Looking for a little unusual canyon excitement? One offshore species doesn’t migrate away when the cold winds blow, it doesn’t move with the currents, or disappear with the seasons: the golden tilefish. You’ll have to catch the right cruise clear out to the edge of the shelf, but if you make the trip a fish or two will ensure the effort was worthwhile—golden tiles taste just like lobster! Canyon Critters
Growing up to 50-lbs. or more, golden tiles live off of a mostly crustacean diet that includes frequent meals of lobster. Steam this fish without any spice, dip it in drawn butter, and the taste…! Gray tiles, four-spot flounder, monkfish, and ling cod are a few of the other fish you’ll encounter dropping into the deep, and all are good eating.
Finding where these fish live is fairly easy: just go to the canyon edges, and drag your baits from 300’ down to 800’ or more. In the shallower end of this depth range you’ll catch mostly grays (which usually run one to six pounds) and ling cod, and below 600’ or so, all bets are off. To specifically target the large golden tilefish in numbers you’ll want to probe the 700’ to 800’ range.
One way to locate tile fish is by keeping track of the bottom composition. Tilefish live in burrows in mud bottom, and most folks agree that they like green mud the best. You can sometimes tell when you’re over a muddy bottom because your weight will stick to it so much that you might think you have a fish on, until it suddenly pops free. On a sandy or hard bottom, however, it will just drag along. (Yep, you can feel the difference, as long as you’re using braid—a must, when deep-dropping.)
When choosing a spot, remember to stay clear of lobster pot gear. There are lots of lobster pots set at the edges of the canyons, and even when the big orange float appears to be a quarter mile away, with 1,000’ or so of line down there, you can easily become entangled in it.
Rigging For The Deep
Deep drop rigs should have at least four or five hooks, simply to get numerous baits down there so that missed strikes don’t require you to reel in and re-bait—quite a chore in these waters. Most anglers will employ 4/0 to 8/0 circle hooks, and often have a small plastic glow in the dark tube at or near the hook. Some add a cyalume stick to the rig, to help attract fish, though these implode on their way down to the bottom in deeper water. The hooks can be baited with whole squid, fish chunks, or sea clams. Squid are considered the “norm,” but some anglers swear by clams. Sea clams should be soaked in salt for several hours before dropping them, in order to toughen them up and make it hard for fish to steal the baits.
Weights usually range from three to five pounds—yes, pounds—depending on the speed of your drift. Even with all that lead on the end of your line, it will take between three and six minutes before your bait hits bottom. If you don’t want to crank up all that weight (and you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks on lead) rig a break-away sinker. Tie your weight to the bottom of your rig with six or eight pound test line, or use a rubber band. When you hook a fish the light line will usually break early in the struggle, and if you don’t have a fish on, a sharp jerk of the rod does the trick. A cheaper alternative: fill a coffee can with concrete, and put an eye hook in the top. Rig it to break away as described. Regardless of how much weight you use, it’s absolutely essential to use braid or a modern super-line. Monofilament will stretch so much you will hardly be able to tell when the lead hits bottom, much less if a fish is hooked. With braid, however, you’ll feel the nibbles 800’ below the boat. Rod choice is a matter of personal preference, but high gear ratio offshore reels in the 30-lb class or larger are absolutely necessary. Try cranking up from the deep with a reel that has a slow 2:1 gear ratio, like a Senator 114, and you’ll quickly discover why—it will take about 20 minutes, while a reel like a 30 International, with a 3.8:1 ratio, takes 10 minutes.
Many anglers would argue that it’s necessary to use electric reels for this job, and while I would disagree, there’s no doubt that they do make life easier. You have a couple of choices when it comes to electric reels, including those made by Lindgren-Pittman, Diawa, and Kristal. But for an angler who’s going to try deep dropping just once or twice a season, or if you just want to give it a shot and find out if you enjoy this type of fishing, it doesn’t make sense to lay out big bucks. With a normal Penn 30 International rigged with 80-lb. test braid, even with all the cranking involved, I usually find the crew enjoys four to six deep drops before becoming bushed. And by then, there’s almost always something very interesting flipping in the fishbox.
These fish cluster together - locate a colony of golden tilefish, and you're likely to hook several at a time.
Large circle hooks and multi-hook "meat rigs" are the norm.
The author with a giant golden tilefish caught at Poor Man's canyon.
Once the bait reaches bottom, make sure it remains there all times. Be prepared to slack out additional line as you drift into deeper water, if necessary. Tilefish and other deep dwellers won’t usually swim up to take a bait. As you might guess, this means you’ll need low wind and tide, and may need to maneuver the boat to keep it from drifting too quickly.
These fish can even be jigged, if you use 12- to 24-ounce jigs (Butterflies or Williamsons will work) that have painted with glow finish. Adding a squid strip to the hooks certainly can’t hurt, but I’ve taken several tiles without “sweetening” the offering. Plus, deep-dropping jigs on modern big-water jigging gear makes for an easier retrieve, as reel like the Shimano Torsa and Penn Torque have very fast retrieve ratios, and get that big, honkin’ tilefish headed for the surface in a hurry.
Although the fight from a fish this deep is certainly different than the surface antics of a hooked pelagic, you’ll discover that fish like golden tiles can put up quite a struggle on the way to the surface. And if you hook into a big one, be ready for a serious fight. It’s worth noting that the IGFA record for tilefish has been broken a couple of times in the past few years, so you can be sure there are some big fish down there waiting to be hooked!
--By Lenny Rudow
Another giant golden from Poor Man's.
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