One of the more popular fish to target right now are the subjectively beautiful trigger fish. While not a species we get to chase at any of our lodges, we know our guests and readers fish worldwide so we figured we would discuss anyways. There are over 40 species of trigger fish, most of which live in deep water reefs. There are however a few different species that feed in shallow water coral, allowing flats fisherman a chance to target them. The Indian Ocean and the South Pacific both boast populations of the popular, Titan Triggers (aka Mustacho Trigger), the Peachface Trigger, and the Yellowmargin Trigger, 3 species that are incredibly fun yet difficult targets with a fly rod. Grey Trigger fish, found in the Atlantic Ocean have also become a desired species to anglers fishing certain locations in the Caribbean.
Named for their dorsal fin that allows them to wedge themselves into holes in coral reefs, trigger fish are very spooky and tough to feed with a fly. Like most flats species, the first key to landing them is to locate one that is actively feeding. This is my favorite part of the challenge as they take “tailing” to a whole new level. Their tails come straight out of the water, to the point where it appears like they are waving at you. They prefer to move into patches of coral during low tides where they look for crabs and shrimp. Although they are digging through the coral looking for their next meal, they are still very aware of their surroundings and will spook off if a fly splashes too close to them. When you spot your target, be sure to walk slowly as you get into casting range. The sound of crunching coral under your flats boots can also cause this skittish fish to take off.
I prefer to target them with a crab fly but have also landed them on a range of different bonefish patterns. The key here is having a strong enough hook that they cannot break with their powerful teeth. You want the fly to be heavy enough to sink into their view but if it is too heavy, it can splash loudly or also snag on the coral before the fish can find the fly. Before I cast, I always drop my fly into the water at my feet and make note of which way the tide is moving my crab pattern. This is not always the same direction the waves are moving on the surface. I treat it almost like a river, when I drop my fly in the water, it shows how it will drift. This is important as it allows me to land my fly further away from the spooky fish and let the current bring the fly into its view. After years of splashing my fly close to the fish and hoping it didn’t spook, this approach has helped me hook into a much higher percentage of fish.
Often times if you get the fly into a feeding trigger’s view without him spooking, he will react positively and start to follow. The fishes head will still be angled down, then when it goes to eat, the tail will move straight up. If you think your fly is the the vicinity of the fish and you see that tail go up, you want to set. The hard, toothy mouth of the trigger is very difficult for the hook to penetrate. When setting, I do a small but aggressive, 12 to 18 inch strip set. That way if it doesn’t find any meat in the fish’s mouth, he still has another chance to eat the fly as it looks like the crab just moved away. Often times the fish will continue to follow and try to eat it more aggressively each time. I have had a fish follow all the way to my rod tip, with 3 or 4 sets, before the hook finally finds a soft spot in the mouth that it is able to puncture. The key is to not do too big of a set that you cause the fish to spook off.
Once hooked, the fish will fight dirty. The first move they usual make is to try and bury themselves into the coral. If this happens, it is unfortunately game over. I have had luck running straight at the trigger to try and throw him off his course and spook him away from the large coral patches. I have had this work on countless fish just to have them later bite straight through the hook or use their powerful jaws to bend it open. When tying your trigger flies, use the strongest hook possible. With the amount of things that can go wrong during the fight, if I am chasing triggers, I prefer to bring a small net with me as they can be very difficult to grab at the end of the battle.
Over years of fishing for triggers, I have learned you can do everything right and still get very unlucky. I have also made some terrible casts and gotten very lucky. These fish all seem to have their own personality and fighting style. In my opinion a 25% hooked to landing ratio is fantastic. All of these factors make them one of the most challenge and entertaining fish to target on the fly.
Other Target Species: