The rich waters off the coast of South Florida hold an incredible variety of species of fish, some of them more popular than others. We all know about the Sailfish, Dolphin and Tuna for the game species, and various types of Grouper and Snapper for the bottom dwellers, but recently I have begun fishing the bottom in the deeper areas for other bottom species, the Tilefish, in this case the Blueline or Grey Tilefish.
After a very long while, my good friend Mitch purchased a very expensive Electric Rod and Reel combo, as he had been going out on other friend’s boats equipped with such tackle in order to pursue day time Sword fishing, which can take place in up to 2,000 feet of water. After a substantial amount of time and effort, I convinced him to rig the Electric Reel and re-enforced rod holders in his 25 foot contender and presented him with several deep drop snapper rigs along with a promise that I would finally chip in for bait and gas to give a try deep dropping for Tilefish somewhere between Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The Blueline Tilefish also called the Grey Tile are frequently caught in the South Florida waters with the larger Golden Tilefish caught a bit deeper but less frequently.
The Blueline Tilefish is usually found in water ranging from 250 to 750 feet deep. The lesser depth although sometimes fished with conventional tackle can produce Tilefish when fishing for Snapper and Grouper as these fish are quite often found in the same areas. Tile fish prefer a bumpy mud bottom in which they can construct burrows in which to live. They can grow up to 32 inches (smaller than the Golden Tilefish) and live up to 15 years. The Grey Tilefish have a diet of crabs, shrimp and many other bottom creatures which may contribute to its excellent taste when cooked. It is an extra lean fish with firm white meat and a very mild flavor.
Deep Drop Fishing for Blueline Tilefish is mostly done by means of an Electric Reel and a very stout rod. The rod is secured into a re-enforced rod holder and plugged into an outlet on the boat. The weight of this tackle alone makes stand up angling impossible, and the weight used to get down and hold bottom while drifting in 500 or more feet of water can be anywhere from 2 to 12 lbs depending on current. If you are a fishing purist and must try conventional tackle, make sure your cardiologist has given you a stress test as this will surely be a workout. If you are having trouble holding bottom with more than 12 lbs of lead it may be time to head to your favorite watering hold and watch football.
The rig is actually quite simple, a multi-hook snapper rig with circle hooks, many anglers prefer to use 60lb test leaders but 80 will work too and a very heavy lead weight depending on the current. You want to be able to bounce over the bottom as you drift. Braided line is a must as it is thinner and will not stretch like monofilament. Cut baits such as squid, Bonita or Barracuda will work fine as baits that are too soft such as Pilchard will come off the hooks to easily.
The winter months may be a bit trickier for this type of fishing as you need to keep the baits on the bottom and unless it’s very calm and little current, this will be hard to do. In some areas, Fishing for Blueline Tilefish can take place just 2-3 miles from shore and in very calm conditions is fun and very easy. In a short while you will be able to figure out the bites from the bottom and multiple fish per drop is not uncommon. This is a very simple method of fishing and the sight of a fish common up from the depths is quite exciting, especially when you don’t always know what strange creature might be on the end of the line. Cleaning the Grey Tilefish may require a bit of practice as there are quite a few bony areas to avoid when filleting them, but the wonderful mean it will turn into is definitely worth the effort!
I remember as a boy fishing on the charter boats out of Sheepshead bay, NY that a tile fishing trip meant at the least an overnight adventure. I am very lucky to now live in South Florida where I can enjoy Golden Tilefish fishing a mere 3-4 miles off of Miami Beach. Although the fishing grounds in the north east have a much greater population of these tasty denizens of the deep, you have to travel more than 100 miles offshore to the various canyons and deep water trenches to reach them. Fishing for Golden tilefish usually begins at a depth of a bit over 500’ to over 750 foot of water.
I have many friends who cry and whine like school girls just bringing up a big Amberjack from a 200’ wreck so these depths usually require the use of electric reels. With calm seas and a moderate current its possible to use a smaller reel that can handle a substantial amount of say 50lb test spectra line on a 4/0 size reel and a stout standup rod such as a Tuna stick. We found that a small Electra mate motor on this set up does the job quite nicely. Many anglers still prefer to use wire line with massive reels and electric motors that can life a small car! Remember the size of the fish you are trying to catch, as Golden Tilefish only average about 7-10lbs. Bringing back a Golden Tile of over 20lbs will surely bring plenty of onlookers and questions back at the dock, but more commonly expect fish in the 3-15lb range.
There are many Fishermen who fish for Golden Tilefish with a simple deep drop “chicken rig” commonly used for snappers and deep water groupers but many Anglers have been switching over to a strip rig. Similar to what Fisherman in the North East have used for ages, a 3 way swivel with a hefty weight tied to the bottom of the swivel with a few feet of mono with the main line to the top of the swivel. From the middle of the swivel a few feet of mono with a circle or J-hook will do just fine. If you are using expensive terminal tackle and lights on this rig, remember to set it up so a snagged weight on the bottom won’t end up costing you the next car payment.
Golden Tilefish prefer muddy bottoms and live in holes that they dig. It is said that a Tilefish will never occupy a hole dug by another Tilefish. Finding the right soft bottom that is in proximity to other structure or hard bottom is the key to finding fish. Of course this bottom needs to be located in the proper depth range to hold Golden Tilefish.
Fresh chunks of Ballyhoo or squid work very well for Golden Tilefish as well as a number of other species that inhabit the deep dark waters over 500 feet down. Many fish that inhabit the dark waters rely on scent to a large degree so making sure the bait is fresh is extremely important for success. A moderate Northerly current is needed for this type of fishing, too slow of a current and Golden Tilefish will not feed, too quick of a current and you may need to deploy a sea anchor to slow you down or bump your vessel in and out of gear to slow down the drift.
Fishing for Golden Tilefish is more than merely dropping a line deep into the ocean and drifting for a while. You must know where to look, and prepare your gear and bait properly. Having said that, there is nothing more fun than drifting a few miles off the coast of Miami, sharing fish stories with friends and waiting to come across the extremely tasty Golden Tilefish. Regulations are constantly changing so do not forget to check your catch and size limits for the Golden Tilefish, and don’t be surprised if a Swordfish, Grouper or deepwater shark may pay you a visit as well!