Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
I am hesitant writing about one particular fish because, other than a few anglers I know, mention the fish called tripletail, and people’s faces go blank followed by, “Never heard of that fish.” Almost prehistoric in appearance, tripletail is odd looking and odd behaving in how they lie motionless on their side, trying to imitate a piece of wood as they ride tidal currents in hopes that some unfortunate baitfish will mistake them for shelter, only to get gulped up in one quick snap of their jaws. Their name comes from the three distinctive rounded fins comprising their dorsal, caudal and anal fins. They have small beady eyes, a deep body like a freshwater crappie, a huge mouth and one extremely powerful tail that makes them a challenge to land, even on a medium spinning rod.
How to catch them
Until you have actually seen one floating along in the current, it is hard to describe these masters of camouflage. As I said, they disguise themselves as flotsam floating along. Mostly grayish, tripletail have the ability to alter their appearance with dark patches and such to match other flotsam floating along. They love to hang under dead trees floating in the open ocean, crab pot buoys, boards and such. But to successfully catch one, you need to stand up as high as you can without getting so close they spook and disappear.
They love live shrimp, and my rig is pretty simple. Use a cork with about a 20-inch fluorocarbon leader, a small split shot about six inches from a small, strong hook like you would use trout fishing. If no live shrimp are available, they will take artificial like a DOA shrimp or a big fat mud minnow. But be warned, these fish are some kind of strong and can reach 20 pounds or more.
Tripletail regulations: Regulations went into effect just this year. Anglers are allowed three per day with a minimum size of 18 inches. Purchase a fishing license online at dnrlicensing.sc.gov.
I could easily lie to you and suggest that you release any you catch because they aren’t any good to eat, just so selfishly there will be more out there for me to catch. All I can say is there isn’t another fish that swims that can top a fat tripletail’s beautiful, firm white flesh. It’s like comparing a flank steak to a filet mignon. I can’t think of any recipe for tripletail that won’t end with you thinking you have gone to heaven above. My personal favorite is panko-breaded (mixed with crushed saltines) and fried quickly in an iron skillet with no more than an inch of oil. Flip fillet once, and serve with a half an avocado and a side of fresh slices of chilled watermelon or cantaloupe.
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Grilled tripletail with barbecue vegetables
2 tripletail fillets
1 clove garlic, minced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 sprig thyme (garnish)
Directions  Combine garlic, olive oil, basil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley. Place tripletail fillets in a shallow glass dish or a resealable plastic bag, and pour the mixture over the fish. Cover or seal and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour, turning occasionally.  Set oiled grill grate 4 inches from the heat. Drain off excess marinade and grill fillets 5 minutes per side, until easily flaked with a fork. Garnish with thyme. Serve with grilled camper tomatoes, grilled eggplant and grilled peaches.