Tilefish are quirky fish that live in extremely deep waters and require specialized fishing gear just to reach them. Species of tilefish can be found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where they are commonly sought after as table fare. These fish have a distinct, slender body with a rounded head and can grow to over four feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds.
In the Atlantic, the most popular species targeted by recreational anglers are blueline, golden, and the great northern tilefish. While blueline and northern tilefish are usually a dull olive or gray color, their iridescent fins, yellow spots, and sometimes blue or pink head are beautiful yet subtle. The golden tilefish have many of the same characteristics but their colors and patterns are vivid and more flashy.
Tilefish live in 200 to 1,500 feet of water near structures like reefs, wrecks, and ledges. They feed on shrimp and crabs along the bottom where they also tend to make their burrows. Tilefish dig holes in the seafloor that they use for cover, and with more social tilefish species, burrows can be grouped close together like a prairie dog town. While most fish that live in cover face out, waiting to ambush prey or flee from potential threats, tilefish tend to hang out in their burrows with their head facing in.
Bottom fishing is a popular way to target deep dwelling fish like red snapper, but most of those setups would barely touch the bottom where tilefish live. Deep dropping is bottom fishing on steroids, using reels with 1,000 yards or more of line on the spool. The weights used in deep dropping are measured in pounds instead of ounces in order to get bait down to the seafloor without being carried away by the current.
The most effective approach to targeting tilefish is using deep drop gear with a heavy weight to drop bait down to structure in 300 to 1,000 feet of water. For bait, natural food sources like squid, crabs, and herring are great options, but cut bait made from strips of fish is also a popular choice. When you hook up to a tilefish, be prepared for a fight that’s challenging in a new way. While tilefish typically weigh around 20 pounds and put up a good fight, trying to reel up a fighting fish from 1,000 feet with an extra five pound weight swinging around is exhausting.
Deep dropping is a fishing experience unlike any other, offering new challenges and a delicious reward. If you want to see what tilefish and deep dropping are all about, check out our tilefish charters and get ready for a great trip.