Canyon tilefish

Extreme frigid temperatures have gripped the northeast, keeping even the most avid sportsmen off the water. The dead of winter typically shuts most saltwater fishing down but a few big party boats and specialized center console charter boats do in fact venture out when wind conditions permit.

In addition to the growing cod fishery, winter fishermen over the past 8 years have experienced a flourishing fishery in Golden Tilefish. Situating themselves in clay caverns surrounded by 50-degree water, tilefish are aggressive and can grow quite large.

In fact, my good friend, Capt. Paul Brady of Clean Sweep Charters, held the New Jersey state record at 51 pounds till Gary Caputi of Saltwater Sportsmen Magazine broke that record when he weighed in a Golden Tilefish in excess of 55 pounds caught off of Cape May, N.J.

Those two very respectable fish pale in comparison to the 63.50-pound tilefish caught on The Voyager party boat out of Point Pleasant, N.J., this past summer.

"The nice thing about targeting tilefish is that it offers our paying fares options," Brady said. "Not only can we fish during the dead of winter but we catch plenty of great eating tilefish and can move onto sea bass when in season and even jump across the canyon and target wreckfish. Customers are offered diversity in styles of fishing, too. Some jig while others use bait."

Capt. Jeff Guttman of the Voyager began running tilefish trips a few years back. Working in tandem with The Reel Seat, a tackle shop and authority on tilefish out of Brielle, N.J., they offer the knowledge and equipment necessary to tangle with these behemoths of the deep.

Prior to the rebound in cod fishing, tilefish offered party boat goers a legitimate winter option. Most big party boats such as the Voyager offer paying customers plenty of room to fish, rest and in some cases offers heated rails to hold onto during cold winter days.

Much like the Clean Sweep Charter crew, Guttman has options even though the black sea bass season is temporarily closed. Last week's trip put plenty of tilefish and wreckfish in the coolers of his passengers.

Wreckfish and tilefish do in fact inhabit the same general regions of the Hudson Canyon. Both species live in deep water with heavy underwater current. Tilefish inhabit the clay substrate prevalent in the Hudson Canyon. Living in cavernous domiciles, tilefish only leave the safety of their cavern for short periods of time to feed and move with the colony of fish.

Wreckfish, however, are more nomadic, traveling in small packs. Wreckfish often live among shipwrecks, steep canyon walls and other debris near bottom in addition to the clay substrate.

The best part from an angler's standpoint is that both tilefish and wreckfish will strike the same baits. Capt. Brady and Capt. Guttman use fresh whole squid but also deep-drop mackerel strips, squid and clam.

Most anglers use electric reels outfitted with braid, making for an easy retrieve and feel for the bite. The Clean Sweep crew prefers to use Shimano Torsa or Tyrnos 20 reels instead. They believe that the large cranking handle, and the torque it generates, yields plenty of power and speed to boat even the biggest tilefish.

For those who prefer electric reels, Daiwa's Dendoh Power Assist as well as the Elec-Tra-Mate series delivers line retrieval at your fingertips, a particularly nice feature when checking your bait in 600 feet of water or more.

Outdoor Shows in the Northeast this Week:

Major industry manufacturers and boat dealers will be on hand at the Atlantic City Boat Show, Feb. 3-7.

At 6 p.m. on Feb. 6, I will be conducting a seminar/workshop covering "The Latest and Greatest in Tuna Fishing."

Our bluefin tuna fishery has been poor for many years but the past two summers have been on fire with encouraging signs for 2010. Come learn our proven tactics! To learn more, visit ACBoatShow.com.

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).