Whether you're on a quest for a 500-pound bluefin tuna off the coast of Maine or a 1,000-pound blue marlin while on vacation in the Florida Keys, a deep-sea fishing trip can provide a real adrenaline rush considering the hard fighting, big game species you are likely to encounter. Deep-sea or offshore fishing involves fishing out on the open ocean, farther from shore where weather conditions and navigational charts should be carefully evaluated to ensure a safe trip. This type of fishing is best suited for intermediate or advanced anglers if you plan to go without a charter or guide, although new technology in boats, motors, electronics, safety equipment and fishing tackle has made it more accessible than ever before. If you welcome a challenge, get ready to venture out into the deep blue sea!

Suggested Saltwater Fishing Tackle for Deep-Sea Fishing

A deep-sea fishing reel with heavy fishing tackle

Due to the number of deep-sea game fish species and fishing techniques for catching them, there are many different types of fishing tackle and gear that can be used. Offshore fishing may involve trolling with artificial fishing lures or live baits, jigging with lures or bottom fishing with baits. If you were deep-sea trolling for sailfish, you might use the following tackle and gear as an example:

  • A 6 to 7-foot medium action offshore fishing rod
  • Heavy or large saltwater-specific baitcaster reel with high line capacity
  • 20-pound test monofilament line
  • 6 to 10 feet of 40 to 80-pound test monofilament leader
  • Live baits such as goggle eyes or threadfin herring
  • 5/0 to 7/0 sized hooks

If you would prefer trying your luck at deep-sea bottom fishing for grouper, here is an example tackle set up you can use:

  • 6-foot medium-heavy bottom fishing rod
  • Heavy duty baitcaster reel
  • 50-pound test monofilament line
  • 80 to 100-pound test monofilament leader line
  • Fish finder rig using a 7/0 circle hook and 3 to 16-ounce sinkers
  • Cut bait such as squid or grunts

Saltwater Deep-Sea Fishing Areas/Where to Find the Fish

Once out into the ocean with your necessary fishing tackle, look for the suggested areas below to find fish. To locate some areas you may need a fishfinder, GPS or a nautical map.

Rocks, Reefs and Wrecks  

An illustration of a boat wreck where an angler would go deep-sea fishing

Rocks, reefs and wrecks are great places to start looking for fish when offshore fishing. These types of structures provide a haven for every species in the food chain and offer a place for fish to hide from the strong ocean currents. When deep-sea fishing near artificial or natural reefs, consider that fish may be living in the structure or patrolling the outer edges as far as 100 yards from the reef. Reef dwelling fish can usually be enticed to bite by sending a vertical jig to the bottom and quickly working it back to the boat.

TIP: For reef dwelling species such as blackfish, grouper or snapper, consider anchoring the boat in place with the engines and then drop baits down to the structure. For high-speed predatory fish such as tuna, wahoo and billfish, try fast-trolling fishing lures and slow-troll live baits.

Towers and Navigational Aids

An illustration of a navigational aid where anglers can find fish when deep-sea fishing

Manmade structures including towers and navigational aids are valuable to both fish and anglers, but for different reasons. Some species seek refuge deep inside the structure while others prefer to patrol the perimeter. In order to best determine where the fish are holding, use a fish finder or recreational sonar. You'll also want to be sure to check into any local regulations that may limit access before fishing a tower or navigational aid.

TIP: Troll natural baits or artificial fishing lures around a tower or buoy to get the attention of predatory fish.

Hills and Sea Mounts

Fish swimming near an underwater hill, a good spot for offshore fishing

Submerged mountain ranges and hills divert the current and create ideal spots for offshore fishing. Sea mounts can provide fish with more favorable water conditions as water temperature, light level or salinity may be out of the range for a particular species at the bottom of the sea mount, but just right at the top. When deep-sea fishing around these structures, always look for variations in the surface conditions such as ripples, rips or tide lines that may indicate changes in water temperature, salinity, clarity or current.

TIP: Structures can stretch for miles, so the best fishing tackle for fishing sea mounts and hills is natural or artificial baits. Fish will often hold in the same area on a sea mount or hill, so try trolling; when you hook one fish, mark the spot on the GPS and return to the same spot to find more fish.

Canyons and the Continental Shelf

An example of an offshore fishing location, the edge of an underwater canyon

The deep canyons, gorges and cliffs that mark the Continental Shelf would put any land-based mountain range to shame and are other good places to look for fish. Locate any variations in current or water temperature that intersect the shelf. When the variations in structure, current and temperature force nutrient-rich water up from the deep to fuel the entire food chain, pelagic sport fish like billfish and wahoo will hunt the upper half of the water column. Giants such as grouper, snapper and halibut linger at the bottom. Birds above and baitfish are generally good indicators of activity, but often the fish will be visibly feeding on the surface.

TIP: The best deep-sea fishing techniques involve trolling natural or artificial baits. If bottom fishing, try using fishing lures such as large jigs or heavy-duty rigs to get the baits down deep.

Have a deep-sea trophy catch photo or fish tale to share? Visit the Community Gallery and show off your fishing skills.