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Friday, March 27, 2009
Port Canaveral tripletail

By George Poveromo

George Poveromo, who resides in Parkland, Fla., is a nationally-recognized sportfishing authority who serves as Editor-At Large for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, and the producer and host of his own television series on ESPN2: George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing.

Tripletail run huge around the Port Canaveral Inlet. Here, Troy Perez shows off a 22-pounder!
Florida's Space Coast, more specifically the Port Canaveral region, plays host to an annual gathering of the world's largest tripletail. Large numbers of big fish infiltrate the local waters each May and June, concentrating around structure for what is believed to be a phase of their spawning. The fish also show again in September and October.

How large do these fish get? Well, consider this: Tripletail, on average, weigh around three or four pounds, with an eight-pounder considered "big". Along the Port Canaveral buoy line, an eight-pounder would barely earn a pat on the back. Anything less than that and you had best either release it, or sneak it into the cooler without anyone noticing — or risk some pretty pitiful looks. This is the valley of giants, where ten-pounders are expected. And if you're really good at searching these buoys and fishing for tripletail, you'll get a shot or two at 15 to 20-pound class fish.

Tripletail are structure-oriented. Therefore, they stack up along certain buoys marking the Port Canaveral Inlet. These fish also hold on rock and debris piles and prominent bottom structure along the local coastline. And, as expected, some of the premier tripletail guides have their own "secret" spots away from the buoy line!

Feeling lucky?

I was fishing with long-time friend and local guide Captain Troy Perez (321-268-1194; Troy is one of the Space Coast's most in-demand light tackle guides, having been at this game professionally for over 25 years. His specialty is catching trophy redfish and seatrout, but he's equally adept at fishing the Port Canaveral buoy line for monster tripletail, as well as the coastal waters for cobia and king mackerel.

The amazing thing, considering the masses of tripletail migrating here, is that every buoy does not hold fish. In fact, only a selected few may produce. And during our outing, the action was on just two buoys. Since any buoy — from the first one at the inlet to the last and farthest one offshore - might hold fish, make sure you're on them before other anglers. In addition, the fishing really heats up right after a few days of a hard east blow, when the wind drops out, but the water is still roiled a bit. The east wind tends to blow in the fish, along with clean ocean water.

Troy and I took turns jigging the buoys. When I was on the bow of my Mako 2201 Inshore (Shallow-Water MARC) Troy was at the wheel, and vice-versa. The tactic involves slowly creeping up to a buoy — within three feet, if sea conditions permit — and dropping your jig straight down and about half-way to bottom. Then, it's imperative to slowly reel and frequently snap the jig up a foot or so, and then let if fall roughly the same distance prior to repeating the tactic. About half-way up, drop the jig back down and repeat the tactic.

One reason to get close to the buoys is that these fish lay up against their undersides, totally out of site; When they notice a bait descending down, or coming back up, they'll often dash for it. In addition, tripletail station at various sections along the mooring chains; When a jig is dropped straight down by the buoy, it will be noticed by any fish clinging to the system. If hits are slow in coming between the surface and middle water column, drop the jig to bottom and work up from here. Also, prior to leaving, jig around the entire buoy, to see if fish are holding on a specific side.

Give no quarter

Tripletail are strong and determined fighters that frequently run you against the buoys and into the mooring chains. This is not the place for light tackle. We each used Penn AF 4000 Series reels, spooled with 20- and 30-pound test braided line. The rods were the new seven-foot Penn Torque Jigging Series, model TJ2050S70. These are the new generation graphite-composite spinning rods rated for 20- to 50-pound test line. They're very light, yet super strong and have plenty of backbone to stop and turn a powerful fish. It's quite a comfortable and formidable set-up.

We rigged each outfit with a short Bimini Twist in the braided line, and then used a Bristol Knot to join several feet of either 30- or 40-pound test fluorocarbon leader to the braid. From there we used a loop knot to join a 1/4-ounce to one-ounce jig head or 3/0 live bait style hook to the leader. A plain jig head tipped with a live shrimp, pinfish or pilchard is deadly on big tripletail. However, a tail-hooked large live shrimp with enough split shot weight to penetrate the buoy system also does the job.

Culling the catch

Troy and I began catching one- to five-pound class fish early on, which are mere "babies" at the PC buoy line! You'd think a buoy would be exhausted after it gives up a dozen or so fish. Not necessarily true; Troy has caught as many as 30-fish off a single buoy, and that was with other boats fishing on it — and catching too! That should lend an idea as to just how solid these fish can be.

Pretty soon, we were into the five- and eight-pound class fish. Once hooked, we powered away from the buoy, while the angler applied maximum pressure. It's important for the boat operator to also keep an eye on the fishing line, and be prepared to follow it around a buoy, to keep it from fouling on the chain. Once in open water, the angler can back off and enjoy the fight.

The fights intensified when we hooked a couple fish between ten- and 15-pounds. On more than one occasion, we felt the line rub up against the chain; That's where braided lines are like gold! Some of the bigger fish launched into the air, a true sight to behold, and then dogged deep into the channel, making us work for every foot of line, right to the boat.

As impressed as I was with the huge 21-pound tripletail I caught that day — by far my largest, that wasn't even the top fish of the trip! That honor went to Troy, who scored a massive 22-pounder. And talk about a fight! Troy's fish made several runs dangerously close to the buoy, cleared the water a time or two, and then sounded deep into the Port Canaveral Inlet. By the time Troy played it alongside the boat, I wasn't sure it would even fit into the landing net!

Use common sense

Florida law has a 15-inch minimum size on tripletail, and a bag limit of two fish per harvester. As reliable a fishery as this is, it's very important to keep conservation in mind. Just because these fish are solid doesn't mean you should stockpile your freezer — or sell them, as some anglers do. This fishery needs to be treated with respect. Take a fish or two home to eat, and enjoy catching and releasing the others. Troy and I kept two smaller fish for dinner one evening, which were brought to the Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville and prepared in a variety of delicious ways. All the other fish we caught, including our two monsters, were released.

For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit