Triggernometry Lessons


As Christmas season approaches so too the number of anglers passing through the shop on their way to Christmas Island also goes up. One of my customers suggested I write some notes on things Iíve learned over the years of fishing on Christmas. The first thing that came to mind is triggerfish, which are rapidly gaining in popularity as a game fish. There are two types of big triggerfish on Christmas, the titan and yellow margin. Both will take a fly and can be some of the most fun and frustrating things to fish for on the flat. Iíve spent considerable time chasing these critters over the past few years, and since thereís almost nothing written on the subject, hereís a few tips:

(Please note that all this comes strictly from fishing Christmas. I have no idea how to fish for them in other parts of the world.)

Titan Trigger

First of all, only cast at tailing triggers. The fish cruising the edge of a flat or already spooked fish will rarely take a fly, and will alert all the others on the flat if you bother them when theyíre not in the mood. Titan triggers (the black & yellow ones with the mustache), will sometimes fight each other, splashing as they chase each other all over the flat, and these are okay to cast at once they settle their argument.

My friend Brandon with a nice Yellowmargin Trigger

Your fly should be tied directly to the leader. On just about everything else I prefer to use a loop knot to attach my fly, but the half inch of slack on a loop knot can prevent you from feeling a triggerís take and setting the hook in time.

ET's first trigger

Your tippet should be heavy, really heavy. I use 30# Seaguar fluoro. Triggers have nasty teeth, and they always run towards the coral where they make their home. The flats where youíll find triggers usually have abundant sharp coral. A heavy leader will give you more abrasion resistance and let you put maximum pressure on the fish to stop them from cutting you off. Triggers pull really hard and can snap light tippets with ease.

Trigger's home turf

Regarding presentation: I generally cast 2 or 3 feet from the tailing trigger while the tail is in the air (youíll have to guess left or right of the fish), and once the tail drops back in the water, I do a quick 6-8 inch strip. If the trigger sees the fly and doesnít spook, he will usually turn on it and tail on it. When that happens, another short, quick strip will either set the hook or hop the fly again. This may happen several times on any one presentation. You may occasionally feel some tension as the trigger grabs the fly. But triggers have mouths full of teeth, so hook ups are far more difficult than simply getting one to eat. You may get 5 or 6 eats on a cast, but never hook up. Thatís just part of the game.

Kiribati guide Ieru and an oceanside trigger

When you do finally get tight on a trigger, donít give him any quarter. Set the hook with authority. A triggerís skin is tougher than leather, and you need to punch the hook through it. Donít worry about damaging his mouth, he eats coral for a living. YouĎll need to keep steady pressure on the fish right from the start, otherwise you (or your poor guide) will be forced to attempt to pull him from the rocks when he inevitably dives into his house of coral. My favorite guide has a nasty scar on his hand from when one such episode went wrong (not fishing with me). Little fish are easy enough to overpower, but both titan and yellow margin triggers get over 10lbs and fight like hell.

Fat Sean circa 2010 with a fatty trigger

Regarding flies: Everyone who fishes has their own favorites, but the critical component is a heavy wire hook. I use a size 1 Gamakatsu live bait hook. Over the years my friends and I have bent and broken all the usual bonefish fly hooks, even the heavy wire TMC 800s on triggers. You wonít believe a fish can bite a steel hook in half or bend it into a pretzel, but they do it with ease.

Kissy face

Before and after one fish

As far as fly shape and color goes, any regular bonefish type of fly or small crab should do the trick. I find fluorescent orange works best for me, although Iím not sure why. The fiddler crabs are dark red, and all the other crabs Iíve seen on the flat were sand colored or brown. Hermit crabs are bright orange-red, but they never go in the water. Whatever the case, orange works for me so I stick with it. The fly does need to have enough weight to get down in a hurry, so solid metal dumbbells are a must.

Fiddler crab

Land crab outside my cabin

Paris point Hermit

2014 style triggerfish flies

Thatís about all the useful advice I have on triggerfish aside from a gentle reminder to stay patient and not let it get to you if you fail to hook a nice one on the first try or on the tenth. The challenge is what makes it so fun and addictive. I caught the first one I cast at on my first ever trip to Christmas and I thought it was a slam dunk fishing for them. I didnít even take a picture since it didnít seem like a big deal. Iíve been humbled many, many times since then.

And if you want to see how they fish for these guys in Africa, check out this fun video from Flycastaway. Aloha and good luck catching your trophy!

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