Here in South Florida, we are fortunate to have such a diverse fishery that offers a plethora of fish species for us to target. Typically, May is considered the beginning of dolphin season. This time of year, it’s certainly possible to be back at the dock by noon with a fish box full of dolphin and tuna. However, if you have been in the game long enough, you know that the pelagics don’t always cooperate. Luckily, you can almost always score some tasty bottom dwellers for dinner before you head back to the dock and avoid the dreaded goose egg.
Blackbelly rosefish make for some incredible table fare and are very easy to catch with the right equipment and a little local knowledge. Most important is a good bottom machine that gives you accurate depths to over 1000 feet. Though you can hand crank with a pound or two of lead, you won’t ever want to do it again if you come up empty on the first drop. Electric reels are a must. It’s nice to have a modern, high speed electric reel, but a 9/0 Penn Senator with a Fish Winch or Electra-Mate will get the job done.
Rosies can be caught in depths between 650 and 1100 feet, but I believe the sweet spot is around 850 feet. They like hard rocky bottom, but can also be caught on muddy bottom as long as there is some structure close by. The go to rig is a chicken rig with 5 or 6 hooks. You can get away with 9/0 circle hooks, but some of the best in the game go as big at 12/0 or 13/0 because a snowy grouper or big golden tilefish may come calling. Reel Deal Bait and Tackle in Fort Lauderdale carries a good assortment of deep drop rigs with different size hooks and plenty of stick lead. Depending on the amount of current, you will need 3 to 8 pounds of lead to keep your baits on the bottom. The best bait is squid, but chunks of bonito, barracuda or even dolphin bellies will work just fine. Don’t forget to add a light source to your rig. The small, water activated strobe lights in green or blue work best. Rosies have big yellow eyes, but it’s pretty dark on the bottom in 800 feet. Don’t skimp on the light.
You can locate potential honey holes by watching your bottom machine while you are on the troll for dolphin. Pay close attention when you are between 700 and 900 feet. Mark any spots where you see a 5 to 10 foot depth change. Name those marks as prospective spots and try them out. Once you find a productive spot, don’t think that you have to go back to that same spot for each drop. Many times, the bite gets better a bit north of the starting point.
Keep in mind that when you hit bottom, you will have to make adjustments to keep your baits on the bottom. When you get the first bite, don’t start coming up. Leave your rig on the bottom so you can get a few more bites and bring up 3 or 4 fish at a time. Be mindful to release the smaller fish as they don’t yield enough meat to warrant dulling your fillet knife and don’t ever keep more than you need.
The next time you get skunked offshore, try a little deep droppin for groceries!
~ Gene Dyer