Well now that the Miami Dolphins wonít be doing it for another year, going deep is something you should try on your next fishing trip. Catching a keeper Grouper or Snapper for a nice family meal is not as easy as it once was in our reefs. Thanks to stricter restrictions on what size and how many fish can anglers keep, our fisheries have revived some. Unfortunately bottom fish do not grow and reproduce as quickly as pelagics such as Dolphin and Kingfish. They migrate much less and they rely more on adequate habitats to grow and thrive. Our bottom fish get pressure from anglers as well as divers. But there is one way to put a nice size fish on the table.
In depths of 250í to 450í you can find fish that you will be unlikely to find elsewhere. Snowy grouper, Yellow-eyed Snapper, Vermillion Snapper, and Tilefish are but a few fish that are commonly found at these greater depths. Fishing for them is no easy task. Many use electric reels to get their baits down to the bottom and back without killing their arms and backs. But on a calm day with little current anyone can deep drop with regular conventional tackle or large spinning reel. Its not as sporting as sightcasting for Bonefish on a flat but every once in a while I enjoy this type of fishing. Methods are simple and most anyone can try it.
First you consult a chart where you will be fishing. Check for wrecks, reefs, or dropoffs in areas where depths are greater than 250í. If you have GPS numbers it will make your job a lot easier. If not just go out to the appropriate depths and use your depthfinder to locate good bottom or fish. Use the zoom feature on your depthfinder for greater accuracy in locating rocks and good structure. A good depthfinder will show you where fish hold and where the bottom is ragged and not flat.
Your tackle should be heavy. Lines should be 30# test or greater. Dacron or the newer gel-braid type lines are better than monofilament because they stretch much less and allow you more sensitivity in feeling bites. Ralph Delph, one of the best known guides in Key West, uses a gel-braid line called Fusion that is a lot thinner diameter and has virtually no stretch for this type of fishing. This allows you to spool a lot more line onto your reels. Your leader should be 6í of 50-80# test monofilament. Use big 5/0 Ė 8/0 bait hooks. Circle hooks are excellent because the fish will hook themselves. You should tie your leader to the main line using at least a 4/0 barrel swivel or larger. Tie an 8 -16oz. bank sinker to the end of your leader. Use whatever sinker you need to get your baits down to the bottom in as straight a line as possible. Your hooks should be tied between the swivel and the sinker using two three-way swivels. Your main line and leader line should be straight up until the sinker. The 3-ways should be tied in such a way that the hooks will be at 90 degrees from the leader line. Tie the hooks to the 3-ways using 4Ē of 50# mono (See diagram for more details). Some anglers use large heavy leaded jigs and simply drop it all the way down. Once the jig hits the bottom just start jigging it up slowly. The jig may be baited as well.
At these depths you will obviously not be anchoring. You should try this on a day when current is not strong thus allowing you to get your baits down to the bottom. Some may want to use a sea anchor to slow their drift to a minimum. You should use cut bait such as squid, mullet, bonito, or any type of bait that will stay on to the hook long enough that the big fish will have a chance at it. Once youíve located a spot that appears promising, mark it on your GPS. Bait your hooks and drop the line all the way to the bottom. It will seem funny to have to wait so long for the bait to hit the bottom but if youíve spooled enough line on your reel you should eventually hit it. Once you reach bottom reel your line up a couple of feet. Often you will not feel the bite as you would fishing shallower water. Rather you will feel subtle tugs on your line and an eventual heaviness once reeling in. If you feel you have something on the other end of your line start reeling in. Its usually a quick deal and if there are fish in the area youíve selected it will be almost immediate. Reeling in 400í of line is not easy and is very tiring so be sure that you are actually on to something. Your arms and back will be tested. I just take small breaks while Iím reeling up. If you donít do this youíll feel it the next day. Believe me, I learned the hard way. If you donít catch anything then move on to another spot until youíve found a productive area.
One thing should be pointed out with this method. Most of the fish you bring up from these depths will have inflated air bladders. The pressure on the surface is a lot less than it is at those depths. If you bring up an undersized fish you must try to revive that fish before releasing it. You should make a small incision in the air bladder through the mouth until it deflates. Sometimes it can only be done through its belly. If you donít deflate the bladder it will never be able to swim down. Help the fish get water through its gills by moving it back and forth in the water to so it can get oxygen in its system. Also take home fish for one dayís meal. Donít abuse resources that are so difficult to maintain and revive once theyíve been depleted. I love a good Snapper meal but I cherish even more the privilege I have to go out fishing in such a beautiful area. Its what being a sports fisherman is all about. And please, donít do me a disservice by going out and buying an electric reel. The whole idea behind fishing is to have a rod bent, a screaming drag, and a nice fighting fish testing your abilities.
Tightlines from Waldo DoubleTreble Tejera Jr.
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