According to John Giannini, owner of J&M Tackle in Orange Beach, Alabama, “We’re selling more tackle for deep-dropping than ever before in the history of our store. We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of charters that are going offshore to deep-drop for grouper, tilefish, longtail bass and scorpionfish.” But what is a longtail bass, a tilefish and a snowy grouper?
These and other unusual fish, which are new to many anglers, can be caught in waters deeper than 700 feet. According to Captain Johnny Greene and many of the other Alabama Gulf Coast captains we’ve talked to, these deep-water species are delicious to eat and are some of the most-prized fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, this style of
fishing is really catching on in the Alabama Gulf Coast area. Since many people have asked to know more about these different and unusual species of fish being landed off Alabama’s Gulf Coast, that we’ve done research on some of them.
Karon Radzik, a biologist with the Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD), says, “I’ve personally eaten all of these named deep-water fish but the yellowedge grouper. From my standpoint, they’re all delicious fish, suited for recipes that really showcase the fish’s fine texture and flavor.” Radzik tells us more about these fish. “All grouper, including the longtail bass, are protgynous hermaphrodites, meaning they begin life as females. The largest females will become male when needed. If you find a school of grouper, the largest ones will be the males.” In Alabama waters, the limit is four grouper per person, per day, but the longtail bass isn’t regulated as a grouper. *
Snowy Grouper (Epinephelus niveatus)
Snowy grouper can be found in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and the waters of the Lesser Antilles and the northern coast of Cuba. This fish is usually taken off rocky bottoms along the edge of the continental shelf around 80-120 fathoms deep, though juveniles occasionally may be found inshore. Snowy grouper spawn from May to June. Each female produces more than 2-million eggs. They may reach a maximum age of 17 years, a weight of 70 pounds and a total length of 4 feet. The snowy grouper is territorial, like most grouper, and waits to ambush its prey, which includes gastropods, cephalopods, brachyuran crustaceans and ray-finned fishes. Larger adults may be called golden groupers. Radzik reports that, “Snowy grouper have a delicate flavor. The fillets are very white with a minimal amount of red muscle.” There is a grouper aggregate creel of four grouper per person, per day, with no size limit. *
Longtail Bass (Hemanthias leptus)
This fish occurs from 195- to 1000-feet deep from South Carolina to the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. They eat zooplankton, like copepods. Adult sizes range from 7.87 inches to 12.2 inches, with the maximum-known size at 18 inches. Longtail bass have no size or creel limit. *
Yellowedge Grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus)
You’ll locate this
fish between 210- and 900-feet deep in the western Atlantic from North Carolina to southern Brazil, especially along the continental shelf break and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. They’ll be associated with both rocky and soft sand and mud bottoms. Their food consists of a large variety of invertebrates, especially brachyuran crabs and ray-finned fishes. Species found in the stomachs of these fish include squids, octopuses, crabs, eels, lizardfish, seahorses, scorpionfish and searobins. The life span is about 20 years, and females often become males when they reach lengths of 29.5 inches. The maximum known size is 45.3 inches. The 41-pound, 1-ounce world record yellowedge grouper was caught off the coast of Destin, Florida. This grouper also is included in the 4-per-person-per-day grouper aggregate creel with no size limit.*
Golden Tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps)
Tilefish inhabit the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope along the entire east coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico south to Venezuela. They are found in waters from 250- to 1,500-feet deep, where bottom
temperatures range from 49 to 58 degrees. Spawning occurs from March to September, and each female lays 2- to 8-million eggs. Tilefish feed on the bottom during the day on crustaceans, clams, snails, worms, anemones and sea cucumbers. They can reach lengths of 38 inches, although growth is slow. Karon Radzik of the AMRD says, “‘Golden tilefish is just a market name for Lopholatilus; there is no AFS (American Fisheries Society) accepted common name ‘golden tilefish’ for any species. There is evidence of sex change in tilefishes, too.” Tilefish have no size limit but are included in the 20 reef fish aggregate creel, except for the sand tilefish.
Spinycheek Scorpionfish (Neomerinthe hemingway)
This species occurs in the western North Atlantic from New Jersey to southern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. In the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find the scorpionfish from Texas to Tampa Bay
, Florida, and south to Veracruz and Campeche, Mexico, at depths between 100 feet and 755 feet. The maximum known size is 12 inches (excluding the caudal fin). The scorpionfish has no size or creel limit. Radzik advises, “When cleaning scorpionfish, care must be taken to avoid the spiny portions of the fins.”*
* Please check the federal regulations when fishing in federal waters.
A special thanks to Captain Scott Bannon and Major Chris Blankenship of AMRD Enforcement for clarifying the limits on these deep-water fish.
Baked Yellowedge Grouper in Sour Cream
2-3 pounds yellowedge grouper fillets
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped dill pickle
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1/4-teaspoon dry mustard
1/4-teaspoon sweet basil
Mix the ingredients together, and pour the mixture over the fillets in a buttered pan. Bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes.
Pecan-Crusted Deep-Water Fish
By Karon Radzik
Pecan meal or finely-ground pecans
Unseasoned breadcrumbs, fine
Seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic or Cajun seasonings work well)
Mix the pecan meal, breadcrumbs and seasonings. Pat the fillet dry, dip in egg white, and then dip in the dry mixture. Spray a pan with olive oil. Lay the fillets in the pan, and bake at 350 until the meat flakes easily and is white all the way through (about 20 minutes). Radzik likes to serve wild rice and steamed asparagus with this dish. Radzik says, “This recipe is excellent for those delicately-flavored deep-water fish.”
Alabama Records for Deep-Water Fish:
- Longtail Bass – 5 pounds, 10 ounces
- Snowy Grouper – 52 pounds, 9 ounces
- Tilefish – 29 pounds, 4 ounces
- Yellowedge Grouper – 46 pounds, 8 ounces
As of this writing, there’s no state record for spinycheek scorpionfish. Contact the AMRD at 251-968-7576 to learn how to certify a fish.