Over the past few seasons, Northeast fishermen have seen southern fish species take up residence in our home waters during the summer months. Now, when the surf gets too hot for bass and blues, fluke aren’t the only option for New Jersey and Long Island surfcasters.
I love the morning-into-afternoon fluke bite that occurs on an almost-daily basis from July through September. By traveling light and walking the beach, I have experienced incredible fluke fishing, but there are days when the flatfish just don’t bite or have moved offshore. This summer, when the fluke bite shuts off, I’ll be focusing my efforts on another species—the gray triggerfish.
I have noticed a considerable increase in triggerfish catches, both as bycatch from fluke fishermen and by fishermen targeting them directly. These fish have become a regular summertime occurrence among New Jersey and New York surf fishermen.
Triggerfish hang around inshore structure like jetties, docks, and bridge pilings and give surfcasters a shot at some hard-fighting (and sometimes frustrating) fish. Triggers also provide some great-tasting table fare for summer cookouts.
These exotic fish feed on small clams and crustaceans that hang around hard structure. The technique is similar to targeting blackfish, and is a great alternative to tog fishing until the season reopens in August. One key difference between triggers and tog is that triggerfish like a little more movement or action in the bait before they strike.
Triggerfish can sometimes be seen hanging around submerged rocks, circling pilings, and cruising along sod banks, presenting sight-casting opportunities. However, a sight-fished trigger must be enticed to hit your bait. While they live in some of the same areas as blackfish, these fish are much more aggressive and will chase and strike an artificial bait like a Gulp Swimming Mullet.
This summer, when the fluke bite shuts off, set your sights on the hard-fighting, great-eating triggerfish.
Small but Strong
Triggerfish don’t grow to large sizes—most of them caught will be between 1 and 3 pounds. The New Jersey state record, caught in 2016, weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces; the New York record, caught off Montauk in 1999, weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces. Despite their smaller size, triggerfish fight like much larger fish, using their broad sides to doggedly dig for the bottom. They, like tog, tend to run for structure when hooked, and breakoffs will happen regularly if you don’t muscle the fish to the surface right after the hookset.
Triggerfish have small mouths with powerful teeth. A small, strong hook on a high-low rig tied with short dropper loops works well. Use a small bank sinker so that you can move the bait around the structure to locate the fish. Bait up with small pieces of clam or squid, and set the hook hard when you feel the machine-gun taps of a nibbling triggerfish.