Fishing the open sea can be intimidating for new anglers, but advances in electronics, boats, motors and tackle make deep-sea fishing easier and safer than ever before.
Finding fish in the open sea can be more difficult than in shallower water, but the same principles apply: Combine the right water temperature, weather, bait, and current over any structure, and you’re bound to find fish.
In the sea, big fish come surprisingly close to shore. When near-shore fishing, look for predators to use the coast as a natural barrier to corral baitfish. Also, waves breaking on the beach produce highly oxygenated water that heats up faster than deeper water.
Look for fish to hang out around variations in the bottom structure or where water breaking on the beach runs back out to sea. Areas with submerged grass or exposed rocks will also be fish favorites.
Whether trolling, drifting or casting along the shore, it is important to keep your eyes peeled for shallow water or big waves.
Rocks, Reefs and Wrecks
Whether fishing inshore or offshore, rocks, reefs and wrecks are a good place to start looking for fish. These structures harbor every stage of the food chain and offer fish a place to hide from the punishing ocean currents.
When deep-sea fishing near artificial or natural reefs, look for fish living both in the structure or patrolling the outer edges of it. Some species only visit a structure under specific water conditions, while others are year-round residents. Even if a wreck, reef or rock pile is in hundreds of feet of water, the structure can still affect conditions on the surface. A hard structure will also affect the bottom surrounding it; look for fish as far as 100 yards from the reef.
When targeting high-speed predators such as tuna, wahoo and billfish while deep-sea fishing, it is best to troll high-speed baits or slow-troll live baits. For reef dwellers such as blackfish, grouper and snapper, or groundfish it is usually best to anchor or hold the boat in place with the engines and drop baits to the structure.
Deep-sea predators can also be fooled by sending a vertical jig to the bottom and quickly working it back to the boat like an escaping bait fish. Fish patrolling the bottom surrounding the structure can be fooled by drifting while bouncing a jig or natural bait.
These structures are easy to find on nautical charts making them a great place to start offshore fishing.
Towers and Navigational Aids
Manmade structures including towers and navigational aids are as valuable to fish as they are to fishermen. Some species live deep inside the structure and others search the perimeter.
Fish can be anywhere in relation to the structure — up current, down current or even hundreds of yards away. The first step to catching fish while deep-sea fishing is to use a fishfinder; then identify how deep the fish are holding and use a tactic that will put a bait in front of them.
Trolling natural or artificial baits around a tower or buoy will get the attention of predators, while sending a bait or lure to the bottom will often entice a reef dweller into the open.
When fighting a fish around a structure, it is essential to use high-quality tackle that can apply heavy pressure without seizing up. Some species can be coaxed out into the open while other brutes must be convinced to leave the safety of the reef.
Before fishing a tower or navigational aid, be sure to check local regulations that may limit access.
Hills and Sea Mounts
Even when deep-sea fishing in thousands of feet of water, the slightest variation in depth — sometimes in the form of hills and sea mounts — can hold a surprising number of fish.
These submerged mountain ranges divert the current and offer fish a place to hide, not to mention a great spot for deep-sea fishing. Sea mounts can also 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.
These structures can stretch for miles, so the best tactic for fishing sea mounts and hills is to troll natural or artificial baits. Fish will often hold in the same area on a sea mount or hill. When you hook one fish, mark the spot on the GPS and return to the same spot to find more fish.
When deep-sea fishing in 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.
Sea mounts and hills are usually marked on nautical charts, so these structures are easy for anglers to find. Look for ideal water and weather conditions over a hill or sea mount, and you’re likely to find fish.
Canyons and the Continental Shelf
The canyons, gorges and cliffs that mark the Continental Shelf would put any land-based mountain range to shame. These extreme variations in structure force nutrient-rich water up from the deep to fuel the entire food chain, making it the perfect spot for a deep-sea fishing trip. Speedsters like billfish, tuna, dolphin and wahoo hunt the upper half of the water column, while giants such as grouper, snapper and halibut stalk the bottom.
When deep-sea fishing on the Continental Shelf, anglers usually troll natural or artificial baits. Bottom fishermen will use huge jigs or heavy-duty rigs to drop baits to the leviathans below.
To find the fish, look for variations in current or water temperature that intersect the shelf. Online satellite water temperatureimages are an invaluable resource for offshore anglers. Birds and bait are good indicators of activity, but often the fish will be visible on the surface either feeding or cruising along.
Deep-sea fishing offers bigger water, as well as bigger trophy fish. This combination of big adventure and big fish lures anglers away from the inshore waters and out into the wild blue.
To catch a saltwater fish, you need to think like a saltwater fish. Five factors affect where and when fish will feed: structure, current, water temperature, weather and bait. Fish live in a three-dimensional world where they can move horizontally or vertically and potentially travel thousands of miles in search of a meal. Some fish are ambush hunters, while others stalk their prey or simply graze on vegetation or invertebrates. But all fish use these factors to find food and keep from being eaten. Understanding how these elements work together will help you find the fish.
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