Yellowmargin Triggerfish on a Fly


It’s in the net.

You lift it up, and the dark, chameleon-like eyes turn to stare at yours. Your Kraken Crab fly is somehow securely embedded in a cluster of big, white teeth.

Of course, your fly is mangled. And you think, “That will be fun to retrieve.”

The peachy-yellow, sunset oranges, and bold black color markings pop vividly against the teal and turquoise waters that are the backdrop to the picture you’re about to take. Hold it out in front of you. Down a little more. Closer to the camera. It’s your first Yellowmargin Triggerfish.

It’s been an all-day effort. You’re proud, and it’s a thrill you’ll seek again.

As more fly fishing enthusiasts discover for themselves the challenge and fight involved in catching the underrated Yellowmargin Triggerfish on the fly—this first-time experience plays out over and over.

All About the Yellowmargin Triggerfish

The Yellowmargin Triggerfish—sometimes called the Pineapple Triggerfish—is in the Balistidae family of fishes. In total, there are around forty different types of triggerfish. Most are deep-water dwellers that live on and around reef structures—particularly ones with wide sandy areas around the coral heads.

But four types of triggerfish frequent the shallows and are a favorite with flyfishers looking for a challenge. You’ll find the Yellowmargin Triggerfish, Moustache Triggerfish, Picasso Triggerfish, and the Grey Triggerfish in the flats.

The Moustache and Picasso prefer a reef or seagrass bottom, but the Yellowmargin Triggerfish favors the sandy bottom.

The Yellowmargin Triggerfish has a unique oval shape with nearly symmetrical-looking dorsal and anal fins that go all the way to the crescent-shaped tale. In front of the large dorsal fin is a smaller, three-spined dorsal fin. This fin can be “locked” up as a defense mechanism. When evading a predator, they will immediately hide in a coral head. The triggered dorsal fin makes it nearly impossible to pull them back out.

A diamond-shaped pattern covers the body with random black spots that are more predominant around the eye. The yellow to orange-brown coloring and the unique texture lend to the common name of Pineapple Triggerfish. Flyfishers will be most familiar with the color and lines on the tail since they will be looking for it to break the surface.

They grow up to 24 inches. And the record for a line catch is 12lb 6oz and was caught on Christmas Island.

These triggerfish are aggressive feeders, eating crabs, urchins, and other crustaceans. They’ll be persistent and will move chunks of coral to get to their target. They have massive jaws that can chomp down on coral or through clam shells.

Their teeth are eerily human-looking and so tightly packed in their narrow mouths that setting a hook is particularly challenging.

Triggerfish are notoriously territorial. They have a “Don’t mess with Mama” reputation for having run divers that have ventured too close to their nest out of the water. While Yellowmargin are not quite as ferocious as the Titan Triggerfish, their powerful jaws, tough teeth, and tenacious attitude still pose a real risk to any fingers getting too close.

Where to Find Yellowmargin Triggerfish

Yellowmargin Triggerfish are found in warm tropical waters that include Australia, the Pacific Islands, as far south as South Africa, and as far north as Japan.

Christmas Island, Seychelles, and the Nubian flats of Sudan all have a reputation for providing astounding Yellowmargin Triggerfish on the fly.

For an experience closer to home—and one you can enjoy on your Scout Boat—you can target the Grey Triggerfish, which inhabits the southern coast of The United States, Bahamas, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

Boatowners trust our seaworthy Scout tenders to explore even the most remote flyfishing destinations in the Bahamas. Places like the Crooked and Acklands. Even the gorgeous sand rifts and remote cays of the Ragged Islands–which are beyond the touch of guides and resorts—become approachable and explorable.

Picking the Right Water

Yellowmargin Triggerfish like the shallows. To have the best chance at these tricky triggers, you’ll want to find a sandy bottom flat that doesn’t have too strong of a current. Neap and Spring tides may bring the rate of flow higher than they prefer. The ideal would be a few days after Spring Tide.

Even though the Yellowmargin likes the sandy bottom, the first thing it’ll do once hooked is zing towards the closest cluster of coral, so you’ll want to be surveying your flat in anticipation.

Packing the Tacklebox

Yellowmargin Triggerfish will aggressively go after anything in the crab or shrimp family. But you’ll likely want to pack more flys than you think you’d need—for a couple of reasons.

First, Triggerfish are used to eating things that bite back. As a presumed cautionary maneuver, they often hit their prey and pin it to the seabed. The idea is to hurt it and lower the defenses before putting it in its mouth.

Often you’ll feel a few “hits” that don’t hook. It’s likely the triggerfish hasn’t even taken it into its mouth yet. This can get rough for your fly.

Second, once you get a hook, the Yellowmargins massive jaws and tightly packed teeth can bite right through your fly, leader, or hook. Choosing the strongest hook is important.

The Alphlexo crab, originally designed for catching Yellowmargin Triggers by fly, was designed by Alec Gerbec and is a time-proven favorite. Other go-to flys include the Kraken Crab or any of the Shrimp varieties.

One tip to keep in mind, while the Yellowmargin is attracted to the larger flies, their small, overcrowded mouths require a small hook to get stuck in.

For the fly rod, a 9-weight, fast-action rod with a flywheel with a good drag will serve you well.

Tips for catching the Yellowmargin Triggerfish on a Fly

Triggerfish are gaining popularity as a sportfish because of the challenge they present and the enthusiastic fight they demonstrate once hooked.

It seems once the thrill has been experienced, it becomes an obsession.

What makes them challenging is their multi-faceted personalities. They are frequently referred to as the Jack Russel terriers of the reefs. They are tenacious and tough. Yet, crunch too loudly as you wade, and they are spooked off.

For this reason, you’ll want to approach carefully. You’ll be looking for the signature yellow-orange crescent-shaped tail to surface as they peck and hunt for meals on the seabed, around sponges, and on isolated coral croppings.

While inverted, they let the tide flop them around, and it can become difficult to tell what direction they will face when they right themselves.

Making your first cast count is important, and it’s a delicate balance between striking close enough to catch attention and not so close as to startle it. If the Yellowmargin doesn’t appear to have seen your fly, let it settle and tug. The plume of disturbed sand will often do the trick.

If your triggerfish is on the move, try to lead with your strikes, so your fly has time to descend. Once interested, you may have a few tries to get it hooked.

Once you do manage to get a hook set in that toothy mouth, it’s still a long way to the net. They will swim with surprising power for such an odd-shaped fish. Plus, Yellowmargins are skilled at spitting the hook. Or simply biting it off.

They are also going to beeline it to the first jagged, deep-hole structure it sees. Do everything you can to prevent their success. They snap that line of wedge themselves into a skinny crack, deploy their trigger dorsal, and be nearly impossible to dislodge. More than one fly fishing experience for Yellowmargins has ended with a snorkel.

If you haven’t gone for a Yellowmargin yet, keep your eyes on the surface for that unmistakable tail.

They will fight you every step of the way to the net, darting this way and that and bolting for the coral time and again, but once you claim victory, you would have added a serious notch to your fly fishing belt.

—Brian Chakanyuka, Alphonse Fishing Co.

Newsworthy Notes About the Yellowmargin Triggerfish

Triggerfish are harvested in parts of the world as a food fish. However, they are also highly susceptible to Ciguatera poisoning—a toxin that causes neurologic, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and muscular symptoms. It can be deadly, and cooking the meat does not eliminate the toxins. Only eat triggerfish from locations you know—from a trusted local source—does not have a history of Ciguatera.

It’s also urgent to know that triggerfish play a critical role in maintaining the population of urchins. In some habitats, the effects of overfishing are resulting in a noticeable imbalance. Understanding the sustainability practices in different locations is at the core of preserving our waters and the wildlife we all appreciate.

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