Anyone who’s fished offshore more than a few times knows the feeling: hours of running, followed by hours of fruitless trolling, until the endlessly droning engines put half the bored crew to sleep. This is the time when we hope for just one bite to save the day.
You might not be able to force the fish to eat, but you certainly can try a new tactic for a different species, one that may save an offshore fishing trip: the blueline tilefish.
Its larger cousin, the golden tilefish, may get a lot more attention, but bluelines hold several advantages over goldens. Bluelines live in shallower water (usually between 200 and 400 feet, as opposed to 600 or 800 feet). They seem to bite at just about any time of day, in just about any kind of current, and they are far more numerous.
All you need to locate bluelines is a patch of hard or live bottom, virtually anywhere off the Atlantic coast. In fact, good numbers of bluelines are present up to the Hudson Canyon area, and they’ve been caught all the way up off of Maine. Bonus: bluelines are often found mixed with black sea bass, and since the areas where these species intermingle are far from port, they get less pressure. As a result, the sea bass caught while blueline fishing are larger than usual.
Finding an initial spot to try is often the toughest part of tile fishing, but it needn’t be. Focus on areas where you know there’s live or rocky bottom in the proper depth range and zoom in on your fishfinder as close as possible to the bottom. Tilefish marks aren’t huge, but any decent fishfinder will pick them up. Also keep an eye out for commercial fishing gear. It may be placed there to catch sea bass or lobster, in the same areas where you’ll discover bluelines.
The how-to part of blueline fishing is fairly straightforward. You can use large top-and-bottom rigs with circle hooks in the 6/0 to 10/0 range, weighted with 8 to 24 ounces of lead, or you can drop large jigs in that weight range. When using jigs, choose one with multiple hooks so you can drop multiple baits with it. Considering how deep the water is and the amount of time it takes to reach bottom, you don’t want to drop one bait only to get a nibble, and wonder if your hook’s been cleaned.
Bait hooks with squid strips, sea clam or cut fish, and send to the bottom. Cut fish tends to survive more bites than other choices, and squid’s pretty tough as well, but there are days when clams get chomped on faster. When fishing with circle hooks, let the weight drag along the bottom until a fish hooks itself. With jigs, set the hook with a quick snap of the rod the moment you feel a bite.
Because of the depths involved, rod and reel choice is key. The use of braid line is a must, or you might not know when a fish bites. High-speed reels are important, because they shorten the long crank to the surface, and they need sufficient line capacity for fishing in these depths. Rod-wise, all you need to be sure of is that your choice can handle the fishing weights along with a 5- to 20-pound fish. Modern speed-jigging tackle in the 20- to 30-pound class range spooled with 30- to 50-pound braid line works well. Weight is an important consideration, since you’ll hold the rod for a couple of minutes waiting for your offering to hit the bottom. Once a fish strikes, it usually takes at least five minutes to reel it up.
Once your gear’s set and baited, the actual fishing is about as simple as it gets: drop to the bottom and drift. You’ll encounter stretches of lifeless bottom and areas of good concentrations of fish, so keep track on your GPS and mark the bites as you go. A few mile-long drifts will allow you to nail down some hot spots. After tilefishing a few times in various areas, you’ll build a set of waypoints that will allow you to save the day whenever fishing is slow. The summertime blues will be a thing of the past.
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue.