Finger on the Trigger

Finger on the Trigger

Tracy&James | Thursday, 13 October 2016

I love salt water fly fishing and reading the articles by James about the Bahamas reminded me of the many trips we have made there and to other similar flats destinations. My favourite species remains the bonefish, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters there is, however this page is about the species that I find the most frustrating, but great fun, triggers!

There are a number of triggerfish species that we’ve targeted, around the Caribbean they are mostly the oceanic variety, but these come with a number of colourations from almost black to pale blue, with spotted fish in between. There are other Caribbean species, queens etc., although it is rare to find these up on the flats. In the Pacific there are more shallow water species to target such as yellow margin, titan, moustache, cross-hatch and the beautifully coloured Picasso triggers. All of these fish seem to have similar traits when it comes to taking a fly though.

triggers in surf

As triggers are territorial you often see them in the same areas again and again. They are not big on camouflage, preferring other defence mechanisms i.e. the trigger, so are easy to spot at a considerably distance.  They also flop their tails about when feeding which not only provides an obvious ‘I’m here’ wave, but can also be clearly heard – it’s almost like they’re inviting you to come and play.  They also don’t spook that easily so you get plenty of chances to cast at them as they forage for food on the sea bed.  This provides frustration point number one though, where to cast?  Unlike bonefish which tend to travel in roughly a predictable direction, triggers move randomly.  It’s almost as if they disorientate themselves with all the head-down flapping about, and they forget which way they were going when they pop back upright.  When they are head-down, it’s possible to place your fly pretty close, however this doesn’t guarantee they’ll see it due to the random direction changes.  That said, because they’re not particularly spooky, you can get multiple shots this way and one will get lucky.  Casting at them when they are upright and moving is more likely to get the fly seen straight away but also much more likely to result in a spook, so there are pros and cons of both approaches.


Even when they do see the fly and show some interest, it doesn’t mean you’ll get a positive take. I don’t know how many times I’ve had one follow to almost the tip of the rod with me constantly strip-striking as the fish goes down to take the fly but missing every single time.  In hindsight this failure to hook-up is down to their small mouths and the way they like to take their prey, i.e. pinning it to the bottom and crunching it with their very strong teeth.  Even when things do go right and the trigger takes the fly there is always the possibility that it will crush the hook (or bite clean through it) or snip off the fly by biting the leader.  Their teeth are quite ‘gapped’ though, so if you’re lucky you end up giving them a flossing with the line, thus putting it out of harm’s way.  One word of caution – don’t be tempted to put your fingers anywhere near those teeth during unhooking, always use forceps if the fly is anywhere else other than on the outside of the mouth. 


The Caribbean triggers especially like to feed on rocky surf beaches, as often found on the Atlantic side of the Bahamian islands.  Here you have the extra frustration of the wave action moving the fly away from the fish.   On our last trip to Long Island, James spent hours stalking one particular fish whose territory was immediately below the apartment we were staying in.  He had it moving after the fly on a number of occasions before it was unnaturally swept away by a wave or the backwash.  He did, however, eventually manage to hook it – the fight lasted all of five seconds before it spat the hook.  It was still in the same spot in the days following but the wind and surf was much higher making presenting a fly near on impossible.


Even when you hook one things have to go right, as triggers fight dirty!  The Pacific fish in particular know every nook and crevice in their surrounding area and make an immediate bolt for such a place of safety.  It’s not immediately obvious by looking at their shape just how powerful and fast these fish are – the fight can be over in a matter of seconds if you don’t have your wits about you, the guides I’ve fished with aren’t keen on putting their hands into trigger lairs to recover a fish that has wedged itself in with its dorsal fin (although I know some who do).  The usual method for fighting them is therefore to avoid giving them any line if possible, or certainly minimising the run by clamping down on the reel and applying a lot of side strain.  This can result in a rather comical battle where the angler is spun around and around as the trigger runs in ever decreasing circles before being beaten.


I’ll always love catching triggerfish and can’t wait to be out there on the flats chasing them again soon, irrespective of how frustrating they are.

Have a great weekend whatever species you target…