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January 17, 2012

Deep-Dropping 101

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

Fishing in water 600 feet and deeper isn’t the same as dropping bait over the side on a shallow reef in search of common snapper or grouper. That’s a relatively easy task, but when you’re seeking fish that live in total darkness and frigid temperatures a quarter-mile or more beneath the surface, you need to be prepared.

Most people who fish in very deep water use electric reels. Some readers may object to that, and if you’re one of them, you can always opt to fish deep water manually, but that’s quite a chore. Just reeling up a line to change a bait can take 25 minutes or more, depending on the depth you’re fishing, but winding tools like the Reel Crankie, which works in conjunction with a cordless electric drill, can alleviate the pain of that endeavor.

Master of the Deep
Dick Julylia ranks as an acknowledged expert at fishing in these great depths. When I first met him many years ago, he worked as a representative for Cannon, a maker of downriggers, and had mastered subsurface trolling for wahoo. He later got into deep-dropping and has been perfecting the techniques he now uses with such skill ever since. He currently works as an advisor to Kristal Fishing, a manufacturer of high-quality electric fishing reels. We caught up with Julylia recently to get some deep-dropping tips for those of you who might like to give it a try.

“Electric reel manufacturers have developed products to help catch everything from sailfish to swordfish,” Julylia said. “In the past, electric reels were heavy and cumbersome, and some required special electric converters. Today most reels can operate on a single 12-volt battery and have come down in size. Electric reels have added a new frontier to catching fish in waters as deep as 2,000 feet.”

Rigging to Drop
Julylia has perfected the tackle needed to winch big fish from very deep water, and as you might expect, this is not a light-tackle game. “I use a Kristal 651 reel because of its pulling power and line capacity,” he said. “It’s attached to a 6-foot bent-butt heavy-duty rod with a swivel tip and roller guides. For line, I use 200-pound-test no-stretch braided Spectra-based line.”
Julylia ties a Bimini twist into the braid as a shock absorber. “The double line helps prevent any loss of rigs or damage when the line comes up to the rod tip, which can happen since the reel is very powerful,” Julylia said. “I will make a 15-foot leader of double line and slide on a number-one stainless-steel washer, then a one-inch piece of outboard-motor gas hose, then another washer and finally a 300-pound-test Sampo ball-bearing swivel. With this setup, I’ve covered all my bases and can use my electric reel for deep-dropping, for pulling teasers while trolling or with a Z-Wing for deep-trolling tuna or grouper.”

Terminal Tackle
Deep-dropping is merely bottomfishing at great depths, so the fish you’re likely to encounter will live near the bottom. All good deep-drop rigs are made with circle hooks and nylon monofilament main line and leaders. Julylia recommended specific hook sizes for general use. “Use 9/0 circle hooks for fish under 10 pounds, 13/0 or 14/0 for most other fish and 16/0 hooks for large grouper,” he said. “Remember, the circle hook needs to get around the jawbone of larger fish.”

No Lights, No Bites
“As the water gets deeper, the light diminishes; any light source near your hooks will attract more bites,” Julylia said. “There are many lights available, in all colors — some even make noise — and they’re priced from quite inexpensive to $150 each. Chemical lights like Cyalume sticks are another source, used by commercial fisherman for years. The only issue I have with Cyalumes is that they are not deepwater friendly and can be used only once.”

Baiting Up
One of the most interesting aspects of deep-dropping concerns the species you’re likely to encounter. These bottom dwellers bear little resemblance to the shallow-water species we’re all more familiar with. Instead of mutton and red snapper, plus gag grouper, you’ll be looking for things with unfamiliar names like wenchman snapper, wreckfish, pomfret, scombrops, escolar, silk snapper and tilefish.

Luckily these fish aren’t terribly picky about what they’ll eat, and common baits work well. “Squid is the most effective and most available bait,” Julylia said. “It’s one of the best and can be found in any tackle shop or supermarket. Next to squid, I like fresh barracuda or any other fresh bait. Cut the bait into a matchbook-size piece, and also put a piece of squid on the hook.”