ are considered hot-spots.

It’s now about five years since dad, John senior, bought this expensive piece of plastic. A Regulator super-boat like this would probably set you back in the region of a hundred thousand dollars today, but all agree it was money well spent. The twin Yamaha outboards powered us along gracefully. The fuel management dial is measured in gallons per hour, which when it is swinging like a rev counter, is enough to make a British landlubber gulp. But this is the USA and fuel, despite what the locals might think, is as cheap as chips. Coupled with the legendary cheap property prices in Florida, it means that luxuries like this boat are affordable to even the average working man. It makes me jealous as hell, but nobody cares.

As I was the guest, I got first crack at the fish. John spotted the first one, free swimming on the surface, seemingly oblivious to our presence. A lead-headed jig-hook was baited with a ‘shrimp’ (at 4 inches long, I think of them as prawns) and cast to the fish. First cast fell behind the fish. Second cast put the bait three foot in front of it. “Now pull the bait back to its nose” said the experts. I did. The fish grabbed the bait. I struck and… nothing. I’d pulled the bait out of its mouth and spooked it. It was gone. Somewhat unnecessarily Frank advised the Limey greenhorn “Next time give it time to get the bait down”.

I didn’t have time to get glum. It was all action for the rest of the session. Multiple hook ups were not uncommon and sometimes three of us were fighting fish at the same time. Not that every fish was landed. These fish are incredibly powerful fighters and test tackle to the limits. If there’s any weakness in the tackle at all, tripletail will find it, and between us we lost several fish. The day ended with a limit for the boat – 8 ‘keeper’ fish between four of us with several other fish tagged and released. The majority of fish were in the 8 to 12lb range with the best fish of the day at 18lb plus which fell to AJ’s rod. A big fish but well short of the 24lb-er he had a few weeks ago. We are going to need a bigger landing net!
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Motoring back to Port Canaveral, photographing hopeful pelicans, I reflected on the day. A great day out, in a great boat, with great company. Like most of my friends in Florida, these men are fine Southern gentlemen stereotypes. God-fearing Republican stalwarts. They are knowledgeable, generous, polite, friendly and the salt of the earth. They are supremely capable and have marine competence galore. Rather different to me in just about every respect then - but I owe them a lot. They don’t have my education and I don’t have theirs. They tolerate my more left-wing rantings with raised eyebrows and good natured smiles. I live in hope they may one day take some notice of the content of my rhetoric, but realistically, that’s probably still a long way down the road. Today they provided me with yet another new learning curve and a respect for a new species. We may be, as Churchill once said, “Two countries divided by a common language” and we may have many differences in our political and religious opinions - but in the end, we are still all one family, all brothers, brothers of the angle.

Geoff Maynard

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