• Published:September 20, 2017
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It sounds strange but it's true.

When it comes to catching big golden tilefish, speed jigs will often out-fish chunks of meat dragged along the bottom on traditional deep-drop rigs. Sure, that meat-curtain will generate more strikes from small fish and peripheral species like rose fish and hake but that means you will spend more time cranking and less time presenting your offering to the target species.
The big jigs go unmolested by little nippers and are demolished by large goldens. If you want to mine the edges of the continental shelf for 50-plus-pound fish, a jig simply can’t be beat.

JIGGING WITH MEAT  

While goldens can be caught on bare jigs, they do prefer a more natural offering and the best way to tempt them into biting is to use a baited jig, a method known as meat-jigging. The basic technique is quite simple, but has several components beginning with a jig so big and heavy you could club a bear to death with it.

Jigs weighing 750 grams (about 26.5 ounces) are considered the bare minimum, and when wind and current conspire to speed up the drift, heavier is better. Jigs with a strip of glow-paint running down the side often work best, and for added attraction you can put a glow sleeve on the upper hook’s leader. Few store-bought jigs, however, are rigged properly for meat-jigging monster golden tilefish.




Although it may look a bit odd, you’ll want hooks at both the top and bottom of the jig. An 8/0 to 10/0 single hook should swing from a two-inch leader at the top of the lure, butterfly style, linked to the jig via a 200-pound test split ring. Then a 3/0 to 5/0 treble hook gets split-ringed to the bottom of the jig.

Why two hooks? Because you don’t want to have to crank the jig up, a seven to 10-minute exercise, every time you miss a bite. This combination of hooks allows you to present multiple baits and keep your jig in the strike zone longer after a missed strike.

The most popular tilefish baits, squid and sea clams, happen to be rather soft and are easily stripped from the hook. Weave these baits along each individual tine of the treble hook. The top hook, meanwhile, can be baited with a more rugged if somewhat less appealing bait, such as a chunk of bonito or false albacore.

Another important component of the meat-jigging system is the tackle itself. Assuming you plan on cranking your fish up as opposed to pressing the button on an electric reel, using high-speed conventional reels that can pull in three or more feet per crank (such as the Shimano Talica, Penn Torque or Daiwa Saltiga) is imperative. Otherwise, you’ll spend all day reeling, and reeling some more. The reels also need to be at least 20-pound-class for sufficient line capacity.

For running line, use 60- to 80-pound test braid, topped off with an 80- to 100-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Using a monofilament mainline in these depths is an exercise in futility because you’ll never feel the bite, whereas with braid, the enhanced sensitivity makes it possible to feel the slightest bump or nibble from 800 or more feet below the boat. Plus, the narrower diameter of braid allows you to pack a lot more line onto the spool.

Choosing a rod is a matter of personal preference more than anything else, but generally speaking, jigging rods designed to match these high-speed reels are a good choice. Jigging rods tend to be quite light and strong. When you’re dangling a heavy jig for hours on end, a light rod will minimize fatigue.
"Big goldens aren't usually shy. They will slam the jig like there's no tomorrow."
-- Lenny Rudow
THE MOTION OF THE OCEAN

When the jig is lowered to the bottom, forget about the standard sweep-and-drop motion we jiggers know and love. Instead, the angler should gently lift his or her rod tip, then lower it until the jig bounces off the bottom. Let the jig sit for a few seconds before raising it up a few feet again. Then wait. Let the motion of the boat impart all of the action for five to 10 seconds, before dropping it to the bottom again. Goldens will commonly smash the jig as it bobs around just off the bottom, slowly rising and falling. It’s a presentation akin to “dead-sticking” for weakfish, albeit in far deeper water.

Thanks to ocean currents and the vast depths goldens are found at, it’s quite normal to lose touch with the bottom. When this happens you’ll need to let out more line to maintain contact with bottom, to draw the big tilefish out of their burrows. On windy days, the captain can assist by shifting into and out of reverse to minimize drift speed.

Big goldens aren’t usually shy. They will slam the jig like there’s no tomorrow. The moment you feel the strike, set the hook and start cranking. Tilefish dig their burrows in mud and it’s rare to get tangled up or broken off. As long as you maintain steady tension, there’s no need to force the fish out of its hidey-hole and up through the water column quickly.

PROSPECTING FOR GOLD

When it comes to deep-dropping for golden tilefish, another common hurdle is choosing a spot. If you want to catch five to 20-pound fish, the easiest thing to do is pry some numbers out of a buddy. But if you want to go for true monsters, forget about usurping someone else’s hotspot. Golden tilefish are slow-growing fish, and the biggest in the colony will be fished out rather quickly.

You can only count on getting a dozen or so monsters in the 50-plus pound range out of any given spot, before the giants disappear and smaller fish take over. Luckily, finding new spots is a lot less complex than most people think. Look for an area of muddy bottom between 650 and 850 feet where the continental shelf drops, plateaus, and then drops again. Fish on the plateau. If your jig sticks, then you’re over a nice muddy bottom. Some anglers attach a short length of copper tube to a weight, to grab a bottom sample and prospect for mud prior to investing a ton of time in a new spot.

When you locate an area that seems promising, try a 10- or 15-minute drift (as long as you remain in the target depth zone) before moving on. When you do hook up, immediately record the waypoint. Golden tilefish live in colonies, so one strike almost always leads to several. After a few productive drifts on the same plateau you’ll notice how clusters take form on the chartplotter, creating a bull’s-eye for you to drift through as you target more of those monster goldens.


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