How to

Plumbing The Depths

Deep Dropping

If you fancy some fantastic fillets, plus a whole lot of fun, follow VIC LEVITT’S lead and get into deep water bottom bashing.

THE term “deep dropping” is relative to where and how one fishes. Some would call 20 fathoms deep while others target rarely seen species in depths that only Jules Verne would be comfortable quoting. Electric reels, braided lines, glow sticks and purpose built jigging outfits have made this once commercial-only domain now reasonably accessible to all who dare to brave the abyss.  

My introduction to deep dropping did not follow the usual course. I’d purchased an electric reel and bent butt 80lb rod with the sole purpose of targeting a daytime broadbill swordfish. The rig was designed to drift a small tuna or squid down in the inky depths of 250 fathoms or more around my local canyons.

Our first day was ordinary to say the least: 15 knots of southerly wind with a 1.5m north swell. The combination of opposing conditions made rigging baits and assembling the gear an ordeal and by the time everything was ready to be lowered over the side, I was feeling as sloppy as the sea.

My mate Matt was on the reel’s controls and I was in charge of getting the gear in the water with no tangles. Free spool was engaged and four kilos of lead and our hapless tuna plummeted at light speed to the inky depths. The boat’s drift was difficult because of the wind but with a bit of manoeuvring we managed to keep the angle of the line under control. The counter on the reel reminded me
of some sort of time machine with the numbers spinning into a blur. At 1950 feet (325 fathoms or 650m) the sinker found its mark and we slipped up the drag and began our quest for a sword. At around the 15 minute mark the rod tip began to bounce and with great excitement we switched the electric reel to retrieve mode and our unknown quarry began its long journey to the surface. With the reel doing its thing I hit “waypoint” on the GPS to mark our exact hook-up location. Anticipation was high and the usual guessing game began. Was it a sword, hapuku or bar cod? Or was it just a crappy green-eyed shark? Fifteen minutes into the accent and with 20 fathoms to go, the bouncing suddenly stopped. We retrieved the rig and we were all feeling pretty let down when Marcus pointed to a white buoy 50m away bobbing in the swells. “That’s not a buoy, that’s our fish!” I exclaimed. We swiftly sped over to claim our hard earned prize. Matt lent over and jaw gaffed it and then proceeded to drag 16 kilos of prime blue eye trevalla over the gunnels. While it wasn’t a sword, it was still a good score. Now that we had a waypoint we wasted little time in deep dropping over the same marks. On our next drop we used a more conventional blue eye rig with three circle hooks and we managed to increase our tally to four trevalla.


Prime target areas

To seriously target deep water species depths should start at around the 60 fathom mark. Bar cod, pearl perch, snapper, morwong, sampson fish  and kingfish are target species at this starting depths, especially in the waters north of Sydney, and we have caught all of these fish to 150 fathoms. Deeper than this and you throw in species like blue eye, gemfish, hapuka or the holy grail of bottom ooglies, the bass groper, a beast which can pull the scales down to over a whopping 100 kilos!

There’s a hell of a lot of water out there and to narrow down target areas the word “structure” comes to mind. It’s the same with all forms of fishing. Sydney has well known deep water fishing areas such as Browns Mountain and the 12 Mile Reef. These areas get hit pretty hard but amazingly still produce good fishing.

To my mind, the true essence of deep dropping is to find your own secret honey hole. Anything out of the ordinary in these depths will hold fish. Look for seamounts, small reefs, wrecks, drop-offs or canyon walls. We have several marks we regularly fish and all were found either prospecting interesting areas from charts or unusual bottom formations we found while trolling for game fish. A good sounder is vital, as is a plotter. I use a Furuno dual beam 600-watt sounder and it reads perfectly at 240 fathoms. Before dropping on any mark, have a dummy drift to determine your drift line and use your plotter to retrace your steps. There’s a mile of country out there and with a little research and perseverance it’s not hard to find your own private deep drop marks.


Cranking Gear

A good jigging outfit that holds a minimum of 500m of 50lb braid is our weapon of choice when fishing depths of up to 150 fathoms. These extremely powerful yet light combos make easy work of what used to be an arduous job. Shimano makes several reels (the Toriums and Torsa with matching rods are well worth looking at) but the one that has excelled for us has to be Daiwa’s Saltiga 40 combo. The reel’s gear ratio and the lift the matching Saltiga 55B rods can exert are perfectly balanced for extracting big fish from their domain. While they’re not a cheap purchase it doesn’t take long to pay for itself when blue eye retails for over $35 a kilo! Higher speed reels are not necessarily the best option as you lose your lifting power with quicker retrieve . It goes without saying that mono line is a thing of the past for this application. Good jigging gloves and a comfortable gimble belt helps absorb some of the discomforts with the long wind to top.  There are other options of reels such as the old deck winch or compact electric reels such as the Daiwa’s Tanacom Bull series, but if it’s only 150 fathoms or shallower a jig stick is way more fun and you feel like you’ve earned the fish. A word of warning, however:  it can be a hard slog, especially if you crack a big fish.

Targeting real deep water to 250 fathoms is a completely different ball game, just the weights alone can exceed four kilos. Add a couple of chunky 15 kilo blue eye to the equation and it becomes seriously hard work. This is where a good quality electric reel is essential. The Miya Epoch X8 is great all rounder for this depth, in my view. We’ve loaded this baby up with 1500m of 180lb braid and matched it to a Shimano 80lb bent butt rod and it will comfortably retrieve our gear from the abyss loaded with a few solid fish. There are various other electric reels, including models from Shimano and Daiwa, as well as other less well known brands. A quality electric reel is a hefty investment but if you like eating some of the tastiest fish in the sea, well, it’s not that hard a choice.


Drop rigs

The most important part in rigging for deep water is to ensure you reduce any chance of a tangled rig. It’s a long way down and a longer way up so making sure your rig gets to the bottom tangle-free
is very important. Swivels are also an important part in the rigging. Any sturdy swivel designed for heavy tackle will do the job. Line twist is not such an issue with braided line, rather you use a swivel so your mono rig doesn’t tangle.

Believe it or not, lighter leaders make a difference even at these depths. The biggest problem is how much can you sacrifice before the leader becomes too light. When fishing around the 100 fathom areas 100lb mono will suffice. Our rig is the standard deep water paternoster rig with three droppers of around 200mm to minimise tangles. The best knot for droppers is the spider hitch and if you doubt it then test it against some of the more conventional dropper knots – you’ll be amazed how easily the others break! Hooks are also a no brainer with any of the circle hooks a clear winner. Tough dead baits such as squid, fresh butterflied slimies and tuna belly flaps all work well using circle hooks. Live slimies and yellowtail make awesome baits and spending a little extra time bridling them with a loop of Dacron ensures they’re still on the hook when it hits the bottom. The bridle rig also gives a better hook up rate.

Attaching any weights should be done with line that has a breaking strain less than the main line. We found that out the hard way. Losing half a spool of braid when snagged on the bottom is not only expensive but it puts a stop to any more fishing at these depths.  

We never fish more than two rods at a time when deep dropping. Staggering your drops will eliminate tangles. At these depths, any tangle is monumental. Trust me on this …

Very deep drops to 250 fathoms require a more substantial rig. Leader sizes start at 300lb mono with crimps replacing knots. Pre-made rigs can be bought from tackle shops if you don’t fancy building your own. I’ve found the Black Pete rigs to be the best; others to consider include those made by Goodger Outfitters and Mustad. Glow sticks, lumo beads, lumo tubing and battery powered deep-water lights all help to attract fish to the bait in an otherwise dark environment and are well worth incorporating into your rigs.

We carry an assortment of weights and to date have not needed to exceed four kilos, even in strong currents. Lead weights are our preferred material but sash weights, PVC tubes filled with concrete or the humble brick will do the same job. An old drop liner that fished Browns once told me that the top of the mountain was 10 feet higher with the amount of bricks he alone had lost there.  

Time to party

Deep dropping on the east coast was always thought to be a winter option when the east Australian current (EAC) slows down and the north-easters don’t blow as regularly. One thing I have learnt from years on the water is that there’s no such thing as normal when it comes to the ocean. This last summer season saw days and even weeks of slow to zero current on the continental slope which allowed us to fish our deep haunts. The fish there were as hungry as ever. Checking out any fish traps or FADs on the journey out will give you an indication of current strength. Anything over two knots will make life difficult but not impossible.  Deep dropping is an all year option when the elements allow.

I have to admit I was never an advocate of deep dropping and thought it was just plain meat gathering. However, it’s actually bloody good fun. The whole crew gets involved with the anticipation factor keeping you on the edge of your seat until your prize materializes from the inky depths.

Incorporate some deep dropping your trolling day or yellowfin cubing session. If you miss out on the gamefish you still end up with an esky of prime eating fish. Sooner or later I’ll get my daytime swordfish but in the meantime I’ll have to put up with succulent bar cod fillets. It’s tough but I’ll survive!

Editor’s note: For more on deep water fishing, check out the Knots & Rigs column on page 58. Stay tuned next issue for a back-to-basic approach to this style of fishing.

10 Quick Tips

1. Use circle hooks

2. Use heavy braid main line

3. Test and check all knots and crimps

4. Use lighter line to attach sinker

5. Mix up the baits

6. Keep motor running when using electric reels

7. Don’t use more than 2 rods

Have a test drift before dropping

9. Remember your bag limits & take only what you need

10. Take a big esky and ice down your catch


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