On the surface, Florida Keys offshore fishing is all about big dolphin. But look deeper, a lot deeper, and you’ll find a whole other world of spectacular species swimming around.
Fish rarely seen on hanging racks, but commonly enjoyed on the dinner tables of anglers who know where to find them. I’m speaking of course about the exciting Florida Keys deep drop fishery, home to the golden tilefish, barrel fish, black bellied rosefish, and snowy grouper, just to name a few.
Deep dropping is an excellent alternative to summertime dolphin fishing if you’re having difficulty locating the dorados. Simply keep an eye on your bottom machine while trolling or out searching for birds and floaters, and when you see well-defined contour, such as hills, valleys or significant changes in depth, get your rigs out and send a few baits to the bottom. You never know what you’re going to pull up, and most of these bottom dwellers offer extremely delicious white meat fillets.
Deep dropping can be accomplished with both electric reels and manual hand-crank reels. Because you’re generally dropping at depths of more than 600 feet, I usually prefer to use the electric. It allows you to complete more drifts, and you won’t get burned out pumping and reeling in the hot sun. For rigs, I recommend purchasing a variety of pre-rigged multi-hook setups at your local tackle shop. If you’re getting smaller bites, use the smaller rigs. If getting slammed by big groupers, use the heavier setups. As far as bait goes, the most common flavor is squid, although a variety of baits can be used and it’s up to you what you decide to send down. If you have any questions about deep dropping just stop in any of the Middle Keys tackle shops and you should be able to obtain the knowledge you need to go out and catch the species of the deep.
Part of the reason I discussed deep dropping as an alternative to dolphin fishing, is because the dolphin fishing has been a bit lackluster. We are catching fish, they’ve just been far and few between. If you plan on dolphin fishing this week I suggest fishing between 18 and 30 miles out, and don’t be afraid to stop by the Marathon Hump if you’re in the area. The blackfin tuna bite has been superb, with good numbers of quality fish in the eight to 12-pound class being caught trolling feathers. While at the Marathon Hump send one of your deep dropping rigs down. Good numbers of queen snapper, as well as many of the species mentioned above, can all be caught at the Hump in addition to the tuna and other pelagics.
Since we’re on the topic of deep dropping, I must mention that we’re still catching excellent numbers of swordfish off the Middle Keys. If you’ve never had the opportunity to catch a swordfish I highly recommend giving it a try. Bringing these fish up from depths over 1,500 feet is something every angler should experience. Just stop by the Best Bet boats, located on the Key Colony Beach causeway, and we’ll be happy to hook you up with a daytime sword trip.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Deep Dropping
If the dolphin fishing is slow, don’t hesitate to mix things up. Try your hand at deep dropping and you may wind up with a cooler full of snowy groupers and other delicious species.
Rose fish like this one are common on deep-water ledges and humps.
Marathon residents Jeff Riley and Ryan Satow with a pair of snowy groupers caught aboard the Best Bet.
I landed this 18 lb yellow edge grouper on a conventional reel in 650 feet of water while wearing my lucky t-shirt.