How to catch tripletail in the Cape Fear River

Tripletail are hard fighters and make great table fare. They head south once summer is over, so don’t miss out.

Tripletail are hard fighters and great tablefare

Tripletail began spreading up the Atlantic Seaboard over the past couple of decades. Their large dorsal and anal fins that flow just above and below their tail look similar – hence the name. Tripletail are adaptable to both ocean and inside waters.

These fish arrive in and around the Cape Fear River once the water warms in the summer and stay until it cools in the fall.

Thomas Cutler caught the N.C. state record tripletail from Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island on Sept. 4, 2009. It weighed 27-pounds, 7-ounces. Most of N.C.’s are smaller, generally ranging from 3 to 10 pounds. But N.C. anglers catch double-digit weight fish each year.

Capt. Jeff Wolfe of Seahawk Inshore Fishing Charters (910-619-9580) in Wilmington, discovered tripletail in the lower Cape Fear River almost two decades ago. Now, Wolfe and his son Christian offer the opportunity to catch tripletail as a specialty of their guide service.

Wolfe said these fish are attracted to shade and may be found around and under day markers, range markers, light towers and even the larger floats used by commercial fishermen. They may be under water or sometimes they float on the surface on their side and appear to be a large leaf or debris. When under water, they are generally close to the surface and even if they can’t be seen clearly, cast a noticeable shadow.

“The work begins once you locate a tripletail,” Wolfe said. “They are spooky and approaching too close, making noise on the boat or making a bad cast will usually end the possibility of catching that one.

“The tide moves quickly in the main part of the river. So we look for tripletail in the bays and behind the spoil islands, where the tide moves slower,” Wolfe said. “There is still enough current to move bait here and tripletail lay waiting in ambush for a tasty shrimp or minnow to drift by. We look for that floating fish or a shadow under something and set up to get a bait to it. We usually use a live shrimp or minnow suspended under a small cork.”

Wolfe said tripletail fight hard and seem to have a knack for wrapping around something and breaking off. However, they’re worth the effort as they taste great cooked in any way.

Tripletail have no size or number regulations in N.C.. Check the latest regulations at

About Jerry Dilsaver 1171 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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