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A Guide to Florida Deep Drop Fishing

Florida Deep Drop Fishing

It’s like the deep sea version of bottom fishing for catfish in your home lake. Except the lake is the ocean, the bottom can be over 1,000 feet below you, and the catfish might be as big as your boat. Intrigued?

What is Deep Drop Fishing?

Give something a hot marketable name, and everyone’s hooked like a yellow-tail. Deep drop is the latest buzzword getting attention in the offshore fishing world. It’s not exactly new, but it’s certainly unique to most people.

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This type of fishing is simply deep sea fishing on the bottom. It’s a lot of work since you’re spinning out and reeling in 1,000 feet or more of line.

Commercial fishermen have been deep-dropping for decades. But it’s the availability of high-powered electric reels and better terminal tackle that has made it possible for recreational anglers to give it a go.

Deep Drop Guide to Methods and Habitats

Deep drop fishing takes place in 600 to 1,800 feet of water. Depending on the type of fish you’re after, you’ll be looking for divots, ledges, or sea mounds that fish like to congregate around.

Dropping a line to such depths comes with a few problems. You’ll need to load up on some weight to get the line down as fast as possible. The more current present, the more weight you’ll need. It’s not uncommon to fish rigs with over five pounds of weight on Florida’s east coast in the Gulf Stream.

One of the keys to an enjoyable day of deep drop action is a good electric reel. When these reels first hit the market, the sticker shock was extreme. The best ones could cost you as much as $5,000.

Luckily, prices have come down since then, and there are more budget-friendly options. It’s still not a cheap way to catch fish. But you can get a capable electric reel for under a grand, with the best ones selling for $3,500 to $4,000.

Most useful Electric Reels

It is possible to deep drop with a conventional reel, but it takes patience and hard work. Remember, once you get a bite, you’ve got a lot of line to pull in. Many times, it’s a race against the clock if there are sharks in the area.

You’ll also want to equip your vessel with a state-of-the-art sonar unit capable of ultra-deep, accurate soundings. This allows you to find fish and identify terrain features where they may be hiding.

Deep Drop Florida Regulations and Requirements

When deep sea fishing, it’s vital to know what jurisdiction you are in. Off of the coast of Florida, state waters go out to three miles in the Atlantic and nine miles in the Gulf.

Beyond state boundaries, federal rules apply out to 12 nautical miles. But state landing regulations apply whether fish caught in state or federal waters.

Popular Deep Drop Florida Species

At least half the fun of deep drop work is seeing what you bring up. These aren’t your typical reef fish–these creatures live their life in dark, cold water far away from all the other fishermen.

When you’re ready to try your hand at it, find a deep drop guide who can point you in the right direction and show you the best rigs to use for your area.

Blackbelly Rosefish

Blackbelly Rosefish

Found between 600 and 1,500 feet down in all bottom types, these little guys are often considered a bycatch. BlackBelly Rose fish will eat anything, they don’t put up a fight, and there are no regulations on them. They’re related to the Scorpion Fish, but they aren’t toxic or poisonous.

These are tasty fish, with many people saying the meat tastes similar to the dinner-favorite Hogfish.

Queen Snapper

Queen Snapper Fish

Of all of the bottom dwellers you will come across in deep water, the Queen Snapper is probably the most spectacular. They like rugged areas on the bottom, so you’ve got to seek out humps, rocky ledges, or holes.

Queens are tricky because once they start biting, they will eat anything. But when they aren’t biting, there’s nothing that will tempt them. It’s believed that they’re a migratory species that leaves our waters for months at a time.

They’re also challenging to get to the boat if there are any sharks in the area–you have to use the perfect amount of drag to get them to the surface. Use a 12/0 to 14/0 hook on a three to six hook rig.

Many anglers believe that Queens are the best-eating fish to be found in all of Florida. Regardless, they are a gorgeous bright red fish that makes a prize catch.

Grey Tilefish

Tile Fish

Tilefish live from 400 to 1,300 feet down, and they like muddy bottom areas where they can burrow down. Since they seldom leave the bottom, you’ve got to get your bait right on the seafloor. They love squid but will eat other fish too. Golden Tiles are renown for being excellent table fare.

Tilefish are limited with restrictions in Florida, so make sure to check the FWC website for more details. They count towards the aggregate grouper limits, so they will be counted with any groupers you take.

Snowy Grouper

Snowy Grouper

You can usually find Snowy Grouper around structures between 450 and 1,100 feet below the waves. They have a reputation for wrapping your line since they like to hang out in “hangy” areas.

Use 12/0 to 16/0 circle hooks for the best luck, along with large chunks of fresh-cut Bonita, mackerel, or dolphin for bait.

Snowy Grouper are a prize catch to take home for dinner.

In federal waters, you are limited to one grouper per vessel. In Florida waters, you are allowed one per harvester. To avoid accidentally hooking multiple fish, make sure to set your rigs with only two or three hooks maximum.



During the day, Swordfish hang out in deep water around ledges and humps, anywhere from 1,100 to 2,600 feet down. They eat constantly, and that’s where their favorite food spends the day–squid. During the night, the squid come to the surface, and that’s when and where most traditional Sword hunting goes down.

But during the day, you can deep drop for them pretty easily. Use large J-hooks because Swordfish swing their bills at their prey before eating it–so you need to make sure your bait survives the strike.

Conventional wisdom says that it takes an hour of reeling in for every hundred pounds of fish. Large Swordfish can weigh 300 to 600 pounds.


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