Cape Fear tripletail are welcome summer visitors

Tripletail are a southern fish that usually make it to North Carolina waters only in summer. (Picture by Jeff Wolfe)

Tripletail only stick around during the heat of summer

North Carolina’s Cape Fear area is far enough south that the water warms significantly during summer. And some fish, generally considered more southern fish, visit for a few months. Ladyfish and tarpon are regular visitors, with snook, bonefish and permit occasionally caught.

Another fish in this mix is tripletail. And most summers, a small concentration shows up in the lower Cape Fear River and the ocean around Cape Fear.

Most tripletail caught in the river range from about 4 to 10 pounds. Some really large ones show up too, but primarily in the ocean. The state record is a 27-pound, 7-ounce fish that Thomas Cutler caught from Ocean Crest Pier on Oak Island on Sept. 4, 2009.

Jeff and Christian Wolfe of Seahawk Inshore Charters first began chasing tripletail more than 10 years ago. They now have a group of regular clients who want to target them. Wolfe (910-619-9580) said they locate tripletail by looking for them floating on their sides on the surface and in the shade under structure like buoys, daymarkers, range lights and the multitude of crab trap floats in the lower river.

The Cape Fear River’s ship channel is bordered by many spoil islands from dredging, and the protected waters between the spoil islands and the bank attract crabs, crabbers and tripletail.

North Carolina has no minimum size or creel limits on these fish

The river usually carries a lot of effluent and is murky. And these conditions require a trained eye to spot tripletail suspended in the shade below structure. The river clears during times of no or little rain and makes spotting tripletail easier.

“Tripletail are carnivores and like minnows and shrimp,” Jeff Wolfe said. “They are usually at or just below the surface, so we use a small cork to hold the bait near the surface. Tripletail are very spooky, too. We don’t approach too close to try to spot them, and we don’t cast a bait directly to them. We cast baits upcurrent and let the current carry the bait to them.

“They’re occasionally picky, but they’re opportunistic feeders and usually ready to eat,” he said. “Once you hook one, the deal is on. They are fast and strong and seem to know they can get away by swimming around a piling, the buoy’s anchor chain or a crab pot’s buoy rope.”

Tripletail are hard-fighting gamefish that are also excellent table fare. They have a delicate white meat with a mild, slightly sweet flavor.

There are no size or number regulations for North Carolina tripletail.

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About Jerry Dilsaver 1115 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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