• Published:October 23, 2015
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You never know what you might pull up from the depths. While a great deal is written about trolling for fish like marlin and tuna, or jigging and popping, there's another fishery that's just as much fun, even though it might not be as sexy. If you haven't guessed already, I'm talking about deep-water bottom fishing.

Bouncing baits off the bottom over inshore waters can be problematic in the tropics, mostly because coral growth in the shallower waters snags a lot of gear and gives the fish a wide range of sharp structure to hide in or cut you off. Some shallow-water reef predators can also give you ciguatera poisoning if eaten. Neither of these issues are a problem when deep-dropping in the greater depths.

The depths from many South Pacific islands drop down very quickly and fishermen don’t need to motor far to find the desired depths. The deeper water is home to some extremely powerful and intriguing species which offers an attractive plan B when the pelagic fish are not biting, poor conditions limit you to a lee shore or you want to stock up on some top-tier table fish.

Although some of the local fishermen deep-drop for local markets with deck-winch style equipment, many charter operations lack the specialized gear for this type of fishing. A few years ago lugging the cumbersome tackle required for deep-dropping did not seem worth the excess baggage charges. However, with the advent of polyethylene braided lines, you can spool up a comparatively small reel with enough line to get down deep. But, you will also need 16- to 30-ounce lead weights to penetrate the depths. Heavy weights are not something you want to travel with, but they can be tough to find in remote areas. You may be able to come up with a makeshift weight using rocks or jugs full of sand, but if you really want to do some deep-dropping it’s better to bring at least two leads.


In the South Pacific, fishing boats are typically small aluminium runabouts or panga-style skiffs (called longboats locally). If you do your homework, you can find some fly-bridge sport-fishers for hire, but be prepared to fish on a boat without a GPS, a depth sounder, or a skipper with any experience of deepwater fishing. If you can find a paper chart of the area, bring it and take a handheld GPS with you or a smartphone with a navigation app that covers the area you will be fishing.

When looking for a fishing spot, try the shoulders of an island where substantial ridges or points stick out into the depths to start. These structures usually continue underwater and provide adequate structure for good bottom fishing. Target depths from 600 to 1,200 feet to start.


After about 20 years of this type of remote deep-dropping, I have settled on 50-pound (24kg) braid for general usage. I use rainbow-colored braid, which features color changes on the line to indicate different water depths. If there is no sounder on the boat, the rainbow braid helps me measure the water depth. I have tried a range of reels over the years and currently use a Shimano TLD 30. It’s a robust reel yet light in weight for easy traveling. This reel holds 500 yards of 50-pound braid, and is fitted with harness lugs for battling bigger fish with a belt and harness. Obviously, you’ll also need a harness and rod belt to take advantage of those lugs, and a good belt is typically not available on small fishing boats in the South Pacific. You might want to bring your own.

To save weight and space in my baggage, I don’t usually take a rod with me for this work. When I get on the fishing boat, I will inspect the rods and place my reel onto a trolling rod or jig rod.

The terminal tackle for this type of fishing is quite simple -- a couple of strong swivel snaps, a spool of 100- to 200-pound monofilament leader, a handful of strong circle hooks of various sizes, a few luminous beads and a couple of suitable weights (16- to 24-plus-ounces).

We tie two dropper loops in the mono leader and attach the weight at the end of the rig. I like to slip a luminous bead on each branch line before looping on a circle hook. The glow of the bead will help attract fish to the hook in the low-light conditions of deep water. Check that the double thickness of the dropper loops will fit through the hook eyes and lumo beads. You can also use a lightstick or underwater strobe light if desired.

I like to use a short length of 50-pound mono as a sacrificial connection between the weight and the end of the leader. A spare (or makeshift) weight can usually be found if you lose a lead, but if a full-strength leader becomes lodged into the bottom, breaking the rig may cost you half of the braid on your reel. When this happens, there may not be enough line left to reach the bottom again. This will put the angler out of the game. You’re much better off breaking the 50-pound attached to the weight and retrieving all of your braided line. You can always find something to replace the lead, but you won’t be able to replace that braid.


The easiest baits to come by are usually cut from some sort of small tuna, such as skipjack or mackerel tuna, caught on the troll or by casting. But remember that what you consider baitfish may be dinner to the local people. Slender strip baits hooked through one end with a circle hook are usually the way to go as they stream through the water more easily, sink faster and are more easily retrieved.

The deep bottom zone often doesn’t get much fishing pressure in the tropics and consequently can provide some good action with a long list of interesting species. Many of these fish are also some of the best-tasting on our watery planet. So you might also want to pack some of your favorite seasonings.