Triggerfish Growing in Numbers Along NJ Ocean & Bay Waters
Story by Tom Pagliaroli
And they are being pulled big time!
Needless to say, along jetties and over any type of bottom structure, anyone dropping a piece of clam, Fishbites (crab, sand flea or shrimp), a sand flea, a squid strip, a Gulp! Peeler Crab, or piece of green crab has certainly been happy.
Triggerfish happy, that is!
These are the drab gray triggerfish, not the far more flamboyantly colored queen triggerfish. No matter...they bite and fight with equal vigor.
The slab-sided southern visitor has been showing in growing numbers in the shallow Garden State ocean and bay waters for almost a month. However going by the amounts being caught from Sea Isle north to the Manasquan Inlet jetties earlier last week until now, it’s obvious they are here in prime time abundance.
Find rocks, such as a jetty, and also pier or bridge pilings, or, if in a boat, a piece of bottom strewn with rubble or shell bed or patch of coral, and you’ll find this ravenous, buck-toothed schooler.
If dropping baits from a jetty or bridge, figure the last hour of the incoming tide and the first three hours of the outgoing as the best time slot for trigger action.
Catch one and you’ll catch more, and on light tackle, they’ll turn broadside and pull like all get out. Unlike blackfish (tog) there is no subtle nip-nip when the bait is taken; it’s a distinctive chomp. By all means employ a heavy wire hook, as they can, and will, bite through thin wire hooks.
Be careful when removing the hook from the lip or jaw. Triggers bite and it seems they can see as well out of the water as in it. The precisely aimed dentition will leave a half moon slice as if it were done by a scalpel (see photo). If unfortunate enough to receive a nip, wash the bite area as soon as possible to ward off inevitable infection. When triggering, we are always armed with packets of disinfectant towelettes, a tube of Neosporin, and a few Band-Aids, just in case.
From this corner, the meat of a triggerfish is second to none when it comes to inshore bottom species. Yeah, yeah...the tog and sea bass fans doth rightly protest, but it’s the trigger fillets that make the best fried fish sandwich and/or platter along the Jersey Shore.
The one knock is that the trigger is difficult to fillet because of its scaleless, leathery skin and solid bone forequarter. No problem. Slip the fillet knife (thin blade preferred) in the anal vent and merely cut around to the tail and continue along the dorsal ridge. It’s then a simple matter of slicing through the last patch of skin to free the fillet. Another tack is to insert the blade at one of the two soft spots along either side of the dorsal fin and then work it along the fillet the same as above.
There is no length or daily limit on triggers. Suffice to say that 8-inches is the shortest that will surrender fillets worthy of the effort.
Triggers caught along jetties will usually range in the ¾ to 3-lb. class, but certainly bigger ones are caught from these rock formations. On wrecks, reefs and other structures, they can be 5-lbs. or better.
Legal Tog: The blackfish season has re-opened with a daily limit of one at a minimum length of 15-inches. While a single fish may not seem worth the effort, a keeper tog makes a tasty addition to a catch of triggers or sea bass.