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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2002 The Herald
Mysterious tripletail has anglers, experts hooked
Habits of the finicky fish hard to explain
By SUSAN COCKING
Ariel Cabrera was wade-fishing in Snapper Creek Canal near South Miami when he
saw a funny-looking leaf floating by. He poked it with the tip of his fishing
rod, and it darted underwater. It was a fish trying to look like vegetation.
So began the part-time Miami fishing guide's fascination with the tripletail.
"They lure you in," Cabrera, 27, said. "The mystery.why do they do this and
That's the same question fisheries scientists like Jim Franks of the University
of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research lab have been asking for years.
And they have surprisingly few answers.
"A big mystery," Franks said, echoing Cabrera. "But we're working on it."
Named for its caudal, dorsal, and anal fins coming together, the tripletail is
found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and off Florida's east coast. For reasons
no one knows, really big ones in the 40-pound-plus range have been caught along
the Space and Treasure coats. On Florida's lower-east coast, most tripletail
are found during dolphin fishing excursions well offshore.
Cabrera frequently encounters tripletail in the summer months near Flamingo,
floating on the surface with the incoming tide in Cochie Channel and around
Cape Sable, trying to blend in with mats of grass. Usually a mottled
brownish-gray, tripletail can change color to match their surroundings.
Although Cabrera finds fish in the 3 to 10-pound range at Flamingo, Franks
finds dime-sized tripletail around weed patches in the northern Gulf.
"We know they're being spawned around here, and we think the spawning is in the
open Gulf, but we don't know," Franks said.
Franks catches his tripletail in nets for spawning experiments. He has raised
them in tanks but cannot get them to spawn in captivity. Cabrera and his
charter customers catch them using shrimp on popping corks, and he also is
successful with small brown flies that imitate shrimp and crabs.
Baked, broiled, fried, or sautéed, tripletail have a mild, delicious taste
similar to grouper. If anglers understood their movements better, the species
would be subject to overfishing, so Florida imposes a two-fish daily
recreational bag limit, a minimum size of 15 inches and a commercial limit of
10 per boat.
Cabrera said catching tripletail is not as easy as some might think. On a
recent charter to Cochie Channel, a customer cast a live shrimp on an Equalizer
to a floating tripletail estimated at 10 pounds. The fish appeared to dive down
to eat the shrimp, but there was no telltale strike, and the fish was never
seen again. To Cabrera - a fourth grade teacher with a master's degree in
science education - this was unbearable.
"Why?" he asked of the fish's finickiness. "This is going to bother me all
If you'd like to try for tripletail, snook, trout, redfish, tarpon, bass,
snapper or whatever else is biting at Flamingo in Everglades National Park,
contact captain Ariel Cabrera at (305) 552-9788 or email email@example.com