Trigger Happy Times Along South Jersey Shore
Triggerfish have arrived in big numbers along the south Jersey shore’s jetties, bridge abutments, rock piles, wrecks, reefs, just about anywhere there’s submerged structure, you’ll find these toothsome bait grabbers.
Properly known as the gray triggerfish, as opposed to its vibrantly colored and exotic kin, the queen triggerfish, this southern visitor has been around for a few weeks, but we’re seeing more numbers, and larger sizes, as the bulk of schools continue moving in.
About the name: it has to do with the unique two part dorsal fin. The first portion with its sharp, hard spike (there are two shorter ones behind it) is locked erect via the rear portion which slides forward. This enables the fish to secure itself in crevices and holes. This really comes in to play when a hooked trigger gets in to cover. You can either cut the line and get back to fishing or wait for the fish to make a move. Sometimes its only a minute or two, other times we’ve waited up to five minutes, winning about 50% of the time.
The spike can be lowered by depressing the third spine.
Beware not only the spines, but the teeth as well. The parrot beak-like dentition cuts in immediately and deeply, and it does not let go. With its independently rotating eyes, the trigger can see almost as well out of the waters as in, and I have a small half moon scar on my right palm where a trigger actually jumped from a photo-set up position on the jetty rock and locked on while I was preoccupied with getting the camera. I swear the fish knew it was my hand and made me pay. Blood everywhere, and it was a good 30-seconds before I could get the fish to open its mouth via hard squeezing to the eyeballs. It was this trigger’s fillets that were first in the frying pan that evening.
Contrary to popular dock talk, the triggerfish is not difficult to fillet. Yeah, its scaleless leathery skin with the texture of a catcher’s mitt can wreak havoc on a knife blade if the standard procedure is employed. Instead, insert the knife tip to the soft spot on either side of the dorsal fin and work it around, or insert the knife tip in the anal vent and work it around, then merely cut through the one piece of skin.
Trigger meat is sweet and firm, owning to a diet of mussels, crabs, and other crunchy victuals. It makes the best Jersey fried fish sandwich, hands down. In fact, after you eat fried triggerfish, you’ll give the flounder and sea bass to the cat!
We catch triggers on standard hi-lo rigs baited with clam, green crab, or Fishbites. Squid has worked in a pinch. Owing to the cover, figure on getting snagged a few times. A jig, such as a 1⁄4 or 3/8-oz. Bottom Sweeper (white or plain lead head) baited with a piece of green crab, clam or Fishbites will not only pull a lot of triggers, but exponentially reduces the snagging.
This is a schooling species, so if you catch one, there are most likely more around. The best part about fishing for triggers is that you don’t need a boat as they are big fans of jetties and similar structure. Sure, you’ll probably catch more from a boat because of mobility in trying numerous spots, but no float, no worries if dropping baits from a jetty.
Atlantic City’s jetties are loaded with triggers, and you’ll also find them at the Townsends Inlet and Barnegat Inlet jetties, among others.
There’s no bag limit or minimum length restriction. The current rod and reel state record is6-lbs. 11-oz. caught in 2016.