While the surface waters of the Northeast canyons may be running a bit too cold for tuna in May, 500 feet down, that temperature doesn’t change much throughout the season. The fish that live in those cold dark waters stay within range all year, so when March’s lion-like weather and April’s showers give way to May’s calm seas and warm weather, headboats begin running long to fill the fish boxes tilefish, hake, and other deepwater species.
A May tilefish trip has become somewhat of a tradition for me and my oldest friend Jerry Sullivan. While the weather can still be fussy, and we’ve faced a handful of canceled trips, when the boats can leave the dock, the fishing is fantastic.
The good fishing is helped in part by the lack of pressure over the winter months. Over the summer, many tuna fishermen turn to tiles when their trolling spreads go un-smashed. And, because tiles live burrows in mud and clay bottoms, they are somewhat residential fish, meaning well-known areas can get picked over at the height of the season.
The fish caught are mostly a mix of blueline and golden tiles, with the occasional hake, barrelfish, rosefish, and other fantastic-looking deepwater fish finding its way over the rail.
High-low rigs adorned with skirts, glow-in-the-dark beads, and soft-plastic squids are the most popular offerings, with the squid provided by the boat being a perfectly good bait. Still, some fishermen prefer to bring their own, with salmon bellies, acquired from the local supermarket, being one of the best bring-your-own baits. Bluefish, which are usually abundant in May, are another effective strip bait, so it pays to spend time trying to catch a few blues before your tilefish trip.
While the weather on land might be warm enough for short sleeves, offshore, and especially at night, you can count on it being a bit colder offshore. You may get some t-shirt time at the rail in the middle of the day, but for the most part, expect to be a bit bundled up.
Be sure to pack a set of heavy-duty bibs like the Grundens Herkules to keep spray and fish slime out and warmth and dryness in.
An insulated shirt-jacket, like the Grudens Dawn Patrol Sport Fishing Jacket is perfect for spring deep-drop trips. It can be easily layered over or shed based on the weather, but for the most part, the Dawn Patrol hits the sweet spot.
You probably won’t need warm gloves, but a bit of tape or a leadering glove will help keep you from grooving your thumb with the braided line as you lay it on the spool while reeling in from 600-plus feet.
A May tilefish trip is a fun way to start your offshore season early, while loading up on some delicious fillets. And, as an added bonus, even if your May trip does get weathered out, there is plenty of season left for you to reschedule.