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Tilefishing the New England canyons

Yes, Really!



Defusco Leadin

    Tilefish have always been a species that I wanted to target. I knew they were caught in some of the canyons south of where I fish – the Hudson, the Baltimore, the Toms. There was never much talk of tilefish in New England. Just like our daytime swordfish fishery, it is something that has always been there but not targeted. I first found out about our fishery from a buddy who longlines for them. After speaking with him I decided to give it a try.
    Golden tilefish range in size from just a few pounds to more than 70 pounds. The common size caught are 5 to 15 pounds with some 25- to 35-pound specimens mixed in. They have a large chameleon-shaped head with a crest, an almost reptilian-looking face and thick slab-like bodies.

    HABITAT
    I have fished for tilefish in many New England canyons this year and have caught them in every one. Due to relatively slow tuna fishing it was a perfect season for it. I have fished the Tails, West Atlantis and Veatch. Tilefish live in the mud, digging holes and burrows that are fed by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, bringing bait in nutrients almost year-round. Tiles are resident fish and never leave the area they live in. They reproduce fast and grow quickly. I have found that flat slopes that are muddy or "sticky" hold the right type of sediment for the fish to dig their homes. I have done best in 500 to 800 feet of water on the slopes of the canyon or areas between the canyon. On our outings we also found the blueline tile, also great eating but located in 350 to 450 feet relative to the goldens from 500 to 800 feet.
    At first I had no idea as to where to drop. I did find out through trial and error that if they are present the bite is instant. I was able to dial in on a pod of tiles by motoring along and doing random drops in 600 feet of water. I’d motor about a quarter of a mile and drop, move another quarter of a mile and drop again, systematically painting a picture as to where I got bites and where I had no tilefish love.
    Once I dialed in an area I would try to mark the corners of it, or mark where the bites stopped. We found a few big areas of productive ground almost 2 miles long this season, productive being consistent bites and fish constantly coming up. Cranking up fishless hooks is the worst part of this sport, since a heavy weight remains just that without a fish attached. For that reason, pick your spot carefully, use durable bait, such as food quality squid, braid line that telegraphs a good bite, and sharp J hooks or circle hooks with the points exposed. If you’re on the bottom, the bites will come almost instantly. I have tilefished in many areas with many different types of bait; here in New England, squid is the go-to!

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