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January 17, 2012

Deep-Dropping 101

Deep-drop fishing for snapper and grouper requires special rigging and tactics

Where to Drop?
Julylia said Florida and the Bahamas have been the hotbeds for deep-dropping, but the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard are virgin territories for this fishery. Much of the strategy used in determining what species to target revolves around the depth of water and the specific bottom structure at that depth. “I have reports of huge snapper and grouper being caught in the Gulf, and giant tilefish in the Atlantic,” Julylia said. “Tilefish can be found in 600 feet of water on the bottom, and they prefer muddy areas, where they look for shrimp. Tilefish, once a commercially sought-after fish, have rebounded, and many are caught to 40 pounds all along the Atlantic.

“Snapper and grouper species like hard bottom with some structure,” he continued. “They can be anywhere from 400 to 1,000 feet deep, with wreckfish over 100 pounds in water that’s 2,000 feet deep. Swordfish can be found off the bottom but near it during the day in 1,600 to 1,800 feet of water. Larger hooks and larger baits are needed. At night the swords come closer to the surface.”

Setting Up to Drop
Positioning the boat properly before making a drop is critical, and as mentioned earlier, you need to make every drop count. This is not the type of fishing in which you want to be reeling in the rig repeatedly. For instance, much of the tilefishing that takes place off the east coast of Florida is done in Gulf Stream current, requiring a great deal of preparation.

“Fishing in Florida’s Gulf Stream current is a challenge,” Julylia said. “I like to put the bow into the current and vary the idle speed so that the line, as it goes down, is at a slight angle. When you reach bottom, you will be drifting backward, so do not drag bottom. When the current is light, you can just drift and let your rig out. But when fishing heavy current, you sometimes must use as much as 12 pounds of weight in 600 to 700 feet of water when targeting tilefish on a muddy bottom.”

Deep-dropping isn’t for everyone, but once you try it, you’ll be amazed by how much fun it is. The best part is when your leader breaks the surface after you’ve hooked a fish, because you will certainly be greeted by an unfamiliar species from far below. That’s part of the charm of deep-dropping, and it’s what keeps guys like Julylia sending baits far below where most of us typically seek fish.


What: Deep-dropping for bottomfish in depths from 600 to 2,000 feet. Species include swordfish, wenchman snapper, pomfret, scombrops, silk snapper, queen snapper, escolar, tilefish, wreckfish and others. Please note that possession of wreckfish by recreational anglers is illegal in federal and state waters off North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and along the east coast of Florida. In the South Atlantic Exclusive Economic Zone (federal waters), the wreckfish is a 100 percent commercial individual transferable quota fishery; it is also illegal to land a wreckfish caught recreationally in the South Atlantic EEZ, in states where federal waters are open to recreational wreckfishing, from the North Carolina/Virginia border northward.

When: Year-round.

Where: In Atlantic waters from New Jersey south to Florida; in the Bahamas; throughout the Caribbean basin; and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rods: 6-foot heavy-duty bent-butt rods with swivel tips and roller guides built specifically for this style of fishing.

Reels: Heavy-duty conventional or electric reels capable of applying heavy drag and handling 200-pound braided line. With conventional reels, use a Reel Crankie winding accessory coupled with an electric drill for retrieving line between drops.

Lines: Braid up to 200-pound-test.

Leaders: Heavy nylon monofilament with multiple circle hooks tied onto three-way swivels or dropper loops.

Baits: Squid or any fresh cut bait.

Hooks: Heavy-duty circle hooks from 9/0 to 16/0.

Extras: Deep-drop lights. Anything from chemical Cyalume sticks to expensive battery-powered colored flashing lights, which are reusable.