A New Jersey Tripletail?

The unexpected visitor wandered north to the waters of the Garden State.

NJ tripletail
Steve Coponi weighed the southern vagrant in at the Tackle Box in Hazlet, New Jersey. Phil Sciortino

College kid Steve Coponi had been heading out on his family’s boat, the Liv-Ven 4 Reel, all summer. On August 25, they were fishing around the hi-flier lobster pot markers 20 miles off the New Jersey coastline looking for mahi mahi. Instead they found something strange: a tripletail!

After returning to land, Coponi checked the Atlantic tripletail in at the Tackle Box in Hazlet, relaying the story to owner Phil Sciortino. The freak visitor tilted the scales to 3.5 pounds and measured 17.5 inches long. While that’s not a big tripletail by any means, it is extremely unusual to find the species in Jersey waters. In fact, 85-year-old NY and NJ sport fishing legend Al Ristori said he has never even heard of one off of the Garden State in all his years of angling.

“Steve’s fished Florida a lot so he knew what it was immediately,” Coponi told Sciortino that he crept up on a pot and saw the tripletail right away. “He tossed a 6-inch chartreuse Tsunami shad and the fish inhaled it instantly. But it began to wrap itself around the potline so Steve’s dad maneuvered the boat to untangle it from the pot where his sister scooped the fish up in the net.”

Coponi was excited about the unusual fish, and immediately called Sciortino to ask about the NJ record for tripletail. “I told him there’s not even a category for it.”

A Long Way From Home

Atlantic tripletail are generally found in more temperate waters. They don’t typically wander much further north than Chesapeake Bay, which makes its appearance in NJ an oddity. Warm water trends over the past 12 years or so off the NY and NJ bight have brought all sorts of “new” southern species to the waters including tarpon, cobia, red drum and Spanish mackerel.

While Atlantic tripletail average 2 to 5 pounds, specimens over 8 pounds are not uncommon. They can grow and surpass the 25-pound mark, with the world record, caught off Zululand, South Africa in 1989, weighing in at 42 pounds and 5 ounces. Coponi is saving the tripletail to be checked by NJ Fish & Wildlife to possibly instate a new species in the record books.

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