Everything You Need to Know About Deep Sea Fishing

Learn how much deep sea fishing costs, the types of fish you can expect, best locales, what equipment you need, and more.

Deep sea fishing has become a mainstay of the sport fishing world, with popular television shows highlighting the adrenaline-pumping experience this sport offers. It’s known by many names; you may have heard it referred to as open water fishing, offshore boat fishing, sport fishing, or big-game fishing.

In order to qualify as deep sea fishing, you must fish in water that exceeds at least 30 meters in depth. What’s the draw of this sometimes dangerous sport? It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch large sports fish that can’t be found in shallow waters. There’s also the aspect of a true adrenaline rush—weather conditions and rough waters combined with large fish species ready to put up a good fight make for a fishing experience unlike any other you’ve encountered.

Deep sea fishing is meant for intermediate or experienced anglers, but many novice fisherman elect to take a charter or guide in order to experience the thrill deep sea fishing provides. If you’re considering a foray into offshore boat fishing, learn what you can expect out on those deep, dark waters.

Various Types of Deep Sea Fishing

You’ll encounter three main types of deep sea fishing techniques, and if you’re looking to charter a boat, you’ll likely be presented with the choice between these three.

  • Bottom Fishing: When bottom fishing, an angler drops a line deep below the surface to catch fish that swim near the ocean floor. Some anglers sink artificial reefs to their chosen fishing boat; this creates fish habitats and provides a better opportunity for landing the catch of your choice. Common game found in bottom fishing experiences includes triggerfish, amberjack, and snapper.
  • Trolling: Trolling involves a little more excitement than bottom fishing. Anglers keep their bait near the top of water, and ensure the boat remains in constant motion. Boats are often outfitted with outriggers; these are poles that allow to troll several lines without worry of them tangling. A boat that has enough lines may effectively simulate a school of fish and draw in big game fish. Common fish caught with trolling include sailfish, wahoo, kingfish, and King mackerel.
  • Offshore Fishing: This is the most commonly thought-of deep sea fishing experience, and the most intense. This involves heading out to open ocean and catching the largest fish that the ocean has to offer. This fishing experience offers anglers the chance to snag some of the most sought-after trophies, including Blackfin tuna, dolphin, and white marlin.

Types of Fish You Can Expect

Deeper waters mean a varied array of fish not found close to shore. Deep sea fish are often larger, and represent a daunting but simultaneously-enticing challenge for many sports fishermen. What kind of fish can you expect? That depends on where you’re fishing, but these are a few of the most commonly-sought trophies:

  • Sailfish: As the most prolific species of billfish, sailfish can be found both in deep waters and on inshore fishing trips. One of the most common catches, these fish like to swim in packs. This makes catching your trophy much easier in some cases.
  • Sharks: An intimidating but worthy pursuit, shark are a desired trophy during deep sea fishing trips, but be sure to do your research before heading out to catch Jaws. Overhunting has led to the adoption of regulations on when and where fisherman can hook shark. Sharks reproduce at slower rates, meaning their numbers can easily dwindle if overfished. Some species are protected, and injuring or killing one of these can result in fines and even jail time. Working with tour guides and private charter companies will help ensure you don’t snag a creature you shouldn’t. You may also find trips in which catch-and-release methods are closely followed, which is a wonderful effort in shark conservation.
  • Tuna: Tuna are some of the most commonly-sought fish during deep sea fishing trips. From Yellowfin tuna to Albacore, Bluefin Tuna to Blackfin, there are some enticing options that can be caught through a variety of techniques.
  • Marlin: Sometimes called the pinnacle of offshore fishing, marlin is a trophy catch for many fishermen. Marlin are relatively rare and their size and power makes them a difficult catch—all the more enticing for the seasoned angler. Female marlins can reach weights of 1,100 pounds or more, making these a true trophy.
  • Swordfish: Swordfish represent a serious challenge. You’ll face a true battle when attempting to reel in your trophy; they jump with force, are comfortable remaining deep beneath the water’s surface (sometimes 2,000 meters or more), and tend to feed in the nighttime. They generally weigh around 100 pounds, but there have been instances in which half-ton fish are readily caught.

Finding Your Fish

There are numerous areas around the world in which to find exquisite deep sea fishing opportunities. Once in the chosen location, how do you find the best fishing grounds? Here are some suggestions for beginning your search:

  • Kelp Forests: In polar coastal oceans and temperate climates, you can find large amalgamations of kelp, known as kelp forests. Larger fish species utilize these kelp forests to hide and ambush their prey, making these areas a lucrative spot for anglers.
  • Rocks and Reefs: Many anglers head to rocks and reefs for bountiful offshore fishing. These areas provide a safe haven for numerous sea creatures, including some of the most sought after deep sea fish. If you know of local shipwrecks, you may have luck fishing there as well.
  • Submerged Mountain Ranges: Ocean areas with submerged mountains and hills cause the current to divert, creating ideal deep sea fishing spots. Why? Sea mounts give sea creatures better water conditions; these water conditions may draw up deep sea fish species closer to the surface, and closer to your nets and hooks.
  • Open Ocean: When it comes to fishing on the open ocean, only the most experienced of anglers should attempt to head out on their own. Novice and intermediate fishermen should consider booking a charter fishing boat that specializes in deep sea fishing. They’ll have the right equipment and proper procedures to ensure your safety and increase the likeliness of success.

What Fisherman Do With the Fish

Many take their fish home for a great meal—of course only after photographic and recording their magnificent catch. However, not all deep sea fish catches are used as food. Some anglers are in it for the thrill, catching then releasing the fish afterward. Still others work with monitoring projects. These individuals will tag and log the fish before releasing it; this enables researchers to garner vital information about the health of the fish in question and the overall health of the fishery environment.

The Proper Boat

The single most important factor in deep sea fishing is the boat. If you’re looking to head offshore for fantastic fishing opportunities, you’ll need to find a fishing agency that provides a high-quality boat, employs an experienced captain, and has a bevy of positive referrals to its name.

There are many types of boats used in deep sea fishing. Generally, they’re larger than the boats used for fishing on lakes or in rivers because they must withstand more severe conditions and travel great distances. However, deep sea fishing boats can range in size. Some are able to accommodate only a few passengers, while others used for commercial purposes can hold dozens of passengers.

The Right Equipment

If you rent a charter fishing boat, you generally will only need to bring yourself onto the boat, as the captain and company will provide everything you need for a successful trip. Equipment needs vary by location and chosen game. Big game fish are much larger and stronger than fish found in lakes, rivers, and near the shore; because of this, deep sea fishermen must use a thicker, stronger version of land poles. They must be prepared with strong fishing line, and are advised to bring extra as there’s a higher risk of tangling, breaking, or losing your line to a fish foe. It’s also important to consider anchoring items; big game fish can put up quite a struggle, and pole belts may be vital for stabilization.

You’ll need a bevy of hooks in varied sizes depending on the fish you intend on catching, and may require sinkers if you’re bottom fishing, as bait and hook alone are too light to fully skin to the bottom. Sinkers are easily lost, so be sure to bring extra.

When it comes to bait, anglers utilize both live and artificial options. Live bait is most often used, and may include minnows, squid, or pieces of larger fish. Artificial bait can be used, but it’s important to choose brightly colored tackle to ensure better visibility—it can be tough to spot your bait in the depths of the deep ocean waters.

Anglers often use a GPS System to help map out the best deep sea fishing spots.

Deep Sea Fishing and Motion Sickness

If you’re a novice fisherman, or you’re prone to motion sickness, think twice before signing up for a deep sea fishing trip. Even those who have boating experience can succumb to the harsh rocking of the boat out on open water. Research medications, strategies, and products that can help curb motion sickness before heading out.

Avoid drinking alcohol the night before your trip, and drink plenty of water as dehydration can make motion sickness worse.

Apparel for Deep Sea Fishing Trips

The ocean is generally around 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the inland temperature. Out on the open ocean, weather conditions can change in an instant. It’s important to be prepared with the right apparel to protect yourself from the elements.

Ideally, layers are best. This allows an angler to dress up or down depending on the weather. Always bring insulated clothing to keep you warm, and rain-resistant parkas, hats, and gloves to protect from sudden downpours and ocean waves. Heavy-duty boots with solid grip are essential to prevent slippage on the boat’s wet deck.

Thanks to rough waters and the physical intensity of deep sea fishing, it’s important to ensure the boat is stocked with the right safety gear, including life vests, ropes, and the like. Pack a first aid kit to handle any cuts, bruises, and other maladies that commonly arise during deep sea fishing trips.

How Much Does Deep Sea Fishing Cost?

There are numerous factors that play into the overall cost of a deep sea fishing trip. If you’re taking a private charter, you can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, based on the number of people attending, how long your trip lasts, the size of the boat, and your location.

Experienced anglers going out on their own must purchase or rent a boat and a great deal of equipment, which can be very expensive. Initial investment for deep sea fishing gear can easily rack up, often adding up to thousands of dollars.

Best Locales for Deep Sea Fishing

There are many places in the United States and around the globe that offer fantastic deep sea fishing excursions, including, but most definitely not limited to the following:

  • Hawaii
  • Key West, Florida
  • St. Lucia
  • Dauphin Island
  • Bodega Bay, California
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Cancun
  • Sitka, Alaska

Depending on your desired big fish game and budget, any one of these locales can provide an excellent deep sea fishing experience.

Conservation Efforts

Thanks to dedicated anglers around the world, there are numerous organizations that work to conserve and preserve fishing areas, especially in coastal areas surrounding the United States. It’s important to follow local and federal regulations when deep sea fishing on your own, and important to look into the certifications of any chartered trips—always utilize referrals to ensure you’re hiring an experienced company.

If you’re an avid fisherman that’s looking to add a bit of spark back into your favorite pastime, or a novice fisherman curious about the toils and treasures related to deep sea fishing adventures, this guide has everything you need to know about the sport. Its appeal is easy to understand—the big game, the hint of danger, and the challenge of pulling in an elusive trophy is enough to draw any avid angler into the game.


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