Tilefish - Habitat Driven Delicacies

December 08, 2021
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Tilefish, a popular deep water reef fish, are small marine fish found in sandy soft bottom areas near coral reefs. There are 40 species, with golden tilefish and blueline tilefish being the most popular. Five species make up over 97% of the catch by weight in the southeastern United States' deepwater fishery. Tilefish are known for their mild sweet flavor and flaky texture, and are low in sodium.

Key Points

  • Overview of Tilefish: Introduces tilefish, focusing on their visual appeal and taste, with emphasis on popular species like the golden tilefish and blueline tilefish.
  • Economic Importance: Discusses the significance of tilefish in the deepwater fishery of the southeastern United States.
  • Habitat and Fishing: Explores tilefish habitats and techniques for fishing them, including bottom fishing and deep drop fishing.
  • Distinctive Features: Describes the unique physical characteristics of golden tilefish.
  • Diet and Culinary Appeal: Details the diet of tilefish and its impact on their taste and nutritional value.
  • Fishing Techniques and Best Times: Offers insights into effective tilefishing methods and optimal times for fishing.

Tilefish, the vibrant bottom dwellers often dubbed as the sea's clowns, stand out as one of the most palatable deepwater reef fish. Their burgeoning popularity in recreational fishing is a testament to their unique appeal. This article delves into the world of tilefishing, shedding light on various aspects from the habitat and physical characteristics of tilefish to the intricacies of fishing for them.

The Allure of the Deep

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.

A Diet of Crustaceans

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.

Tilefish Habitat

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.


Tilefish, particularly the golden tilefish and blueline tilefish, offer a fascinating subject for both recreational and commercial fishing. Understanding their habitats, physical characteristics, diet, and effective fishing techniques can significantly enhance the fishing experience, making each catch a rewarding endeavor.

Seth Horne In The Spread,
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