Tilefish | Habitat Driven Delicacies
Tilefish, this colorful bottom fish that is commonly referred to as the clown of the sea, is arguably one of the tastiest deep water reef fish and one whose recreational fishing popularity has exploded. Tiles are mostly small perciform marine fish comprising the family Malacanthidae. They are usually found in sandy soft bottom areas, especially near coral reefs. There are 40 species of tilefish with golden tilefish and blueline tilefish being the most popular. The great northern tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps), or golden tile, is the largest of the tilefish species, growing to 50+ pounds or more.
When you look at the most economically important species of reef fish in the deepwater (300-1000 feet) fishery of the southeastern United States, five species make up over 97% of the catch by weight. These fish include tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps, snowy grouper, Epinephelus niveatus, blueline tilefish, Caulolatilus microps, warsaw grouper, Epinephelus nigritus, and yellowedge grouper, E. flavolimbatus. This clearly puts blueline tiles and golden tiles in the mix as an important food fish.
All species of tilefish seek shelter in self-made burrows, caves at the bases of reefs or rock piles, often in canyons or at the edges of steep slopes along the continental shelf. Gravelly or soft sandy substrate in the ideal depth range is where you want to fish.
Golden tilefish is easily distguishable fom other members of the family Malacanthidae by the large adipose flap, or crest, on the head. The species is aqua-blue with light green highlights, and their backs a blend of blue-yellow and blue-green. They have a reddish pink band that runs down each sides, which then blends into a silver-yellow belly.
There is just something wild and primitive about the way they look. Tilefish will take bait instantly when it’s feeding time, so you will know full well when one is on the line.
The thing that makes tiles so desirable is the quality of their meat married with the mild sweet flavor and firm, flaky texture. Tilefish are delectable. It is the diet of the bluelines and goldens that contributes to their loveliness. Tiles feed heavily on a variety of crustaceans like crabs, lobsters and shellfish. You will find their meat closely resembling that of lobster or crab. Tilefish are low in sodium. They are a good source of niacin and phosphorus, and a very good source of protein, vitamin B12, and selenium.
It is clear to see why the fish has become so popular in coastal fisheries found from the upper Yucatan Gulf of Mexico region to as far north as Nova Scotia. Tilefish inhabit a narrow stretch of ocean floor in a band of warm water along the upper reaches of the continental slope. The major fishing grounds are off eastern Florida, South and North Carolina and then New Jersey and New York.
When it comes to fishing for tilefish, it is all about the right bottom. Tiles live on the bottom and do not venture very far from their homes. To get bites, you will have to be on the bottom knocking on their door.
Tilefish are known to dig and occupy closely clumped burrows along the outer continental shelf, and on the flanks of submarine canyons in live or hard bottom for bluelines and malleable clay substrate for goldens. Their abundance is strongly correlated with the right type of bottom that allows the fish to create the burrow of their liking. Tilefish do not migrate or move around much, so you can get out there and target them at virtually any time of year without wondering if they’ll be around.
Their living proclivities mean where you find one tilefish you’re likely to find more. This means that the moment you get a fish on the line, mark the spot on your bottom machine and keep track of your location with each and every bite.
Golden tiles live in the neighborhood of 600 to 1000 feet of water where the bottom is a soft muddy maleable substrate and bluelines are usually found in shallower waters between 200 and 400 feet, where you find a rocky bottom mixed in with black sea bass. The key to finding the tilefish you are after is to head to the right depth of water and drop baits.
On thing to note is that even though sunlight barely penetrates the depths at which golden tilefish swim, they only feed during daylight hours, and then usually between 10am and 3pm. Blueline tilefish, on the other hand, will feed throughout the day, no matter the conditions.
If you want to learn more about fishing deep water, check out our bottom fishing videos.