Sunday, August 1, 2021

Have You Ever Heard of the Gray Trigger?
By Dan Zazworsky

Triggerfish are a diverse group of species that fall within the family of Balistidae. There are over 40 species of Trigger, with the majority of diversity coming from the Indo-Pacific region. While the vibrant and diverse Indo-Pacific Triggers get the majority of attention from both the fly fishing media and traveling anglers, the Atlantic’s Gray Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) offers much of the same allure and sport.

The Gray Triggerfish can offer Caribbean anglers a unique land-based experience that, for most anglers, is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the region. On days or tides when the Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit are less active, or when perhaps the angler wants to mix things up a bit — Gray Triggers offer the perfect diversion.

Anglers who have spent a good amount of time chasing these fish will tell you that the fish are very territorial and that they have a great deal of personality. These Triggers tend to have their home rock in which they live and can be found hanging around day after day. One fish may tend to take a lackadaisical approach to scour the reef for food, while another may be found darting around. The unique nature of these species creates a fun experience in which no two fish are the same.

The gear used to chase Triggerfish is conveniently quite similar to that used for bonefish. Your 8wt rod with WF floating line will do the trick from a hardware standpoint. Don’t be afraid to size up to 20LB tippet, as these fish are generally not leader shy and their teeth and coral environments are notorious for cutting through lighter monofilament or fluorocarbon. Shrimp and crabs are the preferred fly patterns. Anglers have luck with flies up to 1/0. In general bushier, buggier patterns such as spawning shrimp can lead to success. The Flexo Crab and Avalon Shrimp are proven patterns in the Bahamas. Other key items are wading boots with a substantial sole to protect your feet, and a stripping basket to keep your fly line from fraying on the sharp coral.

The Gray Trigger’s willingness to eat is often described as somewhere between a Bonefish and a Permit. They won’t eat everything that you put in front of them, but at the same time, they’re not going to give you nightmares the way that a Permit often can. The fact of the matter with these fish is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for tempting them to eat a fly: some fish are spooky and require a long lead of several feet, while others will eat a fly that hits them in the head. Get creative and be sure to test out different strip speeds and presentations when addressing different fish.

The strip set used to hook up with Triggerfish is unique. Some anglers refer to it as a hybrid between a traditional saltwater strip set and the trout-set. Because the fish have chompers that can bite right through tippet or even a hook, the set must be angled such that the fly ends up in the corner of the Trigger’s mouth.

Gray Triggers can grow to over 30 pounds, and their propensity to dive into caves and around large coral outcroppings can make for a very engaging fight. The majority of hard work is already out of the way once an angler has hooked a Bonefish, but fighting a Triggerfish is more akin to angling a large trout in a narrow stream or landing an energetic Tarpon. Be warned: hookups do not always lead to landed fish, don’t be surprised if these fish have a knack for breaking you off.

Fly fishing in the Bahamas is a longstanding sport and tradition. For that reason, guides and lodges can often be stuck in their ways. They are used to guests traveling to the destination to chase Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon, and for that reason your guide may not be accustomed to clients who genuinely want to chase Triggers. If you don’t inform your guide that you would like to target these fish, chances are you won’t have a chance to fish for them. If you’d like to chase these beguiling fish, make a point of letting your guide know as soon as you step onto the skiff. Once the guide understands that these fish are a priority and that you consider them to be every bit as much of a trophy fish as the other species, he or she will work hard to put you on the Triggers.

Not known to most anglers, gray Triggerfish can be found off of rocks as far north as Nova Scotia. They have very few natural predators and are plentiful in ecosystems in which they live. These fish are also known to be delicious table fare. The fish is known for its sweet and crab-like flavor when cooked. Like many reef fish, Triggerfish do pose the risk of carrying Ciguatera. The general rule of thumb is that fish under five pounds are safer for human consumption.

So, next time you find yourself on an island in the Atlantic, don’t forget about the Gray Triggerfish. You never know, they might just become one of your favorite species to chase on the fly.

Photos & Anglers

Dan Zazworksy

Morgan Stum

David McKenna