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May 07, 2013

South Florida Tilefishing

This emerging fishery in South Florida promises a little adventure and a great dinner.

Use Enough Rod

We were using Penn International 50 reels, spooled with 50- and 80-pound braid, and matching stand-up rods. You can go lighter, such as 20-pound braid, when ­jigging for these fish, but a stout rod best handles the weights necessary to reach bottom and fish vertically; we were using a 2-pound sash weight that morning.

Smith reasons that a few swordfish have been hooked on tilefish rigs, and it’s only a matter of time before a swordfish or big grouper picks off one of these baits. With heavy outfits, he stands a good chance of beating them.

We fished two rods, and experimented with two different-size bonito chunks. The 11⁄4-by-11⁄4-inch chunk was the small bait, with the 2-by-2-inch chunk the large one. These fish have a large mouth, and it goes back to the big-bait/big-fish theory. One of Smith’s biggest golden tiles, a 15-pounder, ate a Spanish mackerel bait intended for sharks.

Given the darkness at these depths, glow beads or skirts illuminate the bait, and attract fish. Smith has been experimenting with a small strobe light on the leader with success; on this outing, this rig scored a blackbelly rosefish and a golden tile. In addition, he’s been ­adding rattles up by the sinker, and believes the combination of illumination and sound offer a potent advantage.

Play By the Rules

Federal Law allows just one golden tilefish per person per day. Therefore, if you go, bring a few friends to make it worthwhile. Since this fishing occurs over deep water, free-line a live bait or even a fresh ballyhoo while you drift: Dolphin, tuna, sailfish and even the occasional blue marlin have been known to pick off these baits.

Fishing for golden tiles off South Florida is a breeze; long runs aren’t required like they are off the mid-Atlantic and Northeast; and the fish are here. What’s more, if you don’t feel like fighting for your dinner standing up, enjoy ­fighting the fish out of the gunwale rod holder. 

This is fun fishing, requiring just a bit of elbow grease to crank in these fish. When they’re feeding, you can knock off a dinner limit in no time, and then go off hunting for other fish. That’s what tilin’ off South Florida is all about! And it’s all good.

Deepwater Releases

Releasing unwanted or closed-season fish from deep water can be challenging, as they might be ­suffering from barotrauma (rapid decompression). The SeaQualizer improves the safe release of deepwater fishes. The pressure-activated device works by taking a fish back down into the depths, where it recompresses. The unit is set to release fish at three different depth ­settings: 50, 100 and 150 feet. It is proving to be a more effective means of releasing bottomfish than ­venting. For more information, go to saltwatersportsman.com/seaqualizer.

South Florida Golden Tilefish Tackle Box and Planner

Rods: 50-pound-class stand-up rods

Reels: Conventional reels, such as the Penn 50 International

Lines: Braid, 50- to 80-pound-test

Terminal gear: 10 to 12 feet of 50- to 100-pound mono, three-way swivel, 2-pound sash weight sinker, 9/0 VMC in-line circle hook, glow beads, glow skirt, rattles

Bait: Chunks of bonito, king mackerel, ballyhoo plugs, squid

When: Year-round, but best winter through spring

Where: Miami Beach, Florida

Who: Capt. Bouncer Smith, 305-439-2475

Capt. Bouncer Smith is pioneering this fishery, but it’s also available to anyone with a suitable boat, if you choose to blaze the trail on your own. The ­following local ramps provide easy access to the golden tilefish grounds: