Whole Fish

Gulf Seafood + Southern Food


West Matagorda
has always been my fishing home base. One of the unique things about this bay is the large number of inshore gas platforms that offer great surface structure in an otherwise structure-less bay. Each rig reaches 12 feet down to the bottom of the bay and has become a reef of sorts; the large oyster shell pads that were built on the bottom to reinforce the platform, although man-made initially, have become alive over the years, creating an eco-chain of life out in the middle of the bay. They are also the reason why West Matagorda Bay is the Tripletail capital of Texas.

Tripletail (aka Black fish, Drift Fish or Buoy Fish [Lobotes surnamensis]) gets its name because the second dorsal and anal fins that extend far back on the body make it look like it has three tails. Although it is the only representative of the Lobotes family in the Gulf, many wrongly believe it is related to the Cichlid family because of its striking resemblance to the fresh water “Sac-a-lait” or Crappie. Tripletail is a surface fish that hangs out next to any kind of top water structure like platforms, sargassum, buoys and flotsam and jetsam. I caught this one last week off of a large piece of driftwood about one and half miles offshore of the Galveston jetty.

That's me with a Tripletail

A Tripletail will lie on its side, as if it was part of whatever floating material it’s hiding in; floating and moving with the current and waves like a large leaf, it even has the ability to change its color, like a chameleon. Years back, most people would steer clear of Tripletail as table fare thinking that these characteristics meant that the fish was sick. But it’s not sick, it’s smart: it lays in wait, ready to spring on its prey. When it attacks, it rushes, swimming on its side just like a flounder. But once it is hooked, it rights itself, turns that broad body and uses it against you. They are infamous as tough fighters that will frequently return to their former hiding spot, wrapping you around the seaweed or driftwood or whatever they were using as cover, and breaking your line. Tripletail feed mostly on menhaden, herring, anchovies and some crustaceans and live in subtropical and tropical coastal regions and estuaries from Massachusetts to Argentina. Rarely traveling in groups of more than three, they reach sexual maturity in just a year, making it an easily sustainable and recovery species. When large enough, they yield a wonderfully flaky white fish reminiscent of a giant speckled trout or weakfish. Although difficult to cook on the grill, they are excellent on the flat top or in a sauté pan.

Roasted Tripletail, Smoked Dr. Pepper Glaze, Buttered Bok Choy, Grapefruit Soda


Chris Chambers said...

Chef Caswell I heard you on 1560 The Game and loved your insight into the Culinary World as I am about to start Culinary School in the next year. My wife and I also went to REEF for our first wedding anniversary and all I can say is WOW!!! I had the redfish on the half sheel and fried Mac and Cheese and my wife had the grilled amberjack. We loved it and will be back. It was a great experience. I loved watching the kitchen work as well it is a good insight as to how a kitchen works together as well. I have a few questions about the restaurant business and Culinary School, would you mind answering a few questions?

Anonymous said...

Thank for the tip on tripletail. I've lived on the Gulf Coast my entire life and can't recall ever hearing of it. I was surprised when i did a search on it and so much came up. Your article was very helpful (as I was planning to grill it) If ever I'm in Houston I'll be dining at "The Reef" Muah! Gina, Ocean Springs, MS

Anonymous said...

Tripletail gained gamefish status in Texas a few years ago and hence can no longer be sold.

Whole Fish said...


You are misinformed. Elevating a species to gamefish status does not keep it out of the commercial fisherman’s net. Tripletail like Flounder, Croaker, Sheepshead, Black Drum many others are still fished commercially in Texas waters with the proper in-shore finfish license. The current commercial bag limits are 3 daily over 17 inches with no maximum length. Applying to the entire coast of Texas inside 9 miles, once outside 9 miles you fall under federal commercial laws and regulations. The only currently protected species are Red Drum, Speckled Trout, Goliath Grouper, Black and White Marlin, Sailfish, Long billed Spearfish, Snook and Tarpon. Here is a link to the current Texas Commercial Fishing Guide http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_v3400_0074.pdf


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