Pulling the Trigger on Triggerfish
by Rich Troxler
Once again the summer doldrums are upon us, and one way to pass the time until the first breezes of September arrive is to put some tasty Triggerfish in the cooler. Just a few short years ago, shore bound effort for these fish was pretty much non-existent, but they have become increasingly more popular in recent years, and for good reason.
First off, they have to be one of the best tasting fish I’ve ever eaten. The meat is firm and light tasting and lends itself well to a variety of cooking methods, but they really shine when BBQ’d with a spice rub over some hot coals. They can be tough to fillet / clean, but the effort is well worth it.
Second, they have to be coolest looking fish that swims our waters, looking more like something that should be found on a tropical reef rather than plying the local waters of Long Island. And lastly, they are a whole lot of fun to catch. They can be hard to locate sometimes, but when you do they are more than willing to take a bait and don’t spook easily.
In fact, they are almost tame. They show little fear of humans which makes them an easy and popular target of divers. Once, while taking a short break from catching, I actually chummed several triggers to the surface and was almost hand feeding them. I wasn’t brave (or stupid) enough to leave my fingers on the pieces of bait when they came for them as they possess a fearsome bite.
So let’s get down to the business of catching them. First you have to find them. Triggers tend to travel in schools, so if you catch one, chances are good that there will be more in the immediate area. Like blackfish, they like structure and seeing as this is about catching them from shore, this pretty much means rocks and piers. Also, they seem to show a preference for certain types of rock formations / structure and tend to return to them year after year. So if you hit the mother lode make sure to enter this into your log. Lastly, they like structure but don’t “hide” in it like blackfish, rather they swim all around it.
As for tackle, I use two different conventional setups depending on which method I’m using. The first setup is used when I have located triggers and it consists of an Ugly Stick Tiger rod (the old yellow 6.5 footers) with a Penn Squidder spooled with 30 lb Ande mono. This is the same rig I used for fishing blackfish from party boats years ago, but you can use any beefy spinning outfit that you’re comfortable with.
The terminal end of this gets a dropper loop for hook connection about 18-24” above the overhand loop knot for the sinker. Sinker weights will vary with your location and tide stage, but for where I fish I carry a selection of 5-8 oz. bank sinkers. You’ll want to use just enough weight to keep you terminal rig from traveling with the tide.
As to what hook to use, try to find porgy sized hooks, but made from heavier wire. The mouth of a trigger is small in comparison to their size, but they possess a formidable set of teeth and VERY strong jaws. They routinely bite clean through porgy hooks and even hooks of much stronger wire. They also have the attitude of a bluefish when hooked, so use care when unhooking them as they will not hesitate to take a chunk of your finger off.
The second setup I use is when I’m in search mode and is typically used along a jetty or rock wall. It consists of an old 8.5’ glass blank I used to use for casting eels coupled with another Penn Squidder spooled with the aforementioned 30 lb Ande mono. The difference here is at the terminal end. This setup is used with a “float rig” and is a technique I originally learned about (and used) with sand worms for catching striped bass. I have also employed it for catching weakfish.
The rig is quite simple and not unlike the sweet-water version used to catch crappie off of brush piles, just a little heavier and with more movement LOL. Basically, you tie on a hook to the end of your line, place a couple split shot a few feet above the hook, and then a large bobber up on your line, so that the bait drifts a few feet off the bottom. Where I fish this can be anywhere from 8-12 feet.
Bait is pretty much a no-brainer, use squid or go home. Triggers are master bait stealers, far better than porgies in my opinion, so using anything other than squid is a complete waste of time. They can take clam off your hook without you even feeling it, they’re that good. The only other bait you have a chance with is the same bait you would use for blackfish, that being crab. But in the dead of summer, stick with squid.
So let’s say the free-divers have taken over my favorite spot and I’m now looking at a new stretch of jetty wall. I take a couple test casts with nothing more than a sinker to estimate depth and then set the bobber on my float rig. Triggers are not shy about coming up for a bait, so you don’t need to be dragging bottom, just get close. I bait my hook, step to the edge of the rocks, free up some line, and basically throw my rig in the water.
The object here is to let the current carry your bait with the tide, parallel to the rock wall. You’re not necessarily trying to catch triggers this way, just locate them, so it is vital that you try not to let your rig drift into the rocks. This means you must give it plenty of line and no drag, just let it drift along the rocks. If you come upon a school of triggers, they’ll usually make themselves known by pecking at your bait. The bobber may disappear but don’t count on it.
So now I’ve found some triggers and it’s time to put them in the cooler. Catching them is not that easy, at least not initially. As I mentioned before, they are the best bait stealers I’ve come across. I’ve caught countless blackfish ( a former obsession of mine), tons of porgies, and more than my fair share of seabass, and triggers don’t hit like any of them.
The best way I can describe it is they bite the bait once, move forward slightly, chew up your bait and spit the hook. This is the way I envision what’s going on at the end of my line. This means you feel the initial tap as the trigger bites down on your bait, but you don’t feel anything after. No hard tug like a blackfish passing the bait back to it’s crushers. No slack line, as is often felt when you catch blackfish from jetty walls, when they rush back toward the jetty. No rapid fire nipping like porgies and seabass, just that one tap and that’s it.
Oh, when they’re competitive you may be lucky and feel them taking off with the bait. You’ll sometimes see followers when you reel in a trigger, just like bluefish, but most times you’ll get nothing more than that one tap. This drove me crazy when I first started targeting them. I’d lob out a cast, feel a few rapid nips of tiny seabass, get one tap, then nothing. After a few moments I’d reel in an empty hook. This kept repeating itself until I figured out that a change in technique was in order LOL.
So what I started doing was utilizing the ol’ porgy lift. As soon as I feel that tap, I start SLOWLY lifting my rod tip until I either feel weight, or feel nothing. If nothing, i drop my rod tip and keep a tight line waiting for another tap. If weight is felt on the lift, I set the hook and it’s game on.
The dinner plate sized ones put up a pretty serious battle and can put a good bend in your rod, and best of all, they don’t appear to be tide dependent, so basically anytime is a good time (except night) to catch them and they make fine eating to boot. So if you're curious, get some squid and pay a visit to a local rockpile. You might just get trigger happy.