Keep­ing the Sport in Fish­ing

Hand crank­ing makes deep-drop­ping tac­tics more sporty and re­ward­ing.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - GEORGE POVEROMO

Fish­ing for ben­thic-zone dwellers con­tin­ues to blos­som in pop­u­lar­ity. But an in­creas­ing num­ber of an­glers are de­part­ing from tra­di­tional deep-drop­ping and pulling those big bot­tom­fish up from the depths with the push of a but­ton. Where’s the sport in that?

Keep­ing the Sport in Fish­ing

There are, of course, sit­u­a­tions for which the use of elec­tric reels makes per­fect sense. For in­stance, when the an­gler is phys­i­cally un­able to use con­ven­tional tackle. But in my hum­ble opin­ion, deep-drop­ping is more fun and re­ward­ing when those prize tro­phies are hand-cranked the good old-fash­ioned way.

Deep Thoughts

Deep-drop­ping for bot­tom­fish oc­curs from around of un­der­wa­ter canyons, pin­na­cles and other spe­cific bot­tom for­ma­tions in depths ap­proach­ing and of­ten ex­ceed­ing 1,000 feet. Trump­ing the as­sorted smaller denizens and deep­wa­ter sharks lurk­ing near the bot­tom are prize blue­line and golden tile­fish, bar­relfish, queen snap­per, snowy grouper and wreck­fish, all de­li­cious ta­ble fare.

Thoughts of la­bo­ri­ously wind­ing up heavy fish from ex­treme depths lead many an­glers to steer clear of the hand-crank­ing op­tion. Yet that may be just a case of is reached, you move on to some­thing else. There’s lit­tle dis­card when rules force you to re­lease fish.

Proper Tackle

Modern tackle has sim­pli­fied hand-crank, deep-drop tac­tics. For ex­am­ple, small to mid­size con­ven­tional two-speed reels ca­pa­ble of hold­ing 500 to 600 yards of braided line are per­fect for the task. Their com­pact sizes and light weights keep fa­tigue to a min­i­mum. For the drops we oc­ca­sion­ally do, I opt for Penn Torque 30 and 40 two-speed, lever-drag reels, which hold over 600 and nearly 800 yards of 50-pound braid, re­spec­tively. That much line ca­pac­ity may seem like overkill, but even 600 feet down, it af­fords a larger spool di­am­e­ter to pick up more line with ev­ery turn of the han­dle. A high gear ra­tio brings a bait up faster, whereas a low ra­tio pro­vides the torque to keep big fish com­ing up.

A 5½- to 6-foot rod rated for 50- to 100-pound line is plenty stout to ac­com­mo­date the weights re­quired to reach bot­tom and over­power large, deep­wa­ter dwellers. Again, these out­fits are com­fort­able enough to hold and to fight fish with. There’s al­ways the rod holder to ac­com­mo­date the out­fit while crank­ing up a bait to check it or when fight­ing a fish. Swivel rod hold­ers are per­fect for this be­cause they’re de­signed to keep the rod aimed to­ward the fish.

End Games

Dr. Ken Neill III is an ac­com­plished hand-crank, deep-drop pro in his home wa­ters of Vir­ginia. Ad­her­ing to IGFA rules, Neill has set 12 all-tackle world records on species rang­ing from blue­line tile­fish to snowy grouper weigh­ing over 70 pounds. He has this fish­ery di­aled in, and to keep within IGFA stan­dards, Neill uses ei­ther a sin­gle- or dual-hook drop­per rig com­prised of 60- to 100-pound mono. Hook size is com­monly 8/0 yet ad­justed based on the size of fish.

Neill at­taches a small strobe light near the top of the rig and glow beads off each hook. To pro­duce vi­bra­tions, he fa­vors a spin­ner blade be­tween glow beads in front of the hook. A quickchange sinker rides at the bot­tom of the setup. Neill uses both cir­cle and J-style hooks. When fish are not ag­gres­sive, the quick set of a J-hook out­per­forms wait­ing with a cir­cle hook . He prefers 65-pound braid, which makes it easy to fish J-hooks (reg­u­la­tions may re­quire the cir­cle hooks ex­clu­sively). Both hook styles catch fish equally well.

Keep­ing the Sport in Fish­ing Smell This!

“Any­thing works for bait,” Neill says. He has caught fish deep-drop­ping with both flut­ter- and con­ven­tion­al­style jigs, as well as a wide va­ri­ety of nat­u­ral baits. “Squid is ex­cel­lent but comes off the hook too eas­ily,” he ex­plains. As with most deep­drop­pers, he fa­vors a chunk of fresh bonito or skip­jack. Scent from oily fish spreads along the bot­tom, and their tough­ness makes it hard for bait steal­ers to suc­ceed. Based on the size of the tar­geted fish, chunks or strips are im­paled onto the hook.

Whether he’s look­ing for golden tile­fish along muddy bot­tom in 600 to 800 feet, just shy of a canyon, or snowy one eye of a three­way swivel. The Seaqual­izer clips onto the sec­ond eye, then a 3- to 5-pound weight is af­fixed to the third eye. You then clip the de­vice onto the jaws of the fish, ad­just the pres­sure set­ting (for 100, 200 or 300 feet), and slowly lower the fish back to the depths, al­low­ing it to re­com­press and re­gain its com­po­sure so it swims away when water pres­sure trig­gers the re­lease at the de­sired depth.

A more ba­sic re­lease sys­tem con­sists of a sim­i­lar stout con­ven­tional out­fit and three-way swivel rig, but with a sash-type weight and us­ing a light wire J-style hook with the barb mashed down to hold the fish. Once you es­ti­mate the fish is deep enough to have re­com­pressed, you sim­ply shake the rod to set it free.

or War­saw grouper and wreck­fish on rocky bot­tom along a canyon wall, Neill says it’s cru­cial to keep on top of promis­ing spots as long as pos­si­ble. This re­quires a per­son at the wheel to stem the cur­rent, al­low­ing the baits to reach bot­tom and achieve ad­e­quate soak time. Some­times it’s a mat­ter of prob­ing dif­fer­ent sec­tions of a given area to un­cover fish. That’s of­ten the case with golden tile­fish, which tend to col­o­nize within cer­tain zones along a stretch of muddy bot­tom. Then, slow-drift­ing and thor­oughly cov­er­ing an area is war­ranted. And once a pop­u­la­tion is un­cov­ered, limit the fo­cus to that par­tic­u­lar patch of bot­tom.

A Crank­ing Good Time

Small out­fits re­duce fa­tigue when deep-drop­ping. To con­serve en­ergy, place the rod in a holder when reel­ing up to check a bait or to move. Like with bot­tom­fish­ing in gen­eral, wait for the fish to pull the rod tip down, then wind rapidly for a successful hook-set, par­tic­u­larly with cir­cle hooks.

Un­less it’s nec­es­sary to mus­cle a big fish away from threat­en­ing struc­ture, just pump and claim line when­ever you can. Get into a rhythm so you don’t burn your­self out. Once a fish is off the bot­tom, just stay tight and gain line at a re­lax­ing but steady pace.

When deep-drop­ping, there are two im­por­tant bench­marks dur­ing a fight. The first one takes place when the fish is about half­way up, when rapid de­com­pres­sion sets in and helps float the fish to­ward the sur­face. The other is when you fi­nally slide that trophy bot­tom­fish into the net, and you can take pride in hav­ing fought it mano a mano, the good old-fash­ioned, sport­ing way.

Rig for the Deep

George Poveromo Gear up right and even the deep­est dwellers pro­vide prime sport.

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