The best thing about deep-drop fishing is that you never know what the heck you’re going to pull up from the depths of the Gulf like the rosefish. Sure, golden tilefish, snappers, and groupers are all on the menu. But sometimes really surprising catches get made when you drop a hunk of bait 800 feet or more down into the oceanic environment. Barrelfish, giant conger and moray eels, sharks of many kinds – the list goes on and on. One of the less-often encountered species, however, is also one of the tastiest: the black-belly rosefish.
Black-belly rosefish don’t have black bellies at all – until you clean them, and discover that the black inside of this fish is where it gets its name from. Sort of like a cross between a grouper (look at those jaws) and a snapper, most of the rose fish you’ll catch range between just one and three pounds. But their meat is very sweet and snapper-like, and makes cranking them up from the deep well worthwhile.
“Meat curtain” rigs with four to six circle hooks in the 8/0 to 10/0 range work well on rose fish, which tend to hit cut fish most often but will also inhale squid chunks with abandon. Once you reel one up, the trick to loading the cooler is to send down your re-baited rig in the very same spot, and then do not reel it up when you feel a fish on the line. Instead, let it drag along bottom for a good five or 10 minutes more. Do so, and there’s a very good chance you’ll reel up multiple fish at the same time. Rosefish are a schooling species, and after one gets on a hook more are likely to follow.
Locating the fish in the first place is the tough part. Usually you’ll encounter them in 800 to 1000 feet of water (maybe more, but my reels can’t go that deep!) Often underwater humps or points that stand out from the surrounding contours prove to be the best spots. But truth be told, in water this deep it’s often a crap shoot when it comes to finding the hotspots. So find a bottom with the right depth, good contours, and sink your rig down into the depths. You never know just what’s waiting down below – but hopefully the list will include some of those black belly rosefish.