Blueline tilefish isn’t exactly a common catch for Texas anglers, but this species does swim in the waters off our shores and makes for a very cool catch – where you find one you generally find an entire school, they fight great, and they taste even better. Bluelines are one of several different species of tilefish you might encounter when dropping baits to the bottom of the Gulf, with golden tilefish generally being the one most often targeted. Goldens get bigger (and can even top the 50-pound mark), but bluelines (which rarely exceed 12 pounds) have one big advantage: hunting goldens means getting all the way out to 600-plus feet of water, but bluelines can be found as shallow as 150 feet.
Although fishing for them takes place in water that’s considered pretty darn deep to most folks, it’s not exactly “deep dropping.” And this is another reason why going after bluelines is attractive to some folks. You can use regular hand-crank reels as opposed to electrics, and in some cases you can even use spinning gear if you so desire. Still, some specific tackle is necessary. Most importantly, you need to be using braid line. Try dropping to the bottom in 200 feet of water and there’s so much stretch in the line that you can’t feel bites. But with braid, you can feel every nibble. Most people also feel that using circle hooks is a must, while some others swear they catch more bluelines using J-hooks. Either way, standard-issue grouper rigs with three to five baited hooks work quite well for bluelines.
Bait-wise, you have plenty of options because tilefish will usually eat whatever they can wrap their jaws around. Squid, cut fish, crab chunks – you name it. But, and this is a big but, it’s best to use a sturdy bait that can’t be nipped away. When you’re dropping down this deep, stolen baits lead to a lot of reeling, re-baiting, and re-dropping. This is a great use for fish like false albacore or mahi belly strips, which are rather tough and stay on the hook through multiple bites.
Okay: ready to drop a few bluelines into the fishbox? Drop your baits to the very bottom and drag ’em along as you drift. With a little bit of luck, you’ll soon be enjoying the tug of this unusual but very cool catch.